New Writ for Northampton Borough,—in the room of Charles Bradlaugh, esquire, who, since his election, has vacated his seat in Parliament by sitting and voting in this House without having taken and subscribed. the oath prescribed. by Law."—(Mr. Labouchere.)
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, that before that question was decided, the House ought to hear from Her Majesty's Government what was their opinion upon that matter. Hon. Members would probably remember that some time ago his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) gave Notice of a similar Motion to that just made by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Labouchere), and afterwards objected to Mr. Bradlaugh presenting Petitions on the ground that he had vacated his seat by reason of his having sat and voted in that House without having taken and subscribed the Oath or Affirmation required by law. At that time, if his (Sir R. Assheton Cross's) memory served him correctly, the hon. and learned Attorney General stated to the House that the matter was still sub judice, and that although it was true that one of the learned Judges of the High Court of Justice had decided against Mr. Bradlaugh, that as long as it was open to that Gentleman to appeal against that decision to the Court of Appeal, no new Writ could be issued, and that, until it was decided, 476 Mr. Bradlaugh must be considered a Member of the House. He wished to ask the hon. and learned Attorney General how the position of the ease, as it stood at the present moment, differed from that which it occupied when that statement was made? As he understood the matter, Mr. Bradlaugh had still the right to appeal to the House of Lords, and was indeed appealing, or had expressed his intention of appealing, to that House. It might be said that Mr. Bradlaugh intended to appeal to the House of Lords against one part only of the judgment of the Court of Appeal—namely, that which related to the right of a common informer to bring the action against him for penalties without the consent of the Attorney General, and did not intend to appeal against that part of it which related to his right to make an Affirmation in lieu of taking an Oath. He wished to ask the hon. and learned Attorney General whether an appellant had the power of appealing against one part only of a judgment, without the House of Lords being able to go into the whole of the judgment appealed against? He should like to know from the hon. and learned Attorney General how one point in a cause could still be sub judice, while the decision of the Court was final with regard to another point in it? Unless the hon. and learned Gentleman told him to the contrary, he should believe that the position of Mr. Bradlaugh at the present moment was precisely that which he occupied when the Law Officers of the Crown declared that the matter was still sub judice, at the time the hon. and learned Member for Chatham asked the House not to receive the Petition presented by Mr. Bradlaugh. As matters had turned out, it was a satisfaction to those who had thought fit to object to Mr. Bradlaugh snaking an Affirmation, that the Courts of Law had determined, hitherto, at all events, that their objection was well founded; and he thought that the House should express their acknowledgments to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Spencer -Walpole), who, as Chairman of the first Committee appointed to consider the question, had, against the opinion of several hon. and learned Gentlemen, unhesitatingly given his casting vote in favour of the law as decided by the Courts of Law. In justification of the 477 course they had taken, he could not help reminding the House of the Motion brought forward by the hon. and learned Attorney General on the Committee, and supported by the hon. and learned Solicitor General in these terms—In the opinion of the Committee persons entitled under the provisions of 'The Evidence Amendment Act, 1869,' and 'The Evidence Amendment Act, 1870,' to make a solemn declaration instead of the Oath in courts of justice may be permitted to make an Affirmation or Declaration instead of the Oath in the House of Commons.That, he presumed, was the expression of the opinion of both those hon. and learned Gentlemen, supported, he would admit, by lawyers of great authority, among them two friends of his own, who had since been appointed Judges, the death of one of whom the House had recently to deplore. An Amendment was proposed by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Preston (Sir John Holker) to leave out the word "may," and insert the word "cannot;" and the Judges had just decided that the word "cannot" ought to be inserted in that Resolution instead of the word "may." They did not stop there. A second Committee was appointed, on which he (Sir R. Assheton Cross) sat himself, and, after a long argument, and a great many votes and resolutions, it was decided by an enormous majority that Mr. Brad-laugh had no right to take the Oath; but the Committee recommended that should he again ask to make an Affirmation, he should not be prevented from doing so. But that was precisely what the Courts of Law now held that he had no right to do. The hon. and learned Gentlemen the Attorney General and the Solicitor General, however, voted in both Committees in favour of the Resolution. The result, so far as the trial had gone, therefore, had amply justified the course they thought fit to take, and showed that they were not so far wrong at that time as many supposed them to be. He did not know what might happen now, until the hon. and learned Attorney General gave them his advice upon the two points which he had just raised. But he thought the House would see that they had got into all that difficulty from beginning to end by the Government not coming forward in the first instance to give the House some advice, because that was really what the Prime Minister absolutely refused to do. He 478 (Sir R. Assheton Cross) believed that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster had a very firm opinion upon one point only—namely, that, as Mr. Bradlaugh had been elected by the electors of Northampton, he ought to be allowed to take his seat either one way or the other—that was to say, either by affirming or by taking the Oath. That was, that if it was not the law that he could affirm, he ought to be allowed to take the Oath; and if, on the other hand, it was decided that he could not take the Oath, he ought to be allowed to affirm. That would certainly be carrying the principle of local self-government by the people of Northampton a very long way. He was not going to enter upon the question whether Mr. Bradlaugh, holding the opinions he did, ought to be allowed to have a seat in that House, because that would be a matter for future discussion; but the question was, whether any steps should be taken to relieve him, and others holding the same opinions, from the difficulties in which they found themselves placed? It might be that persons holding the same opinions as Mr. Bradlaugh might present themselves at that Table again, openly professing those opinions. He sincerely hoped it would be a long time before that did take place; but if it did take place, as had happened in the case of persons not only holding no religious opinions, but holding religious opinions, the Legislature must take cognizance of the difficulty and deal with it. The Government should have come forward and stated whether, in their opinion, this Gentleman ought to take his seat, or ought not to have a seat. If it required legislation, legislation ought to have been proposed; and though he hoped such legislation never would be proposed—for, if it was, he could promise it his most uncompromising opposition—yet the Government must say one thing or another, when they come to the difficulty again, aye or no should this Gentleman have a seat in the House of Commons. He rose for the purpose of asking for the opinion of the hon. and learned Attorney General, for the guidance of the House, as to how they stood now in a position different from that which they stood in when he himself objected to any question being raised as to Mr. Bradlaugh being a Member of the House.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, it seemed to him that in this matter right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite were exceedingly difficulty to satisfy. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir. R. Assheton Cross) first complained that the Law Officers of the Crown gave certain advice last year, and now he complained that the Law Officers and the Government had given no advice on the question——
§ MR. W. LOWTHER
asked the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair, whether the hon. Member (Mr. Labouchere), having moved for a Writ, was now entitled to speak upon the subject?
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
resumed, by observing that what had happened in Mr. Bradlaugh's case practically amounted to this—that lawyers differed, as lawyers generally did, the hon. and learned. Attorney General taking one view and the Judges taking a different view. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Assheton Cross) complained that hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Ministerial side of the House had objected to the course taken by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst), when he urged—he (Mr. Labouchere) might almost say clamorously urged—that a new Writ should at once be issued. At that time, a decision had been given against Mr. Bradlaugh by one Judge. Judgment against him had now been given by three more Judges; and, in all probability, the House of Lords would decide the point of law against him. The right hon. Gentleman wished to know what course Mr. Bradlaugh would take in the matter. He must ask the right hon. Gentleman not to look at the matter from a purely legal point of view. Mr. Bradlaugh had been sued by Mr. Clarke as a common informer. He (Mr. Labouchere) was authorized by Mr. Bradlaugh to say that he fully accepted the law laid down by the Court of Appeal as to his position in that House; but upon the minor issue, whether Mr. Clarke had a right to sue without suing through the Crown, and whether the penalties were to go to Mr. Clarke, Mr. Bradlaugh wished to take the opinion of the House of Lords. Whether or not Mr. Bradlaugh would be obliged technically to submit the whole matter to the House of Lords he 480 knew not; but, assuming that Mr. Bradlaugh would be, he (Mr. Labouchere) was authorized by Mr. Bradlaugh to engage that he would in no case raise the point as to his right to sit in that House. That being so, it seemed very desirable to move for a Writ instead of waiting for a year, until the House of Lords had settled the appeal, because, as he understood, hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House would oppose Mr. Bradlaugh's sitting and voting in that House during that year. He spoke not only for Mr. Bradlaugh, but also for the electors of Northampton; and he thought it would be most unfair to the electors to deprive them for a year of one of their Members because one of the Gentlemen whom they elected, on being declared to have vacated his seat by one Court of Appeal, chose to appeal to the House of Lords. Let the Writ be issued at once. The people of Northampton claimed that they had a right to be represented by two Members in the House of Commons. If one of those whom they had elected was not entitled to sit, then they demanded the issue of a new Writ. Under these circumstances, he appealed to the Leader of the Opposition—was it necessary to drag the House through another of those unhappy Bradlaugh debates? The election might be got over before the Easter holidays, and then hon. Gentlemen and right hon. Gentlemen would have an opportunity of considering what course they would take should Mr. Bradlaugh be re-elected. It was not for him (Mr. Labouchere) to express an opinion as to whether he would, or would not be, re-elected.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that, having had some experience in these questions, he hoped the House would proceed carefully in the present resistance, because he was quite sure that, while there was a general desire not to inflict any avoidable hardship upon Mr. Bradlaugh, the House was in danger of being placed in a very complicated position. Mr. Brad-laugh wished to continue his appeal against the penalties he had incurred for having sat and voted in the House without having taken the Oath, or made the Affirmation permitted in some cases in lieu of the Oath. The law declared the penalty to be the avoidance of his seat, he being disqualified. Let the House, then, consider its position, if it con- 481 sented to the issue of this Writ whilst an appeal to the House of Lords was pending. What assurance could the House have that the House of Lords would allow Mr. Bradlaugh to raise only the issue relating to the penalty? He (Mr. Newdegate) submitted that the House of Lords could scarcely, was not likely to do so. It seemed impossible to adjudge the penalty without testing the offence. In illustration of what he was saying, perhaps the House would permit him to quote a short extract from an authority which was generally recognized in that House—namely, the work of Sir Erskine May On the Law, Privileges, Proceedings, and Usage of Parliament. Sir Erskine May adduced the case of Baron Rothschild, who remained a Member of the House, without attempting to sit or vote in the House; but, when wishing to attend, sat below the Gangway for several Sessions, and he served on Committees, without rendering himself liable to the penalty. At page 203 of his work, Sir Erskine May used this ex-pression—It is usual for Members, who have not yet taken the Oath, to sit below the Bar, and care must be taken that they do not inadvertently take a seat within the Bar, by which they would render themselves liable to the penalties and disqualifications imposed by the statute.Now, he (Mr. Newdegate) held that the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), who had made this Motion, was not acting fairly by his constituency, if he had not informed them that disqualification followed the penalty, and that, if they elected Mr. Bradlaugh again, he would be still more incapable of taking his seat within the Bar of this House without incurring penalties and disqualifications than before the issue was tried at law. This information might not roach or be understood by the constituency before the Election. In fairness, therefore, as he (Mr. Newdegate) thought, to the constituency of Northampton, the House ought not to issue the Writ while an appeal was pending in the House of Lords on the question which it had pleased Mr. Bradlaugh to raise. The constituency ought not to be placed in the position of being tempted to elect a man who could not sit, and who, it might be, meant to use the Election for the purposes of future agitation. He put it, then, to the House 482 whether it was prepared to lend itself, by deciding on the issue of the Writ, to an agitation against the law, when the clear course for Mr. Bradlaugh to take was to await the result of his appeal to the House of Lords? He (Mr. Newdegate) hoped the House would forgive his interposition; because, as one of the oldest Members of the House, he felt that the course proposed, this premature issue of the Writ while an appeal was pending, was a course scarcely worthy of the House of Commons. If Mr. Bradlaugh chose to abandon his appeal, he (Mr. Newdegate) did not see what could prevent his presenting himself again to the constituency of Northampton. The issue which the constituency would have to try in that case would be clear; and he repeated that he hoped that the House would not lend itself to that which appeared to him to be an indirect mode of propagating an agitation; and he, for one, deprecated the idea of the House of Commons lending itself to any such contrivance.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir R. Assheton Cross) had asked what was the difference in the position of matters now from their position when the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) interfered with respect to the presentation of a Petition by Mr. Bradlaugh, and had given Notice of his intention to move that a Writ be issued for the election of a Member for Northampton. When the matter was before discussed, the decision of the Court of First Instance was that Mr. Bradlaugh was not entitled to sit and vote in that House. But Mr. Bradlaugh claimed the right belonging to every suitor of asking a Court of Appeal to decide whether the judgment of the Court of First Instance was right or not. The House would remember that, in connection with the subject, the example was given of a person, who might have had a decision against him in an action of ejectment and wished to appeal, would not be deprived of his estate until a Court of Appeal pronounced upon the matter. That was the right then claimed on Mr. Bradlaugh's behalf. He had appealed, and the decision of the Court had gone against him; and Mr. Bradlaugh now said that he was satisfied with the decision that had been come to. ["No, no!"] He said he was satisfied 483 so far as the decision given as to his right to sit and vote in that House, a matter which was perfectly distinct from the right of the informer to sue. He was willing to give up his seat, and that the judgment of the Court of Appeal should determine the right. The second question which he understood the right hon. Gentleman to ask was, whether, if this case went to the House of Lords upon Mr. Bradlaugh's appeal, the House of Lords could determine only the second part—namely, as to the right of the common informer to sue, or whether the case would not be decided upon both issues. Without hesitation, he (the Attorney General) would say that the House of Lords would be entitled to determine only one point, and could determine only one point—the point appealed against. The question had been raised by two separate demurrers. The first point was raised upon the demurrer as to Mr. Bradlaugh's right to sit in that House; the second point upon the demurrer as to the right of the informer to recover the penalties for Mr. Bradlaugh's sitting and voting. To the House of Lords there would be an appeal upon one point alone, the right of the informer to sue. Mr. Bradlaugh, in giving notice of that appeal, would have to give his ground of appeal, and would have to state that he appealed on that ground only, and the House of Lords would not be entitled to go outside the ground of appeal. He was sure he would have the concurrence of the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) when he said that unless Mr. Bradlaugh broke his word and the pledge he had given the House of Lords would only determine one point. They had Mr. Bradlaugh's assurance in the matter, and he hoped the House would agree that they had seen nothing in his conduct while he had been a Member of the House to cause them to believe that be would break his word. That being so, he would ask the House to consider not only the position which the constituency and its Representative, but the position which the House itself would be placed in if they refused to sanction the issue of the Writ. Here was the case of a person who said he accepted the judgment, who did not intend to exercise the right of appeal; and would the House, in those circumstances, take upon itself the responsibility of saying that he 484 had the right of appeal; and during the time an appeal to the House of Lords might run, which he thought was one year, but was told by a right hon. Friend was five years, they would not let the constituency be represented, the only alternative being that Mr. Bradlaugh coming to the House, sitting on the Benches, and incurring a penalty of £500 a-day? He asked the House whether he was not bound, in justice to the constituency and to Mr. Bradlaugh himself, to say that the Writ should go? The hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), as he understood, indicated an opinion that, because the Act said that the seat would become vacant as if he were dead, Mr. Bradlaugh was, therefore, disqualified from being again elected.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, he never made such a statement. What he said was that Mr. Bradlaugh was subject to the disqualification enacted by law.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he must have misunderstood the hon. Gentleman. Ho could not assent to that view. The judgment did not put Mr. Bradlaugh to death. He could sit for any other constituency; and, if he could sit for any other constituency, he could sit for Northampton. He (the Attorney General) would not enter into any acrimonious debate regarding the past, and he did not grudge the right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Assheton Cross) the Party triumph which he was justified in claiming. He would only say that on the second Report of the Select Committee they came to the conclusion that Mr. Bradlaugh, or any other Member, might come to the Table and affirm, and that opinion was justified by the Resolution of the House on the 1st July last. By virtue of that Resolution, Mr. Bradlaugh did affirm and take his seat. He (the Attorney General) had been attacked by the right hon. Gentleman for the opinion which he gave last year. It was quite true that the opinion expressed, not only by himself, but by many learned Members of the House, of eminent ability as lawyers, and whose honesty could not be impeached, was that the Resolution of the House was justified. It was his lot every day of his life to be asked to interpret words upon which different constructions might be placed. That was not the first time that the weight of au- 485 thority had been against him, and if the hon. and learned Member for Preston (Sir John Holker) and the hon. and learned Member for Launceston (Sir Hardinge Giffard) were present, they would say that sometimes one was right and sometimes one was wrong. When they were right they did not triumph, and they only regretted when the balance of opinion was against them. He knew that the Judges, at least one of them, had expressed his opinion with the greatest possible confidence. Speaking with all respect of that Lord Justice, he would say he was so good a Judge that whenever he expressed an opinion he was entitled to express it with confidence. The right hon. Gentleman opposite also had a right to say that the course he recommended had been justified. But he was unwilling to enter upon this matter with reference to what might occur in the future, or had occurred in the past. The time of the House would be better occupied in examining what would be the just course to pursue, both to the constituency of Northampton, and also the Gentleman whom it had sent to the House. He would conclude by expressing a hope that the House would agree to the Motion.
said, he was glad that the hon. and learned Attorney General had spoken, because, in doing so, he had made it perfectly clear that the case as it stood now was very different to what it was three weeks ago. The hon. and learned Gentleman scarcely recognized the respect paid to his opinion on that (the Opposition) side of the House. It was true he (Mr. Gorst) said on a former occasion that he would move the issne of a Writ for Northampton; but that was before he had the advantage of hearing the reasons given by the hon. and learned Gentleman why the Writ should not be moved. The difference between the present case and the former was quite clear. It was this—that, in the course which was taken, Mr. Bradlaugh was the supreme judge. He was the guide of the Government and their own familar friend; but he had now come to the conclusion that he must give up his position, that it was useless to fight any longer, and he confessed that he had no right to be a Member of the House. He might remind the Government that they apparently paid no attention either to the decision of their own Select Com- 486 mittee, which resolved that Mr. Bradlaugh was not entitled to make an Affirmation, or to the House itself, which had endorsed that opinion by a considerable majority, or to the judgment of the High Court of Justice, pronounced by Mr. Justice Matthew. But, according to the hon. and learned Gentleman, it was not to the judgment of the Court of Appeal that they now paid attention, but to the fact that Mr. Bradlaugh himself, who had advised them throughout in the matter, admitted that he was wrong, and that ever since July 2, when he had taken his seat without subscribing the necessary Oath, he had taken part in the proceedings of the House without having more right to do so than any stranger who might be introduced into the Lobby. He wished to notice the eagerness with which the hon. and learned Gentleman had expressed his opinion as to the re-eligibility of Mr. Bradlaugh at Northampton. The statement, perhaps, was not quite in order; but it was easy to understand that the hon. and learned Gentleman had been glad to make it. The truth was that it might be useful in "another place" and on another occasion, though, of course, even his hon. and learned Friend was not infallible, and differences of opinion might be found to exist whenever the matter was sub judice. With all possible respect for the legal opinions of his hon. and learned Friend, which he (Mr. Gorst) did not wish to attack, he wished to improve the occasion by pointing out to the House the extreme untrustworthiness of what might be called political legal opinions. It would be remembered that last year, when a Select Committee was appointed, consisting of eminent lawyers from both sides of the House, every Member of that Committee, excepting only the hon. and learned Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood), gave his opinion in strict accordance with the exigencies of the political situation, the Liberal lawyers asserting, and the Conservative lawyers, with equal confidence, denying, Mr. Bradlaugh's right to affirm. The matter had now come before the Court of Appeal, and an independent non-political Judge, Lord Justice Bramwell, immediately pronounced it one of the clearest cases he had ever known. He ventured to say that no lawyer outside the House had ever had any doubts at all on the subject. To pass to another point, 487 to which the hon. and learned Gentleman had referred—namely, the Resolution of the 1st of July last—he wished to know what would become of that Resolution? A few days after the passing of that Resolution, the late Lord Chief Justice of England had said to him—"I see that in the House of Commons you have been passing a Resolution to allow people to do that which you yourselves have declared to be illegal." Now that the High Court of Justice and the Court of Appeal had condemned as illegal the course recommended by that Resolution, did the Prime Minister intend to allow the Resolution to remain among the Standing Orders of the House? It was strange that the hon. and learned Gentleman should have referred to it with some degree of pride, as most people would have expected the Government to be ashamed of it, and to particularly desire it to be buried and forgotten.
§ MR. MORGAN LLOYD
thought that hon. Gentlemen opposite, looking at the views expressed, ought to move an Amendment to the effect—That Mr. Bradlaugh was a Member of the House, and therefore this Motion for a New Writ should not be agreed to.Were they prepared to do that? If they were not, their conduct was inconsistent, and the only excuse that could be given for it was that the issue of the Writ was now opposed on account of the change in the attitude of the Government. Last Session the right hon. Member the Leader of the Opposition had supported a Resolution to the effect that Mr. Bradlaugh was not entitled to affirm; and what had happened since? The Courts of Law had decided that the Resolution was right; and now the Government had also adopted that view. He (Mr. Lloyd) had always been of opinion that Mr. Bradlaugh was not entitled to make an Affirmation; and for that reason he had refrained from voting against the Resolution of the 1st July last. In that opinion he differed from many hon. and learned Friends near him, and agreed with hon. Gentlemen opposite. But he was surprised to find that those who supported the Resolution of July should hesitate in supporting the Motion before the House.
§ MR. LEWIS
said, that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General had promised to lay on the Table of the 488 House the pleadings and the judgment of the Courts in this case; and he (Mr. Lewis) would suggest that, until the House had had time to receive and peruse that document it would be prudent to adjourn the consideration of the question. At present they had no official knowledge of what had been done, for they were still without any authoritative information as to how the judgment of the Court of Appeal had been obtained, or on what points it had been given. On that ground alone the House would have difficulty in coming to a conclusion. No one doubted the assurances given by the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) and his late Colleague; but the notice of appeal to the House of Lords would only take a few days, and the proper course to pursue was not to decide this question until they had the actual Motion on the Table of the House. That would not involve any disfranchisement of the electors of Northampton for five years, and no one would wish for such a thing; but, by adjourning the debate till after Easter, they would be enabled to know the real issues raised on the appeal. A week or two ago they were told to hold their hand because there was the possibility of an appeal; but now there was the certainty of an appeal. The House of Lords might open the whole question, and that would place the House again in a difficult position, for it might involve not only the question of penalties, but the right to sit in that House. He, therefore, put it to the Premier whether it would not be more fair to the House to wait?
§ MR. SERJEANT SIMON
said, he wished to say a few words in reply to his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst), who had so ungraciously charged those who supported the view of the Attorney General in the Committee with having been influenced by political bias. As a matter of fact, his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood) voted in the first Committee the same way as the Conservatives, against Mr. Bradlaugh's right to make an Affirmation. In the second Committee, the hon. and learned Member for Stockport was of opinion that Mr. Bradlaugh was entitled to take the Oath, and in that opinion he was opposed to the Attorney General, the Solicitor General, and other Liberal lawyers, who 489 agreed with the Conservative Members on that point. They had thus the hon. and learned Member for Stockport differing from the other Liberal lawyers on both Committees, and voting with the Conservatives on one, but the Liberal lawyers on the second Committee, with the exception of the hon. and learned Member for Stockport, voting with the Conservatives. The hon. and learned Member for Chatham was, therefore, wrong in his facts, as well as ungracious in his imputations, even if the facts had been as he stated them.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, he did not see why the Writ should not be issued. It was important, however, that they should have a clear statement from the Government on the subject, and for this reason—that the course which was taken with regard to Mr. Bradlaugh's right to sit in the House was a course which was taken on the responsibility of the Government. The view that was taken by the great body of hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House was that the House was able to assert that Mr. Bradlaugh had not complied with the requisitions of the law, and that, therefore, the seat might be declared vacant. But the Government, in opposition to that view, pressed upon them the necessity for adopting the Resolution which was passed, but of which those for whom he (Sir Stafford North-cote) spoke did not approve, to the effect that Mr. Bradlaugh had a right to affirm, subject to the decision of a Court of Law. That course having been adopted at the suggestion and on the responsibility of the Government, certain proceedings had taken place in the Law Courts, and a certain result had been arrived at. Now, Mr. Bradlaugh's Colleague, speaking on his behalf, declared that Mr. Bradlaugh thought the time had arrived when the matter was practically concluded by the Law Courts, and that a new Writ might issue. He (Sir Stafford Northcote) and those on his side of the House were anxious to know whether the House would be landed in a difficulty by adopting that suggestion. If it should turn out that another Gentleman should be elected for Northampton, and if the House of Lords should afterwards reverse the decision which had been taken on the first of the two questions raised—namely, Mr. Bradlaugh's right to affirm, they would, no doubt, be in a difficulty. But the 490 Government had led them in the matter, and were responsible for the position in which the House was placed, and they had now assured the House, through the mouth of their legal exponent, the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General, that they would run no risk in the peculiar circumstances of the case of any such difficulty arising. He (Sir Stafford Northcote) and his Friends perfectly understood and entirely accepted the assurance given by the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) on Mr. Bradlaugh's part that that Gentleman did not intend to raise his right to sit in that House in his appeal to the House of Lords. A suggestion had been made, however, that it would be possible for the House of Lords to take the whole question into consideration, and to reverse the decision of the Court of Appeal on that question of his right to sit in the House. [The ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir Henry James) dissented.] He noticed that the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite shook his head. He did not say it was so; but, the suggestion having been made, it ought to be stated on authority that it was not so. The hon. and learned Gentleman assured them that there would be no risk of that kind, and that they need not fear that the House would be placed in a position of difficulty. In these circumstances he thought it was desirable to issue the Writ.
said, that as regarded the point raised by the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis), he thought the House felt that there was no necessity to see the absolute letter of the documents referred to before they decided this question. Being in substantial possession of the facts, the House appeared generally to think it was not worth while to prolong the turmoil of election proceedings on account of the text of the documents not being before them. He, therefore, thought it might be assumed that the House was prepared to decide the question. Next, he accepted the proposition that the Government were responsible for the position in which the House now stood, and for advising the House, by the mouth of his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, to go forward and to issue a new Writ. He might observe that even if there were an imaginable risk in the case, it would be right to 491 consider what alternative was before them. The right of appeal to the House of Lords remained open for five years, and it was not possible for Mr. Bradlaugh absolutely to divest himself of his right. Therefore, if the issue of the Writ was to be postponed on the ground that there might be an appeal to the House of Lords, which might conceivably result in a reversal of the judgment of the two Courts below, the logical upshot of that argument would be that the postponement should be for five years. Of course, nobody would accept that proposition. It appeared to him (Mr. Gladstone) that for minds so peculiarly constituted as that of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst), these questions connected with Mr. Bradlaugh had an astonishing attraction. For his own part, he (Mr. Gladstone) did not find that the subject, although they had been willing to face it as a matter of duty, was one so particularly savoury that they should extend their observations upon it further than the necessity of the case required. He was only going to dispose very shortly of one or two allegations which had been made. It had been complained that the Government ought to have said one thing or another in this matter at the outset. What the Government did was to propose that the matter should be referred to a Committee, and he believed that in so doing they pursued a course which was supported by uniform precedent, and, he thought, by reason also. Then the hon. and learned Member for Chatham had his imagination so stimulated that he introduced into the debate propositions which had no foundation whatever. He said, for instance, that Mr. Bradlaugh had been, throughout the whole controversy, the adviser of the Government. [An hon. MEMBER: Hear, hear!] That "Hear, hear1" showed exactly what he said, that to some hon. Members this subject was the most catching in the world. One hon. and learned Gentleman made a complaint about it, and another found himself in the same condition. That statement proceeded entirely from the imagination of the hon. and learned Gentleman. All he could say was that he had never, directly or indirectly, had any communication with Mr. Bradlaugh on the subject, nor had any other Member of the Government, unless that might be called a communication, to which no answer 492 was required and none made—namely, an intimation given a few days ago that Mr. Bradlaugh was willing, if it were thought best for the public convenience, to make an application for the Chiltern Hundreds. The hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to think also that the Government had great reason to be dissatisfied with the Resolution which had followed upon his (Mr. Gladstone's) Motion adopted on the 1st of July last. The effect of that Resolution had been stated, not quite accurately, by his right hon. Friend opposite (Sir R. Assheton Cross). His right hon. Friend had stated that the Resolution was an affirmation of the right of Mr. Bradlaugh to affirm, subject, of course, to the judgment of a Court of Law. If he remembered the Resolution perfectly, it made no affirmation whatever of the right; but it simply asserted a negative proposition that the House would not interfere. Of course, that was a very different thing. If he were asked individually about the Resolution, he should say he was very well satisfied with it. It was not for him to presume to give an opinion whether Mr. Bradlaugh should swear or not. The wisest course to pursue was to leave the matter to a Court of Law. It had been left to a Court of Law, and the principle had been laid down that the result should be left to a Court of Law. With the result he was perfectly satisfied, and he had no doubt that it had been decided according to the law.
§ SIR JOSEPH M'KENNA
said, he regretted very much that the question had not been postponed. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General had alluded to the point that it was probable that this matter might be open for five years; but he (Sir Joseph M'Kenna) did not think that was possible. The appeal to the House of Lords would, I doubtless, be tried as rapidly as it could be tried. After two Courts had decided against Mr. Bradlaugh, now it was quite open to the House of Lords—and he challenged any loyal subject to say otherwise—to give a decision on what was called "Point No. 1," in Mr. Bradlaugh's favour. Point No. 2 had been given up by Mr. Bradlaugh. Their Lordships could go into any question which appeared to them proper in connection with the whole matter affecting their decision. From first to last, he had held the opinion that Mr. Bradlaugh had not a right to sit in that House by taking 493 an Affirmation and withholding from taking the Oath; and he thought the House of Lords would maintain the same thing. He could not help thinking it would have been better if the decision upon the issuing of the Writ had been postponed until the information with respect to what had passed in the Court of Law and Court of Appeal was before them. At present they only knew through the ordinary channels that the question was coram judice. Of course, he was not going to move an adjournment upon the matter; but he desired upon the present occasion just to express his own views upon it, and to say that he thought it would have been much more in accordance with the formalities of this House if they had waited for information.
§ MR. WARTON
said, he was one of those persons for whom that question, as had been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, had an irresistible attraction; and he felt it to be his duty, for the benefit of the Liberal Party, to remind them of what took place last Session. They must remember that they had a powerful Government. Counting the Home Rule vote, the majority of the Government was 168; giving the Conservatives the Home Rule vote, the majority of the Government over the Opposition was 45; but when the question was put to the House, and the vote of the House was unfettered, there was a majority of 45 against the Government—275 to 230, on the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Launceston (Sir Hardinge Giffard). What he wanted to call attention to was this—that the Prime Minister wanted to have that vote reversed, and he brought forward a Resolution, and it had been demonstrated that the Premier was a Leader who did not care for the legitimate expression of the opinion of the House, but carried out his own determined will. For his part, he (Mr. Warton) had no feeling whatever for the constituency of Northampton. They knew what Mr. Bradlaugh was. He did not come before them for the first time. They knew what risks he ran. If that constituency was punished he was not there to regret it. In his opinion, the constituency was one which deserved far more to be disfranchised than other constituencies from which representation had been taken.
§ Motion agreed to.