HL Deb 11 June 1841 vol 58 cc1449-58
The Marquess of Bute

moved, that the Jews' Declaration Bill be read a third time.

The Bishop of Llandaff

said, that as he had a very strong opinion on this subject, he could not let this opportunity pass without troubling their Lordships with a few observations. In the first place, he trusted, that the House would not in a covert and insidious way pass a measure of this kind, the object of which was, under the pretext of extending an indulgence to a particular class of religionists, to abandon the principle of regarding religion as a matter of importance in the persons who were to exercise civil authority amongst us. He knew that there were many wise, even religious men, who thought that religion was no concern of the State; but then he said, let a measure be brought fairly forward on that principle. The indulgence given by the repeal of the Test Act was to Christians, but this bill proposed to extend the indulgence which was subsequently granted by another act to Quakers, Moravians, and Separatists, to the Jewish community, provided they made a certain declaration. The repeal of the Test Act, to which he was himself a party, expressly declared, that no other test should be required except a single declaration of belief in Christianity—"in the presence of God, on the true faith of a Christian." The Quakers, Moravians, and Separatists, conscientiously objected to take that declaration; and by an act of her present Majesty a declaration was substituted, by which they declared, that they would not exercise any authority or power in virtue of any office to injure the Protestant Church as by law established. Now, the Jews denied the very foundation of the Christian religion. They declared its Divine Founder to be an impostor—a blasphemer. He did not say this with any feeling of reproach towards the Jews, but to demonstrate that this was an ill-framed measure. If it were intended to be said, that no man ought to be excluded from office on account of religion, then that principle should be asserted in a substantive measure; but to tack it on to the former measures which had granted indulgence to fellow-Christians, was almost, he might say, a fraud upon the Legislature. It had been asked, what danger would ensue from this alteration of the law? He did not apprehend any actual danger to the State, but the danger which he apprehended was, that the exclusively Christian character of the State would be lost, and encouragement would be given to the notion, already too prevalent, that religion was a matter of indifference in statesmen and men in office. For these reasons, he should move, that the bill be read a third time that day three months.

Lord Lyttleton

said, that if he did not view this measure as a stepping-stone to the admission of Jews to Parliament he should not oppose it. It was said, that the law as it at present stood was easily evaded; but he imagined, that it could not be said, that the law could not be made so as to prevent its being evaded. He should imagine, that the persons who would be desirous of obtaining municipal offices would be in a station of life to have the common honesty not to evade the law.

The Earl of Winchilsea

viewed this measure as one deeply fraught with danger to the religion of this country. If they granted this measure, in consistency they must subsequently grant any ulterior measure which might be brought forward to admit Jews into Parliament. Some people thought, that religion was merely a matter between a man and his God; but the Bible and New Testament both, showed that that was an untenable position. A Jew, at any rate a religious Jew, would not admit Christians to legislate for him, and why should the Christian admit the Jew? He respected that body, and recollected the position which they had held under the Mosaic dispensation, and if the film were taken from their eyes he would consent to the motion; but on religious grounds he felt himself compelled to support the right rev. Prelate.

The Earl of Wicklow

did not consider, that in supporting the bill he was in the slightest degree pledged, or liable to be called upon hereafter, to open the walls of Parliament to persons of the Jewish persuasion. He had always opposed bills for that purpose, and should continue to do so, considering it improper that persons not being Christians should be legislators in a Christian country. But the bill then before their Lordships was a measure of a very different character. It was a measure which he was almost disposed to think did not confer upon the Jews by law, any privilege which they did not already possess. That Jews were eligible to offices in corporations was evident from the fact, that Jews were to be found in three of the corporations of this kingdom. Those municipal bodies possessed the discretionary power of admitting Jews or not, and the object of the present measure was to remove that anomaly. If Jews ought not to be admitted, the law should be altered so as to exclude them; and if they ought to be admitted, that admission should take place under the sanction of a general legislative measure. He contended, that the Legislature should decide whether or not Jews should be admissible to the corporate bodies of this country, without reference to any other question; because there was not the slightest shadow of reason for supposing that a measure for their admission into corporations would be followed up by a measure for admitting them into Parliament. No less than thirty-eight of the largest towns of the country had petitioned Parliament to pass the present bill, while no petitions had been presented against it. He at least had heard of none. The principle contained in the bill had been already established by the removal of those disabilities which prevented Jews from being elected sheriffs. And it was certainly throwing the law into ridicule to argue that Jews might be elected sheriffs, but must not be allowed to exercise the functions which belonged to the other members of a corporation. Jews had been elected sheriffs in London, in a county in which his noble Friend possessed property, and in Sussex; and he was therefore somewhat surprised to hear his noble Friend oppose this measure upon religious grounds. The grounds upon which he supported the bill were—first, because it would remove an absurdity in the law which he had already pointed out; secondly, because if Jews were to be admitted to civil offices, those for which they were best fitted were connected with corporate bodies; and thirdly, because he conceived that no injury could follow upon their admission to those benefits which the constitution bestowed upon persons who were born British subjects.

The Bishop of St. David's

My Lords, in rising to offer myself for a few minutes to your Lordships' attention, I feel how much I shall stand in need of your indulgence, not only because it is the first time I have had the honour of addressing you, but because I find myself placed in a delicate and truly painful situation. I have the misfortune to differ from the most rev. Prelate who last week opposed the second reading of this bill, and, of course, from the right rev. Prelate who opened the debate upon it to-night, and probably from the majority of my right rev. brethren, I had not the advantage of hearing the arguments adduced by the most rev. Prelate on the former occasion, and know nothing of them but what I could collect from what was probably a very imperfect and incorrect report. Those which I saw certainly did not convince me. One of the observations attributed to the most rev. Prelate was, I think, that the Jewish community, as a body, was not at all interested in the measure now before your Lordships, and that it could only serve to gratify the pride and ambition of a few eminent individuals of that persuasion. Now, this is an opinion from which I must entirely dissent. My own view of the subject is grounded not on any personal experience—for which of course I have had no opportunities—but on the general principles of human nature. And, judging from these, I conceive, that it is highly probable, or rather I might say, absolutely certain, that every member of the Jewish community would feel gratified and raised in self-esteem by the honours and privileges which may be thrown open to it, though in the nature of things they are such as can only be enjoyed by a few of its most distinguished members. And this leads me to observe, that the advantage which may be expected to result from this measure is one of great importance. Its object is to conciliate the affections of a very large and powerful body of men to the land of their birth, to which they are attached by many ties, though to a certain extent, they must always remain foreigners and aliens. It appears to me, that this is a consideration which ought to operate as an inducement to the passing of this measure, unless there be some very strong objection to counterbalance it, and I think none such have been shown. I have listened with all the attention in my power to the speech of the right rev. Prelate who opened the debate, but his arguments have not altered my view of the question. I do not know, whether I shall be able to recollect them all, so as to place them before your Lordships, but, if I can do so, I believe there is not one which I shall not be able to answer. And, in the first place, I would meet the right rev. Prelate on the purport and meaning of the bill. The right rev. Prelate considers it as amounting to a declaration on the part of the Legislature, that religion is a matter of indifference. Perhaps that may be one view which may be taken of the import of the measure. But I submit that there is another, which is at least quite as just and reasonable. It appears to me, that it may be interpreted in a very different manner. Possibly, the view I take of it may appear to some right rev. Prelates and noble Lords very common place, superficial, and even absurd; but it is one which I at least am able to comprehend. I conceive, that this measure, if passed, will simply amount to a declaration of the Legislature, that in its judgment no other qualities are requisite for the due discharge of the municipal offices referred to in the bill, than that degree of probity and integrity which may be found in persons of every religious persuasion. And certainly, I see no reason why an exception should be made to this maxim in the case of the Jews. There is one little fact relating to this part of the subject, which has been passed over in the course of this debate, but which appears to me to deserve a share of your Lordships' attention, especially when an attempt is made to sink the Jews below the Mahometans in the religious scale, and this is, that the Jews are believers in the Old Testament. And I would ask your Lordships, whether there are not to be found in that part of the word of God precepts and rules, sufficient to ensure the performance of the duties of those municipal offices, on the part of those who acknowledge its authority. The right rev. Prelate also argued, and, if I am not mistaken, this is one of the arguments attributed to the most rev. Prelate in the discussion of last week, that this measure would alter the Christian character of our institutions. I may be thought to be taking a bold line, but I venture to assert, that the effect of the measure will not be to alter that character in the slightest degree. I conceive, that the utmost it will do, will be to take away one slight indication of that character. I do not say, that I would pare even with that, unless I saw some prospect of advantage to compensate for it; but I think in the present case, there is a great and substantial gain to counterbalance that insignificant loss. But, in fact, I have not heard it contended, that the immediate effect of the measure was such as need excite much alarm. The main objection brought against it was of quite another kind, and pointed to the future, to a danger much more distant and undefined. We are told, that if we take this step, we do not know what it may lead to, we shall not know where to stop or how to draw the line. This is an argument which never fails to be used when concessions of this kind are called for. It is one which from its vagueness it is not easy to answer. It reminds me of a fallacy which, as your Lordships may know, was in considerable vogue among the sophists of antiquity, who pretended to be able to prove that there was no difference between a mountain and a mole-hill; because if you continually added or subtracted a single grain of dust, you would at last swell the mole-hill to a mountain, or reduce the mountain to a mole-hill, and yet if at each step of the process you were asked what the thing was, you would call it by the same name. But I do not know, that any one ever carried this so far as to say, that by taking away a single grain of dust you changed the mountain into a mole-hill, because that would be the effect if the operation should be repeated often enough. The right rev. Prelate also took a glance at the history of the Jews. He adverted to the various changes which had taken place in their condition, and I am glad to find, that he contemplates those changes with approbation and satisfaction. But it appears, that the right rev. Prelate has been led by his historical retrospect to a very different conclusion from that which I should have expected him to draw from it. It seems, that he approved of everything that has been done up to this moment to improve the condition of the Jews, but he thinks that we have now reached the precise point where we ought to stop. I must say, that my own historical retrospect suggests the opposite inference. When I review the history of the Jewish people, I see that there was a time—in ages of darkness and barbarism — when they were outraged and degraded, and oppressed, both by the law, and beside the law, and against the law. Their condition has been gradually ameliorated. And I find, that in proportion as the treatment they have received has become milder, civilization and humanity have been making progress, and Christianity itself has been growing purer and purer, and I must own, that this is a consideration which tends to prepossess me in favour of this measure, and which ought, I think, to recommend it to your Lordships. The right rev. Prelate also made an objection to the form in which this measure has been introduced. He complained with all the precautions against the possibility of a suspicion, that he meant anything personally offensive, that his amiable nature could suggest—that there was something covert and insidious in the framing of the bill, because it couples the members of the Jewish community with those Christian sects for whose relief the declaration required from persons elected to municipal offices was modified, I confess I can see no ground for this charge. It is expressly provided, that all persons who would take advantage of the relief provided by this bill, must profess themselves to be of the Jewish religion. There seems, therefore, to be no room for any mistake in persons of ordinary information on the subject. But I would say, that even if the form of the measure were not the best that could have been devised, this would not be a sufficient reason to induce your Lordships to reject the substance. This measure may not, perhaps, be one of strict justice; but I conceive it to be one of liberal policy, or of politic liberality. I am not yet ashamed of that word, and I hope it will not prejudice your Lordships against the measure now before you.

The Bishop of London

said, that as their Lordships evinced considerable impatience to divide upon this Bill, he would make only a few observations. He had heard with great mortification the speech of the right rev. Prelate. He intended nothing unkind in the expression, but it could not but be mortifying to him, knowing the weight necessarily attached to the great learning and powerful eloquence of the right rev. Prelate, when he exerted those talents and employed that eloquence in the cause of error. The right rev. Prelate had used in his speech not a little of that sophistry of which he had himself spoken—of unintentional sophistry. He had omitted the real point at issue. The right rev. Prelate had taken up certain detached points of the arguments of his adversaries, and those he had attempted, and perhaps successfully, to overthrow; but he had, at the same time, skilfully glided over the chief points of those arguments. The important principle involved in this bill was this—whether the State should pay that homage to the Christian religion which it had hitherto paid. He would pass over the question, whether this bill would lead to the admission of the Jews into the Houses of Parliament. It was confessed by the right rev. Prelate himself, that the consent to this measure would be, if not a change itself, at any rate, an indication of a change in the religious feeling of the country, but there could be no indiscretion if there were no changes. There could not be one without the other. This was the simple point on which he would look, at the question. It had always been the wise policy of this country to pay homage to the Christian religion in the doctrines of the Established Church. It was deemed expedient to extend the limits beyond which no one could find admission into the councils of the empire. It was deemed expedient to admit the Christian Dissenters of all persuasions. But still, the Legislature of the country was paying homage to Christianity — though those were admitted who were members of. a church which they thought was not the Church of Christ. Were they now to do away with that homage? for that was the ultimate object of the present bill. It had been said, that even now there were in the councils of the empire unbelievers and heretics. God forbid, that there should be! But enough was done to uphold the Christian character of the country, for none were admitted into Parliament or the Government, who did not pretend to be Christians. But now men claimed to be admitted (first they merely asked admission into municipal bodies, but they would, if that were granted, claim admission into legislative assemblies) who were not only not Christians, but who were the strongest and fiercest opponents of Christianity—those who contemned, despised, and reviled the Christian religion and its founder. This was the single point on which he rested his opposition. He professed and entertained the most sincere respect for many individuals of the Jewish persuasion. There were amongst them men of the most unbounded liberality of the most indiscriminate charity—and on that point they set an example which it would be well for Christians to follow. There were amongst them men of honour —men of veracity—of devout and zealous religion. But here he must be allowed to say, that their real religion was frequently concealed from their people — that the Jews were too often taught, not the religion of Moses, but the religion of the Talmud—not the true word of God, but the doctrines of human tradition. This led him to a topic which had been alluded to by the right rev. Prelate, the Bishop of St. David's, in answer to the speech made a few evenings ago, by the most rev. Prelate, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The most rev. Prelate had said, that this measure would alone gratify the vanity and ambition of a few individuals; and the right rev. Prelate replied, that the honour conferred on a few, would reflect on the whole body. Now, though it was true as a general principle, that an honour conferred on certain individuals, was reflected on the body to which they belonged, yet he believed that would not be the case in the present instance. He had made many inquiries on the subject, and had found that few, very few of the great body of the Jewish people cared anything at all about the success of this measure. The lower classes of their society it did not in the least degree affect, and many of the higher and more religious Jews entertained most serious doubts whether they could receive the privilege thus to be conferred upon them. They doubted, and he, looking at the commands of the Old Testament, especially of the prophetical writings, entertained a similar doubt; they doubted the propriety of such a step. That, however, was, for them to decide, not for him. The sole view of the question was this, whether their Lordships would consent to do anything by which the national homage of this great people, should hereafter not be exclusively paid to the Christian religion:

The Earl of Galloway

said, that he partook warmly of the mortification which the right rev. Prelate, the Bishop of London, had expressed at the speech made that night by the right rev. Prelate above him, the Bishop of St. David's.

The Marquess of Bute

would trouble their Lordships with but few observations. It was utterly impossible that anything could be covert or concealed in this measure. Its object was simply to admit Jews into municipal corporations, and the ar- guments which had been brought forward were directed against something which was in no degree connected with the bill. The Christianity of the State would not, could not, be affected by the bill. The law was at present in a most anomalous condition, the majority of the members of a corporation being able so to carry out the act of Parliament, as even now to admit Jews. This was a state of things which ought not to continue, and the difficulty and anomaly should be at once removed. As Christian, he considered it his duty to support the measure, the third reading of which he now begged to move.

Their Lordships divided:—Content 64; Not-content 98: Majority 34.

List of the CONTENTS.
DUKES. Melbourne.
Leeds LORDS.
Somerset. Ashburton
Bute Belhaven
Breadalbane Bexley
Clanricarde Calthorp
Headfort Cloncurry
Lansdowne Cottenham
Normanby Colborne
Westminster. Dacre
EARLS. De Freyne
Bruce Denman
Clarendon Dinorben
Chichester Gardner
Coventry Hastings
Effingham Hatherton
Fitzwilliam Howden
Harrowby Langdale
Lichester Leigh
Lovelace Mostyn
Lucan Montfort
Minto Monteagle
Morley Portman
Radnor Stanley
Rosebery Stuart de Rothsay
Scarborough Sudeley
Suffolk Talbot de Malahide
Tankerville Wrottesley.
Wicklow Durham
Yarborough Ely
Zetland. Lichfield
Duncannon St. David's.
Paired off. Contents.
Bedford. LORDS.
Anglesey Crewe
Londonderry. Wenlock.

Bill thrown out.