§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
I wish to put a Question to the Prime Minister with reference to what took place yesterday. I wish to ask, Whether the Government intend to make or submit to the House any Motion; and, if so, what the Motion may be, with respect to the case of Mr. Brad-laugh?
Down to the present moment—that is to say, within the 24 or 26 hours which have elapsed since Mr. Bradlaugh was committed— I have not felt it my duty to bring the matter under the consideration of my Colleagues; and I have not any advice to tender to the House on the subject.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
Under these circumstances, Sir, and having regard to the fact that the Motion for the committal of Mr. Bradlaugh was made by myself, I have thought I should do well to submit to the House a proposal upon this subject. I wish to say in a few words what was the meaning of the Motion which I made yesterday. It was not made in a vindictive spirit; but it was made for the double purpose of asserting the authority of the House and of maintaining the order of its proceedings. The authority of the House had been questioned by Mr. Bradlaugh, who denied that it was legally competent for the House to do that which it had been pleased to do, and the order of its proceedings was jeopardized by the entry and re-entry of that Gentleman after he had 720 been removed from the House. It seemed to me necessary to immediately assert the authority of the House, and to maintain its order by the Motion which I made, and which the House accepted. That object has been accomplished; and I do not think it is necessary for us to prolong the custody of Mr. Bradlaugh, seeing that these objects have been effected. I cannot say what may take place in the future; but I can hardly assume that Mr. Bradlaugh, after having raised the question which he desired to raise, and raised it in a form which was perfectly clear and distinct, would again take any steps which would put the House to inconvenience. If he should do so, of course the House will know how to deal with the case. The Motion which I wish to submit is this—That this House, having committed Mr. Bradlaugh to the custody of the Serjeant at Arms on account of his disohedience of the Orders of the House, and of his resistance to its authority, and having thereby supported its Order and asserted its authority, Mr. Bradlaugh he discharged from the custody of the Serjeant at Arms.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
Mr. Speaker, I think it only right, in order that there may be no misconception on the matter, to say that I understand from Mr. Bradlaugh that should he be released under these conditions he will at once return to the House, and do what the Prime Minister, the Colleagues of the Prime Minister, the present Attorney General, and the late Attorney General say that he has an absolute legal right to do. I am not going further to interfere in this debate —if there be a debate—or to dispute the proposal which the right hon. Gentleman has just made. But I think it well that I should state to the House what will occur. I have thought that it was due to the House, and it is also due to Mr. Bradlaugh, to state this, in order that there may be no supposition that there is any understanding on the part of Mr. Bradlaugh that he will not do that which he claims he has an absolutely legal right to do, and which it is his duty to do.
After what we have just heard I think we ought to have some statement from the Leader of the House. The sitting Member for Northampton has told us that in the event of Mr. Bradlaugh being released from custody he will come forward and pursue a 721 course which the Prime Minister and his Colleagues say is perfectly legal.
And the late Attorney General. That is the assertion of the hon. Member; and I think that assertion ought not to remain uncontradicted by the Leader of the House. I quite understand the position of the Prime Minister, and I think it is perfectly consistent. As I understand the Premier, his position is that the House was wrong in refusing to allow Mr. Bradlaugh to take the Oath; but I did not understand him to say that Mr. Bradlaugh was right in setting himself in opposition, by actual physical force, to the Resolution and will of the House. But when the sitting Member for Northampton deliberately attributes to the Prime Minister a different opinion, I think it is a matter on which it is important that there should be no mistake; and that the Prime Minister should distinctly let the House of Commons and the country know whether, if Mr. Brad-laugh should pursue the course which it has been said he is going to do, he will not consider that that Gentleman is exceeding his right?
When, Sir, you put the Question from the Chair on the Motion proposed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, I thought that, on the whole, my best course was to leave that Motion to the judgment of the House. I had no intention of resisting the Motion, and I did not see that I could say anything expedient or useful to the House. I rise in answer to the call of the hon. and learned Member; because if I understood rightly the words of the sitting Member for Northampton, I understood them differently from the manner in which he understands them. I have no difficulty in answering the question that has been put to me; and undoubtedly if I had understood the words in the same manner as the hon. and learned Member opposite, I should have risen, and I should have thought that the House had a right to expect it of me. I agree in the distinction drawn between those proceedings of Mr. Bradlaugh which were necessary to establish what is, in his 722 judgment, his right, and those proceedings which are not connected with the establishment of that right. So far as I am able to discern, Mr. Bradlaugh was engaged in proceedings necessary for the establishment of what he thinks his right when he tendered himself at this Table —I draw no distinction between the Oath and the Affirmation; I do not enter into that matter at all—to be sworn, if that was his intention, or to affirm. When he tendered himself to fulfil the statute, as he considered it, he received, Sir, your order to withdraw; he protested, and declined to withdraw, and allowed what is termed, in a mild sense, but with sufficient accuracy, "physical force"—manual pressure—to be applied to him in order to secure his removal. So far as I can judge, when he had gone so far, he had done everything that was necessary for the establishment of what he considered his legal right. With respect to his subsequent proceedings—the insisting again and again on presenting himself and pressing his entrance into the House—that appears to me to stand altogether in a different category, and to have no connection whatever with the vindication of what he considers his right. I hope I have now answered the question of the hon. and learned Gentleman.
MR. O'CONNOR POWER
Sir, as I have not ventured to trespass on the indulgence of the House since this question first came under its consideration I will ask leave to make one or two observations. I wish to recall the attention of the House to the fact that on the first occasion when a difficulty arose in connection with the claim put forward by Mr. Bradlaugh to make an Affirmation at the Table instead of taking an Oath, you, Sir, suggested a course of action—namely, that his claim should be considered by a Select Committee. Now, I recollect that the Leader of the House made a Motion on that occasion, which was seconded by the Leader of the Opposition; but what has struck me painfully in connection with the whole controversy is that thereafter the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition parted company. I yield to no Member of this House in the strength of my religious convictions or the intensity of my religious feelings; but now the time has come when we are threatened with further discussion on 723 this subject, which I say has been discussed already usque ad nauseam, I feel it my duty to say that this subject has been inflamed, and that controversy has been provoked on it in the sacred name of religion, but really for selfish and purely Party purposes. I was one of those who took particular pleasure in the united action of the Leaders on both sides at the very first stage of this controversy; but I have not been able to ascertain why the Leaders parted company in dealing with this delicate question subsequently, and why Gentlemen—? I will not say of no responsibility, but from their position in the House of no official responsibility in either Party— were allowed to engage in the treatment of this question in such a manner that we have already lost several days. We have waited for the deliberations of two Select Committees; and I undertake to say that, as far as a conscientious assent to any given proposition on the subject is concerned, we are just as much disunited as we were on the very first day that we rejected Mr. Bradlaugh's claim to make an Affirmation. Now, I rise simply for the purpose of imploring hon. Members who have influence in the House of Commons not to do anything that will continue a controversy which must be scandalous, and which must reflect seriously on the dignity and character of this Assembly. With some of Mr. Brad-laugh's political opinions I sympathize. I sympathize with him because I know he has been friendly to my country. But his friendship for Ireland would never influence me a hair's breadth in straining the law to admit him to this House; neither would I be influenced a hair's breadth to obstruct his admission to this House. I, therefore, was one of those Members who looked to the two Select Committees, in the appointment of which I assisted, to enable me to give a rational decision on this delicate question. I am sorry to say that, as the Committees have contradicted one another, I have derived no assistance whatever from their deliberations. I declined, therefore, to accept the responsibility of voting one way or the other on the vital question which was brought to a decision on Tuesday evening last, and on the equally important question of the imprisonment of Mr. Bradlaugh which was submitted yesterday. But now we have reached this stage—that the Leader 724 of the Opposition, whom certainly I cannot congratulate on any attempt he may have made to suppress heated feelings in reference to this matter—on the contrary, I deplore the efforts which have been made, notably on this (the Opposition) side of the House, to make this ugly and disagreeable question as ugly and disagreeable as possible-—now that a Motion has been placed before the House, which is another temptation thrown in our path, I appeal to hon. Gentlemen who respect the sanctity of the principles which have been invoked in this controversy not to drag the House of Commons again into the questions which have been submitted to our consideration. I protest, as a Christian man, against the House being made an advertising medium for any politician who may wish to affect a superior interest in religion, which he has no right to claim over me or any other Member, or an advertising medium for Mr. Brad-laugh and his friends, as it would unquestionably if this controversy were needlessly protracted. Should Mr. Brad-laugh again present himself at the Bar of the House I need hardly say I am not competent to offer him or his friends advice; but I trust that if he be liberated by the Resolution of the House he will not adopt any such course. I venture to say so because I think it would be a futile course. If this House, by Resolution, has the right legally to imprison Mr. Bradlaugh for disobeying its orders it can also adopt a milder course of punishment, and can instruct its officers at the door to prevent his admission. I am of opinion that no word or act of Mr. Bradlaugh has, in the slightest degree, affected his original title to sit as a Member of this Assembly. That title is unimpaired; and if he is not satisfied with the decision of the House of Commons—as we know he is not—then his rational, straightforward, and obvious course is to appeal against the decision of the House of Commons to the Courts of Law outside, from which, by his own acknowledgment, he has never failed in obtaining justice. If this course is adopted by him and supported by his friends we shall be relieved from a repetition of the very unpleasant scenes we have witnessed from the beginning; and I appeal to influential Members on both sides of the House to accept, without a protracted discussion, the Motion 725 of the Leader of the Opposition, and so bring this very disagreeable matter to a close.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Resolved, That this House, having committed Mr. Bradlaugh to the custody of the Serjeant at Arms on account of his disobedience of the Orders of the House, and of his resistance to its authority, and having thereby supported its order and asserted its authority, Mr. Bradlaugh be discharged from the custody of the Serjeant at Arms.—(Sir Stafford Northcote.)