HL Deb 25 May 1857 vol 145 cc778-9

wished to put a question to the noble Lord on the woolsack relative to a petition presented by that noble and learned Lord on Friday night from a magistrate of the county of Hertford, complaining that he could not exercise his duties in consequence of the repugnance which he felt to taking that part of the oath of allegiance, which declares that "no foreign prince or potentate hath or ought to have any power or authority, spiritual or temporal, within this realm." He was not surprised that that gentleman, and many others, should object to take such an oath; for he thought it utterly impossible that any individual who considered the subject maturely could take it. They knew that in taking such an oath they were swearing directly contrary to what they believed; and it appeared to him a great absurdity, that while the great majority of their Lordships came down to the House and made that declaration on the ground of their not being Roman Catholics, a minority of their Lordships made the same declaration precisely because they were Roman Catholics. He knew the repugnance which their Lordships felt to making alterations in oaths; but now that a new system of oaths had actually been proposed in the other House by the Government, he might be allowed to express his astonishment that this particular and most objectionable framing of the oath was to be continued in all cases, except those in which Members of the Legislature were concerned. He had always been an advocate for relieving the Jews of their disabilities, and had supported every movement which had been made with a view to alter the present system of oaths. This was the first time that any alteration had been suggested in this particular oath, and in relation to it, the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston) was reported to have said, that as far as Roman Catholics were concerned, such of them as were Members of the Legislature would continue to take the oaths prescribed by the Emancipation Act, but it appeared to him that there was no reason whatever that others of the same persuasion holding civil offices should he compelled to swear under the old terms of the oath. Therefore, as a decided supporter of the alteration of the oath, he should, unless an Amendment was made in the Bill to meet his objection, feel it his bounden duty to give it as much opposition as he could. He trusted, however, that the noble and learned Lord would never allow the Oaths Bill to be introduced into their Lordships' House without taking care that a clause should be inserted extending its provisions to the classes to which he had alluded. The question which he had to put to his noble and learned Friend was, whether there was any prospect, when the Bill came before their Lordships, that this most objectionable restriction would be done away with, or whether, in other words, a clause would be introduced extending the formula to all Her Majesty's subjects required to take the oath, instead of confining it to Members of the two Houses of Parliament.


said, that he had received no notice from the noble Earl of his intention of putting this question; and considering the very irregular manner in which the subject had been brought before them, he did not think he ought to say a word on the subject. As had been stated, he did on Friday present a petition from a magistrate of Hertford upon the subject of oaths, but he presented that petition without a word of observation, and all he could say now was that when the Bill to which allusion had been made came before their Lordships' House, that would of course be the proper time for his noble Friend to propose any Amendment.


said, that that was the precise answer which he expected. The fact, however, was that in all probability the Bill would come on in the dog-days, when Peers would be disinclined to attend, and that consequently the Government would have it all their own way. It would have been far more satisfactory to him if the noble and learned Lord could have informed the House that a clause, of the nature to which he had alluded, would be introduced.

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