HL Deb 01 July 1858 vol 151 cc693-702

On the Order of the Day for the Second Reading of this Bill,


Before my noble and learned Friend (Lord Lyndhurst), rises to move the second reading of the Bill of which he has given notice, perhaps your Lordships will allow me, though not strictly in order, to say a few words upon the position in which the House stands with regard to the three Bills which are to-night to be considered. But before I do so I feel it my duty in a single sentence to express to your Lordships, and more especially to noble Lords opposite, my grateful thanks for the forbearance and courtesy with which they have submitted to my very involuntary absence, in consequence of an illness from which I am now only imperfectly recovered. I must also express my hope that no material public inconvenience has arisen or will arise from the postponement, until I should be able to attend, of some discussions from which I should be very sorry to be absent. With respect to the question which is about to be brought under your Lordships' notice, your Lordships will remember that a Bill passed through the House of Commons, and was submitted to your Lordships, for the alteration of certain oaths now required to be taken by Members of both Houses of Parliament; and that a clause was introduced in that Bill, as it came up to your Lordships, which dispensed with certain words of one of the oaths in favour of Her Majesty's Jewish subjects. Those clauses were struck out of the Bill by your Lordships, and the Bill so amended was sent down to the other House. The House of Commons returned the Bill, objecting to your Lordships' Amendments, and offering their reasons in support of their objections. Upon the re-consideration of the Bill and of the Commons' Reasons, when your Lordships insisted on your Amendments, my noble and gallant Friend near me (the Earl of Lucan) very unexpectedly gave notice, on the day before the Whitsuntide holidays, of his intention to move an Amendment. without stating the nature or character of that Amendment. On the first day after the holidays my noble and gallant Friend accordingly moved his Amendment substantially to this effect, that by an Act of Parliament either House should have the power, by Resolution, to dispense with the words "on the true faith of a Christian," in the case of members of the Jewish persuasion. That Amendment took me and most of your Lordships by surprise. My noble and gallant Friend having only giving notice of his intention on the day before the recess, and having brought forward his Amendment on the first day after the holidays, it was impossible for any private communication to take place between noble Lords either on one side or the other, and we came to the discusion of an important Amendment without the possibility of previous consultation or deliberation. Under these circumstances I took upon myself to suggest to your Lordships that the question brought forward by my noble and gallant Friend was one of too much importance to be decided upon in an incidental discussion of an Amendment in the last stage of a Bill. I suggested to your Lordships that, if my noble and gallant Friend intended to propose his Amendment, it would be better done by a separate Bill than by a mere Amendment. I confess that in my opinion it would have been more satisfactory to your Lordships and to the country if my noble and gallant Friend had been satisfied with the expression of his own opinion—with throwing out a suggestion that such a modification was required, and had then left the other House of Parliament to send back the Bill with the Amendments so introduced, to which your Lordships might then have given your assent. But the course which has been pursued is that two Bills have been brought in—one by my noble and gallant Friend (the Earl of Lucan) and another by my noble and learned Friend (Lord Lyndhurst) than whom no one is more entitled to be heard on a subject to which he has devoted so much time and attention. Upon looking at the two Bills there does not appear to be much difference in their provisions; but in the framing of his Bill my noble and learned Friend commits what may be considered an irregularity in the course of Parliamentary proceeding; because a Bill which has passed through all its stages here must necessarily be communicated to the House of Commons, with the final decision of your Lordships upon it. The Bill of my noble and learned Friend, however, takes steps to re-enact all the clauses that have been already passed in the Bill that has been before both Houses of Parliament. The Bill of my noble and gallant Friend, on the contrary, takes a different course, and deals only with the single question of enabling the House of Commons to deal by way of Resolution with the question, and to dispense with some words in this particular oath. I confess that I am disposed to view with every favour the suggestion of my noble and gallant Friend to send down such an enabling power to the House of Commons, and I think such a course preferable to that pursued by my noble and learned Friend. I think it would be far better to send down the first Bill as it stands, and then to send down the Bill of my noble and gallant Friend as a separate measure, having special reference to the case of the Jews. I confess, my Lords, that I have not altered my views in regard to the policy or expediency of admitting the Jews to be Members of a Christian Legislature; but, having carefully and anxiously considered the subject, I see that the proposal of my noble and gallant Friend is the only possible solution of a difficulty which has existed for a period of ten years. I see no other practical chance of bringing the two Houses of Parliament into agreement. The measure proposed by my noble and gallant Friend is one that certainly maintains the principle adopted by your Lordships in dealing with this measure; it maintains the dignity of your Lordships' House with regard to that portion of the question which is more immediately subject to your jurisdiction; it maintains the law as it stands at the present moment, but it enables the House of Commons, upon a question that specially relates to persons taking their seats in that House, to dispense with the words which stand in the way of what appears to be the decided wish of that House. This solution appears to me to afford a practical and not unreasonable mode of settling a difficult and complicated question. And however much I regret the determination taken by the House of Commons, and the impossibility of maintaining inviolate the principle for which your Lordships' House has ever contended, I confess I think there is less difficulty and less practical inconvenience and danger arising from giving a limited consent to the views of the House of Commons, as embodied in the proposition of my noble and gallant Friend, than in persisting in an opposition which all practical experience proves cannot be pushed beyond a certain limit between the two Houses. While, therefore, on the one hand, I object to the Bill of my noble and learned Friend, and while I cannot say that the Bill of my noble and gallant Friend is not susceptible of and may not indeed require some Amendment, I shall be satisfied, if it come to a question of dividing upon the second reading, to give my support to the Bill of my noble and gallant Friend. My Lords, it is with the greatest regret I feel that I may differ upon this question from many of those with whom I have agreed for many years. If upon this occasion those who have honoured me with their confidence find it impossible to adopt the course which I have recommended, I will only say for my own part that, claiming from them that justice which I am ready to give in return, I take the course which I have adopted from no other feeling than a desire to see an amicable settlement between the two Houses with regard to a question of grave interest, and with respect to which I see no other solution.


My Lords, the course recommended by my noble Friend has taken me by surprise. Before I give an answer to the considerations which he has suggested, it is necessary to make some explanation. When this subject was last before your Lordships, I listened with great attention and satisfaction to the speech of my noble Friend. Upon that occasion my noble Friend, with that readiness of illustration and clearness of statement by which he is characterized, shaped out the course which he thought should be pursued in order to put an end to the difference between the two Houses of Parliament. I considered most carefully the suggestion made by my noble Friend, and I took it as the foundation of the Bill I have brought in. If your Lordships will look to the clauses, you will find that they correspond with the suggestions of my noble Friend. By the Bill I have brought in, if a Member of either House come to the table to be sworn, and says that he cannot conscientiously make the declaration "on the true faith of a Christian," those words are to be struck out of the oath, and the taking of the oath with that omission will be a sufficient taking of the oath. That, my Lords, is the main clause of the Bill that I have brought in. My noble Friend, it it true, did not pledge himself to support a Bill so drawn, but he expressed himself strongly in favour of such a measure. I will read to your Lordships a report of what fell from my noble Friend, which accords exactly with my own recollection of what took place. What I am now stating is said in my own justification, in presenting the Bill in the form in which it now appears. I do not read this in any controversial spirit, but in explanation. My noble Friend, speaking of the Amendment of my noble and gallant Friend (the Earl of Lucan) expressed himself in these terms:— I could better understand it (the Amendment)had he introduced into the latter portion of the clause the same provision which is to be found in the first part, and provided that in the case of any person presenting himself at the table (for I can't see why the restriction should only be removed in the case of Jews), and having been duly elected, declaring that he was willing to take the prescribed oaths, but that the words 'on the true faith of a Christian' were not binding on his conscience, each House should be empowered to omit those words, and to allow the substantive oath to be taken in the form which might be most binding. I do not pledge myself to that view, but there is much to be said in its favour, and that by adopting it it is possible to a great extent to get rid of the very painful subject of difference between this and the other House. In voting against the latter portion (of the Amendment) I desire to reserve to myself, and those with whom I act, the opportunity of considering upon some future occasion whether any compromise, framed according to such principle as I have mentioned, may not be adopted to terminate the inconveniences arising from, I fear, the permanent difference of opinion between your Lordships and the other House. I repeat, that it was in consequence of that statement that I framed the Bill which I have submitted to the consideration of your Lordships, and which, as your Lordships will see, is founded on that statement of my noble Friend. I do not say, that in consequence of his statement my noble Friend was absolutely bound to support the Bill as I have framed it; but I had every reason to believe, from the manner in which he expressed himself, and from his stating that much was to be said in favour of a Bill so drawn up, that it would have had the entire concurrence of my noble Friend. In that, however, I am sorry to say, I have been disappointed. I have not, in point of principle, any objection to the Bill of my noble and gallant Friend (the Earl of Lucan). I have no personal object in this matter. I have nothing but a public object in view, and if that object is carried, whether it be accomplished by my Bill or by the Bill of my noble and gallant Friend is to me a matter of perfect indifference. I have no personal vanity to gratify. I have been too long engaged in public life, and am far too much advanced in age, to be influenced by any feelings of that description. I am only desirous to accomplish the object, and to attain the end I have in view, and by whomsoever it may be promoted, and by whatever measure, it will have my hearty concurrence and support. My noble Friend has stated, that there is an objection in point of form to the Bill I have introduced, but he is entirely misinformed on that matter. In the first place, the two Bills which have been introduced are not identical, there is a wide difference between them— the one is imperative, the other discretionary. But I do not rely on that. I will state distinctly the rule of your Lordships' House on the subject, and which is also the rule of the other House of Parliament. When a Bill is brought up from the other House, and is rejected by your Lordships, then a Bill in the same form, and having the same objects, cannot be introduced during the same Session into the House where the first Bill originated. But so long as a Bill is depending in the House, another Bill, having precisely the same object, may be brought in and passed. It depends entirely on the question whether the former Bill is or is not pending. No man will say that the Bill which was brought up from the other House relative to the Jews is not now pending before your Lordships. It is not only on the paper for to-night, but we have on the paper the reasons which we are about to consider why we cannot assent to the reasons of the Commons in support of their clauses. When those answers go down to the House of Commons, that House may again send the Bill up for our reconsideration. It is obvious, then, that the Bill is still pending; and the rule is, that while a Bill is pending, and until it is completely disposed of, there is nothing whatever to prevent another Bill for the seine object being introduced. At this very moment there are two or three law Bills directed to the same object before your Lordships' House; and in the other House of Parliament—for the rule is the same in both Houses—there are two bills pending for regulating the Government of the East Indies. I think these statements are decisive as regards the objection of my noble Friend. But another rule exists, from which there can be no doubt whatever, and that is, that when a Bill comes from the other House of Parliament, and is rejected in your Lordship's House, you may in your House introduce another Bill having the same title and directed to the same object, and send it down to the House from which the other Bill proceeded. That is a rule which has been established among the general orders of your Lordships' House, so that even had the former Bill been rejected—if it had been entirely out of your Lordships' House—it would still have been competent for us, that Bill having originated in the other House, to produce another Bill with the same title and directed to the same object. I did not think it right, my Lords, to rely entirely on my own view of this case, but I applied for information to an eminent officer of the other House of Parliament, whose name I shall not mention, but who is perfectly acquainted with all the rules of Parliament, and his answer to my application was as follows:— My dear Lord,—No objection can be raised to the introduction of a Bill into the House of Commons on the ground of there being a similar Bill already before the House. Indeed we have at present two India Bills before us—Lord Palmerston's and Lord Derhy's—each waiting a second reading. It is the rejection, and not the pendency of the Bill, that creates the difficulty as to ulterior proceedings. The rule applies to both Houses, and an additional indulgence is allowed to Bills sent by the Commons to the Lords, as, even in the event of their rejection by the Lords, similar Bills may be subsequently introduced into the Lords. (See May's Practice of Parliament, 247). The introduction of any Jew Bill into the Lords is, therefore, as far as I can judge, perfectly regular. But the Question does not rest here. You will find from Mr. May's Privileges and Practices of Parliament, that the rules of both Houses in regard to this matter are the same. He says:— When Bills have ultimately passed, or have been rejected, the rules of both Houses are positive that they shall not be introduced again; but the practice is not strictly in accordance with them. The principle is thus stated by the Lords, May 17, 1600:—'That when a Bill hath been brought into the House and rejected, another Bill of the same argument and matter may not be renewed and begun again in the same House, in the same Session, where the former Bill was begun; but if a Bill, begun in one of the Houses, and there allowed and passed, be disliked and refused in the other, a new Bill of the same matter may be drawn and begun again in that House whereunto it was sent; and if, a Bill being begun in either of the Houses and committed, it be thought by the committees that the matter may better proceed by a new Bill, it is likewise holden agreeable to order, in such case, to draw a new Bill and to bring it into the House.' I have to repeat, therefore, that according to the rules of your Lordships' House, even if this Bill had been rejected, we have power to introduce a new Bill for the same object. I have stated this in justification of what I have done; and now allow me to say a few words with respect to the Bill of my noble and gallant Friend. I have no objection on principle to that Bill. It embraces, indeed, a material part of my own Bill. But what strikes me as very extraordinary is, that when my noble and gallant Friend moved his Amendment to the Bill that came down from the Commons, that Amendment consisting of two parts, one appli- cable to Members in Parliament, and another to persons out of Parliament, my noble Friend at the head of the Government (the Earl of Derby) approved one of those parts, and disapproved, or at least had strong doubts as to the other; and now my noble and gallant Friend omits that part which my noble Friend approved, and contents himself with the introduction into his Bill of that of which my noble Friend expressed grave doubts. Another thing I must notice. I do not state it in the spirit of controversy, but by way of explanation; because your Lordships must be aware that my noble and gallant Friend's Bill is only part of a complete measure, and that if you pass this Bill you will still have to pass another, in order to make the relief complete. My noble and gallant Friend's Bill deals with the oath of abjuration only so far as relates to the words "on the true faith of a Christian," and if the Bill should pass into a law you still would have to abjure the descendants of the Pretender. I put that to my noble Friend for his consideration. It is true that when the Bill goes into Committee you may amend it in that respect; but what will be the effect? Why, absolutely to make it conformable to my Bill; so, by rejecting the Bill that I have brought in, you are supporting a Bill which embraces only one part of the subject, and are going into Committee to supply what is wanting to make it like mine. I repeat I do not in the slightest degree care by what process the object I have in view may be attained. Whether it be by the Bill brought in by my noble and gallant Friend, or by my Bill—whether it be by one Bill or by two—is to me altogether immaterial. As I said before, I have no personal feeling on the subject; I am desirous of attaining the object in view, and in whatever way that object is attained I shall be perfectly satisfied. Now, as I understand that my noble Friend will support the Bill of my noble and gallant Friend, and as I know, if he does support that Bill, the object will be accomplished—as I know, too, if I press my Bill it may possibly not succeed, or at least may succeed with difficulty, I have no hesitation whatever in postponing my Bill in order that the Bill of my noble and gallant Friend may be brought forward and supported by the powerful voice, the masterly talents, and more than that, the extensive—I will not say the overwhelming—but the extensive influence of my noble Friend at the head of the Government. By taking this course I believe I shall accomplish the object I have at heart. I withdraw my Bill.

Second Reading put off to Thursday next.