§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ ME. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)
, in rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that it consisted only of two clauses, expressed in almost the same language as that which was used in the Affirmation Act for Quakers. The only difference was that it had been suggested to him that he should make it differ from the Affirmation Act, which applied to the Society of Friends, by introducing words to provide that the initiative should be taken by the person who desired to have an opportunity of affirming. To meet that suggestion, which did not appear to him to be unreasonable, he had introduced the words, in the first line in the clause—"Upon objecting to being sworn." He wished now to point out, as briefly as he could, the class of persons whom the Bill touched, and the class of grievances it was intended to remedy. In the first place, as the law now stood, in reference to jurors, jurors who were without religious belief, or who, having religious belief, did not believe in future rewards and punishments, when summoned as jurors, could neither take the oath nor affirm. There was no provision to allow a person, under those circumstances, to affirm, except the provision which related to jurors who had religious belief, and that was clearly marked. He did not know that it would be necessary to make any long statement on that point. The law was clearly put by Lord Bramwell, 1183 in 1881, when lie said that the class of persons mentioned in Section 4 of the Act of 1869—namely, that persons who at that time would be incompetent, but for that Act, to give evidence owing to want of religious belief—that such persons should not be permitted to serve on juries on condition of merely making a solemn declaration or affirmation, instead of taking the oath. That view was concurred in by the Lords Justices of Appeal. Suppose a juror without religious belief to have been sworn by mistake, or because the matter had not been brought to the knowledge of the Court; suppose a juror to have affirmed under what might be called the Religious Belief Clause, then it was quite clear that in a criminal trial error might be brought after conviction and sentence, and a murderer might escape punishment. The law upon that point was very clear, and he did not wish to labour the matter. In 1838 Lord Denman, moving, in the House of Lords, a Bill for the substitution of Affirmations for Oaths, drew attention to a defect which was remedied soon after, in which Dr. Cooke, a Presbyterian clergyman in Ireland, had insisted on being sworn according to the manner in which the Presbyterians thought the oath binding on them; but he had not been sworn in the usual method required bylaw. The point was raised after conviction and after sentence, and the objection was sustained. The consequence was that the prisoner who was convicted in that case escaped the sentence which had been passed upon him. During the last three years there had been a large number of jurors who, being without religious belief, or, at any rate, claiming to be without religious belief, had been ordered to stand aside. They were persons summoned to serve and sit as jurymen, and when they bonâ fide brought the matter under the notice of the Court, or made a claim to be exempt on the ground of having no religious belief, they were able to escape the performance of their duty. In either case, it was equally bad for the rest of the public that these men were not allowed to act as jurymen. They could not affirm, and they could not take the oath. It had been held beyond the possibility of question by the High Court of Justice sitting at Bar, by their Judges, and affirmed on appeal, that if a person without religious belief did, what 1184 he could not call "take the oath," but, adopting the words used by the Judges, if he went through the form of taking the oath, however regularly it might be administered to those who went through the form, it would not be the taking of the oath, because the person to whom it was administered was incapable of taking it. It was to avoid the possible consequence of that state of things that he would appeal even to those who took a somewhat hostile view of the Bill, whether legislation on this question would not be wise, so as to avoid the serious effect of error being alleged after the conclusion of a trial? There was, however, another view of it which appeared to him to be even more painful. A grave doubt often arose, especially in Coroners' Courts, where a deputy Coroner was sitting, as to whether persons summoned as jurymen were entitled to affirm or not, and occasionally squabbles occurred on matters of religious opinion. He thought he was within the mark in saying that he had noted within the last two or three years some 20 or 30 such cases, and he had brought some of them before the House in the form of questions to the hon. and learned Attorney General. Sometimes the deputy Coroner decided in one way, and sometimes in another, and great suffering was thus often entailed on the relatives of the deceased who were awaiting the inquest. He would suggest to the House that this was a reason, if other things were reasonable, why there should be a disposition to make the law clear on the point. In regard to jurors, he would put the matter in this way: Jurors without religious belief, or jurors having religious belief of some kind, who yet did not believe in future rewards and punishment, were by law incapable of taking the oath, and were not by law permitted to affirm. Leaving that class, he came next to cases connected with the Oath of Allegiance. In that case, there was no provision made by the law for affirming at all, except for Quakers, Moravians, and Separatists. A Christian, in the fullest sense of the word, who conscientiously objected to take the oath on the ground he had heard many Christians put forward, that oath taking was unlawful by the terms of their own creed—such persons wore not entitled to affirm their allegiance. There was no provision for a case 1185 of that kind in our law at all, and yet the Oath was taken not only by Members of Parliament and Justices of the Peace, but by the barristers, solicitors, a variety of constables, officers, and the rank and file in the Army, and both warrant and petty officers in the Navy. He would point out a very serious difficulty which had arisen in connection with Justices of the Peace. There was a decision of the Court of Appeal, confirming that of the Court of Three Judges, and, for the purposes of debate that day, that decision of the Court of Appeal must be assumed to be good law. It was a decision of Judges of the very highest eminence, and was used by the present Lord Chief Justice of England and two other Judges sitting at Bar. The decision, with the arguments, had been reported, and might be found in the Library of the House, and its effect was that a Justice of the Peace who was without religious belief could not have the oath administered to him, and consequently his acts were open to challenge in a variety of ways; ways with which he need not trouble the House at length. If that decision were good, any soldier who fell within that category could not be properly attested, the administration of the oath being legally required. He need hardly enlarge on the serious inconvenience which would follow a decision of that effect. He had no wish to deal with the matter simply from the point of view of the Oath of Allegiance as taken at the Table of the House. He was happy to say that he was able to move the second reading of the Bill as no longer a Party measure. It had upon its back the endorsement of Members sitting on both sides of the House. It was within his own knowledge that a very large number of Members on the opposite Benches considered this measure a fair and proper solution of an extremely difficult problem, and he trusted that it might be dealt with and settled now without a particle of bitterness, or even of recollection. There had necessarily been present to his mind the consideration of objections which Members might fairly feel in dealing with such a measure as this. In the first instance, he would point out that the whole tendency of the legislation of this country for the last six years had been to diminish oaths as much as possible, and 1186 to abolish a great many oaths that were once considered necessary, substituting for them, in cases of testimony, affirmations which could carry with them all the legal consequences which attached to the oath, so that a false statement made under affirmation should bear with it the same penalty as a false statement described as "perjury." He had, however, seen that several hon. Members had written to their constituents with reference to this measure, saying that they had no objection to it as far as it applied to the Oath of Allegiance, but that they did object to it as far as it applied to witnesses. Ho would, however, point out to those hon. Members that the law already gave witnesses who were without religious belief the right to affirm, so that they were raising a difficulty which did not occur. It might be said that, ''if so, why do you not exempt witnesses from the operation of your Bill?" He would answer that question at once. It was because, unfortunately, the wording of the Evidence Amendment Act of 1869 and the Evidence Further Amendment Act, 1870, was so peculiar that it had given rise to a variety of practices. The words were these—If any person called on to give evidence in any Court of Justice, whether in civil or criminal proceedings, should object to take the oath, or should be objected to as incompetent to take that oath.Now, the only persons who could be objected to as incompetent to take the oath wore those who came now with all their incompetency swept away, except a wife in a criminal proceeding. The only person who could be objected to as incompetent to take the oath was a person without religious belief, or a person who, having religious belief, did not believe in a state of future rewards and punishment. Such persons should, if the presiding Judge were satisfied that the taking of the oath would not be binding on his conscience, make a promise and declaration which now, unfortunately, had given rise to much difficulty. In 1875 a case was brought before the old Court of Queen's Bench, the late Lord Chief Justice presiding. It was a case in which Mr. Woolrych, the police magistrate, had refused to receive the evidence of a man named Lennard, who had said, "I am an Atheist." The 1187 Court of Queen's Bench made the rule absolute for a mandamus, requiring Mr. Woolrych to take the evidence, on the ground that he ought to have been satisfied that an oath would have had no binding effect upon Lennard's evidence. Unfortunately, the case was not reported. It was, however, traceable by lawyers; there was a record of it in the Rule Office, but no official report of the case. The consequence had been that, especially in proceedings before the magistrates, and in the Inferior Courts, a curious looseness had been observed in the construction of the words—"The Judge shall be satisfied that an oath has no binding effect upon his conscience." In view of that fact, He had received a letter only that day from a gentleman describing his experience, and putting it so clearly, and in language so much better than the language he could use, that he would take the liberty of reading it. The writer says—A witness in a Court of Law objects to take the oath, and says that he is without belief in a future state of rewards and punishments, but confesses to a belief in the existence of a Supreme Being, and declares that the taking of the oath would have a binding effect on his conscience. In such a case, if I rightly understand the law, as it at present stands, the witness would be utterly incompetent, and his testimony, therefore, wholly inadmissible. For not possessing the required belief as to a future state of rewards and punishments (Reg. v. Taylor, Peake 11; Maden v. Catanach, 31 L. J. Ex. 118), he would be unqualified to take oath, even if he changed his mind and waived his objection to taking it; and the opportunity of affirming would be denied to him, because, as it seems, to the right to affirm there is attached a condition precedent that the Judge must be satisfied that the taking of the oath would have no binding effect, &c.—a condition which, in the present case, clearly remains unsatisfied.He was present at a trial in which the present Lord Chief Justice asked the witness if his evidence would be binding on his conscience, and the witness said if he took the oath it would be binding on his conscience, because he would take no pledge and take no oath by which he did not intend to be bound. The Lord Chief Justice, with his usual kindness, took a great deal of trouble to explain the matter to the witness. He did not ask him if the truth would be binding on him, but whether the oath, in the sense of an appeal to some Being who would act in some fashion hostilely 1188 or otherwise in consequence of untruthfulness, had any binding effect upon the witness. A short discussion took place, in which an explanation was given on the part of the witness, and an interpretation on the part of the Bench, which occupied some seven or eight minutes before it could be ascertained whether the oath would have a binding effect upon the witness's conscience. In minor proceedings, such as those in the Coroners' Courts and before the magistrate, cases of this kind constantly occurred, and they had arisen because the wording of the Evidence Amendment Acts did leave room for much misconstruction in practice and misinterpretation. It was known to all who watched the progress of the Acts of 1869 and 1870 when they were before the House of Commons, as he had done very closely, the present Mr. Justice Denman, then a Member of the House, having been kind enough to allow him to wait on him in reference to both Bills. Everyone who had watched the progress of those measures would be aware that when they left the House they were without any of the words in them which had caused all the difficulty. Those words were simply supplemented in the House of Lords, probably to meet some objection which had occurred to the mind of some noble Lord at that moment. It had, however, the effect of importing into the matter an element of extreme difficulty. In England, Ireland, and "Wales all witnesses, whether they had religious belief or none, should affirm. In Scotland that was not the case, so that this Bill would also relieve witnesses in Scotland as the Acts of 1869 and 1870 did relieve witnesses in England, Ireland, and Wales. To illustrate the necessity for the Bill he would instance a case which came before the Court of Aberdeen last week, and was reported in the Aberdeen journals. The evidence of a man was objected to on the ground that he was an Atheist. The man claimed to affirm, but the Sheriff said—"I have no authority to take this man's affirmation." the Act which gave the right of affirmation in Scotland only gave it those who had religious belief, and to those who took the oath in accordance with their religious belief. He did not know whether the Sheriff was aware that this 1189 Bill was about to be brought forward, but the learned gentleman used these words—Supposing this man were the only witness in a murder case, the murderer must escape, because of a technical objection to the evidence.He submitted to the House that there had been a disposition on the part of Parliament during the last 60 years—a disposition which had been enlarged by the Evidence Amendment Acts in criminal cases, which was intended to exhaust every possible way of getting at the truth in all cases by getting rid of every incompetency to give evidence. There was an Amendment upon the Paper which asked the House not to consider the Bill, but to refer the grievance to a Royal Commission. He would suggest to the hon. Member for the Oswestry Division of Shropshire (Mr. S. Leighton), in whose name the Amendment stood, that he could hardly have paid any attention to what had already happened in connection with oaths. A Royal Commission was appointed in 1867, and issued no fewer than five Reports altogether, one being signed by five, some by three, some by two, and one by only one Member. The Report from which he now quoted was signed by Lord Lyveden, Mr. E. P. Bouverie, Mr. Lowe (now Lord Sherbrooke), Sir William Stirling Maxwell, and Mr. H. H. Milman. He would trouble the House with only one or two passages from that Report. It said—Oaths of Allegiance have seldom, if ever, been found to be of any practical benefit to the persons or the institutions whoso safety and stability it has been sought to maintain by imposing them. In peaceful and prosperous times they are not needed; in limes of difficulty and danger they are not observed.The Commission gave an instance which he might mention to the House. They said—As an example of an oath which appears to us open to nearly every possible objection, we may cite the Oath of Allegiance imposed by the Mutiny Ace on recruits for the Army, which the Commission in its Report recommends to be maintained. This oath is a part of the ceremony of attestation which is necessary to complete the enlistment. It may be taken before any Justice of the Peace not being an officer in the Army, and in London it is commonly taken before the magistrate at the Westminster Police Court. There, at certain fixed hours, before and after the other business, recruits are attested and the oath is administered to them in a body by the Usher of the Court, the recruiting sergeant and his batch of 1190 recruits being surrounded by any persons who happen to be present, and who are not required to suspend any conversation in which they may be engaged. It would be idle to describe this ceremony as either solemn or impressive, nor does it appear certain that it is even intelligible to the lads who are thus bidden to invoke the Almighty.He would pass by the historical portion of the Reports of the Commission, because it did not affect what he desired to put to the House. There was, however, an objection which he felt it his duty to consider, and which had been urged by a right hon. Gentleman (Mr. J. G. Hubbard), who was a Member of the House last Session, but was now a Member of the House of Lords. That right hon. Gentleman said the feeling of the House was strongly in favour of the second reading of the Bill. Although he opposed it, with the generosity of a frank opponent he made an appeal to the House to pass that stage. The main objection the right hon. Gentleman took was that the Bill was so sweeping that it included the Coronation Oath and the Episcopal Enthronement Oath. He (Mr. Bradlaugh) frankly said that he had considered it impertinent to make any exception; but, if the Bill went into Committee, he would not object to such exceptions being made, if the House thought it right to make them. Last Session gave him great encouragement. There were two Divisions taken nominally on the question of adjournment, but really on his declaration that the Members voting would be considered to be voting for or against the Bill. In the first Division there was a majority of 91 in its favour, and in the second a majority of 104. He hoped he had not been tiresome to the House in what he had put forward as reasons for the Bill. He had no desire to avoid any part of the question. He had been almost silent in reference to the past, because he thought the House would consider it better on his part, now it was no longer a question in regard to which Party bitterness arose, but one in connection with which Members on both sides of the House were trying to find a solution of a serious difficulty, that he should no longer refer to mere matters of personal relief to himself. He should certainly be glad if the House would permit him to do that by law which he would have done by inclination eight years ago. He was, 1191 however, pleading for a large number of cases in which serious evils might arise. He was pleading in favour of the recognition of a principle which the late Mr. Justice Mellor had clearly and distinctly put in his marvellously able pamphlet. Speaking of the legislation of 1869 and 1870 on this question, the learned Judge said—The Legislature has enabled even Atheists to depose without any obligation of taking an oath, but at the same time making them liable to punishment for false testimony, as if they had committed perjury. Profoundly convinced by a long judicial experience of the general worthlessness of oaths, especially in cases in which their falsity cannot be tested by cross-examination, or be criminally punished, I have become an advocate for the abolition of oaths as the test of truth; but I would retain the punishment for false delarations wherever at present the law prescribes a penalty for a false oath.He knew that his argument, if it was worth anything, went to the question of abolishing oaths altogether; but he was not prepared to ask the House to do that, because he know there were many men—very conscientious men—who thought they ought to be permitted to swear their allegiance, and who desired to make the appeal they now made before good evidence. He did not propose to interfere with their tender consciences in any way. He only asked an option for all who were either disabled by law at present, or who desired to be relieved from a position which often became intolerable. He thanked the House for its attention, and begged to move the second reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and. Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Bradlaugh.)
§ MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON (Shropshire, Oswestry)
, in rising to move the following Amendment:—That, having regard to the fact that the Bill for the Amendment of the Law as to Oaths relates not only to the Parliamentary Oath, but involves grave questions of Constitutional usage affecting every class of persons within these Realms, this House declines to make any alteration in the present Law until the whole subject has been investigated by a Royal Commission,said, he thought it a matter for satisfaction that the House could approach the consideration of the question free from those local and personal prejudices which, on other occasions, had animated their debates. It was also a matter of congratulation that they could deal with 1192 it free even from Party traditions; and he could assure the House that in no quarter would the question be debated in a fairer, more tolerant, or more liberal spirit than in the quarter of the House from which he rose. He should discuss it from a somewhat wider standpoint than the hon. Member—for it was a question not of forms, but of morals and religion. The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) had shown how much of pure technicality was involved in the issue. But he had not pointed out its comprehensive and farreaching character. It appeared to him (Mr. Leighton) that such a question ought, above all others, to be in the hands, not of a private Member, but of the Government. He doubted whether a question of this sort could be brought to fruition in the hands of a private Member. They all knew the dangers which accompanied amateur legislation. They all desired to remove grievances; but they also desired to respect scruples of conscience. The present system was not a vestige of ancient legislation; it was constructed upon modern lines of thought, and was the work of recent Acts of Parliament. The Coronation Oath was not more than 200 years old, the Oath of Allegiance had been changed three times during the last 200 years, and had not been improved. Its original words were—I will be true and faithful to the King and his heirs, and truth and faith will bear to him of life and limb and terrene honour, and will not know or hear of any ill or damage intended him without defending him therefrom.These noble words, converted by 1 Geo. I. into—I do sincerely promise and swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to His Majesty.And again, in 1868, into the unmeaning formula—I do swear I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Victoria, heirs, and successors according to the law.The whole history of legislation in reference to oaths and affirmations had been one of continuous change. But every compromise and every re-adjustment had been founded either on religious motives or to secure the ends of justice. It was only on the grounds of religion that jurors had been released from the oath. The principle had always been to preserve the sanctity of the oath wherever 1193 it was possible. Wherever the oath, had no binding effect on the conscience, then, in the case of a witness, the Judge might dispense with the oath, but not so in the case of a juror. The oath could only be dispensed with in the case of the juror on his declaration that he held a "religious" objection to the oath. In Courts of Justice the discretion whether a witness or juror was to swear or affirm was in the hands of the Judge, and never of the witness or juror himself. The Judge might accept evidence of a witness if he were satisfied that the taking of an oath would have no binding effect on his conscience. In that case only the witness had a right to affirm. The option and discretion was in the Judge. But the Bill reversed all this, and placed the option in the juror or witness. A Royal Commission sat on this question 20 years ago. The Reference to that Commission was of a very limited character. To that Commission was not referred the whole question of Oaths and Affirmations; clerical, judicial, and Parliamentary Oaths were withdrawn from their consideration. What did that Commission report? They reported that the oaths, in the cases of jurymen, officials, soldiers, and sailors, should be retained. The Report of the Commission was one great landmark in relation to this subject in modern times; and another landmark was the rejection, only three years ago, of a certain Bill called the "Parliamentary Oaths Bill," brought in by a Radical Government in a Radical Parliament. Some 3,000 Petitions were presented against that Bill, and only 700 in its favour. How many Petitions had been presented in favour of the present far more sweeping Bill? He did not think there had been a single one. How as, therefore, justified in saying that the whole tendency of modern thought, as far they had any Parliamentary record, was opposed to the proposition of the hon. Member. The record of the Royal Commission was against one part of the Bill—the rejection of the Bill three years ago against the other part. He hoped the House would appreciate the comprehensive nature of this measure—the Bill virtually abolished all oaths. Christians did not consider that oaths ought to be taken unless it was obligatory bylaw that it should be taken. Unnecessary oaths were unlawful, and he wished to have that position very clearly 1194 understood. By the 39th Article of the Church it was laid down that the "Christian religion doth not prohibit but that a man may swear when the magistrate requireth;" but if the Bill passed no magistrate would be any longer able to require a man to take an oath. No oath would be obligatory; every oath would be merely voluntary. What would be the practical effect of the measure in Courts of Justice? Did the sanction of an oath give any guarantee that a witness would speak the truth? He was quite aware that many men would speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, in all places and at all times, without taking any oath at all; but he regretted to say that that was not universal. When he looked upon the grave and reverend seigniors who sat upon the two Front Benches of that House and listened to the way in which they described the speeches of their opponents as full of suppressions of the truth, and of the suggestions false, he was inclined to say that truth was not to be found among political gentlemen. He saw some time ago in a newspaper that a Member of Parliament had been charged with committing wilful and corrupt perjury in a Court of Justice, and the only reason why he was net punished for that offence was that the point upon which the false assertion was made was not pertinent to the issue. He thought it was said that the hon. Gentleman in question had availed himself of the privilege of affirming, as one upon whose conscience an oath had no binding effect.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH
The hon. Gentleman will excuse mo if I remark that there has only been one such case, and that is mine, and it is only justice to say that I gave the noble Lord who made the charge of perjury against me an opportunity of substantiating the charge in a Court of Justice, but he avoided it.
§ MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON
said, the hon. Member had put on the cap himself, for he (Mr. S. Leighton) did not desire to import personalities—it mattered not to his argument if a "lying spirit" was abroad, with whom it had taken up his abode. [Cries of ''Oh!"] All he desired to point" out was that the spirit of truth was not always to be found amongst political gentlemen in political controversies, nor yet among com- 1195 mercial gentlemen. The Common Law had been obliged to introduce a maxim of caveat emptor in the matter of bargains and sales, and certainly everyone who had bought a horse would understand the meaning of that maxim. Mr. Justice Stephen the other day was reported to have made a statement from the Bench which illustrated the question whether ordinary men, unfettered by the obligation of an oath, were to be relied on to speak the truth. Mr. Justice Stephen was reported to have used these words—The standard of public morality is so low with respect to Income Tax returns that an admission of having made false returns should not invalidate a man's claim to be believed on oath in relation to private affairs.So, according to the learned Judge, anyone who solemnly affirmed all sorts of lies in his Income Tax returns, when he went into the witness-box and had his sense of conscience solemnly appealed to might be trusted on his oath. Those who frequented Courts of Justice knew the subterfuges to which witnesses who did not intend to speak the truth would resort in the endeavour to save themselves, from the subsequent pricking of their conscience. Some of them believed that the oath had no valid effect unless the sign of the cross was on the Book, or unless they had three hands on the Book, or if they kissed their thumbs, or if they had their gloves on. The Bill before the House was full of absurdities. It left two courses open to a witness; he might either take the oath, or he might affirm, and under it he might one day take the oath and the next day affirm, just as he chose. The result would be that an immoral pagan, who cared nothing for the sanctity of an oath, would always swear, so that greater credit might be given to his evidence; while the superstitious Christian who wanted to lie would always affirm, in order that he might give false evidence without, as he might think, committing the crime of perjury. A great deal of perjury there undoubtedly was in Courts of Justice, oven under the sanction of an oath; but far more would be committed if that sanction were taken away. But, after all, an oath was a religious test, and was always intended to be so, and the jury had to go through this religious test before they were allowed to return 1196 a verdict in this Christian country. They had to declare their religion, either by taking the oath, or by declaring a "religious" objection to it. Perhaps the time had come for the abolition of all tests. But this Bill did not propose to abolish all tests; it only abolished religious tests. It still kept in force secular tests. The Bill did not go far enough even from the standpoint of the hon. Member. If the time had arrived for the abolition of all tests, let Parliament consider the question; but do not let them abolish religious tests, and leave secular tests. The hon. Member had called attention to the Commission of 1867; but, nevertheless, the hon. Member appeared to be ignorant as to what it was that Commission reported. He (Mr. S. Leighton) had already referred to the Report of the majority; but the minority on that Commission, consisting of five distinguished men, which was worth recalling at the present moment, after considering that matter as a whole, and from a much wider standpoint than the hon. Member for Northampton, made this Report—Oaths of Allegiance are seldom, if ever, of practical value. Political oaths are of doubtful utility; declarations, as might have been expected, are as nugatory as oaths. No declaration or promissory obligation ought to be imposed without penalties being attached for its non-observance, and which the Executive is willing to enforce.That was the Minority Report of the Commission of 1867. With regard to the Parliamentary Oath, what penalties were provided? He had never heard of an Executive imposing penalties for the violation of the oath. Then let them, if they desired to abolish tests, abolish them altogether, and abolish the scandalous spectacle of men of honour coming to that Table and solemnly affirming their allegiance to institutions which they deemed it their duty, the moment they entered the House, to do their utmost to upset. There were a number of inconsistencies and absurdities in the Bill. Even the hon. Member himself declared the Bill required amendment, and was willing to except from its provisions the Coronation Oath or Clerical Oath. He confessed that the Bill, as it stood, could not be carried forward in its entirety. Under these circumstances, he thought a Royal Commission was the best tribnual to which to refer such, a technical 1197 and comprehensive question. The whole question of promissory oaths should be referred to such a Commission, as well as oaths in the witness box, and oaths in the jury box, and of Oaths and Affirmations at the Table of the House. Without disparaging the judgment of the House, he thought the deliberate opinion of 12 or 15 selected men would carry more weight with the country than the judgment of 600 Gentlemen whom the chances of a popular election had brought there to-day, and who might be dismissed to-morrow. They ought to ask such a Commission to inform the House how far in the witness-box the oath was a guarantee of truth; how far it would be satisfactory to the country that jurors should be allowed to sit and decide on the liberties, the lives, and the property of the people of this country without a test of their religious principles. The proposal contained in his Amendment was in accordance with historical precedent. It was the most dignified course to pursue, and he believed it would be fruitful of results. At all events, it was a compromise, and in English politics they had always been fond of compromises. But, whatever the result of the debate that day might be, let the House honestly realize the magnitude of the resolution on the threshold of which they were standing. The House was not re-casting, as it had done over and over again, the form of the Oath on religious grounds. They were entering on a new departure. Up to this time they had recognized and established in the matter of Oaths the scruples of every religious denomination; but they were now asked to recognize and establish the scruples of Atheists. They owed a duty in this country to Christians as well as to Atheists, and if they suddenly passed this Bill, as it stood, they would fail in their duty to them, and offend the consciences of many people. He begged to move the Amendment which stood in his name.
§ MR. DE LISLE (Leicestershire, Mid)
said, he took no exception to the manner in which the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) had moved the second reading of the Bill. The hon Gentleman certainly deserved the praise of all men for the courage and honesty with which he had fought his battle; and if at the present day the cause of Christianity and, as he (Mr. de Lisle) believed, of truth, in its highest aspect, 1198 was failing in the country, it was because those who were Christians were rotten and broken down in their beliefs; whereas those who were the champions of unbelief had the courage and manliness to state what they apprehended. Nevertheless, openly professed unbelievers, the Christian religion taught, stood in the way of everlasting perdition, although there was always hope for them according to the dictum of St. Augustino—"Every impious man lives either to be converted or to exercise the good." he was aware that the opinions he held were more or less despised at the present day by those who had adopted the revolutionary ideas of modern thought, and that therefore, in discussing questions of this kind, it was neither right nor prudent to dwell too much upon theological arguments. But even amongst religious men there was the very greatest difference of opinion as to whether it was wise to maintain the ancient forms of oaths. When the great Affirmation Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) was before the country, the religious world was almost unanimous in opposing the measure—witness some 3,000 Petitions against the Bill, and a joint protest of the whole Roman Catholic Hierarchy. There was, however, one great and noble voice which proclaimed an utterly opposite opinion. Cardinal Newman said—I cannot consider the Affirmation Bill involves a religious principle, (or, as I have hail occasion to observe in print more than 30 yearn ago, what the political and social world means by the word God is too often not the Christian God, the Jewish God, or the Mahomedan God, nor a personal God, but an unknown God‥Hence it little concerns religion whether Mr. Bradlaugh swears by no God, or by an impersonal material, or an abstract or ideal something or other.In the opinion of Cardinal Newman, nothing would have been lost to the cause of religion by the adoption of the Affirmation Bill. That opinion deserved great respect, and there were, no doubt, many men on both sides of the House who would vote for the present Bill in the sense of the words of Cardinal Newman. He (Mr. de Lisle) differed from the argument expressed by his Eminence, because he could not conceive it possible for any man to repeat to himself the words "So help me God" 1199 without attaching to that symbol a real meaning—namely, that God was a living God; that he had knowledge of what passed on this earth; and that He would reward or punish, according to the rectitude of purpose with which He was appealed to. Looking at the Bill on its merits, he objected to it for several reasons, but chiefly because it contained two or three false assertions. He had no doubt that they were no's intended by the hon. Member; but, taking the words in their ordinary sense, he maintained that the measure contained several false statements which should be eradicated from it. In the first instance, he noticed the absence of a Preamble to the Bill. Why was this? All previous measures of the kind had been introduced to the notice of Parliament with a Preamble; why, therefore, should the promoters of this Bill, which was introduced in order to relieve the consciences of various classes of Her Majesty's subjects, object to put in a Preamble in order to express their reason for the measure? He suggested that the hon. Member should modify the Bill in this sense—Whereas it is expedient and reasonable that the simple affirmation of persons of the persuasion of the people called Atheists and of Agnostics should be allowed in all cases where an oath is or shall be required by law, Be it enacted, &c.He (Mr. de Lisle) could conceive no objection to that Preamble, and it would be an encouragement to him to vote for the Bill if a Preamble of this kind were introduced. If the measure was intended to relieve the consciences of persons called Atheists and Agnostics, so be it; but let the fact be stated in the Bill. He would read the measure, not as it stood, but as he thought it ought, to read—I. Every person upon objecting to being sworn shall be permitted to make simple affirmation, instead of taking an oath, in all places and for all purposes where an oath is or shall be required by law, which affirmation shall be of the same legal force and effect as if he had taken the oath; and if any person making such affirmation shall wilfully, falsely, and corruptly affirm any matter or thing which, if deposed Oh oath, would have amounted to wilful and corrupt perjury, he shall be liable to prosecution, indictment, sentence and punishment in all legal respects as if he had formerly committed wilful and corrupt perjury.And in like manner, in Clause 2, he would substitute the word "simply" for the word "solemnly." The reason 1200 he wished to strike out "solemn" and add "legal," and put in "formerly," was to save a statement which seemed to him a misleading and false one, for it seemed to him very doubtful whether a "solemn affirmation" was not the same as an oath.
said, that the words "solemn affirmation" were words that had already been enacted in Parliament—in the Acts of 1869 and 1870—in reference to persons without religious belief.
§ MR. DE LISLE
said, that the fact that in two previous Acts bad laws had been enacted was no reason why he should agree to their re enactment in further legislation. The Bill contained several statements of alleged facts which were not real facts, and which no power on earth could make facts. It declared that when any person made a "solemn" affirmation instead of taking an oath, his affirmation had the same force and effect as if he had taken the oath—and he was doubtful whether, on the hypothesis of "solemnity," it was not an act of self-deification, because when the appeal to the Deity was ignored a man was simply put in the position that he could swear by no one greater than himself, no maintained that though they might declare that an affirmation should have the same legal force and effect as an oath, they could not give to it the actual sanctity of an oath, the essence of which lay in the asseveration made to the Divine Being, and that was his reason for desiring the insertion of the word "legal." The whole essence of oaths was that those who took them believed that if they committed perjury they would incur not only legal and temporal penalties, but also punishment in the land beyond the grave. He objected, therefore, to the statement that making an affirmation would have the same force and effect as taking an oath, because it was not true. As to the use of the word "solemn" as applied to an affirmation, he had consulted a great many dictionaries, and he found that in all languages the word was taken to imply an idea of religiousness of some sort or other. The real test of the solemnity of an act had reference to the relation between the human doer of the act and the Highest Power. Heathen and classic writers had clearly expressed the idea, and the jurisprudence of the whole 1201 world was in favour of the sanctity of oaths. Cicero, the most eloquent of Roman jurists, said—Who shall deny that these opinions are useful when he understands how many things are made firm by the swearing of an oath? What safety is attached to Treaties by religion! How many the fear of punishment from God has recalled from crime! How holy is the intercourse of citizens amongst themselves when the immortal gods are introduced, sometimes as judges, sometimes as witnesses.When the question as to Affirmations was under discussion in the House some time ago, he wrote a pamphlet on the Parliamentary Oath, and from the line which he then took, after careful examination of the matter, he had never departed, He had held that the divorce of religion from morality would have the effect of sapping the foundations of society, and that to sap the foundations of society was to prepare the downfall of England. England's great power rested on the manliness of character of the English people, and on the soundness and goodness of her laws; and as the laws were the result of the religious belief and the character of the people, so he held that if they tampered with the laws which had worked so well in the past, and lowered them to meet the lower aspirations of the present day, they would strike a fatal blow, not only at the character of the British people, but at the stability and endurance of the British Empire. He might be allowed to quote the noble words used by the present Emperor of Germany, not many days old, under the most solemn and impressive circumstances—namely—Only a generation growing up upon the sound basis of the fear of God and simplicity of morals can possess sufficient resisting power to overcome the dangers which, in a time of rapid economical movement, arise for the entire community, through the examples of the highly luxurious life of individuals.For himself, he believed that it was in the fear of God that the great German Empire was established, and that it was because of the want of the fear of God that the French Empire was destroyed. And it was because he did not wish the British Empire to follow the fate of that of Trance that he took up his present attitude. In a work of the light hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian on the Homeric writings, the right hon. Gentleman objected to 1202 divorcing the religious sentiment from the moral law, remarking—I ask permission to protest against the idea that any Socrates whatever was the patentee of that sentiment of right and wrong which is the most precious part of the patrimony of mankind……It is when religion and morality are torn asunder that the existence of moral ideas is endangered.Those were formerly the right hon. Gentleman's views, and he had no doubt they were still his views. He would like to urge upon the House that it was impossible to make a thing solemn by calling it solemn. The natural position for any man to take up when he wished to be believed was to make the highest kind of assertion which he considered that he could make; he swore by his honour if he thought there was nothing higher than his honour; if he was a Loyalist he might swear by the King's honour, as a thing higher than his own; if he was a Republican he might swear by the Cap of Liberty; there were hundreds of thousands of ways of swearing. But now they proposed to put human beings in the position of saying that there was nothing greater or more sacred than themselves. And therefore he had serious doubt as to whether they were not asserting a sort of self-deification. This might not meet the views commonly held in the present day, but it was in accordance with the opinions of theologians, Protestant as well as Catholic, of past days and also of the present day. He (Mr. de Lisle) reminded the House that St. Paul, in his Sixth Epistle to the Hebrews, wrote—For men verily swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of strife.In the next verse they found St. Paul representing the inscrutable ways of Providence thus—Wherein God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath…‥For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, lie sware by Himself.His (Mr. do Lisle's) contention was that if they were going to make the affirmation "solemn" they were going to put a man, in the words of St. Paul, in the position of being able to swear by no greater than himself—to make a man, in fact, assume the position of Deity. The essence of morality, as he under- 1203 stood it, did not consist in conferring upon a man attributes which he could not possibly possess.
§ MR. W. A. MACDONALD (Queen's County, Ossory)
rose to Order, and asked whether the hon. Gentleman was really speaking to the Question before the House?
§ MR. DE LISLE
said, he thanked Mr. Speaker for the sanction he had given to the line of argument he was pursuing. From his point of view, the total abolition of the oath would be much less objectionable than to leave the word "solemn," as, if the word "solemn" were struck out, a man might make a simple affirmation. If they did not abolish the oath altogether, but left it optional, they put the temptation in the way of the bad Christian to affirm when he ought to swear, and, therefore, to tell a lie and commit real perjury, while they gave occasion to bad, reckless, irreverent Atheists to mock and scoff at religion if they chose to take the oath. If they were to abolish the oath, let them do it absolutely, on the ground, as Cardinal Newman put it, that the word "God" had ceased to have any meaning with the English people. So far as he had been able to form an opinion, he should say of the average man who went into the Law Courts that it would be more advantageous to him to tell a falsehood than to tell the truth. In cases of fraud or assault, or seduction, or adultery, he could not conceive what advantage a man had to gain by telling the truth, and, therefore, looking at self-preservation as the highest law according to certain modern philosophy, the man would tell a falsehood. He was not ashamed to say that he did not maintain that he was bound on all occasions to tell "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." he was quite certain that it would not be denied that the law of honour considered that in certain cases a man was compelled to tell a lie for the sake of somebody else's honour, when that honour was of more particular advantage to the public than his own. On the grounds urged for this Bill, he saw no reason why the Declaration of Allegiance to Her Majesty should not be abolished, as there, were those in the House who were as opposed to the Royal 1204 Sovereignty as there were to religion. In Committee he should certainly put in a plea for criminals that they might claim to be judged by jurors who professed a belief in God. In conclusion, he would only remark that he believed that the religious convictions and feelings of the majority of the Queen's subjects in this country were against a Bill of this kind. So far as he had been able to understand their feelings, he believed that a measure such as this was distasteful to them; but whether it were distasteful or agreeable, he, for one, would never condescend to represent any constituency which asked him to do anything towards the abolition of the Oath.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "having regard to the fact that the Bill for the Amendment of the Law as to Oaths relates not only to the Parliamentary Oath, hut involves grave questions of Constitutional usage affecting every class of persons within these Realms, this House declines to make any alteration in the present Law until the whole subject has been investigated by a Royal Commission,"—(Mr. Stanley Leighton,)—instead thereof
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ SIR JOHN SIMON (Dewsbury)
said, he rejoiced that that important question had passed out of the region of Party politics, and that it was being discussed in a tone that befitted the occasion and the dignity of the House. There was an extraordinary discrepancy between the speeches of the Proposer and the Seconder of the Amendment. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stanley Leighton) who proposed the Amendment occupied the whole of his speech with protests, repeated again and again, against the abolition of oaths, while the hon. Gentleman who spoke last would sweep away oaths entirely and substitute affirmations in every case, rather than leave the law as the Gentleman who proposed the Amendment desired it should be. The hon. Member who seconded the Amendment (Mr. De Lisle) was anxious for a Preamble to the Bill. Well, the hon. Member could not do better than, when the Bill was in Committee, propose the extract which he had read from the letter of Cardinal Newman. There 1205 could not be a better Preamble than that extract, expressed at once forcibly and elegantly, by that eminent man, and he (Sir John Simon) ventured to say that the hon. Gentleman's misgivings about the abolition of oaths might have found some relief from Cardinal Newman's letter. The hon. Member opposite protested that the abolition of the oath or the giving of an option would be an offence to religious feeling and to the consciences of men. Well, it was because of the deep reverence in which he (Sir John Simon) and the religious body to which he belonged held the name of the Supreme Being that he protested against the continuance of this system of oath-taking, which was simply a profanation, and was no prevention of untruth or perjury. The hon. Member protested against a subject of this kind being dealt with by a private Member, and spoke almost contemptuously of what he called private Members' legislation. He (Sir John Simon) did not know how long the hon. Member had been in the House; but he himself had been there long enough to have seen Bills of great usefulness brought forward and carried successfully by private Members. He had also seen Bills proposed by private Members the soundness of which was such that Governments became convinced of their necessity, and took them up and passed them into law. It might be that, if this Bill was thrown out, the Government would ultimately take up the subject, and deal with it on their own authority; but until that was done, he thought that those who felt deep reverence for God's name, and who held the opinions which he (Sir John Simon) held in regard to oaths, should be considered, as well as the section to which the hon. Member opposite referred. It was not from any indifference to the religious test that he now acted, and not from any indifference to the penetrating appeal which, in some instances, he admitted the oath did make to the consciences of men, but it was because of that reverence in which he held the Supreme Being that he thought they ought not to subject His name to desecration by bringing it forward in all their wordly affairs, in promises and matters of contract between man and man—invoking the sacred name of the Deity, and the next moment forgetting that they had 1206 done so. Take the case of Courts of Justice. He had had as large experience as any other barrister of his standing of the effect of an oath. A witness came into the box; the book was presented to him; a little private conversation went on between him and the crier of the Court, who uttered a few words in a very inaudible way, and the witness kissed the Book. The very manner of administering the oath was such an empty form that there was nothing in it calculated to awaken conscience, or touch the religious feelings of the witness. Then the witness was examined by counsel, and what came next? The counsel on the other side got up and cross-examined him, and treated him just as though there had been no oath at all—treated him like a man who had not come there to tell the truth. He did not think such a system was calculated to preserve reverence for an oath, or to enforce truth. Then let them take the case of the House of Commons. At the commencement of a Parliament they knew the state of confusion in which the Oath was administered. Tables were placed on the floor of the House; Members came in in large batches, crushing against one another, the Oath was repeated, and they all kissed the Book. Could there be anything more irreverent than that system? He would quote what Lord Shaftesbury said upon it. In his diary he wrote—12th November, 1852: To the House of Lords to take the Oath. What a mode of administering a sacred office! Can there be any value in such an affirmation?The hon. Member opposite said the Bill purported to remove oaths altogether. The Bill did nothing of the kind; it was optional. Then, again, the hon. Member said that every change in the Oath had been founded on religious motives. He was at issue with him there. If the hon. Member meant that every relief had reference to religious and conscientious feelings, he said it was not true. The Statutes of 1869 and 1870 were based upon the absence of religion. Parliament gave relief not to the religious man who had a conscientious objection on account of religion, but it gave relief to the Atheist—to the man who did not acknowledge the name of God as binding upon his conscience. Then the hon. Gentleman spoke of the subterfuges to which recourse was had 1207 by witnesses; but that was one of the strongest arguments against the continuance of the Oath that they could conceive of. The hon. Member mentioned the subterfuge of kissing the thumb instead of the Book, and he (Sir John Simon) had himself been told of witnesses who did not consider themselves bound even by kissing the Book unless there was a cross upon it. Therefore, was it not idle and absurd, and he might say profane, to continue a system which, was open to these subterfuges, and which, so far as these subterfuges were practised, did not bind the conscience of the swearer? The hon. Gentleman who spoke last objected to the Bill in its present form. He (Sir John Simon) might tell the House that such an Act in the same words was already the law in New Zealand. The objections which the hon. Member took to the Bill could be dealt with in Committee. The hon. Member who moved the Amendment referred to the relief which had been given to Quakers and Moravians. That relief was first given under a Statute of William III. There were other Statutes extending the same relief to Separatists, and in the 1st & 2nd of the present reign there was enacted a Statute which enabled a person who had been once a Quaker to affirm instead of taking the oath. So that if the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) had, at any time in his life been a Quaker, he might have come to the Table and affirm under that Statute. Surely that was not a reasonable state of the law. Would hon. Gentlemen who were contending for the sanctity of an oath support a law which enabled a man who had thrown off the character of a Quaker or a Moravian, and who was an Atheist, to take advantage of an Act which was never intended for an Atheist? The sooner they got rid of such a state of the law the better. Nothing could be more painful than the spectacle they had seen in that House from time to time when questions had been raised as to what a man's belief was at a particular time, and when his rights as a citizen were determined by a House carried away by Party feelings, religious antipathies, and strong prejudices. It was time they got rid of such a state of things, and he should think that, so far from opposing this measure, it would have rejoiced the heart of every 1208 Member of the House to put an end to those unseemly controversies about a man's conscientious belief—to the practice of the House sitting as a Court to form judgment upon what concerned a man's relation to his Maker.
§ MR. SYDNEY GEDGE (Stockport)
, who had a Notice upon the Paper for the rejection of the Bill, said: I desire to explain to the House the reasons why I must oppose this Bill. It affects three kinds of oaths; and it is necessary to consider why those oaths were originally imposed, and the effect of doing away with them. With regard to the Oath of Allegiance, I agree in principle with the Report which was read by the hon. Member for Northampton, and am willing to support any Bill which abolishes that Oath, and, at the same time, does away with any Affirmation of Allegiance. I see no good in requiring a very small number of Her Majesty's subjects thus to testify to their loyalty. Private soldiers in the Army have to take the Oath of Allegiance; officers need not do so. The Oath is taken, perhaps, by hardly 1 per cent of Her Majesty's subjects, and it would be ridiculous to say that the 99 per cent who do not take it are not as loyal as the small minority who do; and experience has shown that if men are determined to rebel or commit high treason, the fact that years before they took the Oath of Allegiance does not prevent them. Somehow or other, they persuade themselves that their conduct is not inconsistent with it. But, as the law stands, a man who has to take the Oath is bound to show his allegiance to his Monarch and his reverence to the Almighty, either by taking the Oath, or by declining to take it, because of the religious scruple that he considers it derogatory to the Almighty to invoke Him. If, then, you abolish the Oath, but retain the Affirmation of Allegiance, you declare that you consider it necessary for a man to respect the King, but not to respect the King of Kings; and I consider it better for the State that its men in authority should consist of God-fearing Republicans than of Atheistical Monarchists. If a man be both an Atheist and a Republican, neither Oath nor Affirmation will keep him out. Next, as to the oath in Courts of Justice. This is a thing of universal practice. In all ages of the world's history, and in every civilized 1209 or semi-civilized country on the globe, oaths have been required in Courts of Justice. They arise from the necessity of securing the most accurate truth from witnesses, and are based upon the universal conviction in men's minds that an oath is the best means of obtaining this result. The State is the dispenser of justice, and has a right to see that the facts are truly stated. It is said that it is immoral to recognize two kinds of truth, and this might be so if the State had to do with metaphysical philosophy; but it has to do with facts and opinions as it finds them, and there is no doubt that in most men's minds there are two kinds of truth, and when the name of the Almighty is invoked a deeper sense of seriousness and responsibility is felt. A man who has no wish to be untruthful will yet state things to which he would not swear. My long experience as a solicitor loads me to believe that if the sanction of the oath were done away with in Courts of Justice many more untrue statements, and certainly a great many more inaccurate statements, would be made by witnesses than are made under the existing system. Everyone acquainted with the Law Courts knows that counsel very frequently find it efficacious to remind witnesses that they are upon oath. The gravity of the oath, in the opinion of the humbler and less educated classes, is placed beyond all doubt by the subterfuges to which people often have recourse in order to avoid being fully sworn. It is by no means unusual for a witness to kiss his thumb instead of the Book. And with regard to the middle classes, I will describe to the House a sense of which I was an eyewitness. In an important case in the Court of Chancery three or four Presbyterians from Scotland—very respectable tradesmen—were being examined. Each of them had previously sworn to written affidavits, upon which they were cross-examined. The statements made in Court were greatly at variance with those contained in the written affidavits. On being asked to explain, each in turn, alter swearing that he was a God-fearing man, who went to kirk regularly, stated that he had told the truth in Court, because there he had been sworn in the regular Presbyterian fashion holding up his right hand; but that the oath which he had taken when making his affidavit was only taken in the English 1210 manner by kissing the Book, and it was, therefore, not binding upon his conscience. And with regard to the higher classes, I have long noticed the wonderful difference that there is between the statement made in the first instance to a solicitor of the facts of a case upon which he is to advise, and that which is afterwards made when the proofs are taken for counsel, with a view to the trial, and with the evidence actually given at the trial. Far greater pains are taken at the last to be carefully accurate, and the witness who has pledged his word to the first statement demurs and tones it down when he finds that he has to swear to it. I can only remember one instance of a witness declining to be sworn without being able to state that he had a conscientious objection to an oath. It was an arbitration, and things were at a deadlock, when the arbitrator inquired if he was a Quaker, and he replied that his parents were Quakers, and he had never been baptised, upon which he was allowed to affirm as a Quaker. The reason of his declining to be sworn was soon painfully evident, for his evidence consisted of a tissue of lies, and when he was severely cross-examined by the opposing counsel, lie showed his conscientious objection to an oath by swearing at the counsel. This is the only specimen I have seen of the people whom this Bill will benefit. It is true that the universal appreciation of such an oath in Courts of Justice has of late years been relaxed; but the relaxation has been made not in the interest of witnesses, but in the interest of the State, in order that testimony might be obtained which would have been lost if the witnesses had not been allowed to affirm; and in making the relaxation the Legislature took care that in the case either of a Moravian or a Quaker who objected to be sworn, the Court should know the reason of the objection, and that in the case of a person who avowed himself an Atheist, or without a belief in a future state, the ground of his objection should be known, so that the Judge and jury, knowing the state of his mind, might form an estimate of the value of his evidence, and take it for what it was worth. But under this Bill a witness will be entitled to refuse to take the oath without assigning any reason whatever. The jury will thus have nothing to guide thorn in esti- 1211 matins; the value of his statements; and it seems to me most probable that the effect of giving witnesses the option of declining to be sworn without assigning any reason will be to abolish the oath altogether, and unsworn witnesses will allow themselves as much licence in statements in the witness-box as hon. Members do in and out of this House. It is all very well to say that witnesses will still be liable to prosecution for giving false evidence; but the chances of prosecution are so small that hardly one witness in 1,000 would be deterred from telling an untruth by the fear of it. You must first find your prosecutor, then you must show that the false statement was upon a point material to the issue, then you must prove its falsity up to the hilt, or a jury will give the accused the benefit of the doubt and acquit him. The poorer classes are not afraid of prosecution for giving false testimony, but they are afraid of being damned, and it seems to me desirable, in the interest of truth and justice, that the State should avail itself of this fear as the best known means of securing trustworthy evidence. Lastly, I come to the oaths taken by jurors, and would point out to the House that this Bill is revolutionary in its character, for it proposes to abolish trial by jury. Men in the jury-box will no longer be jurors if they are not sworn. If this measure passes, every juryman will refuse to be sworn through a natural unwillingness to take upon his conscience higher obligations than are absolutely necessary, and the confidence which is now felt by parties to an action and by criminals, in the fact that their case will be tried by 12 men who have sworn to do justice will be fatally shaken. In a paper which I hold in my hand, which bears the names of the hon. Member for Northampton and several other Members, several reasons are given in support of the Bill, and amongst others it is stated that in "Exparte Lennard "—a case heard in April, 1875, but, unfortunately, not reported—the Judges of the Court of Queen's Bench unanimously declared that after the proposed witness had said, "I am an Atheist," the magistrate ought to have been satisfied that Lennard was a person upon whom conscience would have no binding effect. It appears, then, that an Atheist is a man upon whom conscience has no binding effect. [Mr. 1212 BRADLAUGH was understood to dispute the inference drawn by the hon. Member.] I say, Sir, that I am reading the paper before me—that it contains this statement of the decision of the Court, and it certainly is not repudiated in the paper by the Gentlemen whose names are upon it. If this be so—and it is not for me to dispute it—I submit that it forms an additional reason why we ought not to entrust the property, the liberty, or the life of any man to a jury among whom there may be persons upon whom conscience has no binding effect. The proposal to relax the oath in the case of jurors is not made for the sake of getting better verdicts, but for the sake of Atheists and others who are supposed to desire to go into the jury-box without taking the oath. At present such persons are altogether relieved, and I hope they always may be. It does not then appear to me that any case of hardship has been made out by the promoters of the Bill in support of the measure. No one desires that Atheists should be compelled to take the oath as jurors; let them go their own way and escape liability to serve. It has been judicially decided that a man who says there is no God is one on whom conscience has no binding effect; a far higher authority has declared his stupendous folly; and I must express my earnest hope that the House will take no step tending to make Courts of Justice different from what they have been—namely, Courts in which the authority of God is duly recognized, and the sanctions in favour of telling the truth and giving a verdict according to conscience are such as every man who fears a Supreme Being entirely recognizes. For these reasons I shall oppose the Bill.
§ SIR JOSEPH PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)
said, the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Sydney Gedge) seemed to have argued the case before the House as if there were no such thing as an affirmation already known. He (Sir Joseph Pease) could tell the hon. Member that by the 17th and 18th Victoria in civil cases, and by the 24th and 25th Victoria in criminal cases, a witness had a right to ask the Court to hear him upon his affirmation if his conscientious scruples prevented him from taking an oath. It was for the Court, of course, to be satisfied that the witness, not being a Moravian or Quaker or Separatist who had a right 1213 to affirm without question, had a bonâ fide conscientious scruple. So far as he (Sir Joseph Pease) had read the Statutes, it appeared to him that the Court had no right to ask a witness any further question after he had declared a conscientious objection to taking the oath unless there were reasons for doubting his bona fides. The hon. Member for Mid Leicestershire (Mr. De Lisle) made about an hour ago a very long speech on this subject, and said that no one could make solemn that which was not solemn—solemn by Act of Parliament. They had often heard of "a solemn farce," and, without applying that to the hon. Member's speech in the slightest degree, he must say that the ton. Member had seemed to go through an argument which was really hundreds of years old upon this question. He (Sir Joseph Pease) had had to look up Parliamentary precedents on this great question of the Oath. The first man whom he believed presented himself at the Table of the House to affirm did so in the year 1693, when John Archdale, elected Member for High Wycombe, refused to take the Oath on conscientious grounds—on the ground that George Fox had declared as his objection to all oaths. George Fox said—" You say, 'Kiss the Book; ' and the Book says 'Swear not at all.'" Those were the simple words which influenced John Archdale, who declared that he was perfectly willing to discharge his duty to his Sovereign and his country if he were permitted to do so without taking the Oath. The Speaker laid John Archdale's letter upon the Table of the House, but the House directed a new Writ to issue. Nearly 150 years then elapsed before the question was again raised, when it came up again in the case of a relative of his own, who was elected Member for South Durham in the first Reform Parliament. This Gentleman, as a Quaker, had a conscientious scruple against taking the Oath. There were in his day, as there were now-a-days, a number of men who objected to Affirmations quite as strongly as those who had to-day addressed the House at such length. The case of Joseph Pease was considered very carefully, and a very remarkable Committee had been appointed to look into the question. On the 8th February, 1833, a Committee was 1214 struck, consisting of Viscount Althorp, the Attorney General, the Solicitor General, Mr. Williams Wynn, Mr. Abercromby, Dr. Lushington, Mr. O'Connell, Mr. Littleton, Sir Edward Knatchbull, Mr. Cartwright, Mr. Scarlett, Sir Robert Peel, Lord John Russell, Mr. Pollock, Viscount Ebrington, Sir Robert H. Inglis, Mr. Goulburn, Mr. Wrottesley, Mr. Bonham-Carter, Mr. Nicolson Calvert, and Mr. Warburton. The question was evidently considered most important, as this was, perhaps, the strongest Committee that the House of Commons of that day could afford. They sat, and reported their conclusion that a Quaker, at any rate, had a right to sit in that House on his Affirmation. He (Sir Joseph Pease) had been allowed to take his seat in that House in six Parliaments on taking his Affirmation, and many others had taken their seats on their Affirmation under this decision. When he first took the Affirmation it was accompanied with a very long rigmarole—he was going to say, but that word would not be perhaps decorous—at any rate, it was accompanied by a long declaration of loyalty, but that had been abolished for many years past. Ever since 1833 a long roll of Members had been allowed to sit upon their Affirmation. In Courts of Law, although he had never served upon a petty jury, he and others with him had been special jurymen, and he and his friends who were similarly situated had been allowed to affirm, and, he thought he might say, had always done their duty. He had had the honour of not unfrequently serving his Queen and country upon the Grand Jury, and sometimes had been called upon to act as foreman of the jury, and it was worthy of remark that at these times the gentlemen whom he headed had sworn to "observe and keep" those things to which he had previously affirmed. Hon. Members who opposed this measure sought to set up a double standard of truth—one standard of truth to which a man was to pledge his word; another to which he was to pledge his oath—which he thought would be very detrimental to true morality. The objection to Affirmations had not been confined to that House. In the Reign of William and Mary, previous to 1696, an Act was passed, and there was a declaration of 1215 faith before taking an Affirmation. In 1696 that was altered, and the Quaker affirmed "before God and the World." But in 1721 the simple form of Affirmation, which was now taken, became law—"I, A. B., do solemnly, sincerely, and truly declare and affirm," &c. This was brought into the House of Lords, and passed in that House as in this House. But in that day there was a great objection to so simple a form of Affirmation being taken, and a clause was moved and negatived, to the effect—That no Quaker or reputed Quaker shall have or enjoy any benefit intended by this Act who shall not have subscribed the profession of their Christian belief set down and required by an Act passed in the first year of the reign of King William and Mary.To this declaration he had just referred. That, as he said, was negatived, but reference to the records of the other House would show that a Protest was lodged there against the passing of the Bill, which was signed by the Archbishop of York, the Bishops of Oxford and Rochester, and Lords Gower, Mountjoy, Strafford, St. John of Bletso, Salisbury, Aberdeen, Trevor, and Compton. The Protest was in this form—Because we look upon the Quakers who reject the true Sacrament of Christ—and are, so far as they so do, unworthy of the name of Christians—to be on that account unworthy also of receiving such distinguished marks of favour, because where Nobles, Clergy, and Commons take the oath, this sect, who refused to be soldiers, should not be exempt. Since it is natural to expect that persons so indulged as to the manner of professing and the manner of performing their allegiance should by degrees be induced totally to withdraw it till they become as bad subjects as they are Christians.He (Sir Joseph Pease) thought he might appeal to history to show that Quakers had never been either bad subjects or bad Christians. The real way to make bad subjects and bad Christians was by carrying matters of such kind too far. He thought there was nothing which had occurred on this subject more detrimental to the solemn character of an oath than to see the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) swearing himself at the Table, knowing, as everyone did, the views that he held. He (Sir Joseph Pease) had never been one of those who had voted with the Members generally of his own Party, as he had either not voted or had gone into the Lobby against the hon. 1216 Member for Northampton taking the Oath. The hon. Member, in examination by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bury (Sir Henry James), had made the declaration that the last words in the oath were to him "merely a form of asseveration." After that he (Sir Joseph Pease) had never gone into the Lobby in favour of the hon. Member taking the Oath. Years passed by, and the sad scenes, if he might call them so, of 1882 and 1883 passed away. The hon. Member for Northampton had, on the calling of a new Parliament, at last went up to the Table and took the Oath, no one objecting to his doing so. The hon. Member had taken his seat, and since then had taken a very active part in the Business of the House. Were they to go back to scones of the kind they had witnessed as scenes to be again on acted in the future, or have one standard of truth? Should they not adopt the system which prevailed in civil and in criminal cases in Courts of Law, and under which many Members of the House had taken their seats? The House had no right to ask a man what his religious belief was—whether he believed in a God or whether he did not believe in a God, or whether he believed in eternity or whether he did not believe in eternity, or whether he believed in transubstantiation or did not believe in transubstantiation. They had no right to ask such questions. To his mind more damage was done to the cause of religion and truth by trying to force these distinctions into Acts of Parliament and into the conduct of men than would be done by leaving men to act upon their simple declarations, standing up before God and their fellow-men, if they believed in God, declaring they would do that which was right according to their consciences.
MR. DAELING (Deptford)
said, that he did not approach the consideration of the Bill with any irreconcilable feeling of hostility, or, indeed, with any feeling of hostility at all. If he thought that any safeguards were provided against the latitude it allowed, or that it were possible to introduce such safeguards, he would vote for the measure. In listening to the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh), and of other hon. Members 1217 during the debate, he was struck by the fact that in what professed to be a résumé of the law upon the subject all reference to the Acts of Parliament to which the hon. Baronet the Member for the Barnard Castle Division of Durham (Sir Joseph Pease) had alluded for the first time, was omitted. He meant the Acts 17 and 18 Vict., and 24 & 25 Vict., as to Civil and Criminal Courts respectively. These Acts were much less stringent as to declarations to be made by persons not Christians than the Acts which were afterwards passed. He confessed that if this Bill had contained such a clause as that to be found in 17 & 18 Vict. c. 25 s. 20, it would meet the objections that he and many who sat around him felt to the Bill. "The 32 & 33 Vict. c. 68 had been quoted, by which an affirmation was permitted if the presiding Judge should be satisfied that an oath had no binding effect upon the conscience of the person about to be sworn. But 17 & 18 Vict. c. 25 as to civil causes, and 24 & 25 Vict. c. 66 as to criminal matters, provided that if any person called as a witness should refuse or be unwilling, from any alleged conscientious objection, to be sworn, it should be lawful for the Court or Judge, being satisfied of the sincerity of the objection, to permit him to make an affirmation. That was a most valuable provision which was altogether omitted from the Bill of the hon. Member for Northampton. Under the present Bill a person had simply to say, "I object to be sworn,"—although he might have been sworn many times before—and not" I object to take any oath." It was a fact within his experience, and he had noticed it particularly in the neighbourhood of the Principality, in Shropshire, and Monmouthshire, that there were many persons with particularly scrupulous consciences, who nevertheless did not intend to tell the exact truth and who went through various dodges, such as had been mentioned by the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Oswestry Division of Shropshire (Mr. Stanley Leighton), to get out of taking an oath, though all the time subjecting themselves to a prosecution for perjury. This was no visionary objection, for there were numbers of men who would commit perjury on a simple statement, though they would tell the truth if they called 1218 God to witness their act. He was sorry to hear the hon. and learned Member for Dewsbury (Sir John Simon) say that in Courts of Justice, where he and others had cross-examined, the witnesses were not treated as truthful even when they had taken the oath to tell the truth. He was glad to say that was not his experience in the Courts in which he himself had practised. However much that might be the case on the Northern Circuit, on the Oxford Circuit, with which he was acquainted, it was not suggested to witnesses under cross-examination that they were not going to tell the truth, but the fact was merely recalled and brought home to their notice that they were standing upon their oath. The important objection to this Bill was that the latitude it allowed was too great, and that it had not sufficient safeguards. As it stood, it came to this, that the Bill aimed—and the hon. Member opposite had admitted it—at the abolition of the oath. That in his opinion would be a dangerous course to take. He admitted that with regard to freethinkers the abolition of the oath would have no effect at all, but with regard to the enormous class who believed in the obligation of an oath—and they were by far the majority—the simple abolition of the oath would set them free from an obligation which at present pressed upon them. His point was, that there being men upon whom an oath had a particular binding effect, which it had not upon mea who did not hold any religious opinions, the State was justified in demanding, when a man came to give his testimony, that it should be given with the greatest security for its truth that could be obtained. There had been many cases in which a man, not thinking he was giving the highest security known to his conscience, yet trifled with his oath. He would quote an authority that would probably meet with the respect of hon. Members opposite. It was the well known case of Harold, who took the oath of fealty to the Duke of Normandy, but afterwards finding he had been pledged over the relics of saints while he was taking that oath, he broke it, alleging that he was ignorant of the presence of the relics when he swore. The one historian whom hon. Members opposite allowed to be entitled to much weight (Professor Freeman), writing of 1219 this particular instance—and he (Mr. Darling) thought the remark was of general application—said—In any enlightened view of morality, one promise is as binding as another; the word of an honest man is as sacred as a thousand oaths. But the fact that oaths are required among all nations and under all religions shows that this is a morality so high that the mass of mankind do not radically act upon it.As a practical matter and adjudicature was that, they were bound to get the greatest security they could that truth would be spoken; and according to Professor Freeman nothing but an oath hound the consciences of a largo body of men. But Professor Freeman only said what had been said, in effect, long before by the great lawyer. Sir William Black-stone. He wrote (3 Com., 341)—It must be owned great numbers will certainly speak truth without an oath; and too many will not speak it with one. But the generality of mankind are of a middle sort; neither so virtuous, as to be safely trusted, in cases of importance, on their bare word, nor yet so abandoned as to violate a more solemn engagement. Accordingly we find by experience that many will boldly say what they will by no means adventure to swear, and the difference which they make between these two things is often, indeed, much greater than they should, but still it shows the need of insisting on the strongest security,If that were true in the time of Sir William Blackstone, it was just as true now. Hon. Members from Scotland would admit the authority of Lord Stair, who in his Institutes of the Laws of Scotland, p. 692, said—It is the duty of Judges, in taking the oaths of witnesses, to do it in those forms that will most touch the conscience of the swearers according to their persuasion and custom.He was not concerned in affirming that what the hon. Member offered was not the strongest form of security for those who held no form of religious belief, but there were believers, and they had a right to ask, in the words of Sir William Blackstone, for the "strongest security" that a witness spoke the truth, and if an oath provided that, then the oath should not be abolished. Moreover, it was not only a matter which concerned Christians. Chinese, Mahomedans, and other persons professing Eastern religions, frequently gave evidence in our Courts of Justice, and at present the Judge had to find out what kind of oath these men considered was binding on their consciences. Unless the various descriptions of foreigners were sworn according 1220 to oaths that bound their consciences, there was no security that they would speak the truth. Everyone knew that in the case of Chinamen, it was the breaking of a saucer, the witness believing that he would be broken also if he did not tell the truth. Those who had any experience of the Natives of India also knew that there were certain books and ceremonies which bound them to speak the truth, and that no other books or ceremonies would bound them. Such persons might come into our Courts and say they objected to be sworn, and would then simply have to make an affirmation which they did not value one straw. That was a consideration which ought not to be put out of sight when they voted upon this measure. It had been long recognized that a Judge ought to find out what was the best sanction which he could get when a promise to give testimony was made. What he had referred to as being given by Lord Stair put the matter in such a way that it would deal with all the people of the various religions to which he (Mr. Darling) had referred. But it would be impossible to do that if every witness had the loophole which the hon. Member for Northampton would provide for him. In various States of America a difficulty had arisen which would be certain to arise under the present Bill. If a man objected to be sworn, that fact might afterwards be commented on by counsel with the object of discrediting the witness. He did not say every counsel would do it; but he objected to the possibility of subjecting witnesses to such an indignity. Seeing that, the law had provided the means in Courts of Justice for a witness to give his testimony on affirmation where there had been a grievance which made it necessary to alter that law, and to leave out all kinds of appeals to a man's conscience, The Courts at present might say that an objection raised by a witness was a conscientious objection; but this Bill would allow him to make an objection whether the objection was conscientious or not. He should like to say a word with regard to the case of Lennard, to which reference had been made. He took it that every man, whether he believed in God or not, could not escape having a conscience, and he was froe to admit that an Atheist acted according to 1221 his conscience as often as a believer did. In that case, the magistrate decided wrongly, and the Court of Queen's Bench, by issuing a mandamus instantly, put the matter right. The case was not reported, he imagined, simply because there was an egregious blunder on the part of the magistrate, which no magistrate could possibly make again. The hon. Member for Northampton, with his specialist knowledge of the subject, could only adduce this single case.
said, he quoted another case before the Lord Chief Justice, in which several witnesses were challenged, and a delay of seven or eight minutes occurred because this point was raised.
said, he would accept the hon. Member's correction. And so it appeared that, in the course of many years, owing to the law as it stood being in operation, a delay of seven or eight minutes had taken place in a particular case. After all, was that a valid reason for changing the law of the land? He was anxious to have the law altered as far as it related to the Parliamentary Oath, and also as to oaths of a different character, if there were a difficulty in regard to them. He saw no necessity, however, for altering the law in regard to oaths and affirmations in Courts of Justice. If it were altered he should like to see it done on the lines of the Acts of the 17th and 18th and 24th and 25th Vict., to which he had already alluded. If he had seen anything like that in the Bill he would have voted for it. Indeed, if he saw any certain prospect of such an Amendment coming into the Bill he would vote for the second reading now; but as he could not sec that, and the Bill was to remain as it was, he was unable to support the Bill.
MR. W. A. MAODONALD (Queen's County, Oasory)
said, he had had no personal quarrel with the hon. Member for Mid Leicestershire (Mr. De Lisle), and he only interrupted the hon. Gentleman because he introduced so much theology into his speech, and he (Mr. Macdonald) did not think that such considerations really tended in any way to clear the issue before the House. He had listened with great interest, as, no doubt, all Members present had, to the speech in which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Brad-laugh) moved the second reading of this 1222 Bill, but he could not help thinking that, after all, the hon. Gentleman scarcely touched the most important point which they, as legislators and as statesmen, had really to consider. Surely the question on this occasion was not what their personal feelings or wishes might be, not what was convenient to them as Members of Parliament, not what was agreeable to the educated classes generally, but how they could best bring it to pass that there should be as much speaking of the truth and as little perjury in our Courts of Justice as possible. He confessed he did not think any of the arguments he had heard on his, the Opposition side of the House, really met the difficulty, and he was glad this was an entirely open question, and free from all considerations of party. Everybody knew there was an immense deal of perjury in our Courts of Justice, and Parliament should do everything in its power to prevent the chance of that perjury being increased. He had not the smallest doubt that there was a considerable number of ignorant people who, if this Bill passed in its present form, would make it an excuse for not telling the truth in Courts of Justice, because they might affirm instead of taking the oath. That was one point which pressed very heavily on his mind; it was the point which he considered really worthy of careful consideration. He should be glad, like the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Darling) who had just addressed the House for the first time, and to whose speech they all listened with interest, to relieve Members of Parliament, and all those upon whoso conscience the taking of an Oath pressed, from the necessity of taking that Oath, but the words of the Bill were too wide, they embraced too many persons, and were too liable to abuse. The words were—Every person objecting to being sworn shall be permitted to make his solemn affirmation.He let hon. Members consider the practical consequences of such words. He knew more about Ireland, perhaps, than about other parts of the United Kingdom, but he was sure the same thing occurred in England and in Scotland as in Ireland. There were many people who would be slow to speak falsely, if they thought they would have to take God to witness that they were speaking 1223 the truth; whereas they would think it a much less heinous offence to speak untruly if they were allowed to make a mere affirmation. He wanted to tell the hon. Member for Northampton quite frankly that he felt exactly as the lion, and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Darling). If he were satisfied that in Committee words would be introduced into the Bill which would make it quite clear that it was only persons who had conscientious objection to taking the Oath who would be relieved in this manner, he would at once vote for the second reading of the Bill. If such words were not introduced, if the present latitude remained, and if there was the present liability to abuse, he could not conscientiously—and he had travelled 27 miles to-day for the purpose of saying this—he could not conscientiously vote for the Bill.
§ THE ATTOENEY GENERAL (Sir RICHARD WEBSTER) (Isle of Wight)
said, the debate had been conducted in a temper which both sides of the House must approve. It had cleared away any atmosphere of Party spirit and any desire to discuss this question except on the broadest possible lines. One hon. Member had objected that this measure was not taken up by the Government; but he thought it was satisfactory that the Government should not take it up, in as much as it was a question which ought to be separated altogether from Party bias, and they should express their feelings with perfect freedom. He desired to say a few words upon what was the real principle of this Bill, because it was to the principle of the Bill that he objected. The Bill was open to very serious attack, and he wished to declare his intention of voting against the second reading. This was an attempt to remove from everybody by a simple objection the responsibility of taking an oath without any reason being given for the objection. Nobody who had had legal experience, or who had studied the history of Courts of Justice, would deny that not a few men had been chocked in saying what was false by taking an oath. What did the hon. Member for Northampton propose? Though a witness might be one of those men who was prepared if he were not put upon oath to make a statement which he would not make if he were sworn, the hon. Member proposed that, without 1224 giving any reason, that man by simply objecting might remove the security which in other circumstances would exist for his tolling the truth. The State was entitled and bound to get the highest security which a man could give for the absolute truth of what he stated in Courts of Justice. Assuming that only once in 100 times a witness was checked by the fact that he had called the Almighty to witness, they ought not to remove that safeguard in favour of the security that truth was being told. He desired to say a few words with regard to his own personal experience. He did not think that anyone who had been engaged in cases in which the lower order of the people were witnesses would deny that over and over again men had gone back from what they had previously said, and had told the truth when they were reminded that they were giving their evidence upon oath. The hon. and learned Member for Deptford (Mr. Darling)—and he must be allowed to congratulate him on his speech—said truly that what was required was to get the highest security a man could give as to the absolute truth of what a man said in a Court of Justice. He was surprised to hear the hon. and learned Serjeant opposite (Sir John Simon) say he thought an oath did not have the effect of inducing witnesses to tell the truth, as the contrary was conclusively shown by the subterfuges which some witnesses resorted to, such as avoiding to kiss the Book. We ought not to remove this safeguard, which, in his own experience, had been found to be of very considerable value. But there were other serious objections to the measure as it stood. On what grounds of public policy or convenience was a man, simply by saying "I object," and without stating his reasons, to be allowed to avoid the oath? The ease had to be considered as applicable to Parliamentary Oaths, to the oaths of witnesses, to promissory oaths, and to the oaths of jurors. Hon. Members would not willingly recognize the principle that in solemn proceedings a man should be allowed to cloak and cover up the fact that he was an Atheist. If this alteration of the law was to be made, he should insist, in the interests of truth and justice, upon one safeguard—that if a man objected to take an oath because he was an 1225 Atheist, he should come forward boldly and say that he was an Atheist. He did not think the hon. Member for Northampton personally would object to do so, but they could not argue this question with reference to that hon. Gentleman's conduct. There was another class of objections that required to be met. Was the relief proposed to be given by the Bill required by all classes and for all purposes? In his opinion there was a broad distinction between Parliamentary Oaths and the oaths of jurors and witnesses in Courts of Law. If a constituency had elected an individual who openly declared himself an Atheist, strong Constitutional reasons might be urged why the Legislature ought not to prevent the representation of that place by refusing to allow the Member to take his seat. But this Bill was not confined to Parliamentary Oaths. It related to every occasion on which an oath was to betaken, in all cases and for all purposes. He submitted that all those arguments which might be of some force and effect in connection with the right of a freely elected person to sit in that House had not the slightest application when we came to deal with this Bill as applied to the other cases. If Atheists were to be allowed to serve on juries they ought to state that they were Atheists, and if one of the parties interested objected to be tried by an Atheist he should be allowed to take the objection. The hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Joseph Pease) said that we ought not to have two standards of truth. He would suggest that the hon. Baronet had altogether misunderstood the argument adduced on that side of the House. They were not setting up two standards of truth. They were only trying to see that those who were called upon to give evidence and to perform high Constitutional duties should adopt the highest standard of truth. It could not be said that because they caused particular acts to be performed with the greatest solemnity they were setting up a second standard of truth. When dealing with investigations in Courts of Justice the Legislature had thought fit to remove a disability and enable persons to give their evidence without being sworn by making a simple affirmation. But that provision in no way applied to jurors, and it ought to be adopted only in cases where it was desirable in the interests 1226 of justice that the alteration in the law should be made. As he had already pointed out, the principle of the Bill was open to objection on the ground that it would encourage persons who intended to lie, so far as their consciences were concerned, to lie without hesitation; and, further, that no grievance had been pointed out calling for the measure. Although in connection with Parliamentary Oaths it might be possible for some of those on that side of the House to vote for some carefully framed measure, yet to this Bill they must offer the strongest opposition in their power. He might, however, observe that in making this declaration he was speaking simply and solely as a private Member and not in any official capacity. With regard to a Commission of Inquiry, he held that all the materials were before them, and that there was nothing left for it to inquire into.
§ SIE WILLIAM HARCOURT (Derby)
said, that he agreed with the Attorney General that they had every reason to be satisfied at the moderate spirit in which this measure had been discussed. The Attorney General, who had said that the sentiments he expressed were his own and not those of the Government, had stated that he based his opposition to the Bill on the ground of principle. But he (Sir William Harcourt) could not make out what that principle was, though he had heard from the lion, and learned Gentleman a great deal of argument on matters of detail that were susceptible of alteration. What was the principle of the Bill? The principle was that a man who objected to take an oath should be permitted to make an affirmation. He would advise all who desired to understand the subject of oaths to read the Report of the Royal Commission signed by Lord Sherbrooke. The principle of binding the conscience of a man by an oath, once so universally applied in every relation of life, was now in a great degree got rid of. The Attorney General admitted that he would not object to a Bill dispensing with Parliamentary Oaths, and, therefore, his objection was not to the principle of the Bill. In the Bill of 1883 there was no condition required for making an affirmation but the objection of a Member to take an oath. That Bill was discussed with a great deal of heat and Party spirit, and it received the support 1227 of the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington) and the present Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen). There was one observation of the Attorney General with which he could not agree, and that was that when a man came forward to make a declaration he must declare what he was. That used to be done with reference to Dissenters—in the first measure for the Abolition of Disabilities they were compelled to come forward and plead their dissent. That passed into the phrase of "ticketing" Dissenters. He had heard with great satisfaction the very moderate and reasonable speech of the hon. and learned Member for Deptford, who expressed himself satisfied that a man should be relieved from the necessity of taking an oath if asked for on the ground of conscientious objection. Personally he should insist upon that stipulation, and it well deserved the consideration of the hon. Member for Northampton, whether some provision of that sort could not be introduced into the Bill to remove the difficulty of hon. Members on the other side of the House who shared the views of the hon. and learned Member for Deptford. [Mr. BRADLAUGH signified his assent.] He was glad that the hon. Member for Northampton assented to that course, and he saw no reason why the second reading should not be carried. He hoped that concession would meet the views of the hon. and learned Member for Deptford. [Mr. DAULTNG: Hear, hear!] He did not say all objections that might still remain to the Bill would be removed, but it certainly would remove the main objection. He was quite sure there was no desire on the part of the hon. Member for Northampton or of any hon. Gentleman on that side of the House to resist any reasonable alteration in the measure In the heated debates of 1883 both Sir Stafford Northcote and Sir Richard Cross admitted the unsatisfactory character of the existing condition of the Parliamentary Oath, though they were not willing to take the course which the Government of the day recommended. He remembered that at the time the popular phrase was—"We think there ought to be legislation, but we will not have it in the form of a Bradlaugh Relief Bill." Now the hon. Member for Northampton was there with the consent of hon. Gen- 1228 tleman opposite, The Leaders of the Conservative Party at that time thought the existing condition of things unsatisfactory and only to be removed by legislation; and, under those circumstances, after the indication they had received of the disposition on the part of the promoters to amend the Bill, he hoped the House would accord it a second reading.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH
said, it might be convenient that he should now state the course he proposed to follow in Committee. The hon. and learned Member for Deptford had suggested a form of words providing that—No person should be allowed to make such solemn affirmation except he alleged as his ground for objecting to be sworn a conscientious objection to taking an oath.Without bin cling himself to these exact words, he should be disposed to accept those words or any words that were considered in Committee best capable of giving effect to the meaning those words were intended to convey. He felt that a large number of Members had come to the consideration of this question with a desire to avoid irritation; and on his part he desired to consider objections that had a reasonable basis. He regretted to have heard a phrase which implied that the refusal to take an oath necessarily involved immorality of conduct; and if he did not discuss that implication he hoped the House would not think it waft because he assented to it. With reference to his interruption of the hon. Member for Stockport, he thought that nothing could be more clear than that in the statement of reasons which had been circulated the words quoted were part of the judgment of the Court of Queen's Bench, and were in no sense given as expressing the views of the promoters of the Bill.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir EDWARD CLARKE) (Plymouth)
said, that, although it would not be convenient to discuss the Amendment which had been suggested and was accepted by the hon. Member for Northampton, the words did not wholly meet the objections that had boon made. They only referred to those who alleged a conscientious objection to take an oath.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH
wished to add that in Committee he should not object to any words which were found by the 1229 majority to fairly embody the feelings expressed on both sides of the House.
SIR EDWAED CLAEKE
said, he was glad that that larger statement had been made. He thought, however, it was essential, in order to meet objections that had been made from both sides of the House, not only that those who objected on religious grounds, but also that those who from want of religious belief altogether would not hold themselves bound by an oath, should be required to state the fact before they were permitted to affirm. ["Oh, oh!"] Certainly unless that concession was made—although he should vote for the second reading of the Bill, believing that it gave Parliament an opportunity of dealing with a difficult subject on which legislation was necessary—unless the Proviso were inserted as to both classes of cases, he should resist the third reading of the Bill.
said, he appreciated the distinction, and would accept any words that were not absolutely offensive that would cover the cases of both classes of persons.
§ SIR EDWARD CLARKE
said, he was glad to have got that further assurance. He would like to add that there were words in the Statute Book which caused great difficulty and which he should like to see removed. They were the words requiring that when a person claimed to affirm, the Judge should satisfy himself as to the oath not having a binding effect upon that person's conscience. This was a most difficult provision, administered differently in different Courts and by different Judges, and he would be very glad if the whole rule with regard to the taking of oaths could be reduced to one intelligible and simple rule. One serious difficulty that was not touched by the Bill was one that had arisen in a case in which the hon. Member for Northampton was himself a litigant. If the Bill were passed in its present form it would be open for any Member introduced to the House either to take the Oath without question or to claim to affirm; but, as the Bill now stood, if he came to the Table and without question took the Oath, it would afterwards be in the power of a Court of Law to examine whether at the time he took the Oath he was a person subject to those influences which were believed to give the Oath its sanc- 1230 tity and force. It had been settled by the Courts that if an oath were taken by a person who at the time was without religious convictions, he could be treated as if he had never taken the oath at all. It would be a most unhappy thing if the Bill should leave Parliament without a provision that no question should be subsequently raised as to the condition of mind of the person when taking the oath [Mr. BBADLAUGH: Hear, hear!] One other serious question raised by the Bill was the case of the evidence of children in Courts of Justice. He was not prepared at that time to suggest a way in which they ought to be met, but it was a matter that required very serious consideration. At present children were taken into Court to be examined as witnesses, and before examination they were interrogated by the Judge with regard to their religious belief, so that the Court might know that the statements they were going to make should be statements given under the sanction of something that would influence them to tell the truth. If the Bill passed in its present form all that would disappear. When the Criminal Law Amendment Bill was before the House he was in favour of permitting very young children to give evidence without being sworn; but this was a very large question, and in a great many criminal cases it would be very dangerous to accept the testimony of children without obliging the Court to take some care as to the way in which the child was going to give its evidence. After the statements that had been made, it was not necessary to discuss further the question of the second reading of the Bill; but he quite agreed with the Attorney General, from some experience of Courts of Justice, in the opinion that the taking of an oath was a substantial guarantee of the truth of the evidence given. This was shown by the reference so often made to the oath in cross-examination. Recalling to his mind several of the most important cases that had taken place within the last few years, he was quite sure that witnesses had been absent from Court who would have been there had it not been that they had to face the responsibility of repeating on oath the statements they had made. He would be very glad if the thorny controversy could be settled in the way suggested by the Bill as 1231 amended, and felt justified in fulfilling his original intention of supporting the second reading.
MR. NOEEIS (Tower Hamlets, Limehouse)
said, he was entirely opposed to any compromise on this question. He decidedly thought that the measure brought forward by the junior Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) had reference to matters in the past which he did not want to touch upon in any personal sense, but could not altogether forget. It was generally the view of the Liberal and Radical Party opposite that the wish of the majority of the House should influence their decision; but in this ease it was but an infinitesimal portion of the House that promoted the measure; and he said that in deference to the opinion of a vast portion of the people of England who were not in favour of it, that the Bill should be thrown out. If he were not afraid of using stronger language than was usual in that House, he should apply to it the name of the Atheists Relief Bill; at any rate, it had been so understood, and he considered that at least those who were concerned with it should state that they believed in an Almighty Being. He maintained that if the House passed a Bill at all, it should be one that recognized the Divine Presence amongst them. He appealed not only to the Government, but to the great Nonconformist Party in the House—God-fearing men—not to allow this principle to go forward, and he would also appeal to the Irish Party, who he hoped would not be disposed to pass the Bill. For his own part, if that were the last time he should speak in that House, he would oppose any measure that would open its doors to such as were contemplated by this measure.
MR. BAETLEY (Islington, N.)
said, he should support the second reading of the Bill. Agreeing, as he did, with a good deal that had been said with regard to the oath in Court, he thought the Bill was capable of alteration in Committee, and upon that understanding, which had been clearly stated by the hon. and learned Solicitor General, he should support the Motion. He thought it a scandal that Members who believed in the sanctity of an oath should have to be parties to allowing those who openly stated that they were Atheists to profane the Oath by going through the 1232 form of taking it on the assembly of each new Parliament. He should support the motion in order that that scandal might be done away with.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 247; Noes 137: Majority 110.—(Div. List, No. 38.)
§ Main Question again proposed,''That the Bill be now read a second time."
MR. MAEK STEWAET (Kirkcudbright)
I wish to second the Amendmend.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The House having agreed that the words "That the Bill be now read a second time" stand part of the Question, the hon. Gentleman cannot now make that Motion. It is competent to him to object when the Question is put from the Chair, "That the Bill be now read a second time," but not to move an Amendment.
§ MR. TOMLINSON (Preston)
said, they had heard certain proposals made with regard to the Bill which had been agreed to by some Members; but the House were not in possession of the exact nature of the alterations. He thought that unless they had before them in black and white what kind of Bill it was suggested they should pass, they were not in as fair a position as they ought to be when asked to decide upon the second reading of a Bill of that nature. Because many hon. Gentlemen wished to know exactly what the Bill was intended to be, he should move the adjournment of the debate.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Tomlinson.)
§ Question put accordingly, "That the Question be now put."
§ The House divided;—Ayes 334; Noes 50: Majority 284.—(Div. List, No. 39.)
§ Main Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 250; Noes 150: Majority 100.1236
|Abraham, W. (Glamorgan.)||Davies, W.|
|Acland, A. H. D.||Dillon, J.|
|Acland, C. T. D.||Dillwyn, L. L.|
|Agg-Gardner, J. T.||Dixon, G.|
|Ainslie, W. G.||Dodds, J.|
|Anderson, C. H.||Duff, R. W.|
|Asquith, H. H.||Ebrington, Viscount|
|Balfour, Sir G.||Edwards-Moss, T. C.|
|Balfour, rt. hon. J. B.||Elcho, Lord|
|Banes, Major G. E.||Elliot, hon. A. R. D.|
|Barbour, W. B.||Elliot, hon. H. F. H.|
|Barclay, J. W.||Ellis, J.|
|Bartley, G. C. T.||Ellis, J. E.|
|Beaumont, W. B.||Ellis, T. E.|
|Bentinck, W. G. C.||Esslemont, P.|
|Beresford Lord C. W. de la Poer||Eyre, Colonel H.|
|Farquharson, Dr. R.|
|Bethell, Commander G. R.||Fenwick, C.|
|Ferguson, R. C. Munro-|
|Bickford-Smith, W.||Firth, J. F. B.|
|Biddulph, M.||Fisher, W. H.|
|Biggar, J. G.||Flower, C.|
|Blane, A.||Foley, P. J.|
|Bolton, J. C.||Forster, Sir C.|
|Bolton, T. D.||Fowler, rt. hn. H. H.|
|Bright, Jacob||Fry, L.|
|Bright, W. L.||Gardner, H.|
|Broadhurst, H.||Gaskell, C. G. Milnes-|
|Brown, A. H.||Gill, T. P.|
|Bryce, J.||Gladstone, right hon. W. E.|
|Buchanan, T. R.|
|Burt, T.||Gladstone, H. J.|
|Byrne, G. M.||Goldsmid, Sir J.|
|Caine, W. S.||Gourley, E. T.|
|Caldwell, J.||Green, Sir E.|
|Cameron, J. M.||Grey, Sir E.|
|Campbell, Sir G.||Gurdon, R. T.|
|Campbell-Bannerman, right hon. H.||Haldane, R. B.|
|Hanbury-Tracy, hon. F. S. A.|
|Carew, J. L.|
|Causton, R. K.||Harcourt, rt. hon. Sir W. G. V. V.|
|Channing, F. A.||Harrington, E.|
|Childers, rt. hon. H. C. E.||Harris, M.|
|Hartington, Marquess of|
|Churchill, rt. hn. Lord R. H. S.|
|Hastings, G. W.|
|Clancy, J. J.||Hayden, L. P.|
|Clarke, Sir E. G.||Hayne, C. Seale-|
|Clark, Dr. G. B.||Healy, T. M.|
|Cobb, H. P.||Heathcote, Capt. J. H. Edwards-|
|Coghill, D. H.|
|Collings, J.||Heneage, right hon. E|
|Colman, J. J.||Hermon-Hodge, R. T.|
|Conway, M.||Hervey, Lord F.|
|Corbet, W. J.||Hingley, B.|
|Corbett, A. C.||Hoare, E. B.|
|Cossham, H.||Hobhouse, H.|
|Cotton, Capt. E. T. D.||Holden, I.|
|Courtney, L. H.||Houldsworth, Sir W. H.|
|Cozens- Hardy, H. H.||Howell, G.|
|Craig, J.||Hoyle, I.|
|Craven, J.||Hunter, W. A.|
|Crawford, D.||Isaacs, L. H.|
|Crawford, W.||James, hon. W. H.|
|Cremer, W. R.||Jardine, Sir R.|
|Crossley, E.||Kay-Shuttleworth, rt. hon. Sir U. J.|
|Crossman, Gen. Sir W.|
|Darling, C. J.||Kenny, C. S.|
|Davenport, H. T.||Kenrick, W.|
|Kerans, F. H.||Rathbone, W.|
|Kilbride, D.||Reed, Sir E. J.|
|King, H. S.||Reed, R. T.|
|Labouchere, H.||Rendel, S.|
|Lalor, R.||Richard, H.|
|Lawson, H. L. W.||Richardson, T.|
|Lea, T.||Robertson, E.|
|Lewis, T. P.||Robinson, B.|
|Long, W. H.||Roe, T.|
|Lubbock, Sir J.||Rollit, Sir A. K.|
|Lyell, L.||Rothschild, Baron F. J. de|
|Macdonald, W. A.|
|Mac Innes, M.||Rowlands, J.|
|Mackintosh, C. F.||Rowntree, J.|
|Maclean, F. W.||Russell, Sir C.|
|Maclean, J. M.||Russell, T. W.|
|M'Arthur, A.||Samuelson, Sir B.|
|M'Arthur, W. A.||Samuelson, G. B.|
|M'Donald, Dr. R.||Sellar, A. C.|
|M'Ewan, W.||Selwyn, Captain C. W|
|M'Lagan, P.||Sidebotham, J. W.|
|M'Laren, W. S. B.||Simon, Sir J.|
|Maitland, W. F.||Sinclair, W. P.|
|Mappin, Sir F. T.||Slagg, J.|
|Maskelyne, M. H. N. Story-||Spencer, hon. C. R.|
|Stanhope, hon. P. J.|
|Menzies, R. S.||Stevenson, F. S.|
|Montagu, S.||Stewart, H.|
|Morgan, rt. hon. G. O.||Stuart, J.|
|Morgan, O. V.||Sullivan, D.|
|Morley, rt. hon. J.||Summers, W.|
|Morley, A.||Sutherland, A.|
|Morrison, W.||Sutherland, T.|
|Mowbray, R. G. C.||Taylor, F.|
|Mundella, rt. hon. A. J.||Thomas, A.|
|Neville, E.||Tollemache, H. J.|
|Newnes, G.||Trevelyan, right hon. Sir G. O.|
|O'Brien, J. F. X.||Tuite, J.|
|O'Brien, P.||Vivian, Sir H. H.|
|O'Brien, P. J.||Wardle, H.|
|O'Connor, J.||Warmington, C. M.|
|O'Connor, T. P.||Watt, H.|
|O'Hanlon, T.||Wayman, T.|
|O'Kelly, J.||West, Colonel W. C.|
|Palmer, Sir C. W.||Whitbread, S.|
|Parker, C. S.||Wiggin, H.|
|Parnell, C. S.||Will, J. S.|
|Paulton, J. M.||Williams, J. Powell-|
|Pease, Sir J. W.||Wilson, H. J.|
|Pease, A. E.||Wilson, I.|
|Pickard, B.||Winterbotham, A. B.|
|Pickersgill, E. H.||Wodehouse, E. R.|
|Picton, J. A.||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Playfair, right hon. Sir L.||Wood, N.|
|Plowden, Sir W. C.||Woodhead, J.|
|Portman, hon. E. B.||Wright, C.|
|Potter, T. B.||Wright, H. S.|
|Power, P. J.|
|Price, T. P.||TELLERS,|
|Priestley, B.||Bradlaugh, C.|
|Puleston, Sir J. H.||Kelly, J. R.|
|Quilter, W. C.|
|Amherst, W. A. T.||Baumann, A. A.|
|Ashmead-Bartlett, E.||Beach, W. W. B.|
|Baird, J. G. A.||Beadel, W. J.|
|Baring, T. C.||Beckett, W.|
|Barttelot, Sir W. B.||Bigwood, J.|
|Bates, Sir E.||Blundell. Col. H, B. H.|
|Bonsor, H. C. O.||Hozier, J. H. C.|
|Boord, T. W.||Hubbard, hon. E.|
|Borthwick, Sir A.||Hughes, Colonel E.|
|Bridgeman, Col. hon. F. C.||Hughes - Hallett, Col. F. C.|
|Bristowe, T. L.||Hunter, Sir W. G.|
|Brodrick, hon. W. St. J. F.||Jackson, W. L.|
|Jeffreys, A. F.|
|Brookfield, A. M.||Johnston, W.|
|Burghley, Lord||Kennaway, Sir J. H.|
|Campbell, Sir A.||King - Harman, right hon. Colonel E. R.|
|Campbell, J. A.|
|Carmarthen, Marq. of||Knatchbull-Hugessen, H. T.|
|Chaplin, right hon. H.|
|Charrington, S.||Knowles, L.|
|Cochrane-Baillie, hon. C. W. A. N.||Lafone, A.|
|Lawrence, Sir J. J. T.|
|Colomb, Capt. J. C. R.||Lechmere, Sir E. A. H.|
|Commerell, Adml. Sir J. E.||Lees, E.|
|Legh, T. W.|
|Corry, Sir J. P.||Leighton, S.|
|Cross, H. S.||Lewis, Sir C. E.|
|Curzon, hon. G. N.||Lewisham, right hon. Viscount|
|Dalrymple, Sir C.|
|Dawnay, Colonel hon. L. P.||Llewellyn, E. H;|
|Lowther, hon. W.|
|De Lisle, E. J. L. M. P.||Lowther, J. W.|
|De Worms, Baron H.||Macartney, W. G. E.|
|Dickson, Major A. G.||Macdonald, rt. hon. J. H. A.|
|Dimsdale, Baron R.|
|Dixon-Hartland, F. D.||M'Kenna, Sir J. N.|
|Donkin, R. S.||Madden, D. H.|
|Dorington, Sir J. E.||Makins, Colonel W. T.|
|Douglas, A. Akers-||Maple, J. B.|
|Dyke, right hon. Sir W. H.||Maxwell, Sir H. E.|
|Egerton, hon. A. de T.||Mount, W. G.|
|Ellis, Sir J. W.||Mowbray, rt. hon. Sir J. R.|
|Elton, C. I.|
|Ewing, Sir A. O.||Mulholland, H. L.|
|Farquharson, H. R.||Murdoch, C. T.|
|Feilden, Lt.-Gen. R. J.||Noble, W.|
|Fergusson, right hon. Sir J.||Northcote, hon. Sir H. S.|
|Field, Admiral E.||Norton, R.|
|Fielden, T.||O'Neill, hon. R. T.|
|Finch, G. H.||Paget, Sir R. H.|
|Fitzgerald, R. U. P.||Parker, hon. F.|
|Fitz-Wygram, Gen. Sir F. W.||Pearce, Sir W.|
|Pelly, Sir L.|
|Fowler, Sir R. N.||Penton, Captain F. T.|
|Fraser, General C. C.||Plunket, rt. hon. D. R.|
|Fulton, J. F.||Pomfret, W. P.|
|Gedge, S.||Powell, F. S.|
|Gent-Davis, R.||Raikes, right hon. H. C.|
|Gilliat, J. S.||Reed, H. B.|
|Goldsworthy, Major General W. T.||Round, J.|
|Russell, Sir G.|
|Gorst, Sir J. E.||Sandys, Lieut.-Col. T. M.|
|Hall, A. W.||Seton-Karr, H.|
|Hall, C.||Shaw-Stewart, M. H.|
|Halsey, T. F.||Sidebottom, W.|
|Hambro, Col. C. J. T.||Smith, right hon. W. H.|
|Hardcastle, F.||Smith, A.|
|Herbert, hon. S.||Stanhope, rt. hon. E.|
|Hill, right hon. Lord A. W.||Stephens, H. C.|
|Stewart, M. J.|
|Hill, A. S.||Talbot, J. G.|
|Hoare, S.||Temple, Sir R.|
|Howard, J.||Tomlinson, W. E. M.|
|Trotter, H. J.||Wilson, Sir S.|
|Tyler, Sir H. W.||Wortley, C. B. Stuart-|
|Walrond, Col. W. H.||Wroughton, P.|
|Watson, J,||Young, C. E. B.|
|Webster, Sir R. E.|
|White, J. B.||TELLERS.|
|Whitley, E.||Norris, E. S.|
|Whitmore, C. A.||Waring, Colonel T.|
Bill read a second time, and committed for Tuesday, 27th March.