HL Deb 07 May 1855 vol 138 cc178-80

, in moving that this Bill be now read a second time, said, that their Lordships would have no difficulty in sanctioning a measure the object of which was to extend to Scotland an advantage now enjoyed in the rest of the United Kingdom, and to allow witnesses appearing in a court of justice, who had conscientious scruples to the taking of oaths, when that was proved to the satisfaction of the presiding Judge, to make affirmation instead. He had been informed by Members of the right reverend bench that those scruples were not confined to Dissenters, but were shared in by many who were sincere members of the Church of England, and who grounded their objections on the words of our Lord, as well as on the phraseology of the Thirty-nine Articles. The Bill which provided for the satisfaction of those scruples as regarded England, by the last clause in it expressly exempted Scotland; but the fact was, that that those scruples were more prevalent in Scotland than in England. The English Bill confined the power of dispensing with oaths to courts of civil judicature; whereas by the present Bill it would extend also to criminal courts: but he should propose in Committee to restrain the enacting clause to courts of civil judicature, leaving Her Majesty, at the same time, power to extend it to criminal courts by Order in Council, if it were considered advisable.


thought that their Lordships could hardly be aware of the extent to which the English Bill had been altered in the House of Commons. Regardless of the feeling which had been over and over again expressed by their Lordships with regard to Lord Denman's and other similar Bills, they had so altered it that every individual in this kingdom who chose to say that he had a conscientious objection to taking an oath, whether in a court of justice, on affidavit, or any court of record, would be at liberty, with the consent of the Judge, to make an affirmation instead of an oath. No doubt, if the measure were a good one for the rest of the kingdom, it should be extended to Scotland, He asked their Lordships to contrast their proceeding in the present instance with that which they adopted in another, While oaths were about to be dispensed with in every court of justice in the kingdom, their Lordships still tenaciously adhered to the necessity of every member of the House taking oaths at the table which he might believe to be false and improper. He trusted that in a short time their Lordships would no longer be called upon to take those oaths, to which So many Peers conscientiously objected; for how was it possible to assert that the Pope had no spiritual authority in this country, when every one knew that he had, and that we endowed schools and colleges for the express purpose of cultivating Roman Catholicism?


wished to set his noble Friend right in one particular. The only alteration which the Commons had made in the Bill of last year was to extend it to affidavits, which it did not include when it left their Lordships' House.

Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the whole House on Thursday next.

House adjourned till To-morrow.