HL Deb 08 November 1909 vol 4 cc531-3

Read 3a (according to order), with the Amendments.

LORD ALVERSTONE moved to amend Clause 2, so that it would read— 2.—(1) Any oath may be administered and taken in the form and manner following:— The person taking the oath shall hold the New Testament, or, in the case of a Jew, the Old Testament, in his uplifted hand and shall say or repeat after the officer administering the oath the words "I swear by Almighty God that …", followed by the words of the oath prescribed by law. (2) The officer shall (unless the person about to take the oath voluntarily objects thereto, or is physically incapable of so taking the oath) administer the oath in the form and manner aforesaid without question: Provided that in the case of a person who is neither a Christian nor a Jew the oath shall be administered in any manner which is now lawful.

Amendment moved— In clause 2, page 1, line 10, after 'Testament,' to insert 'or in the case of a Jew, the Old Testament'; and in line 19, to leave out 'not' and to insert 'neither,' and after 'Christian' to insert 'nor a Jew.'"—(Lord Alverstone.)

EARL BEAUCHAMP, in moving to insert at the end of subsection (1) of Clause 2 "but omitting any further words of imprecation or calling to witness," said he was anxious to take the opinion of their Lordships' House upon the Amendment, and to know especially what the view was of the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chief Justice, whose experience naturally was so great as to render his advice on an Amendment of the kind of particular value to His Majesty's Government. There was in one or two quarters of the House considerable feeling with regard to the words "So help me God!" which come at the end of the oath. Those words had entered into the current phraseology of the nation in a way in which the other words of the oath had not done, and to a great many people they constituted a most important part of it. He could not help feeling if those words were inserted in the oath that they did not really bear the strict meaning they ought to bear, being really more in the nature of an imprecation than of a prayer. It was not very easy to argue such things, and it was a case in which His Majesty's Government desired to follow the opinion of the House.

Amendment moved— In page 1, line 14, after 'law' to insert 'but omitting any further words of imprecation or calling to witness.'"—(Earl Beauchamp.)

LORD ALVERSTONE said he attached very little importance to the retention of the words in question, but thought that His Majesty's Government had made a great step in advance in the Bill by putting the words "I swear by Almighty God" into the mouth of the witness himself. With regard to the words "So help me God," he was inclined to think that those words meant "God help me if I do not tell the truth," but of course what they were really taken to mean was somewhat doubtful. It might also be considered important that the words had formed part of the oath for a considerable time, but he repeated that personally he did not attach any importance to their retention. At the same time if there was no strong feeling and desire to omit them, probably His Majesty's Government would allow them to remain. He attached much more importance to the witness himself using the words in the Bill.

THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND was doubtful whether he had any right to intervene in a matter of the kind, but as their Lordships had been invited to express their lay opinions on the subject, it seemed to him that it would be a great pity to leave out the words in question. No doubt their meaning was ambiguous, but he was pretty certain that a large number of people took them in the sense of invoking Divine assistance to enable them to do what, after all, was not a perfectly simple matter in many cases—to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; and the words having been in the form of the oath for so many years and a good many people taking them in the sense he had indicated, he could not help feeling that it would be a somewhat serious thing to omit them. Therefore, as there appeared to be no strong feeling on the part of the Lord Chief Justice against their retention, he would submit that it would be better to retain them. That was the safest course. He could not see that their retention did any harm, whereas their omission might possibly do harm.

VISCOUNT ST. ALDWYN supported what had just fallen from the noble Duke behind him. The words in question had been part of the oath in every Court of the land for a very long time, and it would be a great pity to remove them, especially after what had been said by the Lord Chief Justice that there was no strong feeling against their retention.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.

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