HC Deb 27 April 1932 vol 265 cc372-9

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Parliamentary Oaths Act, 1866, as amended by the Promissory Oaths Act, 1868. Numerous changes have taken place in connection with the procedure of taking the Oath in this House since 1866 in order to permit Jews, Quakers, Roman Catholics and those who disbelieve or have a doubt in the existence of a. Supreme Being to sit in this House, and in order that we should conform to the religious or lack of religious opinions of individuals. Complete liberty is the order of the day so far as all sections of the community are concerned. I quite agree with the changes that have taken place on the ground of religious belief. It is quite impossible to make a man a Christian by any act of coercion on the part of this House, and I desire an expansion in order to enable Socialists and Republicans to come into this House without being coerced into taking an oath in which they do not believe. I want liberty to present this Bill to the House without giving offence to any section who may have a different belief to my own. In connection with the famous case of Charles Bradlaugh, which was taken to the Court of Appeal on 28th January, 1885, the Court of Appeal decided that: A Member of Parliament who does not believe in the existence of a Supreme Being, and upon whom an oath has no binding effect as an oath but only as a solemn promise, is incapable by law of making and subscribing to the Parliamentary Oath and if he took his seat would be liable to penalties under the Parliamentary Oaths Act, 1866. I agree with that decision. No person should be required to take an oath with which they disagree. Let me read the Oath which has now to be taken: I do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to His Majesty King George, his heirs and successors according to law. The other form is that I do solemnly declare and affirm that I will be faithful and so on. I suggest that it is outrageous to ask a Member who holds Socialist opinions, because every Socialist should be a Republican whether he admits it or not, as his first duty on entering this House to commit a public act of perjury. It may be said that when a Member approaches the Table he has every liberty of refusing to take the Oath. My first inclination on entering this House was to approach the Table and draw the attention of the House to the fact that I could not honestly take an oath to which I did not fully subscribe, but I was advised that I must get the support of the House in order to modify and change the form of the Oath. I am conforming to that advice. This is the first opportunity the House has had of making a modification or change in the form of the Oath, and if the Bill which I am asking leave to present is turned down you are encouraging, in my opinion, public perjury. You have no right to ask any person to perjure himself in order to enter this House. [HON. MEMBERS: "You can stay out!"] To say that we can stay out is a very poor argument for the most democratic institution in the world. We should make it as easy as possible for everyone to enter the House. It is no argument to say that we can stay out or that we should keep our real democratic opinions and thoughts from the House.

There are people who may say that the Oath is a mere function which we should take with certain mental reservations. I know that mental reservations are possible, but they are not desirable; and we are not entitled to condemn perjury in the witness box, which may sometimes save a man from the scaffold, and encourage it in this House. I, as a Socialist, cannot take an oath of allegiance to a symbol which I am out to destroy. If I am out to destroy a system of society I cannot take the Oath sincerely and honestly, when I want to destroy completely the system of society represented by that symbol. Many people may wish to keep their republican opinions in the background, but I desire to declare my opinions openly in regard to the taking of the Oath. I do not want to coerce any Member of the House who believes in the Monarchy. I do not seek to deprive him of the liberty of subscribing to an Oath which he feels he can conscientiously take, and while I do not want to apply coercion to any individual I certainly do not want coercion applied to myself and my friends. Therefore, I ask the House to give me leave to introduce this Measure. No oath which I may take in this House can make me, as an individual, loyal to a system and a symbol which I am out completely to eradicate. We are told that this is the most democratic assembly in the world. I ask the House to conform to the idea of real democracy and to give me liberty to introduce this Bill. The law of progress is dynamic not static, and in presenting this Bill I believe I am conforming to enlightened and progressive opinion outside.


It is the common practice to give a First Reading to any type of Bill brought in by a Private Member, and, had this been a normal sort of Bill, I should not have risen to oppose the First Reading, because it is always interesting to see the details of a Bill an outline of which has been given in a 10 minutes' speech. It is always interesting to follow the aberrations of the human mind in these matters. This particular ease, however, is, in my submission, quite out of the ordinary, and at the present time it would be a disgrace and, I think, a disaster, for this House to send a message to the world that it considered this Bill one which was open at all to discussion by the House of Commons. The hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) has given the words of the Oath of Allegiance which, as he rightly says, is at the present time taken by all Members of the House, including himself. The Bradlaugh case is not in point at all. After the Bradlaugh case, the Oaths Act of 1888 was passed, and it enabled anybody who boggled at the taking of an Oath to affirm his loyalty instead.

The Oath adds nothing to the obligation. It is simply a recognition of a common duty of citizenship, and Members of all parties, for generations, have been willing to take it. The hon. Member has said that it is difficult to Socialists, but it has been taken by generations of Socialists and what was good enough for Keir Hardie should be good enough for the hon. Member. He himself has described the taking of the Oath as nothing less than a public act of perjury. He stands self-convicted. In actual fact this Oath is a symbol of something which Members of all parties, I think, are agreed in cherishing. We differ from one another in many respects and sometimes we differ bitterly, but it is a good thing to take the Oath as being a symbol of our recognition that, on the big things of national life, we are all members one of another, that we are one and indivisible, knit together by a common loyalty and inspired by a common purpose. The Oath means that and nothing less than that.

Moreover, it has the great virtue that, in spite of the hon. Member's reflection that such an oath is contrary to real democratic thought, all the democratic thinkers of the Parliaments of our Dominions have taken that Oath since they became self-governing States. The Oath which we take is not an Oath peculiar to this House, but one which is characteristic of all the legislatures throughout the British Empire. It is, in fact, the one legal link which remains, and one which no self-respecting Dominion thinks of doing away with. Although the Empire includes men of many creeds and many colours and many races, this common allegiance is one of the things which we all cherish, and, in

an era when we have to face, as a nation and an Empire, acute nationalism on all sides, we ought to value and to be proud beyond words of everything which is a symbol of the unity which binds the States of the British Commonwealth of Nations one to another.

It would at this time be disastrous if we gave out to the world that here, in the Mother of Parliaments, here in the heart of the Empire, we had an open mind on this question, or that we contemplated paltering in any way with the allegiance which we are all proud to profess. If we tolerate the First Reading of this Bill, we give out to the world that we contemplate a possible weakening of our allegiance; that we contemplate the possibility of disloyalty to the great traditions of our Empire, and that, some of us at any rate, are prepared to make common cause with those who believe in flouting the most sacred and solemn obligations into which any State can possibly enter. I feel convinced that the vast majority in this House, including the Members of the Labour party—if I may respectfully make an appeal to them—are at one on this point of allegiance to the Throne, and it is because I believe that I am expressing, not only the views of my own party but the views of Members of all parties, that I say that to give a First Reading to this Measure would be at once a disgrace and a disaster, and I ask the House to reject it.

Question put: "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Parliamentary Oaths Act, 1866, as amended by the Promissory Oaths Act, 1868."

The House divided: Ayes, 4; Noes, 294.

Division No. 159.] AYES. 13.26 p.m.
Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale) McGovern, John TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Buchanan, George Wallhead, Richard C. Mr. Maxton and Mr. Kirkwood.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Baillie, Sir Adrian W. M. Bower, Lieut.-Com. Robert Tatton
Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.) Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.
Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G. Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet) Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough)
Ainsworth, Lieut.-Colonel Charles Balniel, Lord Briscoe, Capt. Richard George
Albery, Irving James Barton, Capt. Basil Kelsey Broadbent, Colonel John
Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'k'nh'd) Beaumont, Hon. R.E.B. (Portsm'th, C.) Brocklebank, C. E. R.
Allen, William (Stoke-on-Trent) Benn, Sir Arthur Shirley Brown, Ernest (Leith)
Anstruther-Gray, W. J. Bernays, Robert Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C.(Berks., Newb'y)
Applin, Lieut.-Col. Reginald V. K. Bird, Sir Robert B. (Wolverh'pton W.) Browne, Captain A. C.
Apsley, Lord Borodale, Viscount Buchan, John
Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover) Boulton, W. W. Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.
Attlee, Clement Richard Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart Cadogan, Hon. Edward
Calne, Q. R. Hall- Harbord, Arthur Oman, Sir Charles William C.
Campbell, Edward Taswell (Bromley) Harris, Sir Percy Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G. A.
Cape, Thomas Hartland, George A. Owen, Major Goronwy
Caporn, Arthur Cecil Harvey, George (Lambeth, Kenningt'n) Palmer, Francis Noel
Castle Stewart, Earl Harvey Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes) Parkinson, John Allen
Cautley, Sir Henry S. Haslam, Sir John (Bolton) Patrick, Colin M.
Cayzer, Sir Charles (Chester, City) Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M. Peat, Charles U.
Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham) Hellgers, Captain F. F. A. Penny, Sir George
Chapman, Sir Samuel (Edinburgh, S.) Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P. Perkins, Walter R. D.
Chorlton, Alan Ernest Leofric Hepworth, Joseph Peters, Dr. Sidney John
Christie, James Archibald Hirst, George Henry Petherlck, M.
Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer Holdsworth, Herbert Peto, sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)
Clarke, Frank Hore-Belisha, Leslie Pickering, Ernest H.
Clarry, Reginald George Hornby, Frank Pike, Cecil F.
Clydesdale, Marquess of Horobin, Ian M. Potter, John
Cobb, Sir Cyril Horsbrugh, Florence Powell, Lieut.-Col. Evelyn G. H.
Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D. Howitt, Dr. Alfred B. Price, Gabriel
Cocks, Frederick Seymour Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.) Procter, Major Henry Adam
Colfox, Major William Philip Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport) Pybus, Percy John
Colville, John Hume, Sir George Hopwood Ralkes, Henry V. A. M.
Cook, Thomas A. Hutchison, w. D. (Essex, Romford) Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian)
Cooke, Douglas Jamleson, Douglas Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)
Cooper, A. Duff Jenkins, Sir William Ramsden, E.
Copeland, Ida Jesson, Major Thomas E. Rathbone, Eleanor
Courthope, Colonel Sir George L. Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth) Ray, Sir William
Cowan, D. M. Jones, Lewis (Swansea, West) Reid, James S. C. (Stirling)
Craddock, Sir Reginald Henry Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Reid, William Allan (Derby)
Cranborne, Viscount Ker, J. Campbell Remer, John R.
Cripps, Sir Stafford Kerr, Hamilton W. Rentoul, Sir Gervals S.
Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H. Kimball, Lawrence Renwick, Major Gustav A.
Crooke, J. Smedley Kirkpatrick, William M. Reynolds, Col. Sir James Philip
Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro) Knatchbull, Captain Hon. M. H. R. Robinson, John Roland
Culverwell, Cyril Tom Knight, Holford Rosbotham, S. T.
Curry, A. C. Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)
Davies, Maj. Geo. F.(Somerset, Yeovil) Law, Sir Alfred Ruggles-Brise, Colonel E. A.
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) Law, Richard K. (Hull, S.W.) Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter
Davison, Sir William Henry Lawson, John James Runge, Norah Cecil
Despencer-Robertson, Major J. A. F. Leech, Dr. J. W. Russell, Albert (Kirkcaldy)
Dickie, John P. Lees-Jones, John Russell, Hamer Field (Shel'ld, B'tside)
Doran, Edward Leigh, Sir John Salmon, Major Isidore
Drewe, Cedric Leighton, Major B E. P. Salt, Edward W.
Dugdale, Captain Thomas Lionel Lennox-Boyd A. T. Samuel, Sir Arthur Michael (F'nham)
Duggan, Hubert John Liddall, Walter S. Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)
Eady, George H. Lindsay Noel Ker Sanderson, Sir Frank Barnard
Edmondson, Major A. J. Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Cunliffe Savery, Samuel Servington
Edwards, Charles Llewellin Major John J. Scone, Lord
Elliot, Major Rt. Hon. Walter E. Lloyd, Geoffrey Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.
Ellis, Robert Geoffrey Loder, Captain J. de Vere Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)
Elmley, viscount Logan, David Gilbert Simmonds, Oliver Edwin
Emmott, Charles E. G. C. Lovat-Fraser James Alexander Skelton, Archibald Noel
Emrys-Evans, P. V. Lumley, Captain Lawrence R. Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.
Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare) Lunn, William Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)
Erskine-Bolst, Capt. C. C. (Blackpool) Lyons, Abraham Montagu Somerset, Thomas
Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen) Mabane, William Somervell, Donald Bradley
Everard, W. Lindsay MacAndrew, Maj. C. G. (Partick) Soper, Richard
Faile, Sir Bertram G. MacAndrew, Capt J O. (Ayr) Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.
Foot, Isaac (Cornwall, Bodmin) Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.) Spears, Brigadier-General Edward L.
Fox, Sir Gifford McEwen, Captain J. H. F. Spender-Clay, Rt. Hon. Herbert H.
Fuller, Captain A. G. McKeag, William Stanley, Lord (Lancaster, Fylde)
Ganzonl, sir John Maclay, Hon. Joseph Paton Stanley, Hon. O. F. C. (Westmorland)
George, Megan A. Lloyd (Anglesea) Maclean, Rt. Hon.Sir D.(Corn'll N.) Stevenson, James
Gillett, Sir George Masterman McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston) Stones, James
Gledhill, Gilbert Macpherson, Rt. Hon. James I. Storey, Samuel
Glossop, C. W. H. Macquisten, Frederick Alexander Strauss, Edward A.
Gluckstein, Louis Halle Maitland, Adam Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray F.
Goldie, Noel B. Mander, Geoffrey le M. Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart
Granville, Edgar Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M. Sutcliffe, Harold
Greene, William P. C. Margesson, Capt. Henry David R. Templeton, William P.
Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan) Marsden, Commander Arthur Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)
Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John Mason, David M. (Edinburgh, E.) Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles
Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro'.W.) Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John Thorne, William James
Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool) Mills, sir Frederick (Leyton, E.) Tinker, John Joseph
Grimston, R. V. Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest) Titchfield, Major the Marquess of
Grundy, Thomas W. Milne, Charles Todd, A. L. S. (Kingswinford)
Gunston, Captain D. W. Mitchell, Harold P.(Br'tf'd & Chisw'k) Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement
Guy, J. C. Morrison Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C. Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Hales, Harold K. Morris, John Patrick (Salford, N.) Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)
Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton) Morris, Owen Temple (Cardiff, E.) Waterhouse. Captain Charles
Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh) Watts-Morgan, Lieut.-Col. David
Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford) Moss, Captain H. J. Wedderburn, Henry James Scrymgeour-
Hamilton, Sir R.W.(Orkney & Zetl'nd) Munro, Patrick Weymouth, Viscount
Hammersley, Samuel S. Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H. White, Henry Graham
Hanley, Dennis A. North, Captain Edward T. Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)
Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Nunn, William Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)
Wills, Wilfrid D. Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir H. Kingsley TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Wilson, S. H. A. (Cambridge U.) Wood, Sir Murdoch McKenzie (Banff) Sir Gerald Hurst and Major McLean.
Womersley, Walter James Worthington, Dr. John V.