HL Deb 10 March 1845 vol 78 cc515-27

The Order of the Day for the Second Reading having been read,

The Lord Chancellor

said: My Lords, I rise for the purpose of moving the Second Reading of this Bill, and as I do not anticipate any effective opposition to thin measure, I shall confine myself to the task of stating very shortly what are the motive and object for which it is introduced. The motive and object are to get rid of some anomalies, and some inconsistencies, and I may be permitted to say, some absurdities with respect to the admission of persons professing the Jewish religion, to corporate offices in this country. In order that I may be duly understood upon this subject, I shall begin by very shortly calling your Lordships' attention to the position in which those persons who profess the Jewish religion legally stand, in respect to some of the offices held under the Crown. It is well known to your Lordships that not only is there no objection to any person professing the Jewish religion being placed upon the Commission of the Peace for a county, but that he may hold the important and very responsible office of county magistrate. There are many recent instances in which appointments of that description have been made; I allude in particular to Sir Moses Montefiore, who is at present a justice of the peace for the Cinque Ports, and a magistrate for the county of Kent, and, within a very short period, the Lord Lieutenant of the county of Middlesex. A noble Marquess, a Friend of mine, recommended that Sir Moses Montefiore's name should be inserted in the Commission of the Peace for the county of Middlesex, and it was inserted accordingly. This, my Lords, is not a solitary exception. Mr. Salomons several years ago, at a time when the noble Lord below me (Viscount Melbourne) held the office of Principal Minister of the Crown, was placed in the Commission of the Peace for the county of Kent. Another gentleman of the Jewish religion, of the name of Lousada, a most respectable person, is, at the present moment, a magistrate for the county of Devon: while another of the name of Cohen, also of the Jewish persuasion, is a magistrate for the county of Sussex. Now, my Lords, I have never heard of any complaint made of these appointments; I believe they have been generally approved of. I have never heard that any of these individuals have misconducted themselves in the discharge of the duties which this responsible office imposed upon them. On the contrary, I believe they have uniformly conducted themselves with perfect propriety, and that everybody has approved of these appointments. But, my Lords, it is not merely to the Commission of the Peace that the appointments of persons professing the Jewish religion are confined. They may hold the office of Deputy Lieutenants of the different counties in this Kingdom. Mr. Salomons is a Deputy Lieutenant, and Mr. Rothschild is also a Deputy Lieutenant. Nay more, my Lords, by Parliamentary sanction, and by Parliamentary authority, persons of the Jewish religion are eligible to the office of High Sheriff of the different counties of England—nay, my Lords, they are not only eligible, not only capable of being appointed to the office of High Sheriff, but they are bound, when appointed, to discharge the duties of that office. And when we come to corporate offices of a similar nature, we see that a person professing the Jewish religion is liable to be appointed Sheriff, for instance, to the City of London, and that if he refuses to accept the appointment, he, I believe, according to the Charter of the City, is liable to a very heavy pecuniary penalty. This, my Lords is the position of persons professing the Jewish religion with respect to high and prominent offices in this country. Now, we all know that the appointment to the office of Sheriff for the City of London is a stepping-stone, a passport to the office of Alderman, when such office becomes vacant. The person who conducts himself with propriety in the office of Sheriff, who discharges satisfactorily to his fellow-citizens the duties of that office, and who, in the discharge of those duties, wins their esteem and regard, naturally aspires to the honour of becoming an Alderman. All these circumstances are taken into consideration, and have great influence and effect, when the office of Alderman, to which he so aspires, becomes vacant, and weigh strongly in favour of such an individual when he offers himself to his fellow-citizens as a candidate for that office. Will you, then, my Lords, impose upon particular individuals the responsibility of a burdensome office, the filling of which, according to the natural course of things, would lead to the appointment to other and higher stations, not only as a reward for the services so previously rendered, but also as a testimony of the good conduct of the individual in the discharge of the onerous duties of that office—will you, my Lords, compel that individual to accept, as a preliminary, this office, and oblige him to discharge its burdensome duties, and then exclude him from that appointment to which alone he looks as the reward for the good conduct he has shown in the situation which you have compelled him to accept? Nothing, my Lords, can be more unjust—nothing more impolitic; because nothing can be more impolitic or unwise than to diminish the motives for good conduct and for exertion in the discharge of the duties of this highly responsible office. But, my Lords, not only is this exclusion unjust in itself, but the manner in which it is effected is equally objectionable. In what way is this exclusion effected? A gentleman conducts himself well in the situation of the Sheriff of London—he obtains the esteem and approbation of his fellow-citizens—the office of Alderman becomes vacant—he is a candidate for that office; he is unanimously elected by his fellow-citizens as a reward for his past conduct;—being elected, he goes to the Court of Mayor and Aldermen to be admitted into his office;—he offers to take the oaths usually required by law;—the answer is, "You must, in addition to this, make a subscription, and a declaration as required by the 9th of George IV." He says, "What does it require?" "Why it requires that you shall solemnly declare that you will not use any privileges, authority, or influence which you may acquire by reason of your appointment to the office of Alderman in any way detrimental to the Protestant religion, or to the Protestant Church, as by law established." He replies—"All this I am willing to declare, in the most solemn manner. I am willing to do it, if you require it, under the sanction of an oath." "But (says his interrogator) you must subscribe the declaration 'upon the true faith of a Christian.'" "Upon the true faith of a Christian! You know it is impossible that I can subscribe it with such a clause. You know that it is a mockery. You know that if I did so subscribe it, it would not add, in my conscience, in the slightest degree to the obligation imposed upon me by the declaration." This, my Lords, is a species of mockery. If it be wise to exclude these persons from corporate and other offices, exclude them by direct legislation. Let me suppose an attempt made to introduce a Bill into Parliament for that purpose. Here is an individual filling, upon the authority of the Crown, the office of magistrate for a county, capable of holding the situation of Deputy Lieutenant for a county, capable of being elected to, and, if elected, bound to serve the office of High Sheriff—one who has been educated in the City of London, who has been brought up in commercial pursuits, and who is intimately acquainted with the local and general interests of that city—one who has served the office of Sheriff for the city, and who is a candidate for the office of Alderman. Let me suppose these things, and then let me suppose that a Bill should be brought in saying that any person who may have been eligible to all these offices, and who may have actually fulfilled all these offices, if he be a professor of the Jewish religion, shall not be capable of being elected to the office of Alderman. Is it possible that your Lordships, or that any other body of reasonable and just men, could sanction such a measure? If, then, you could not sanction it when it should be proposed to you directly, I am quite satisfied you must be of opinion that you ought not to sanction it or support it when it is endeavoured to be effected by indirect and circuitous means. If your Lordships were acquainted with the nice distinctions that have been drawn upon this subject, they would excite your Lordships' surprise. It turns upon the construction of certain words in the Act. What are the words of the Act? That "The declaration must be made within one month before, or upon the admission to the office." Much learned argument has been spent upon the meaning of the word "upon." The question came before the Court of Queen's Bench; and what was the decision of that Court? The case was argued with great ability by my noble and learned Friend near me (Lord Campbell), in support of the opposition made to the appointment of a gentleman of great respectability to the office of Alderman. But the Court of Queen's Bench was of this opinion—that when that gentleman tendered himself to be admitted, the Court, consisting of the Mayor and Alderman, were bound to tender him the oath. If they had tendered him the oath he would have been admitted, and installed in his office; and if he afterwards neglected to subscribe the declaration, he would have been protected by the annual Act of Indemnity, which was passed for the very purpose. If that had continued to be law, and if the decision of the Court of Queen's Bench had been a correct decision, it would have been quite unnecessary for me to address your Lordships on this occasion, or to have presented this Bill to your notice. But the parties were dissatisfied with that decision; it was brought before the Exchequer Chamber; the decision was reversed upon a Writ of Error; and that Court was of opinion that it was necessary that the declaration should be made at the time of the admission. It held that the Court of Mayor and Aldermen had the power to prescribe the order in which the different proceedings should take place; they had prescribed that the declaration should be taken in the first instance before the oaths of office were administered, and, therefore, the Court of Exchequer considered the election altogether void. What was the inference from this state of things? Why, that the Court of Aldermen, who had nothing whatever to do with the election, who had no voice in it, may, by ordering that the declaration shall be made in the first instance, exclude a particular individual from the office of Sheriff, and then afterwards, at a subsequent election, by not requiring the declaration to be made before the oaths of office are administered, may admit a favoured person who may have been returned quite contrary to the charter, and quite contrary to the spirit of the whole proceedings—thus giving to the Court of Aldermen the whole control over an election in which they have no voice and no concern whatever. I do not say that this is absolutely a clear case of construction, or that the decision of the Court of Queen's Bench was the correct one, but that decision has been practically acted upon, and prevails in many parts of the country; for your Lordships will find that in many corporations where the same law prevails, persons of the Jewish religion do fill the office of Alderman. For instance, in the town of Birmingham, where the oath of office is administered in the first place, and the declaration is made afterwards, the parties take the oaths of office, and are thereby admitted. They afterwards omit making the subscription and the declaration, and they are sanctioned in this by the Act of Indemnity. There is, in consequence of this mode of proceeding, a member of the Jewish religion at this moment an Alderman of Birmingham. Precisely the same rule prevails in other corporations—there is an Alderman of the Jewish persuasion in the town and borough of Portsmouth, so also in the town of Southampton, and in other places. Such is the interpretation put upon the law, and such is the necessity of legislating upon the question. The object which I have in view is to get rid of this anomaly, and to place the law upon a distinct and clear footing—that every man may know the ground upon which he stands, and that there may for the future be no difference of construction, and no practical difference in the admission of persons to office between the corporation of the City of London and the other corporations of this Empire. The mode in which I propose to effect this is a mode well known to your Lordships. I propose that where the declaration is to be made and subscribed "upon the true faith of a Christian," the words "upon the true faith of a Christian," shall, in the case of persons professing the Jewish religion, be omitted. Have you done this upon former occasions? Undoubtedly you have. You have done it in favour of the Quakers—you have done it in favour of the Moravians—you have done it in favour of the Independents—and you have done it in favour of a class of persons known by the name of Separatists. You have done it by express legislation in favour of all these different sects. You have declared that where a declaration is required to be made by persons of any of these different persuasions having scruples of conscience, and where the words "upon the true faith of a Christian" are inserted in the declaration, those words shall be omitted. But then I shall be told that this applies to Christians; that all those persons whom I have named are all different sects of Christians; and it will be said to me, "You wish to apply the same law to persons professing the Jewish religion." But, my Lords, this is no novelty. The same exception has been made applicable to that description of persons as to those I have just named. In the first place, it was considered desirable that persons professing the Jewish religion should not be excluded from filling the office of High Sheriff. In consequence of this, an Act of Parliament was passed, declaring that persons professing the Jewish religion, and who should be nominated Sheriffs, should not be required to male that declaration. But more pointedly still, in times less liberal than the present, times when persons saw more dangers and were more disposed to yield to chimerical apprehensions than now, an Act of Parliament, the 10th George I., (called the Act of Abjuration) was passed, in which it was considered that the words, "I make this declaration solemnly and on the true faith of a Christian, so help me God," should be omitted as regarded persons professing the Jewish religion. I shall be told, perhaps, that that was only a temporary Act, that it has expired, and that no attempt has been made to renew it. That is true; but for what reason, upon what ground, has there been no attempt to renew it? Simply, because its renewal became unnecessary in consequence of the Annual Indemnity Act. Therefore, it remains upon the Statute Book as an Act expired, it is true, but an Act setting us an example which I am persuaded your Lordships will follow. But that is not the only Act of the kind. There is an Act of Parliament now in force precisely in the same terms, and directed to the same object; an Act passed in the 13th year of the reign of George II., for the purpose of enabling Foreign Protestants to become naturalised in our Colonies. It was represented that persons professing the Jewish religion would be deprived of the benefit of that Act, because, before they could obtain their letters of naturalisation it was necessary for them to sign the Oath of Abjuration. It was, therefore, enacted that when such persons desired to obtain the advantage of that Act, the oath should be administered to them, striking out the words "upon the true faith of a Christian." Therefore, my Lords, not only in the case of Christians, but in the case of Jews, this exception has been made by the authority of Parliament in the distinct cases to which I have referred, of an Act of Parliament which has expired, and an Act of Parliament which is now in force upon the Statute Book. Have I then made out a case to support the measure I have submitted to your Lordships' consideration? My Lords, I have thought it right to rest this measure upon the limited grounds I have set forth. They may by some be thought to be grounds too narrow and limited; but, my Lords, I have done this advisedly. I am anxious that this measure should pass, and the other Members of Her Majesty's Government share in that anxiety. We are desirous, therefore, of not resting it upon those great views of general policy which might admit much matter of controversy, of difficulty, and of doubt; and in the consideration of which the particular measure might be forgotten and lost. Upon these grounds and principles, then, I have rested the measure, and so resting it, I have not entered as I might have done into any details regarding the course which has been taken by foreign countries in respect of their inhabitants professing the Jewish religion. I will say nothing, then, of what has taken place in France, in Belgium, in the United States, and, above all, in Holland, where for a great number of years persons of the Jewish persuasion have, without restriction, been admitted to high offices, and where not only has no public inconvenience been felt therefrom, but where the principle has, as I believe, met with the full and general concurrence of all persons of liberal and enlightened minds. Less liberal has been the policy of the Austrian States regarding the Jews. But in Germany, Prussia has set the example, and there persons of the Jewish religion are admitted into the Schools and Universities, and are permitted to read lectures in the Universities, and to take degrees. Most admirable and instructive have been the results, for some of the most eminent and learned of men, distinguished in literature and science, have thereby been reared. I may here be permitted to read to your Lordships a short passage of a letter which I have received in answer to a communication from my own, from a person well acquainted with all the details with respect to this liberality on the part of Prussia. He says,— The civil disabilities have been removed in Prussia earlier than in any of the other German States. This, and the admission to the schools, have had the effect of showing the superiority of the race in intellectual activity and power. Jews, converted and unconverted, hold the highest places in civil life, and those who occupy eminent places are greatly out of proportion, in point of numbers, if we compare their numbers with the rest of the population. This letter, my Lords, is confirmatory of what I have stated as to the benefits conferred upon literature and science in that part of the world by the course taken by Prussia of relieving her Jewish subjects from their disabilities. Nothing is more unjust than the degradation suffered by the Jews, and there appears no reason why you should not remove those disabilities and restrictions from which that very degradation arises. I think I have said enough to induce your Lordships to pass this very limited measure, and I will now content myself with moving the Second Reading. Before I sit down, however, I may state that I have had occasion to review some of the ancient Acts of Parliament relating to persons of the Jewish religion, and I have felt it my duty to direct the attention of the Criminal Law Commissioners to these practically obsolete Statutes, with a view to their removal, in common with others similarly inoperative. As an instance of these Acts I may cite one passed in the reign of Edward I., and entitled De Judaismo, whereby Jews were confined to particular towns, and to particular districts in those towns, entitled "The Services." That Act also regulated the fashion of their outer garments, and by it they were obliged to wear a badge indicating the religion to which they belonged, I think your Lordships will be of opinion that such Acts ought no longer to disgrace our Statute Book, and that the Government have done wisely in directing the attention of the Criminal Law Commissioners to them, with a view to their abolition. The noble and learned Lord concluded by moving the Second Reading of the Jewish Disabilities Removal Bill.

The Bishop of London

said, he had on a former occasion opposed a measure of a similar character, principally because he had thought it likely to lead to the admission of Jews into Parliament. It was not his intention to offer any opposition to the present measure, because, were he so disposed, it would only raise discussion, and excite angry feelings, and lessen the grace of the boon they were about to confer on this respectable body of men. He only begged it to be understood that he was not pledged to take the same course, if a Bill for admitting the Jews into Parliament should be brought in.

The Marquess of Lansdowne

expressed his happiness at seeing this proof of the advance of liberal opinions. Five years ago the noble and learned Lord now on the Woolsack, in perfect consistency with all he had now stated, presented a petition from one of the most respectable citizens and merchants in London, Mr. Salomons, who by the anomalous and—he (the Marquess of Lansdowne) would venture to repeat the term, because it had been employed by the noble and learned Lord—the absurd state of the law, was precluded from holding that situation to which his fellow citizens had elected him. The noble and learned Lord did not then, by the expression of his opinion, give sufficient encouragement to their Lordships to apply then to the evils set forth in that petition that remedy which now, after five years, it was to be hoped their Lordships would unanimously approve. More than that, after that petition had been so presented, the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack stated that he saw no means, consistently with their Lordships' opinions, of applying a remedy, unless a measure were sent up to them by a large majority of the House of Commons. He (the Marquess of Lansdowne) wished to consider the subject carefully separated from that ulterior object to which the right rev. Prelate had alluded, and adverted to the subject only for the purpose of impressing upon their Lordships, and upon the country, the advantage of keeping public attention fixed upon these anomalies and absurdities, that when the subject should have been fully considered, they should be prepared for their removal, when it could be effected with no prospect of inconvenience to the public, or of injury to the Constitution. And what was more injurious to the public interest, while it was unjust to individuals, than that one of the most respectable men in England, one who had been entrusted to fill the responsible office of Sheriff, who in some counties was admissible as a Magistrate, while in others he was excluded—for even in that point of detail the law was anomalous and inconsistent—should not, when elected as Alderman, be allowed to take part in municipal proceedings in that capacity. There was no possibility of maintaining these exclusions, unless it could be shown that their abolition would be inconsistent with the public safety. He knew of no other principle by which any branch of Her Majesty's loyal subjects should be excluded from participating in the benefits of the Constitution—benefits to be given to all persons loyal in their character, and who were willing to subscribe to such declarations as were not inconsistent with the faith they held, and which it would be absurd to expect that they would be induced to abandon, with a view to civil advancement. He had heard with great satisfaction the declaration by the right rev. Prelate, that he would not oppose the Bill, which it was to be hoped would receive their Lordships' unanimous consent.

Lord Brougham

entirely concurred with all that had been said by his noble and learned Friend on the Woolsack and by the noble Marquess. He rejoiced that the Bill had been brought in, and hoped that it would pass their Lordships' House without a dissentient voice; and the other House of Parliament, if not with perfect unanimity, at least by a very large majority. A doubt was entertained by some, whether the present measure went far enough. He hoped the time would come when a more general Bill would be introduced in favour of his fellow-citizens of the Jewish religion; but nothing appeared to him more judicious than the course taken by his noble and learned Friend in confining the Bill before them within its present practical limits. It would be most unjust in him (Lord Brougham), after having been a coadjutor, both in London and elsewhere, with the important and powerful persons who were the subjects of the present Bill, if he did not take the present and every other opportunity of recording his sense of the generous, charitable, and magnificent conduct of that most respectable class of Her Majesty's subjects, whenever any aid was required from the ample resources of their charitable and enlightened industry in promoting useful objects, without regard to sect, and although not their own sect, but Christians, were to profit by their act. They had never exhibited a disposition to draw that invidious distinction; but their hands were ready and their purses open whenever they regarded the work to be done as good. He never saw them thus acting without feeling a degree of shame, he might say of contrition, to press on his spirit, when he reflected on the return that we Christians made them, doing evil that good might come, contrary to our own faith and morality, by keeping them out of, he would not say their privileges (for that looked like favour), but the strict rights to which they were entitled as fellow-citizens and loyal subjects of the Crown.

Lord Campbell

congratulated the House upon the change that had taken place among their Lordships upon this subject. In 1828, when the Corporation and Test Acts were repealed, a Bill came from the other House which would have allowed Jews to be admitted Members of every corporation in England. That Bill was supported by the Chief Justice of the King's Bench; but it was decided by a large majority of that House that Jews ought not to be members of any corporation in the country; and for the purpose of excluding them, the words, "upon the true faith of a Christian" were inserted. In 1837, when Mr. Salomons was elected sheriff, he (Lord Campbell), then Attorney General, brought in a Bill to allow him to serve that office in a Municipal Corporation, without that declaration, and he confined that Bill to the single case upon the analogy of sheriffs in counties, who not being required to make that declaration, it was reasonable that sheriffs in corporations should also be able to fill the office without being called upon to make it. That Bill passed the House of Commons, and it had the good luck also to receive the sanction of their Lordships; but he felt certain that if he had extended the measure a single line further it would have been rejected. It was to the honour and the interest of the country that Jews should not labour under their present disabilities, and he hoped that this was only an instalment—a large one—of a more general and comprehensive measure. He would propose no Amendment or addition now, but he trusted his noble and learned Friend would some time come down and inform the House that there was an anomaly in the law that should be wiped away—that, as the law stood, a Jew might become Lord Mayor, that he might sit upon the Bench in the Criminal Court, that he might be a member of a corporation, that he might sit in the Common Council and Court of Aldermen and legislate there, and that, consequently, being thus trusted and esteemed, it was an anomaly that he was not permitted to represent the people in Parliament and assist in the legislation of the country.

The Bishop of London

, as there had been some reference to a perfect unanimity, wished to explain that he was no party to the measure; but that he did not oppose it, because he did not desire to raise a discussion and stir up angry feelings.

Lord Colchester

wished, in consequence of the noble Lord (Lord Campbell's) observation, "that he regarded this Bill as only an instalment of a larger measure," to guard himself against the supposition that, in assenting to this Bill, he was altering sentiments which he had before expressed, that he did not think it right that Jews should sit in the Legislature or the Privy Council.

Lord Redesdale

, referring to the Bill of 1841, said that its words were open to a more extensive construction than those of the present Bill.

Bill read 2a and committed.

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