HC Deb 11 May 1880 vol 252 cc38-63

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Select Committee on the Parliamentary Oath do consist of Nineteen Members."— (Lord Richard Grosvenor.)


said, that, in pursuance of the Notice he gave yesterday, he begged to move the Previous Question. It appeared to him and to those whom he had consulted that the proposal for a Select Committee to inquire into Parliamentary Oaths at this particular stage of the constitution of the House was unprecedented and irregular, and was, if not an infringement, an evasion of the Royal Prerogative. He must, in the first place, read from an eminent authority, which was undoubted in this House, as to the manner in which the House had proceeded in dealing with questions of this kind. The first of the precedents quoted by the noble Lord the Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Richard Grosvenor) were those of Mr. Pease, which occurred in 1833, and of Baron Rothschild, which occurred in 1850. These did not in the slightest degree affect his case, because they had occurred when the House was fully constituted. The Committee in the case of Mr. Pease was moved by Lord Althorp, the Leader of the House of Commons; and in the case of Baron Rothschild, although the Committee was moved by a private Member (Mr. Page Wood), it was supported by Lord John Russell, who was then Leader of the House. Therefore, in the one case, the Committee was moved on the responsibility of a Privy Councillor and a Cabinet Minister; and in the second case, although moved by a private Member, it received the support of a Cabinet Minister sitting on the Treasury Bench; and although the Secretary to the Treasury might some day rival Lord Althorp and Lord John Russell, he had not yet attained that position. He had the authority of Sir Erskine May, in his book on Parliamentary Practice, for the points on which he grounded his Motion. Sir Erskine May said— Her Majesty appoints the time and place of meeting of Parliament at the commencement of the Session, and declares to both Houses the causes of summons, either by herself in person, or by Commissioners appointed by her, and until she has done this neither House can proceed to any business. After the Speech any business may be commenced; and both Houses, to assert their right to act, invariably read a Bill a first time pro formâ, and before taking the Speech into consideration. The onus lay on the Government, therefore, to refute the position that Business could not be begun until the causes of summons had been laid before Parliament in the Speech from the Throne and a Bill had been read a first time. In the present case, neither the Speech had been read, nor a Bill read a first time. Now, what had been, in the present Session, the manner of constituting the House? The House met on the 29th of April. They had elected a Speaker; their choice had been approved in a little Queen's Speech; the Speaker had laid claim, on their behalf, to all their ancient rights and Privileges, and this had entitled them to pass the Sessional Orders, which were an expression of those rights and Privileges. Then came a second little Queen's Speech, in which their duty was laid down in a very specific manner—namely, that an opportunity was now to be given for the issuing of "Writs to fill up vacancies caused by the Ministers accepting Office, and after a suitable Recess for this purpose the cause of summons would be declared to them. The Speech declaring the cause of summons alone entitled them to proceed to Business, and was, as Sir Erskine May said," the true commencement of the Session. He was not going to enter into the merits of this claim of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) to be allowed to make an Affirmation instead of taking the Oath; but he would point out to the House that there was no precedent whatever for a Committee of this kind being appointed before the Queen's Speech had been read. He could not understand why the Government should wish to see this Committee appointed, except they were desirous of introducing the hon. Member for Northampton a little more quickly than he would have been in the ordinary course. The Government had no need of supporters. Heaven knew they had quite enough of them! There was really no reason why they should violate the practice and custom of the House and invade the Royal Prerogative, merely because one Gentleman chose to put forward a claim which had never before been put forward in similar terms. He understood that hon. Gentlemen opposite relied on the precedent of Baron Rothschild. In 1859, Baron Rothschild came to that House and asked to be sworn; but he declined to take the form of Oath then required to be taken. He (Sir H. Drummond Wolff) understood that the House came to a resolution with reference to the case of Baron Rothschild. The Committee now sought for was of an entirely different character. It was not asked for so that it might inquire into the special case of the hon. Member for Northampton, but to inquire generally into the Oaths taken by Members, and was, in fact, a piece of general Business. The hon. Member was not mentioned in the Resolution at all; and, moreover, the Resolution was in direct contravention of the Speech which they had heard from the Throne, in which they were told that after the issuing of Writs they were to have a Recess, inasmuch as this irregular Committee was to sit irregularly, notwithstanding the adjournment of the House. Now, if hon. Gentlemen opposite relied on Baron Rothschild's case, it did not appear to apply to this case at all. The Resolution to admit Baron Rothschild was a specific Resolution to give him certain relief with regard to the Oath which he was to take. The Resolution passed with reference to Baron Rothschild was to the effect that he, being a person professing the Jewish religion and being otherwise entitled to sit and vote, was prevented by his conscience from taking the Oath of Allegiance, supremacy, and abjuration in the form required by the Act, and it was resolved that any person professing the Jewish religion might thenceforth be entitled to omit the words —"and I make this declaration on the true faith of a Christian." That Resolution was passed before the Queen's Speech was read. But why? Because it was a procedure in conformity with the prescriptions of an Act of Parliament. In 1858, and, as they all knew, for a long time before, Jews had been refused admission into Parliament; and an Act was then passed which enabled each House to pass a Resolution for the admission of Members in such manner as they might think fit. But that was a very different thing from a general Parliamentary Committee. At the time when the noble Lord moved the appointment of a Select Committee Members could not even ask a Question of the Government. He thought the hon. senior Member for Louth was out of Order in asking a Question to-day. [Mr. CALLAN: I beg pardon. I was in Order.] Merely to please the hon. Member for Northampton, one of their supporters, the Government were now hurrying the House to take a course for which he (Sir H. Drummond Wolff) was certain no precedent could be found, and which, ho thought, was very dangerous, being an infringement or invasion of the Constitution. He therefore begged to move the Previous Question.

Previous Question proposed, "That the Original Question be now put."—(Sir Henry Wolff.)


said, he must compliment the hon. Member for Portsmouth on the acuteness with which he had argued the question before the House; but, if they looked at the substance of his case, he thought they would see there was no ground for making the Motion he had made. His hon. Friend said they could not entertain any proposition, and certainly not such a proposition as that of his noble Friend the Secretary to the Treasury, until the Queen's Speech had been delivered to Parliament. He did not contest the general proposition that with regard to all matters connected with the general duties of Parliament it had become —as, in truth, it always was — their general custom not to enter into the consideration of the Business until the Speech had been delivered. But his hon. Friend had not stated to the House what was their position in relation to the Business which they were now asked by the noble Lord to transact. He had forgotten to state to the House that they had had not a "little Queen's Speech," but what might more properly be called a communication from the Crown, requiring that every Member of the House should take the Oath and be sworn as a Member of Parliament. Therefore, so far as they were acting in connection with swearing Members of that House, they were acting in direct accordance with the Message received from the Crown. On the first day the Parliament met they received the command from Her Majesty, by Royal Commission, to take the Oath. In the course of that transaction, a question arose in consequence of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) claiming his right to make an Affirmation instead of an Oath. That claim was made to the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair; and he stated that, after full consideration, he did not feel justified in determining the question—that he had great doubt about the construction of the Acts, and desired to refer the matter to the judgment of the House. Now, it was quite clear, with all deference to the opinion of the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Drummond Wolff), that the House could, if it thought proper, proceed to determine that question. The object of an hon. Member being sworn was, that when the full Queen's Speech had been delivered and the House was then prepared to enter upon general Business, that hon. Member, as well as every other hon. Member, should be in a position at once to enter upon such Business as a Member who had taken the Oath. He would remind the House that it was not only the right of the hon. Member himself, but the right of the constituency which he represented, that the Representative whom they had sent to Parliament should at once be entitled to take part in its Business. If this had been a matter easy of determination, the Speaker would, no doubt, at once have determined it. If the House had chosen to enter on the consideration of the question submitted to it by the Speaker, the House could have determined it; but it was thought that, as the question was one which involved the construction of certain statutes and also several technical points of law, the House would be well advised in receiving the assistance of a Committee. It should be borne in mind that the question was not submitted to the Committee for its determination. The Committee would simply inquire into and advise the House on an abstract question, so that the House might then be in a better position to determine the matter for itself. The hon. Member for Portsmouth had said there was no precedent for the course taken in that case. There could not be many precedents for it, because it was unusual that there should be that interregnum between the assembling of Parliament and the delivery of the Queen's Speech. That, he believed, was the fourth occasion in the history of Parliament when it had so happened that the responsible Ministers of the Crown on the meeting of Parliament were not in a position to ask the House to enter on general Business at once. But the only precedent that had arisen in relation to taking the Oath was that of Baron Rothsehild's case, to which the hon. Gentleman had referred. That was a precedent precisely in point. The 2nd Resolution proposed in Baron Rothschild's case was an abstract Resolution. It was not a Resolution determining the question whether one or any particular Member should take the particular Oath. It was an abstract Resolution. [Sir H. DRMUND WOLFF: It was in pursuance of an Act of Parliament.] The hon. Member for Ports- mouth—and he gave him credit for his ingenuity—said that that was done in pursuance of an Act of Parliament. But what could be the difference, when the duty was cast upon the House in either case, whether it was cast on them by an Act which did not mention the time, but left it open whether it should be done when the House was properly constituted, or whether it should be done in pursuance of a suggestion from the Chair, although the Queen's full Speech had not been delivered? As to the allegation that they were now proceeding with undue haste, he would remind the hon. Gentleman that more than five-sixths of the House had now taken the Oath, and that the result of the deliberations of the Committee would not come before the House until after the delivery of the Queen's Speech, and, therefore, that the effect and substance of all that could be done—namely, the admission or the rejection of the claim made by the hon. Member for Northampton, must take place after the Speech from the Throne had been read. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Portsmouth had touched on a question which he was unwilling to enter upon, because he had suggested that the Government had acted with precipitancy in bringing forward that matter, because they were anxious to show some special favour to the hon. Member for Northampton. Now, the view which the Government took, and which he hoped other Members would take, was that the hon. Member for Northampton was as much entitled to strict justice as any other hon. Gentleman in that House, and that he had made no claim which ought not to be considered, and that they had taken no more notice of that claim than it was their duty to take. He (the Attorney General) was, however, relieved from entering, to any great extent, on such a consideration, because, while the hon. Member for Portsmouth had said that the proposal had not received the countenance of any Cabinet Minister, ho was glad to know that it had, at least, received the sanction of an ex-Cabinet Minister opposite. The Seconder of the Motion for appointing the Committee was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devonshire (Sir Stafford Northcote), whom the hon. Member for Portsmouth would, he was sure, be delighted to follow. The right hon. Baronet the Member for North Devonshire said that his noble Friend (Lord Frederick Cavendish) could have taken no other course than he had done in moving for the Committee; and he went further, and suggested that the Committee should not be nominated until the Solicitor General and himself (the Attorney General) should be in the House. That suggestion was acted upon, He was sorry the right hon. Baronet (Sir Stafford Northcote) was not present that day, for he would have afforded to the hon. Member for Portsmouth that "light and leading" which would have prevented him taking his present course. In conclusion, he asked the House to reject the Amendment, and to proceed with the nomination of the Committee, in order that the House, when fully constituted, might proceed to the consideration of the question, with the assistance of the Committee's deliberations and advice.


observed, that he intended to second the Motion on less technical grounds than those adopted by the Mover. When the Committee was originally moved for there were few Members present, and the House was without the guidance of those whose guidance was of most importance on such a matter. The proceedings of the half-made House were, therefore, of little authority. That was essentially a legal question, on which no layman could speak with weight. The opinions of the responsible Law Officers of the Crown must rule the decision of any Committee the House might appoint; because it was hardly conceivable that the majority of the Committee, carefully chosen from the official supporters of the Government, should take it upon themselves to outvote their own Legal Advisers. Therefore, when the House was listening to the Report of the Committee, it would only, in reality, be listening to the opinion of those two hon. and learned Gentlemen. He was sorry that the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) was not in his place, and he considered that ho had shown some little disrespect for the House by his absence. There were three courses open to the Committee, and in each case he could show good reasons why the Committee should not be appointed. They might report that the hon. Member for Northampton came within the scope of those Acts and might make an Affirmation, instead of taking the Oath, then cadit quastio; all that fuss had been made about nothing at all. Again, the Committee might report that the hon. Member for Northampton could not in any case make the Affirmation, but must and ought to take the Oath. He believed it possible and even probable, in such case, that the hon. Member for Northampton would accept the inevitable and take the Oath; it would be an utter mockery, and the proceedings of the House would be made a legitimate subject of universal derision all the world over. Indeed, he should like to know whether any hon. Member on either side could possibly repress either a smile or a groan at such an exhibition. If the hon. Member for Northampton took that course, he would only be following the heroic example of the right hon. Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe), who had lately shown that he could accept the inevitable and recant the principles of a lifetime. He only regretted that the right hon. Gentleman had been so badly paid for his self-sacrifice. But, in the third place, the Committee might report that the hon. Member (Mr. Bradlaugh) did not come within the letter, but came within the spirit of those Acts of Parliament; and then the Prime Ministor would have got the Committee to tell him what was the right way of dealing with that question, and to do for him exactly what he ought to have taken on himself the responsibility of proposing. But, after all, the whole thing was a "sham" and a masquerade. They were only enacting the last scenes of a play which was begun six weeks ago at Northampton. The stage manager was the right hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. Adam) now First Commissioner of Works; the prompter was the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister. [Murmurs.] Was there any Member of the front Bench opposite, much less the Prime Minister, who would repudiate their confidential agent? Let there be no mistake about it. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Clackmannan wrote a letter to Northampton beseeching the electors to vote for the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Brad-laugh). But he did more than that— he hustled out of his way poor Mr. Wright, a respectable and thorough- going Liberal. Mr. Wright, astounded at the whole thing, would not believe it, until he came up to London himself and saw the confidential agent. On his return this was what he said. ["Question."] The question was whether they were not now carrying out a bargain arranged six weeks ago. Here was what poor Mr. Wright said:—"I determined to place myself in the hands"—


rose to Order. He asked whether what the hon. Member was reading was relevant to the Question before the House?


The hon. Member was referring to certain transactions connected with the election of a Member for Northampton, and in so doing I cannot say that the hon. Member is out of Order.


said, he was sorry any hon. Member opposite should be ashamed of hearing of the proceedings of his own Party. Well, poor Mr. Wright said— I determined to place myself in the hands of the Liberal Whip, Mr. Adam, who is responsible for the management of the Liberal Party throughout the country, and he told me that I should be forwarding the interests of the Liberal Party by retiring. And so poor Mr. Wright was persuaded to retire to make room for the hon. Member who represents Northampton. A bargain had been struck, and now the right hon. Gentleman was called upon to complete his share of it, and he supposed the right hon. Gentleman must complete his bargain, even if he made a bargain with the hon. Member for Northampton. Having placed the hon. Member in the representation, no bar could well be placed to his entering the House. The right hon. Gentlemen at the head of the Government knew the man they were dealing with. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Brad-laugh) was not a man who had concealed his opinions; he used no ambiguous phrases, but had always spoken out plainly and distinctly, never "refraining from repeating, and even defending, polemical language which he had used in a position of greater freedom and less responsibility." He made no retractations and apologies. No one ever left a meeting, after hearing the hon. Member, in the slightest doubt as to his meaning, and when he said a thing he stuck to his guns. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister must not be ashamed of his allies, and only shake hands with them in the country. The right hon. Gentleman had put the House in this dilemma, and he ought to get them out of it. The whole thing was a snare. A noose was hung out for hon. Members on his side of the House; but he hoped his hon. Friends would not run their heads into it, or they would be throttled. He would appeal to the Members of the Constitutional Party not to act as an out-numbered minority of a Committee whose Report from antecedent circumstances would be a foregone conclusion. He would ask them not to place themselves in a position in which they would be made either fools of or tools of. But he hoped that the question would not be treated in any way as a Party one—that there would be no room for the shadow of a suspicion as to the way in which the question would be looked at and dealt with. He could trust in that matter the hon. Gentlemen opposite without watching them. Though he was a Churchman and a Tory, he should feel confidence in leaving the matter in the hands of the Members on the Treasury Bench, and of the Representatives of the religious Nonconformity of England and Wales, which he admired not only for its Puritan simplicity, but for the intensity of its religious faith, and the manly straightforwardness of its professions, and which was called the backbone of the Liberalism of England.


wished to say one word on the construction of this Committee. He thought one name that ought to be there had been omitted. He referred to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol (Mr. S. Morley). The hon. Member for Shropshire (Mr. S. Leighton) said a great deal about the influence exercised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Clackmannan; but he (Sir Rainald Knightley) was credibly informed by many of his constituents who resided in Northampton that the main, if not the chief cause of the dilemma in which the House was now placed was owing to that strange telegraphic communication which the hon. Member for Bristol thought proper to address to the electors of Northampton. He therefore thought it only right that the hon. Member should be placed on the Committee to enable his nominee to take the seat lie had won for him.


said, the matter before the House was one of very great importance; and he was sure the House must feel obliged to his hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Drummond Wolff) for having brought the question forward, and also for the manner in which he had done so. He quite agreed with his hon. Friend with refer-once to the commencement of the proceedings in Parliament after the delivery of the Queen's Speech. He thought there could be no doubt that any of the ordinary Business, with certain exceptions to which he should refer, could not be proceeded with until the Speech had been delivered. So far he agreed with his hon. Friend. But then there were exceptions, and one of the exceptions undoubtedly was that any hon. Member might be permitted to take his place and take the Oath before the Speech had been read. If that were so, it seemed to him it was competent for the House to transact any Business that was incident to the taking of the Oath—it was quite competent to transact any Business that was necessary should be transacted in order to enable any hon. Member to take the Oath, or to make any inquiry that might be necessary to be made in order to ascertain whether any hon. Member could take it in a particular form or could make an Affirmation instead. Therefore, he could not altogether agree with the opinion of his hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth. He thought it was quite competent for the House, when the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) claimed the right to make an Affirmation instead of taking the Oath prescribed by statute, to appeal upon that question to a Committee for assistance. It was quite competent for the Speaker to express his view in the manner he did, and to desire to have the assistance of the House or of a Committee. But it was most important that the House on such an occasion should not in the least, in any one iota, exceed its Privileges or overstep the boundaries of our Constitution. He must, therefore, protest against the very wide terms in which the Resolution had been framed. It did not provide that the Committee should be appointed to inquire whether the hon. Member for Northampton could be allowed to make an Affirmation instead of taking the Oath; but it provided that an inquiry of the widest character should be' embarked upon—namely, whether anybody who chose to say he had been allowed to make an Affirmation in a Court of Justice should be allowed to make an Affirmation in Parliament instead of taking the Oath. For one, he protested against the wide terms of the Resolution. It would have been better to confine it to the particular case of the hon. Member for Northampton. At the same time, as the Resolution was, perhaps, prepared somewhat hurriedly, and as it had been seconded by the right hon. Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote), he certainly could not support the hon. Member for Portsmouth simply on the ground that the Resolution was too wide. He should, therefore, content himself with protesting against its extensive scope; and having done that, he had no more to say, except that he would rather appeal to the hon. Member for Portsmouth not to persevere with the Amendment.


said, he should like to ask a question of the Government as to the subject of the inquiry by the Committee. They were invited to consider the terms of a Resolution, and were told they were based upon precedent. But the Resolution was not in print, and was not read; and some hon. Members suggested an adjournment of the matter, in order that the terms of the Resolution should be placed before the House. The answer, however, of the Government was that they were following precedents, and they relied upon those of 1833 and 1850. Now, he (Mr. Gorst) asked why the Government had not followed those precedents, because he contended that they had distinctly departed from them. In 1833, Mr. Pease's case occurred, and in 1850 Baron Rothschild's. What was the position of those Gentlemen? In Mr. Pease's case, the Committee was appointed to collect information, which was to be laid before the House, and on which it was to pronounce its decision. It was appointed to search the Journals of the House, and to report such precedents and such Acts of Parliament as related to the question, and nothing was said about the expression of any opinion. This precedent was followed in 1850. But now it was proposed that the Com- mittee should consider and report its opinion on the question. There was, therefore, a remarkable difference between the cases of 1833 and 1850 and the present. When this Committee had reported their opinion to the House, the House would practically be committed to it, and have to give effect to it. ["No!"] Would anyone say that they could dissent from the decision of a Committee composed of a body of eminent lawyers? The House was, therefore, practically abandoning its functions by relegating them to a Committee, for it was referring the question to the judgment of the Committee. He desired, therefore, to ask why, when they were told that the Resolution was based upon the precedents of 1833 and 1850, they were asked to appoint a Committee for wholly different purposes, and whose Report would have a different effect?


considered that the terms of the Resolution were not sufficiently explicit. There appeared to be conflicting views upon the question among hon. Members. He, therefore, desired to ask, as a matter of Order, what the exact function of the Committee was to be?


thought some answer ought to be given on the part of the Government to the question of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst). The House was deeply indebted to his hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Drummond Wolff) for bringing the matter forward; it involved a very grave question; and the proceeding was irregular, unusual, and unprecedented, There might be reasons for it, and he was not going to dispute some of them; but it was a step that required some justification; and a question should not be mot by silence from the Treasury Bench. Ho was inclined to agree with the hon. Member for Portsmouth that this was a case in which no harm, but a great deal of good, might arise from delay. It was altogether an extraordinary proceeding at a period of the Session when Members attended merely for the purpose of taking the Oath. The question arose suddenly, and an endeavour was made to treat it as one of Privilege, which undoubtedly in one sense it was; and the House, if it had pleased, might have dealt with it then and there as a ques- tion of Privilege; but there was a great difference between one question and another, and the common sense and good feeling of the House revolted against dealing with this question in a summary way when the House was imperfectly constituted, when a third of its Members and many of its Leaders were absent. Although it was agreed to appoint a Committee, it was felt on all hands it was too soon to take immediate action, as in an ordinary case of Privilege; and what harm could now arise from further delay? There was no prededent but that of 1850, and it had been well pointed out what that was. In 1858 an Act had been passed to alter the form of Oath to enable members of the Jewish persuasion to sit in either House; in July, 1858, the House passed a Resolution by virtue of which Baron Rothschild was enabled to take his seat; but this was a Sessional Resolution, and it had to be re-affirmed by the next Parliament. The step then taken was not like the present—appointing a Committee to report its opinion before the House had commenced its usual Business. The precedent relied upon by the Government did not go so far as to justify the appointment of this Committee. The time appointed for the sitting of the Committee was, ho might add, very unusual, seeing that they would have to prosecute their inquiry on one of those holidays which the late hon. Member for Maidstone (Sir John Lubbock) had been instrumental in conferring upon the community at large. No question, moreover, was pending on which a single vote would be likely to have any practical effect on the proceedings of the House; and he could not help thinking that, as the City of London had done without one of its four Members for a period of 11 years, while the subject of the Jewish claim was being settled, the electors of the borough of Northampton might very well be content to wait for as many days. It would, in his opinion, have been more consistent with the dignity of the House if the Government had acted in the matter with greater deliberation; and he begged to thank his hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth for having brought the question forward for serious discussion. At the same time he hoped, as it was perfectly competent for the House to appoint the proposed Committee, and as there was little doubt what the result of a division would be, his hon. Friend would not deem it necessary to take the sense of the House on his Amendment, although if he did so he should certainly vote in its favour.


said, he hoped the House would remember that the question before it was not whether it was a right course to pursue to appoint a Committee to inquire into the subject which it was proposed it should investigate, for the House had already determined that the Committee should be appointed, and that with the full concurrence of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition; and although those who now sat upon the Ministerial Benches used sometimes to be taunted by their opponents with not being disposed to follow their Leader, some of the hon. Members opposite seemed anxious to seize on the very first opportunity to follow the example which they condemned. The right hon. Baronet who had just spoken seemed to think that the course proposed by the Government was derogatory to the dignity of the House and contrary to the practice *of Parliament; but on that point he would appeal with confidence to the action of the Leader of the Opposition, who, it would be admitted, would be the very last person to sanction a proceeding which, in his opinion, would have any such effect. The position in which the case stood was that the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) objected to take the Oath of Allegiance, alleging that according to law he was entitled to affirm instead; and the issue thus raised would, he hoped, be considered without importing into it the views which they might entertain as to the particular opinions of the hon. Member for Northampton. The question raised by the hon. Member for Portsmouth was entirely independent of the views of the hon. Member for Northampton; and whether the course they were taking was or was not contrary to the practice of the House could not be affected by the views of the hon. Member for Northampton. The hon. Member claimed to affirm instead of taking the Oath, and the House was bound to deal in some way or other with the question which had arisen. If the hon. Member was by law entitled to affirm, surely his constituents were entitled to have that matter decided at the earliest possible moment. It was thought that the House would be better able to consider the matter after a Committee had considered and reported upon it. That House did not delegate its functions to the Committee. The Committee merely reported its opinion to the House, and the House was in no way bound by that opinion. The question really before the House was the nomination of the Committee, and not the terms of the Reference to the Committee. It had been said that the terms of the Reference were without precedent. He admitted that this Resolution was not exactly in the wording of former Resolutions, because the cases were different, and they must adapt the terms of the Resolution to the particular case with which they were dealing. The Resolutions referred to dealt with the question as to how far a person, by the practice of Parliament, should be entitled to affirm instead of taking an Oath, while, in the present instance, the question was whether or not, under a particular statute, a person was so entitled. Now, that being the state of things which the House had to consider, it was, he contended, desirable that they should have the Report of the Committee, when they would be in a better position to arrive at a sound decision. He ventured to submit to the House that there was nothing contrary to its Rules or practice, as seemed to be intimated by the right hon. Baronet who had just spoken; and that being so, ho also submitted that, the Resolution for the appointment of a Committee being proposed by a Member of the Government and seconded by the Leader of the Opposition, and agreed to by the House, it would not become the dignity of the House or conduce to the convenience of hon. Members to further delay its appointment.


said, it was clear from what had fallen from the hon. and learned Gentleman that the terms of the Resolution now under discussion differed from those of the two Resolutions which were relied upon as precedents, and which were passed with a very different object. The three Resolutions were not, in fact, in pari materiâ. They were asked to refer to a Select Committee, not the special circumstances connected with the case of the hon. Member for Northampton, but the question whether any person permitted by any authority to make an Affirmation instead of taking an Oath was to be allowed to do so when he took his seat in the House. The Acts to which reference had boon made were passed for the purpose of enabling Courts of Justice to obtain the evidence of witnesses who could not otherwise have been put in the witness box, and in no way affected the ease which was immediately before the House. While he could not help thinking that it would have been well if time had been given for the further consideration of this question, he still had no desire to put himself in opposition to what was evidently the general feeling of the House; and he would join in the recommendation which had been made to his hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth to withdraw his Motion.


remarked, that he could not escape the conviction that to some hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House the admission of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) seemed very distasteful; and they wore, apparently, doing all in their power to postpone that admission to the latest possible moment. ["No!"] He was driven to this conclusion from the tone the debate had taken. Referring to the Journals of the House, ho found, for Monday, May 3, a concise and accurate narrative, by which they were all bound, of the whole circumstances under which the discussion had arisen. A Motion had been made on the facts as recorded for the appointment of the Select Committee, whereupon an Amendment was moved proposing the adjournment of the debate; upon this a Motion was made, and the Question put, that the debate should be adjourned, and after being negatived, the Original Question for the appointment of a Committee, and the reference to it of the question raised by the hon. Member, was put and agreed to. The Committee was thereupon ordered. Thus it appeared that the whole question had already been gravely considered, and had actually been determined by the House; but they were now, under the guise of a discussion on the composition of the Committee, involved in a debate raising every conceivable aspect of the matter, and suggesting many points which might possibly have been germane to the original Motion for a Com- mittee, but which ho apprehended were now totally out of date. He saw his own name proposed as a Member of that Committee. It might be that he would find himself so appointed; and it was in view of this possibility that he, for one, ventured most respectfully to deprecate the discussion of the question in any political aspect. What had to be referred to the Committee was simply the abstract question of law. Should their Report be that, according to the law as it now stood, the hon. Member could make an Affirmation instead of taking the Oath, he apprehended that practically the whole question would be at an end. On the other hand, the Committee might report against the claim of the hon. Member, or if they had any doubt of course they would state it; but the duty of the Committee would be to report what the law was, and not what it ought to be. This might have to be decided hereafter by Parliament. But, in the meantime, he hoped the debate might now be allowed to terminate, and that the House would proceed to the only thing the Forms permitted—namely, the appointment of the Members of the Committee.


said, he had not intended to take part in that discussion; but he could not agree with his hon. and learned Friend who had just spoken that the question would be at an end when the Committee had reported. When his right hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote) had seconded the Motion for the appointment of the Committee, he had discussed the question on the supposition that they were pursuing the regular course and were acting according to precedent. The Committee would be appointed simply to facilitate the work of the House, in whose hands rested the ultimate decision of the case.


said, it had struck him, as a Catholic Member of that House, it might be desirable that he should put the Catholic view of this question before them. He thought that there had not been sufficient time given for the consideration of this very important matter, which—however they might choose to shut their eyes to it—was one which went to the very root of the Constitution of the country. He did not for a moment attempt to deny that it was competent for the House to deal with the subject in the manner proposed by the Government; but it was competent for the House to do a great many things which they would be showing more wisdom in not touching. What he complained of was that the reason for which the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Brad-laugh) claimed an exemption from the usual Oath had been studiously concealed from the House. In all former cases in which Members of Sects and Bodies not previously admitted had claimed to be allowed to make Affirmations some distinct and satisfactory reason had been given. Before Emancipation, Catholics had to satisfy a Protestant Parliament, and Jews had never thought of shrinking from giving their reasons for the exemption demanded. He thought that in the present case the House might fairly ask for some better reason than the bare fact that a certain exemption had been enjoyed elsewhere. If a Member asked admission to that House and refused to take the Oath of Allegiance, they ought to know distinctly the grounds of his refusal. Such a man, if he had faith in his convictions, would not hesitate to state them, and he believed that the hon. Member in question would be quite prepared to do so. He felt, too, that those who had sent the hon. Member to the House would wish him to state the exact facts of the situation. Let it be supposed that the real reasons of any hon. Member refusing to take the Oath with the usual invocation of the Divine Name was that he totally disbelieved in God, and immutable morality, did that not raise most distinctly the entire connection between religion and the State, between the State and any religion whatever, and was it not the duty of a responsible Ministry in this country to place a question of that kind clearly and nakedly before the Parliament of the Kingdom? But that question had not been thus put before the House; but, on the contrary, there seemed every disposition to keep back what all knew to be the real facts of the case. He (Mr. O'Donnell) by no means wished it to be understood that he would vote one way or the other, if the question was put fairly before him; but when asked to abolish every declaration of faith, even the existence of God, then he certainly held the House should be afforded a clear, a distinct opportunity of expressing an opinion on the expediency or inexpediency of such a course. The hon. Member himself would have no hesitation in expressing his opinions; and when he stated that he had enjoyed certain exemptions outside the House, then the Government should include in their Reference and Instructions to the Committee to inquire why the elected Member of Northampton refused to take an oath either in the Christian or in the general theistic form. The sanctions to an arrangement founded on considerations of Divine Providence and immutable morality must have a very different weight—at any rate in the minds of Christian people—from engagements which were in no way strengthened or confirmed by any moral sanction whatever. Therefore, although the House might, on due consideration, deem it right to admit a Member who objected entirely to all faith in morality and in God, who explained religion as a disease of the brain and conscience as a nervous contraction of the diaphragm, yet the question ought to be brought plainly before the House; and no backstairs arrangements or electioneering contrivances ought to turn the responsible Government of a great Christian country from its plain duty to the Christian Representatives of the nation. Catholics, he believed, entertained stronger ideas than many other people on the subject of the relations between Church and State, and he thought that question ought to be brought clearly before the House. The Reference to the proposed Committee would simply result in so much waste of time, for it carefully avoided the real point at issue, which must be eventually debated in- the House, however the Committee might report. He did not think there was any great pressure for a decision on this subject. He had every respect for the rights of constituencies; but he would point out that when Tipperary elected O'Donovan Rossa and John Mitchel the House interfered without a great deal of respect to that constituency. The interests of a particular part must yield to the interests of the general whole. He did not believe that even in Northampton delay and careful investigation into the claims of this Gentleman would evoke general feelings of discontent. The excitement of the General Election had passed away. Even the eminent Non- conformist who gave a sort of high, pontifical dispensation on this urgent occasion had intimated his regret at having acted in a hurry, and had given them to understand that if he had fore seen the overwhelming Liberal majority ho would not, to use the language of pious people, have appealed to the sons of Belial against Lord Beaconsfield. There was plenty of time to discuss this question soberly and calmly. Behind all the manœuvres they had witnessed there lay a clear desire to shirk, as far as possible, the real question at issue; and he did not think this was fair, either to the Conservative Opposition, to a large body of the Liberal Party, or to a good many of the Representatives of Ireland. It was desirable clearly and openly to meet important problems of this kind which reached down to the very base of the Constitution, instead of resorting to technical devices that were akin to what might be called chicanery.


said, that when he moved the adjournment of the debate nothing could be further from his intention than to prevent any hon. Member from taking his seat who, according to the laws of the country or the Rules of the House, had a right to do so. Ho fore-saw, however, exactly what had happened. If on a technical point of this sort the House appointed a Committee to consider it, without giving hon. Members an opportunity of seeing the terms of the Reference, he foresaw the House might be placed in a somewhat false and even ludicrous position. The action of the Government in forcing on this question was perfectly unintelligible. They might be anxious that a great constituency should not be unrepresented longer than was necessary; but that was no reason why they should take a course which was at least doubtful, and endeavour to submit a difficult technical question, without a distinct knowledge on the part of the House, to a Select Committee. He hoped to have an opportunity, after the Committee had reported, of expressing his opinion on the points raised by the last speaker; but he might remark that they were not the points which were now at issue.


It appears to me, Mr. Speaker, that in this matter the Leader of the House has acted with undue haste, and I must add that I think the Leader of the Opposition has done so likewise. I regret that the precedent of 1833, in the case of Mr. Archdall, and the precedent of 1850, which I well remember, have been departed from. In both these cases the House merely commissioned its Committee to ascertain the facts and to report any legal definition which might appear to them as bearing upon the case. Such information I, for one, am most anxious to receive; but the House did not in either of these previous cases invite or permit these Committees by its Instructions to report their opinion upon the main issue, for the consideration of which these Committees were merely commissioned to collect evidence. The state of my health, Mr. Speaker, precludes my attempting to address the House at length; but I think it unfortunate that this matter should have been entertained before the House was duly constituted, when there remained so large a proportion of the Members who had not taken their seats. We are not, I trust, Sir, about to delegate to a Committee a matter which directly affects the constitution of the House, and which may have an important bearing upon the position of the House hereafter in the opinion of the people, and thus upon the dignity and efficiency of the House. The question which the Member for Northampton has chosen to raise involves a totally new issue, as I understand it, with respect to which, and I speak of the main issue, the House has, so far as I am aware, no precedent to guide it. Previous Parliaments have effectually met every religious scruple arising from the nature of the Oaths to be taken as a qualification for a seat in this House; but I believe the point raised by the Member for Northampton does not come within the category of religious scruples. He entertains, as I understand, no religious scruple. This is a grave question, and I think it very unfortunate that the Instruction which the House has adopted should enable the Committee to pronounce an opinion upon the main issue, since it involves a question which directly affects the constitution of this House. As an old Member of this House—and I say this for the information of Members who have not had such long experience— I claim to vote upon the main issue now raised before the House whenever it may be considered hereafter, totally unbiassed by the Report of the Committee.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 171; Noes 74: Majority 97.

Agar-Robartes, hon. T. C. Glyn, hon. S. C.
Gordon, Sir A. H.
Agnew, W. Gower, hon. E. F. L.
Ainsworth, D. Grant, D.
Allen, H. G. Grenfell, W. H.
Arnold, A. Grey, A. H. G.
Ashley, hon. E. M. Hardcastle, J. A.
Balfour, Sir G. Hastings, G. W.
Balfour, J. S. Havelock-Allan, Sir H.
Barclay, J. W. Herschell, F.
Baring, Viscount Hibbert, J. T.
Barran, J. Hill, T. R.
Baxter, rt. hon. W. E. Hollond, J. R.
Beaumont, W. B. Holms, J.
Bevan, T. Hopwood, C. H.
Biddulph, M. Howard, J.
Blennerhassett, B. P. Hughes, W. B.
Brassey, T. Hutchinson, J. D.
Briggs, W. E. Ingram, W. J.
Bright, Jacob Jackson, Sir H. M.
Brooks, M. James, Sir H.
Brown, A. H. James, W. H.
Bruce, hon. R. P. Jenkins, D. J.
Bryce, J. Johnson, E.
Buszard, M. C, Joicey, Colonel J.
Butt, C. P. Kingscote, R.
Buxton, F. W. Labouchere, H.
Byrne, G. M. Laing, S.
Campbell, Lord C. Lawson, Sir W.
Campbell, Sir G. Lee, H.
Campbell, R. F. F. Lefevre, G. J. S.
Campbell -Bannerman, Leigh, hon. G. H. C.
Lyons, R. D.
Carington, hon. R. Macfarlane, D. H.
Carington, hon. Col. W. H. P. Mackintosh, C. F.
Macliver, P. S.
Cartwright, W. C. M'Carthy, J.
Causton, R. K. M'Intyre, Encas J.
Cavendish, Lord E. M'Kenna, Sir J. N.
Cavendish, Lord F. C. M'Lagan, P.
Chadwick, D. M'Laren, C. B. B.
Chamberlain, rt. hn. J. M'Laren, D.
Chitty, J. W. Maitland, W. F.
Clifford, C. C. Marjoribanks, E.
Cohen, A. Marriott, W. T.
Colebrooke, Sir T. E. Mason, H.
Collins, E. Massey, rt. hon. W. N.
Cotes, C. C. Matheson, A.
Courtney, L. H. Mellor, J. W.
Cowper, hon. H. F. Milbank, F. A.
Davey, H. Monk, C. J.
Davies, R. Moreton, Lord
De Ferrieres, Baron Morley, A.
Dilke, Sir C. W. Noel, E.
Dodds, J. Northcote, H. S.
Edwards, P. O'Beirne, Major F.
Elliot, hon. A. R. D. O'Connor, T. P.
Farquharson, Dr. R. O'Conor, D. M.
Ferguson, B. O'Gorman Mahon, Col. The.
Findlater, W.
Finigan, J. L. O'Shea, W. H.
Foljambe, C. G. S. Palmer, C. M.
Foljambe, F. J. S. Palmer, J. H.
Forster, Sir C. Parker, C. S.
Fort, R. Peel, A. W.
Gladstone, H. J. Pender, J.
Playfair, rt. hon. L. Strutt, hon. H.
Plimsoll, S. Summers, W.
Portman, hn. W. H. B. Tavistock, Marquess of
Potter, T. B. Taylor, P. A.
Power, J. O' C. Tennant, C.
Price, W. E. Thompson, Sir H. M.
Pugh, L. P. Tracy, hon. F. S. A. Hanbury-
Pulley, J.
Ramsay, Lord Trevelyan, G. O.
Ratcliffe, D. E. Verney, Sir H.
Reed, Sir C. Vivian, H. H.
Reed, E. J. Walpole, rt. hon. S.
Reid, R. T. Whitbread, S.
Rendel, S. Wiggin, H.
Richard, H. Williams, W.
Roberts, J. Willis, W.
Rogers, J. E. T. Willyams, E. W. B.
Roundell, C. S. Wilson, C. H.
Rylands, P. Wortley, C. B. Stuart-
Samuelson, H, Wren, W.
Seely, C.
Simon, Serjeant J. TELLERS.
Smith, E. Grosvenor, Lord R.
Stanley, hon. E. L. Hayter, Sir A. D.
Alexander, Colonel C. Leighton, S.
Ashmead-Bartlett, E. Lowther, hon. W.
Aylmer, J. E. F. M'Garel-Hogg, Sir J.
Bailey, Sir J. R. Maxwell, Sir H. E.
Bates, Sir E. Miles, Sir P. J. W.
Bateson, Sir T. Mills, Sir C. H.
Bentinck, rt. hon. G. C. Moss, R.
Bentinck, G. W. P. Mowbray, rt. hon. Sir J. R.
Birkbeck, E.
Boord, T. W. Murray, C. J.
Callan, P. Newdegate, C. N.
Cameron, D. Newport, Viscount
Carden, Sir R. W. Nicholson, W. N.
Castlereagh, Viscount O'Connor, A.
Coddington, W. O'Donnell, F. H.
Coope, O. E. Onslow, D.
Crichton, Viscount Paget, R. H.
Cubitt, right hon. G. Palliser, Sir W.
Digby, hon. Col. E. Pell, A.
Dyott, Colonel R. Powell, W.
Elliot, G. W. Redmond, W. A.
Ewing, A. O. Repton, G. W.
Fellowes, W. H. Ridley, Sir M. W.
Fenwick-Bisset, M. Ritchie, C. T.
Fletcher, Sir H. Rolls, J. A.
Fowler, R. N. Schreiber, C.
Fremantle, hon. T. F. Smith, A.
Gore-Langton, W. S. Thornhill, T.
Gorst, J. E. Thynne, Lord H. F.
Grantham, W. Tottenham, A. L.
Greer, T. Tyler, Sir H. W.
Halsey, T. F. Walrond, Col. W. H.
Hamilton, I. T. Warton, C. N.
Helmsley, Viscount Williams, O. L. C.
Herbert, hon. S. Wyndham, hon. P.
Hicks, E. Wynn, Sir W. W.
Hudson, C. D. TELLERS.
Jackson, W. L. Percy, Earl
Kennaway, Sir J. H. Wolff, Sir H. D.

Original Question put.

Ordered, That the Committee do consist of Nineteen Members.


Leave given to the Committee to sit and proceed, notwithstanding the adjournment of the House.