HC Deb 21 April 1961 vol 638 cc1615-6

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

2.27 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I hope that hon. Members who are waiting to discuss the other Bills on the Order Paper will not take it amiss if I spend a little time explaining the Bill. The Second Reading was taken on the nod, and the proceedings in the Standing Committee lasted for about two and a half minutes. It cannot, therefore, be said that the House is spending an undue amount of time on the Bill if on the Third Reading some explanation is given of its purpose.

The purpose of the Bill is to enable a person who for any purpose is required by law to take an oath or make an affirmation, to be permitted—and this is the vital point—and if necessary required, to affirm if it would not be reasonably practicable for him to be sworn in the manner of his normal religion or the way in which he normally takes religious oaths. For some time judges in the courts and members of the legal profession generally have considered this to be necessary.

Section 2 of the Oaths Act, 1909, provides that an oath may be administered to and taken by Christians and Jews in the form and manner we all know. In the case of a Christian, he holds the New Testament and swears the oath. If he is a Jew, he holds the Old Testament and, with his hand uplifted, repeats the oath prescribed by law.

For the benefit of my Scottish hon. Friends, the Scottish form of oath, in which the person to whom the oath is administered swears with uplifted hand without holding a Testament, is preserved by Section 5 of the Oaths Act. 1888.

The position at the moment is that a person of one of the Continental or Asiatic religions may appear before a court where the holy book of his religion is not available. It may well be that he cannot, and the court cannot, find the holy book on which he could swear an oath. In that event, if he wishes, he may affirm. But there is nothing in the Act which prescribes that he shall affirm. It may be that a person might affirm and subsequently say that it was against his religious beliefs, or not binding on him; or he could refuse to affirm.

Recently, there was a case at Uxbridge Court, which is referred to in the February issue of the Solicitors' Journal, where a Sikh had to take the oath. The holy man took to the court a copy of the Granth, which is the holy book of the Sikh religion, and placed it on a cushion with two cows tails while the Sikh took the oath. But it might be awkward for a court to have to produce two cows' tails. It is the custom of the Chinese, when taking an oath, to break saucers, or extinguish candles. It might be easier for a court to produce candles and saucers, but cases arise when the holy book of a man's religion is not available and at present he cannot be compelled to affirm. This Bill would give the right to the court to have a person affirm if it felt that such action was necessary.

I have purposely refrained from going into detail on this matter, but I should like to thank Home Office officials and the Minister for the assistance which I have received over this Measure. I think that it will serve a useful purpose. It is welcomed generally by the legal profession and, I believe, by the Home Office.

2.32 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Dennis Vosper)

Not previously having had cause to make a speech on the Bill, may I say that the Home Office welcomes the Measure, which will be of use, and congratulate the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. A. Lewis) on producing it and for his lucid explanation of its purpose.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.