§ Mr. BRADLAUGH,
returned as one of the Members for the Borough of Northamp- 1184 ton, came to the Table to take and subscribe the Oath, and the Clerk was proceeding to administer the same to him, when——
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE,
Member for the Northern Division of the county of Devon, rose to take objection thereto, and to submit a Motion to the House; whereupon——
§ MR. SPEAKER
addressed the House as follows:—I understand that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon proposes to submit a Motion to the House on this matter. Before the right hon. Baronet does so, I think it right to say that the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh), having been introduced, has come to the Table to take the Oath required by Law in the accustomed form. He is prepared to comply with every provision of the Statutes in order to take his Seat in this House. Undoubtedly, a proceeding so regular and formal ought, under ordinary circumstances, to be continued without interruption; but, having regard to former Resolutions of the House, and to the Reports of its Committees in reference to this matter, I cannot withhold from the House an opportunity of expressing its judgment upon the new conditions under which the Oath is now proposed to be taken.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Pending discussion on this matter, in accordance with the ordinary practice, the hon. Member for Northampton should withdraw below the Bar; and, acting in pursuance with the ordinary practice of the House, I now call upon the hon. Member so to withdraw.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH
In complying, Sir, with your direction to withdraw—["Order!"]—I will only ask—[Cries of "Order!"]—I ask most respectfully through you—[Renewed Cries of "Order!"]—I ask through you, Sir, respectfully, that before the House comes to a decision—[Cries of "Order, order!"]——
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member for Northampton is, under existing circumstances, entitled to be heard. If, however, the hon. Member for Northampton should take a course which, in my judgment, appears to be uncalled for, I shall then submit the matter to the judgment of the House.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH
In complying, Sir, with your direction, I most respectfully desire to ask through you that before the House comes to any decision upon my claim to fulfil the duty imposed upon me by law it may accord me the privilege of being heard.
§ The hon. MEMBER then withdrew.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
I am desirous, Sir, to call the attention of the House to the position in which we stand, and to submit a Motion for the judgment of the House with reference to the intention of the hon. Member for Northampton to take the Oath in the manner in which it is usually taken by Members on taking their seats in this House. I am anxious to say as little as possible, and to keep the question as free as possible from any extraneous matter which might be imported into it. It seems to me that the issue which the House has to decide is one of a very simple character, and one which admits of being very briefly stated. I waited before taking any exception to see whether the hon. Member proposed to take the Oath, or whether he proposed, in pursuance of the Standing Order which exists in such a case, to do that which he did on the occasion when he took his seat last Session—namely, to claim his right to affirm. The hon. Member proposed to take the Oath, and I, therefore, felt it necessary to rise, in order that I might remind the House of the Resolution at which the House itself arrived last Session with regard to the hon. Member. On the 23rd of Juno last, a Resolution was arrived at by the House to this effect—That having regard to the Reports and proceedings of two Select Committees appointed by this House, Mr. Bradlaugh be not permitted to take the Oath or make the Affirmation mentioned in the Statute 29 Vic. c. 19, and the 31 and 32 Vic. c. 72.I need not trouble the House—for the matter, no doubt, is fresh in its memory—by going into the circumstances which led to the passing of that Resolution. Suffice it to say that the Resolution was adopted, and that on the following day Mr. Bradlaugh presented himself with a view to take the Oath, and you, Sir, informed him that the Resolution which had been passed precluded him from doing so. The hon. Member was, therefore, not allowed to take the Oath; he 1186 was called upon to withdraw; and ultimately steps were taken to compel obedience to the Order of the House. Now, so much of that Resolution as stated that Mr. Bradlaugh should not be permitted to take the Oath, stands, I apprehend, upon the Journals of the House unrescinded. The second part of the Resolution, which forbade the hon. Member making an Affirmation, was, no doubt, subsequently rescinded, and a Resolution was passed and a Standing Order made, that any Member, including the hon. Member himself, who should claim the right to affirm should be allowed to affirm, so far as this House was concerned, but without prejudice to any proceedings in a Court of Law. Mr. Bradlaugh took that course, and did so subject to legal proceedings, which were adopted, and which resulted in a decision that he was not a person entitled to affirm. The result of his being held to be a person not entitled to affirm was this—that his seat immediately became vacant, and the House, recognizing the fact that that decision had rendered the seat vacant, agreed to issue a new Writ, which has resulted in a second and fresh election, and the re-election of the hon. Gentleman. Now, Sir, I wish to ask the House to consider this—we must regard the hon. Gentleman, when he comes before us, not as a stranger of whose opinions or whose antecedents we know nothing, but as a Gentleman whose opinions have, so far as they are material to the issue now before us, already been declared, and have been judged and decided upon by the House itself. The ground on which that Resolution was based, so far as taking the Oath was concerned, was this—that a Committee which had been appointed by the House to inquire into the matter reported their opinion—That under the circumstances the compliance by Mr. Bradlaugh with the form used when an Oath is taken would not be the taking of an Oath within the true meaning of the Statutes, and that, therefore, the House can and, in the opinion of your Committee, ought to prevent Mr. Bradlaugh going through this form.That was the Resolution at which the Committee arrived, and which the House accepted and acted upon. They held—and I believe the same would be the opinion of most hon. Gentlemen—they held that it would be a very serious matter that we who regard the Oath as a most 1187 solemn invocation of the Supreme Power should make ourselves parties to the use of that Oath by one who openly and freely expresses before the House his opinion that an oath is to him a mere meaningless form. We hold, as a matter of feeling, and of right feeling as I contend, that it is not our duty to sit by and to make ourselves parties to what I cannot but consider a profanation of a sacred form. But, Sir, with regard to the opinions of the hon. Member, I would point out that not only has this House, which was elected last Session, and is the same House that it was then—not only has this House so far taken cognizance of the proceedings and views of the hon. Member as brought before it as to adopt those Resolutions and that course of action, but we have now had laid before us within the last few days the record of proceedings of an authoritative character taken in Courts of Law; and in this record I see that so late as in the month of November last, in the pleadings of the hon. Gentleman in the action in which he was defendant, he made this defence—He stated, as an alternative defence, that at the time of the alleged offence in the statement of claim mentioned he was a person who,when called upon to give evidence in any Court of Justice would object to take an oath, and upon whose conscience an oath, if taken, would have no binding effect.That is not only a statement made in the pleadings which may have one or another technical bearing—I am not competent to speak upon that—but it is a statement which, in one way or another, the hon. Member has repeatedly made, and has never withdrawn. If the hon. Member withdrew that statement, we should find ourselves in a different position; but I understood him to adhere to the statement which the House has before it, and upon which it has made its Orders; and, upon that state of facts, I contend that it would be absolutely impossible for the House, with proper respect for its own dignity, with proper respect for the Oath which it is taking part in the administration of, to admit the hon. Gentleman to make that Oath, and, therefore, Sir, without introducing further matter, I beg to move my Resolution.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, having regard to the Resolution of this House of the 22nd June 1880, and to the
Reports and Proceedings of the two Select Committees therein referred to, Mr. Bradlaugh be not permitted to go through the form of repeating the words of the Oath prescribed by the Statutes, 29 Vic. c. 19, and 31 and 32 Vic. c. 72."—(Sir Stafford Northcote.)
§ MR. H. DAVEY,
in rising to move, as an Amendment,That in a case where a Member, duly elected, presents himself at the Table in conformity with the call of Mr. Speaker, and is proceeding to comply with the formalities prescribed for the taking of Parliamentary Oaths, without qualification, this House will not, on the ground of information extraneous to the transaction, offer any impediment to the fulfilment of the intention of such Member;said, he had not taken any part in the debates which took place last year relative to this question, and he had carefully guarded himself against expressing any opinion as to the legal merits of the question that had been so much discussed. He might confess that he had great doubts whether, having regard to the language of the statutes, the hon. Member was one of those persons who had a right to make an Affirmation; and, more than that, he had voted against the Resolution to which the right hon. Baronet had referred of the 22nd June, 1880, on the ground that the question at issue was one which, in his opinion, a Court of Law should decide, and because questions of the kind were discussed in such an Assembly with warmth, and topics were introduced and arguments used which tended rather to cloud than to clear the intellectual view of the issues. He had no personal acquaintance with the hon. Member for Northampton. He had never exchanged 10 words with the hon. Member in his life, and if he now intruded himself on the House it was because he thought the Resolution a novel one, and one which involved extremely dangerous precedents. The question was not one of propriety. The question was not as to whether the House should express either approval or disapproval of the course which Mr. Bradlaugh had chosen to take in reference to this matter. Many hon. Members might think that it would have been the wiser course for that Gentleman not to have presented himself to take the Oath, but to have engaged in an agitation for the purpose of obtaining an alteration of the law. That, however, was a matter for Mr. Bradlaugh himself. 1189 It was not a question upon which the House had a right to express an opinion one way or another. The question appeared to him to be whether, at the invitation of the right hon. Baronet (Sir Stafford Northcote), the House was prepared to affirm what was without precedent in the annals of Parliament—whether the House would pass a Resolution which would create almost a revolution in our Parliamentary procedure, and establish a precedent which might be of little importance in the present case, but which would be fraught with danger to the future? Mr. Bradlaugh, in making his claim to affirm, had incidentally stated that he was a person upon whose conscience an oath would have no binding effect. The Committee of the House, to whom the question as to the right and jurisdiction of the House to refuse to permit any duly elected person to take the Oath had been referred, had reported that there was an inherent power in that House to require the law under which a Member sat and voted in the House to be duly observed, but that the House had no power to interrogate any duly elected person presenting himself to take the Oath as to his religious belief, or to hear any evidence in relation to such matter. It appeared to him that that Report of the Committee was absolutely fatal to the argument of the right hon. Baronet opposite. The only ground upon which the right hon. Baronet could pretend to interpose between the hon. Member for Northampton and his right to take the Oath was that in a previous Session, and under totally different circumstances, Mr. Bradlaugh had asserted that his conscience would not be bound by an oath. The right hon. Baronet, therefore, was, in the language of the Report of the Committee, seeking to induce the House to listen to evidence relating to the religious belief of the hon. Member for Northampton. The Committee had reported that in the then circumstances the taking of an oath by Mr. Bradlaugh would not be a taking of the Oath within the moaning of the statute. That finding was purely relative to the circumstances then existing, and it went to the extent of declaring that in those circumstances the taking of an oath by Mr. Bradlaugh would be an unmeaning form, and, therefore, would not be a compliance with the spirit of the statute, which required a 1190 Member of that House, before he sat and voted, to take the Oath. The Report of the Committee, however, went no further than that; and it could not now be contended that that Report was applicable to an entirely different set of circumstances. They now found themselves in this position—there had been recently a vacancy in the representation of Northampton; Mr. Bradlaugh had been elected; he was not disqualified by law from being so elected, and he had a right to present himself to take the Oath and to fulfil those conditions which were imposed upon Gentlemen elected to sit in the House; and Mr. Bradlaugh had not since his late election either said or done anything from which the House was entitled to infer that he was in any sense disqualified from taking the Oath. As far as his (Mr. H. Davey's) own opinion went, he was bound to say that had he been a Member of the Committee he should have concurred in the Resolution proposed by the hon. and learned Member for Preston (Sir John Holker), which was supported by several influential hon. Members, and which was to the effect that no precedent had been shown for that House refusing to allow a duly elected Member to take the Oath prescribed by law on the ground of his religious belief, and that the House could not constitutionally refuse permission to take the Oath upon such account. But whether the Resolution which the Committee arrived at, and the decision which that House then came to, was right or wrong, they related to a totally different set of circumstances from those which now existed. The hon. Member for Northampton, having been recently duly returned as a Member for that borough, came before the House and asked to take the Oath in the same position as though he were now elected for the first time; and in order to raise any valid objection to his taking the Oath the right hon. Baronet opposite was compelled to go back upon what had occurred last Session, and to ask the House to inquire into the religious belief of the hon. Member. Such a course would, in his opinion, be a most inconvenient one. He could readily suppose that the Party opposite were ready to admit extraneous evidence, and to institute an inquiry into religious belief. The principle of that Resolution which the right hon. Baronet proposed was that the House was entitled, 1191 and if entitled, then bound to enter into an inquiry as to religious belief. What the right hon. Baronet relied on was an admission by the hon. Member for Northampton, in the course of the proceedings of last Session of Parliament, and not on anything that had been said or done in or anything that had taken place as the result of the recent election. If they were to go back to the proceedings of the past Session, and admit such extraneous evidence, there was nothing to prevent any Member, when another came up to take the Oath, saying that in consequence of something he had heard him say at a dinner party, or in consequence of what a third person had said about him, he had a reasonable belief that the hon. Gentleman was defective in his religious belief. They could not stop short of an inquisitorial proceeding in such a case. The House then admitted that the question whether an hon. Member should be admitted to affirm or not was one which could betried in a Court of Law. The recent case of Clarke v. Bradlaugh showed there was no bar to the Courts of Law entertaining such points; but a Court of Law could not dive into the recesses of a man's heart or his state of mind at the time of taking the Oath, and the House ought not to do it any more than a Court of Law. The Statute contemplated that the question whether an hon. Member herd or had not complied with the requirements of the Statute in taking the Oath should be determined by a Court of Law. The question whether an hon. Member could take the Oath or not was a question between his conscience and himself. He besought the House not to endeavour to discharge inquisitorial functions which—he spoke respectfully—it was absolutely unfit to discharge. He entreated the House not to enter into an inquiry into the state of a man's mind or into his religious belief. He submitted to the House that they had nothing to do with considerations of that kind. He submitted to the House that they were not entitled on evidence of that kind, or on evidence of any other kind, to entertain any question as to the religious belief or state of mind of any hon. Member who presented himself at the Table. And, above all, he entreated the House not by passing the Resolution to sanction a principle which he ventured to say would prove a most 1192 dangerous precedent. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving his Amendment.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE,
in seconding the Amendment, said, he thought the House would show its wisdom by adopting it. He confessed that, with the true respect he had for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon, he was surprised that the right hon. Gentleman, as Leader of the Conservative Party in that House, should have thought fit to step in between a Gentleman entertaining Liberal views and elected by a Liberal constituency and the taking of his seat in that House. He was all the more surprised when he considered what called for that intervention. The ground of that intervention was a desire to stir up the smouldering elements of religious bigotry in order to delude the country into the notion that the Conservative Party were the champions of Christianity, and that the Liberal Party were its opponents. He ventured to say that Christianity had nothing to do with the present question. ["Oh!"] He was not discussing what ought to be; but what he asserted as a matter of fact was that that House ceased to be an Assembly exclusively of Christians when Jews were admitted into it. Let the House and let the country clearly understand what was meant by the Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman. Its object was to establish a Deistic test in that House. The right hon. Gentleman laid down that anyone who believed, or, speaking more correctly, anyone who asserted his belief in the existence of a Supreme Being had a right to sit in that House. Even heathen devil-worshippers would be received there with open arms. ["Oh, oh!"] Well, he was not making any personal allusion. He congratulated hon. Gentlemen opposite on this astounding creed. Whether it was a sound religious creed or not, there could be no doubt it was as different from, and opposed to, the creed of Christianity as the two poles were asunder. Therefore, he hoped the country would understand what the issue was that was raised by the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman said that a Resolution was passed in that House last year by which Mr. Bradlaugh was not allowed to take the Oath. The right hon. Gentleman asked whe- 1193 ther that Resolution was not still binding on the House. He confessed he was surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman ask that question, and he was obliged to tell the right hon. Gentleman that he was entirely in error. There was a difference between a Resolution and a Standing Order. On April 2nd, 1842, Mr. Speaker, in answer to Lord John Russell, said that a Resolution was binding on the House only for the Session in which it was passed. Consequently, the Resolution in question was in no way binding upon the House in the present Session. It was not surprising that that Resolution was not made a Standing Order, because if it had been it would practically have disqualified Mr. Bradlaugh again from being elected. The law did not recognize the right of the House to disqualify any Gentleman from being elected by a constituency of this country, nor did it disqualify him from taking his seat when elected. But the right hon. Gentleman did not ask the House to put in force the Resolution of last Session, and he contested the right of the House to pass the new Resolution now proposed by the right hon. Gentleman. Mr. Bradlaugh was elected honestly and fairly a few weeks ago by a constituency of this country. Being elected, he was obliged to come and take his seat in that House. By a Statute of Richard II., any Gentleman elected was liable to fine and imprisonment if he did not take his seat. To take his seat it was necessary by the Statute that the Gentleman elected should take the Oath of Allegiance. He ventured to contend, therefore, that a Resolution of that House could not override the statutory right of Mr. Bradlaugh. But if the House had a right to do so, he would ask if it was wise? The right hon. Gentleman had told the House that they should pass the Resolution on account of two statements which were made by Mr. Bradlaugh—one last year in a letter to "The Times, and another in the pleadings in "Clarke v. Bradlaugh" to the effect that the Oath had no binding effect upon him, and that it really contained words that were unmeaning and merely formal. Far be it from him (Mr. Labouchere) to raise a metaphysical or theological discussion in that House; but he ventured to say it by no means followed from the words used by Mr. Bradlaugh that Mr. Brad- 1194 laugh did not consider the Oath in its declaratory sense as binding upon him. In his examination before the second Committee, Mr. Bradlaugh said he did not refuse to take it, nor had he then or since expressed any mental reservation, or stated that the Oath of Allegiance would not be binding on him; but, on the contrary, he said that the essential part of the Oath was in the fullest degree binding on his honour and his conscience. Many people who did not entertain Mr. Bradlaugh's opinions entertained the same views with regard to the Oath. He need only call the attention of the House to Jeremy Bentham, who said that veracity could not have two measures. They had in the House Gentlemen who objected to taking the Oath—for example, the right hon. Member the Chancellor for the Duchy of Lancaster. Did anybody assert that that right hon. Gentleman's word was not as good as the oath of any man in the House? When Mr. Bradlaugh came forward and said he did consider that declaration of Allegiance, commencing with the words "I swear," was absolutely binding on him, they were bound to believe him. How did the right hon. Baronet opposite or the House know what the mental condition of Mr. Bradlaugh might be at that moment? Before 1869, when an Act was passed enabling Atheists to affirm in Courts of Law, they were not allowed to give any evidence if it were shown that they wore Atheists. But how was it necessary to show that they were Atheists? It was necessary to obtain it from their own words in Court. He only asked the House to take the same course as the Courts of Law, by accepting the assumption that anyone who came to the Table and offered to take the Oath was not an Atheist unless he should himself then and there state that he was one. Now, that Mr. Bradlaugh certainly had not done. The right hon. Gentleman opposite wanted a statement—a sort of recantation from Mr. Bradlaugh. What was to be the form of the recantation, and to whom was it to be made? Was Mr. Bradlaugh to come to the Table and say he recanted his letter to The Times or the pleadings in Clarke's case? The right hon. Baronet's suggestion was utterly absurd.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
I did not want any statement from Mr. Bradlaugh. I said that he had made 1195 certain statements and had never recanted them.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, he certainly understood it to be the complaint of the right hon. Gentleman that Mr. Bradlaugh had not recanted. The letter in The Times of that morning from the right hon. Baronet appeared to bear out his construction, because, in that letter, the right hon. Baronet said he contemplated interfering to prevent MT. Bradlaugh from taking the Oath because he had not made any statement recanting his previous views. Therefore, he might fairly ask—What was the nature of the recantation which the right hon. Gentleman wanted? The right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Walpole), in the Report of the Committee, said that no instance had been brought to the attention of the Committee in which an inquiry had been made into the moral or religious opinions of the person desiring to take a promissory oath, and that it would be impossible to foresee the evils which must arise if such a practice were adopted. Therefore, the right hon. Member did not take the same view as the right hon. Baronet, and did not wish to call Mr. Bradlaugh forward to make a public recantation. It had never been done before, and he humbly trusted it never would be done in that House. He admitted that it would be unsatisfactory that a man should go up to the Table and take in his hand a Book which they held sacred, and invoke a Supreme Being in whom he possibly did not believe; but it was acknowledged last year that Mr. Bradlaugh might have gone to the Table and taken the Oath. And why did he not? Out of respect for the feelings of hon. Members of the House; and this course subjected him to much obloquy and expense. He hoped that they would not have a succession of what were called "Bradlaugh debates." Mr. Bradlaugh was not a brawler; he was bound to take the Oath. Now, he himself, last year, and again this Session, had attempted to bring in a Bill to meet the case; but hon. Gentlemen opposite had blocked the Bill and rendered its introduction impossible. It was, therefore, owing to their own action that Mr. Bradlaugh was now obliged to take the course he was now pursuing. What would be the consequence if the Resolution of the right hon. Baronet oppo- 1196 site were adopted? According to Mr. Bradlaugh's own view, and that of many eminent lawyers, he derived his right to take the Oath from the fact that he had been elected, and he was bound to go up to the Table and take the Oath. The House, they held, had no right to interfere with him; and, therefore, Mr. Bradlaugh owed it to himself and to his constituents to come forward as often as he could and offer to take the Oath. What, therefore, was the alternative before the House? They must either agree to the Amendment or they must keep Mr. Bradlaugh in prison during the whole of the present Parliament. ["Oh, oh!"] That was the choice, because Mr. Bradlaugh, with his views, was logically bound to go to the Table and take the Oath; and the House, on the other hand, if the Resolution of the right hon. Baronet was passed, was logically bound to prevent him doing so by putting him in durance. There was no tribunal to interfere; but if they had to contest this question, it was not with Mr. Bradlaugh alone, but with the entire constituencies of the country. ["No, no!"] He said "Yes, yes!" Hon. Members would remember that more than 100 years ago the same thing was asserted with regard to Wilkes. No doubt, many Gentlemen said "Oh, oh!" and scoffed and jeered against Wilkes being able to hold his own against that House. Wilkes, expelled by the House, was re-elected; and, being again expelled, was re-elected. When another Parliament met what happened? The Resolution was expunged from the journals of the House. Sir Erskine May said that Resolution was a warning to both Houses to act within the limits of their jurisdiction and in strict conformity with the law. The House would do well to pause before entering into a contest with the constituencies as to their right to send to the House whom they pleased, and to insist that he whom they sent to the House took his seat there, if he was not under any statutory disqualification. The House might succeed for a time in preventing Mr. Bradlaugh from entering it; but he ventured to say that in the end the House would not be able to succeed against the people of this country.
Amendment proposed,To leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 1197 "in a case where a Member, duly elected, presents himself at the Table in conformity with the call of Mr. Speaker, and in proceeding to comply with the formalities prescribed for the taking of Parliamentary Oaths, without qualification, this House will not, on the ground of information extraneous to the transaction, offer any impediment to the fulfilment of the intention of such Member."—(Mr. Davey.)Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. EDWARD CLARKE
wished to recall the House to the fact that they were discussing, not a question of law, but a question as to the dignity of the House and the self-respect of its Members. He had heard for a good while that the science of special pleading was going out of fashion; but they had seen its most fantastic survival in the speech of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. H. Davey), and in the speech of his hon. and he thought, under all the circumstances, he might say his learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere). The Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Christchurch bore on the face of it a misrepresentation of the case that was before the House. To the greater part of the Amendment he should unreservedly give his adhesion; but it contained a statement that when a Member came to be sworn, and claimed to tender the Oath, no one was entitled to object on the ground of extraneous information. That rested the whole case on the question whether the knowledge the House had of the opinions of Mr. Bradlaugh depended on extraneous information or not; and it was the most fantastic special pleading that was ever heard, not only in the House of Commons, but in a Court of Law. That very House last year passed a Resolution in reference to the same person now before it, elected by the same constituency, whose opinions were not gathered from pamphlets or speeches delivered outside, but indicated by his coming to the Table and claiming to be allowed to affirm upon the only ground that a person could affirm—namely, that the Oath was not binding on his conscience. Now, it was said, "What do you know of the opinions of this gentleman?" Why, it was idle to ask the House of Commons what it knew of the opinions of Mr. Charles Bradlaugh! He had never denied them; he was too 1198 manly to deny them; and it must be said to his credit that, instead of concealing his unpopular opinions until he had taken the Oath, he had the manliness to avow those opinions in the face of the House, and to accept the consequences the House might impose. It was the same House that was discussing the same question, and the same person was waiting at the Bar to take the Oath in the same terms; and now they were asked from the other side to say it was by extraneous information that the House knew Mr. Charles Bradlaugh. Was a man an unbeliever down in the Hall, where men met him and cheered him; did he become a believer as he crossed the Lobby; and was his conversion complete as he took his stand in front of the Mace? He made no attack on Mr. Bradlaugh because of his opinions; but so long as the House retained, for its own security and for the security of the Throne, the Oath which was taken at the Table, he submitted it would be derogatory to its dignity to permit that Oath to be turned, in the presence of the House, into a meaningless farce. The suggestion was that he should be allowed to take the Oath, and the question again remitted to the Courts of Law to decide whether the Oath was valid. The House distinctly resolved last year not to allow Mr. Bradlaugh to take the Oath; and on the Motion of the Leader of the House it resolved to allow him to take the other alternative—to affirm, subject to the opinion of the Courts of Law. That opinion had been given against Mr. Bradlaugh; and with what sense of dignity or self-respect could the House now take another course and say, "Because it has been coerced by a second election"—a second victory, the Seconder of the Amendment would perhaps say; though two such victories would be a defeat—"it is to allow that performance to be gone through which it refused last year." Surely there was only one straightforward course to pursue in this matter. It was that a Bill should be proposed and proceeded with applying to all cases and relieving all Members from the obligation of taking the Oath. [Cheers.] He did not want to catch an approving cheer without following it up with this remark—that he should earnestly vote against any such measure, because he believed that the frame of mind which prevented a man 1199 recognising a Supreme Being disqualified him from being a useful Member of that House. He hoped the House would not remit this question to the Courts of Law, or allow itself to be confused by any idea that at a time and place not stated Mr. Bradlaugh had recanted the opinions he had formerly held; but that it would abide by the Resolution agreed to last Session, after full consideration, and refuse to make itself an accomplice in the performance which would take place at the Table if Mr. Bradlaugh was allowed to take the Oath.
§ MR. JOHN BRIGHT
If anybody in this House has hitherto, or even 10 minutes ago, had any doubt as to the extent of the question which is placed before the House by hon. Gentlemen opposite, by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devonshire (Sir Stafford Northcote), and by the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just spoken (Mr. Edward Clarke), he can have no doubt now after the speech to which we have just listened, because it is clear there that the whole matter is distinctly put before us as a question of religious disability. [An hon. MEMBER: Irreligious disability.] An hon. Member says "Irreligious disability." Well, you have objected before to the admission of the Roman Catholics. You objected to them because of their religion, which you deemed to be false; but the religion you deemed to be false you consider much better than no religion at all. On the same ground you resisted for many years the claim of the Jews to be admitted to this House; and you have now raised exactly the same question, but in a more offensive form; because you aim your shafts against a particular individual, who cannot be said to represent a class, asking to be admitted to a seat in this House. Now, in the last Session of Parliament—and I want just to turn to that for a moment, because I think a very great injustice has been done to the hon. Member for Northampton in many of the arguments used in this question—last Session, when Mr. Bradlaugh came to the Table he asked to be allowed to affirm. It is assumed that he asked to be allowed to affirm, and thereby, in the face of the House, and in a manner almost offensive, proclaimed that he did not hold the belief which men are assumed to hold who take the Oath which is tendered to Members 1200 of the House. But that was not the ground on which ho proposed to affirm. The ground was this—a ground honourable to himself—it was, in point of fact, a tenderness of conscience as I should call it. [Loud laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen probably think no man has a tender conscience but themselves. I say that Mr. Bradlaugh, with his opinions—as I with my opinions—had a perfect right, believing that it was lawful, to offer to affirm in preference to taking the Oath. He did not, therefore, by that offer to affirm declare that he had no belief in a Supreme Being. He said nothing of the kind. He asked merely to be allowed to affirm, which to him was a preferable mode of making a declaration with regard to allegiance to the Crown than taking the Oath which the Statutes of the House have provided that hon. Members should take. And, therefore, I think it is a gross unfairness—it was then and is now—to bring forward the fact that he himself preferred to affirm rather than take the Oath, and then upon that to assume that the Oath would not be binding upon his conscience. The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere)—who is in the House, and who seconded the Amendment—read a passage from the evidence given by Mr. Bradlaugh before one of the Committees on this question. In that passage, Mr. Bradlaugh states in the most distinct manner that the words of the Oath, as they aro tendered hero at the Table, are binding upon his conscience—binding, he said, "upon his honour and upon his conscience." If that be so, you have no right to assume, as you constantly do, that the Oath is not binding upon his conscience. You might as well tell me that, but for the clause in the Act of Parliament which prevents your doing so gross an injustice, if I come to make an Affirmation, an Oath is not binding upon my conscience. The Affirmation is binding upon my conscience, and the Declaration which Mr. Bradlaugh is willing to make he declares is binding upon his conscience. Therefore, in my opinion, you have no right to assume that, when he takes the Oath with the words which he would rather have omitted from it, the Oath is not as binding upon his conscience as upon the conscience of any other Member in this House. Now, he comes to the Table of the House, and he does not ask to affirm. 1201 The law has decided that, in the particular circumstances of the case, he is not permitted to affirm; but no law has decided that he is not permitted to take the Oath. On the contrary, the law states as clearly as words can make it, and without any equivocation, that Mr. Bradlaugh, having been elected a Member of this House, must take the Oath at this Table before he takes his seat; and that is what he proposes to do tonight. But the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon has interposed, in a manner utterly unknown before, with the proposition that Mr. Bradlaugh shall not be allowed to take the Oath. He says, and the supporters of the Resolution also say with him, that notwithstanding that some thousands of the free electors of a constituency have returned Mr. Bradlaugh to the House, because you assume that which is absolutely untrue if you believe that the Oath is not binding upon his (Mr. Bradlaugh's) conscience, you will not allow him to take the Oath even in the form of words which you yourselves and the Statute have prescribed. What right have you to assume this? None whatever. You do assume it, however; every hon. Member on that side of the House who is about to vote for the exclusion of Mr. Bradlaugh assumes that the Oath is not binding upon his conscience. It is the right of every hon. Member of this House to be believed when he makes a Declaration. Amongst the Gentlemen assembled in this House it is not common to call in question any declaration which any man should make of that of which he is personally assured; and Mr. Bradlaugh has distinctly stated before a Committee of this House, and will, no doubt, state it here again, that the Oath which he purposes to take is just as binding upon his conscience as if he himself had written out the words, or as if he himself believed every word in it with the same implicit faith as Gentlemen opposite who oppose his admission to this House. I think the House will not be acting with due impartiality if it assumes that the words are not binding upon Mr. Bradlaugh's conscience which he declares are as binding upon. his honour and conscience as either the Oath is upon your consciences, or the Affirmation is upon mine. But if it be permitted to make these assumptions with regard to the hon. Member for 1202 Northampton, why is it not equally right to make them with regard to other persons—I will mention no names—but we all know there are men in this House or outside this House, who, either by public declarations or private statements, are known to hold, with regard to this question, the same opinions as are assumed to be held by Mr. Bradlaugh? But nobody proposes to put any questions to them. It is admitted now—and, in fact, hon. Members opposite admitted last year—that if Mr. Bradlaugh had come to the Table and said nothing about the Affirmation—I do not hesitate to say that it is to his credit that he did not take that course—and had offered to take the Oath, no question would have been asked; but he would have been allowed to take the Oath just as other hon. Members of the House. If these questions are not to be put to any other hon. Member of the House, what is the position in which we stand in regard to the hon. Member for Northampton? Why should we inflict upon him such a disability, because his belief with regard to religious matters is not the same belief as that which is supposed to be entertained by the great majority of Members of this House? ["No, no!"] Does anybody say "No, no?" Nothing could be more clear—the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth proves it—than that it is a purely religious disability which is about to be enforced and inflicted upon Mr. Bradlaugh. Shall we make an exception in a special case of this kind? No other hon. Member of this House has been questioned. Nobody assumes to question any other hon. Member. Members affirming are not asked any questions with respect to their religious belief. Nothing in the Affirmation touches upon that point. Therefore, we who are accustomed and enabled and permitted to affirm are placed in a different position from the hon. Member for Northampton. We are not asked what we believe; he is asked what he believes. ["No, no!"] Hon. Members say "No, no!" but they must know that if the hon. Member for Northampton, in answering the letter of his correspondent, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon, had been able to inform him that his views on religious matters had changed since last year, the right hon. Gentleman would not have 1203 proceeded to oppose his admission to this House. Therefore, it is strictly a question of religious disability; and any hon. Member of this House who is going to vote for the Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman, if he denies that, deities that which is obvious, and which cannot be controverted by any honest and sensible man in this House. I wish the House, in considering this matter, to look upon it in this light—that in the year 1881, we are assuming to establish, to create now, to affirm, to perpetuate a religious disability, which I undertake to say, in this House of Parliament, in accordance with the Report drawn up by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Spencer Walpole), has never heretofore been proposed on the floor of the House of Commons. That is undoubted, and cannot be denied. You are seeking to establish now a religious disability. ["No, no!"] I ask hon. Members who belong to the greatest and oldest of the Christian Churches—those who are in communion with the Church of Rome—I ask them to recollect what their forefathers have suffered in consequence of opinions, and prejudices, and intentions, such as we have heard expressed to-night from the Benches opposite. And if there be any hon. Members of this House belonging to the Nonconformist Churches, I ask them also to recollect what their forefathers have suffered, and suffered under the pressure of the same disposition to inflict religious disabilities upon civil and loyal inhabitants of this country. I ask every hon. Member present who is unwilling that we should return to the system and practice of religious disabilities to disavow altogether and oppose to the utmost the principle and purpose put forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon, and to proclaim that now and for ever no man untainted by crime, unconvicted of crime, and elected by a free constituency, shall be disabled from taking his seat in this House upon making such a Declaration or taking such an Oath as Parliament in its wisdom may have determined to impose. ["Hear, hear!"] Yes, that cheer has reference exactly to the original point, that the hon. Member for Northampton, not being of your belief, does not take the Oath as a declaration binding upon his conscience—although 1204 he tells you, in the most express terms, that that is absolutely untrue. [An hon. MEMBER: What is the value of it?] And here, Mr. Speaker, I may express my regret at what I may call the almost violent temper with which some hon. Gentlemen opposite come to the consideration of this question. I can feel, myself, charity for a Member of this House who holds views on religious matters which appear to me so extraordinary and so unfortunate as those which are assumed to be held by the hon. Member for Northampton; but I think the House might be called upon to consider that the hon. Member for many months has sat in this House; that there has been no Member of this House who has conducted himself with greater propriety; that he has brought to our discussions at least average, perhaps more than average, ability; and that there is not a single word that he has uttered, not a single act that he has committed which, in the slightest degree, ought to debar him from taking his place in this Assembly of Gentlemen. I would ask hon. Members to think for a moment whether it is in accordance with that Christianity which they assume so much to defend, that they should now, after the many years, I may almost say the centuries, of discussion of the subject of the liberties of Members of this House, determine to raise up another barrier against that civil freedom which our constituencies believe themselves to enjoy, and against that fairness in the construction of Acts of Parliament in matters of this kind, so as to prevent a Member who has been duly elected from taking his seat amongst us. One of our poets has said about bigotry of this kind—I hope hon. Members will forgive me if I use the term bigotry; there is such a thing as bigotry, and I think that to bar the hon. Member for Northampton from his right according to law, to take the Oath which is prescribed by the law, is itself an act of bigotry—one of our poets has said—Bigotry may swellThe sail which sets for Heaven with blasts from Hell.I hold there can be nothing consonant with Christianity in its highest principles, and nothing consonant with that religious freedom for which our fathers have striven in determining still to ob- 1205 struct the hon. Member for Northampton when he goes towards the Table to take the Oath. I hope no Gentlemen in the House who have any regard for religious freedom, for civil and Parliamentary and Constitutional freedom as all the great lights of freedom in our country have understood it—I hope not one of them will give a vote which may bar the constituency of Northampton from their duo and rightful representation in this House.
thought that, after the speech which had just been delivered, the House ought to be recalled to the simple question for consideration. There was no disposition on this side of the House to treat the question in the spirit of intolerance and bigotry which the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster had done his very best to stir up. He, therefore, hoped the House would not be led away by the eloquence of the right hon. Gentleman to treat the question as a matter of theological passion. It ought rather to be treated purely as a question of legality and reasonable respect for the Forms of the House. Substantially, there were two simple points for the determination of the House. The first was, whether the House possessed jurisdiction and power to intervene between the hon. Member for Northampton and the Oath? The second, whether, if the House did possess such power, it ought, under the present circumstances, to make use of it? As to the first point, the hon. and learned Member for Christchurch (Mr. Davey) had told the House that it had no jurisdiction in the matter; but his opinion was altogether at variance with that of the Law Officers of the Crown, with that of the Committee who considered the matter last year, and with that of the House itself, for, by passing the Resolution of June 22, 1880, the House assumed the power and jurisdiction in question. He held, therefore, that the hon. and learned Member for Christchurch ought not to obtain the support of the House, when he said that they had no power to intervene between the hon. Member for Northampton and the Oath. Then came the important question whether the House ought to exercise its power in the present case. The right hon. Baronet the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote) said the House ought to exercise it, because it 1206 did so last year, and he founded his objection to the taking of the Oath by the hon. Member for Northampton upon the Report of the Committee already alluded to. But the Resolution was not only founded upon the Report of the Committee, but also upon its proceedings, in the course of which there was placed in its hands a "Statement of the Oath Question by Mr. Bradlaugh." Now, that Statement answered in the most positive manner the statement just made by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who had told the House, in passionate language, that Mr. Bradlaugh bad declared that the Oath was binding upon his conscience. The hon. Member for Northampton, in his Statement, said—The Oath, although to me including words of idle and meaningless character, was and is regarded by a large number of my fellow-countrymen as an appeal to a Deity to take cognizance of their swearing. It would have been an act of hypocrisy for me voluntarily to take this form of affirmation if any other had been open to me, or to take it without protest, as though it would in my mouth contain any such appeal.Mr. Bradlaugh went on to say that his duty to his constituents was to fulfil the mandate they had given him; and if to do that he should have to submit to take the Oath, so much the worse for those who forced him to repeat words which he had scores of times said were words which for him contained no meaning. It was the hon. and learned Member for Christchurch and the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster who wished to force Mr. Bradlaugh to repeat words which to him conveyed no definite meaning. Hon. Gentlemen on the opposite Benches had no desire to do any such thing. It was in consequence of Mr. Bradlaugh's own Statement that the House on the 22nd of June last came to the conclusion it did; and the question now was, whether the House was still of the same mind? To say that this was a question for the Courts of Law was absurd. The Courts of Law would naturally regard that House as the proper guardian of the sanctity of its Oaths, and it was, in fact, the duty of the House to see that the Oaths taken in its presence were properly, reverently, and effectively taken—a condition which, he contended, had not been fulfilled in Mr. Bradlaugh's case.
§ MR. SPEAKER
It having been intimated to me that the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) wishes to address the House, I will now take the pleasure of the House that the hon. Member for Northampton should now be heard.
§ Question, "That the Member for Northampton be now heard," put, and agreed to.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH (who spoke from the Bar of the House)
said: Mr. Speaker, I have again to ask the indulgence of the House while I submit to it a few words in favour of my claim to do that which the law requires me to do. Perhaps the House will pardon me if I supply au omission, I feel unintentionally made, on the part of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) in some words which have just fallen from him. I understood him to say that he would use a formal Statement made by me to the Committee against what the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. John Bright) had said I had said. I am sure the hon. and learned Member for Chatham, who has evidently read the proceedings of the Committee with care, would, if he had thought it fair, have stated to the House that the Statement only came from me after an objection made by me—a positive objection on the ground that it related to matters outside this House, and that the House in the course of its history had never inquired into such matters; but I can hardly understand what the hon. and learned Member for Chatham meant, when he said that he contrasted what I did say with what the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said I said, for it is not a matter of memory, it is on the proceedings of this House. Being examined formally before the Committee, I stated—That the essential part of the Oath is in the fullest and most complete degree binding upon my honour and conscience, and that the repeating of the words of asseveration does not in the slightest degree weaken the binding of the allegiance on me.I say now I would not go through any form—much as I value the right to sit in this House, much as I desire and believe that this House will accord me that right—that I did not mean to be 1208 binding upon me without mental reservation, without equivocation. I would go through no form unless it were fully and completely and thoroughly binding upon mo as to what it expressed or promised. Mine has been no easy position for the last 12 months. I have been elected by the free votes of a free constituency. My return is untainted. There is no charge of bribery, no charge of corruption, nor of inducing men to come drunken to the polling booth. I come here with a pure untainted return—not won by accident. For 13 long years have I fought for this right—through five contested elections, including this. It is now proposed to prevent me from fulfilling the duty my constituents have placed upon me. You have force—on my side is the law. The hon. and learned Member for Plymouth (Mr. Edward Clarke) spoke the truth when he said he did not ask the House to treat the matter as a question of law; but the constituencies ask me to treat it as a question of law. I, for them, ask you to treat it as a question of law. I could understand the feeling that seems to have been manifested were I some great and powerful personage. I could understand it had I a huge influence behind me. I am only one of the people, and you propose to teach them that on a mere technical question you will put a barrier in the way of my doing my duty which you have never put in the way of anyone else. The question is—has my return on the 9th of April, 1881, anything whatever to impeach it? There is no legal disqualification involved. If there were it could be raised by Petition. The hon. and learned Member for Plymouth says the dignity of this House is in question. Do you mean that I can injure the dignity of this House? This House which has stood unrivalled for centuries! This House supreme among the Assemblies of the world! This House, which represents the traditions of liberty! I should not have so libelled you. How is the dignity of this House to be hurt? If what happened before the 9th of April is loss than a legal disqualification, it is a matter for the judgment of the constituency, and not for you. The constituency has judged me; it has elected me. I stand here with no legal disqualification upon me. The right of the constituency to return me is an un- 1209 impeachable right. I know some hon. Gentlemen make light of constituencies; yet without the constituencies you are nothing. It is from them you derive your whole and sole authority. The hon. and learned Member for Plymouth treats lightly the legal question. It is dangerous to make light of the law—dangerous, because, if you are only going to rely on your strength of force to override the law, you give a bad lesson to men whose morality you impeach as to what should be their duty if emergency ever came. Always outside the House I have advocated strenuous obedience to the law, and it is under that law I claim my right. It is said by the right hon. Baronet who interposes between me and my duty (Sir Stafford Northcote) that this House has passed some Resolution. First, I submit that that Resolution does not affect the return of the 9th April. The conditions are entirely different; there is nothing since the date of that return. I submit next that, if it did affect it, the Resolution was illegal from the beginning. In the words of George Grenville, spoken in this House in 1769, I say if your Resolution goes in the teeth of the law—if against the Statute—your Resolution is null and void. No word have I uttered outside these walls which have been lacking in respect to the House. I believe the House will do me justice, and I ask it to look at what it is I claim. I claim to do that which the law says I must. Frankly, I would rather have affirmed. When I came to the Table of the House I deemed that I had a legal right to do it. The Courts have decided against me, and I am bound by their decision. I have the legal right to do what I propose to do. No Resolution of yours can take away that legal right. You may act illegally and hinder me, and, unfortunately, I have no appeal against you. "Unfortunately," perhaps, I should not say. Perhaps it is better that the Chamber which makes the law should never be in conflict with the Courts which administer the laws that the Chamber makes. I think the word "unfortunately" was not the word I ought to have used in this argument. But the force that you invoke against the law today may to-morrow be used against you, and the use will be justified by your example. It is a fact that I have no re- 1210 medy if you rely on your force. I can only be driven into a contest, wearying even to a strong man well supported, ruinous and killing to one man standing by himself—a contest in which, if I succeed, it will be injurious to you as well as to me—injurious to me, because I can only win by lessening your repute, which I desire to maintain. The only Court I have the power of appealing to is the Court of Public Opinion, which, I have no doubt, in the end will do me justice. The hon. and learned Member for Plymouth said I had the manliness on a former occasion to make an avowal of opinions to this House. I did nothing of the kind. I have never, directly or indirectly, said one word about my opinions, and this House has no right to inquire what opinions I may hold outside its walls. The only right is that which the Statute gives you; my opinions there is no right to inquire into. I shelter myself under the laws of my country. This is a political Assembly, met to decide on the policy of the nation, and not on the religious opinions of the citizens. While I had the honour of occupying a seat in the House, when questions were raised which touched upon religious matters, I abstained from uttering one word. I did not desire to say one word which might hurt the feelings of even the most tender. But it is said, Why not have taken the Oath quietly? I did not take it then, because I thought I had the right to do something else, and I have paid the penalty. I have been plunged in litigation, fostered by men who had not the courage to put themselves forward. I, a penniless man, should have been ruined, if it had not been that the men in the workshop, pit, and factory had enabled me to fight this battle. ["Oh, oh!"] I am sorry that hon. Members cannot have patience with one pleading as I plead here. It is no light stake, even if you put it on the lowest personal grounds, to risk the ambition of a life on such an issue. It is a rightful ambition to desire to take part in the Councils of the nation, even if you bring no store of wisdom with you, and can only learn from the great intellects that we have. What will you inquire into? The right hon. Baronet would inquire into my opinions. Will you inquire into my conduct; or is it only my opinions you will try here? The hon. and learned Member for Plymouth 1211 frankly puts it opinions. If opinions, why not conduct? Why not examine into Members' conduct when they come to the Table, and see if there be no Members in whose way you can put a barrier? Are Members, whose conduct may be obnoxious, to vote my exclusion because to them my opinions are obnoxious? As to any obnoxious views supposed to be held by me, there is no duty imposed upon me to say a word. The right hon. Baronet has said there has been no word of recantation. You have no right to ask me for any recantation. Since the 9th April you have no right to ask me for anything. If you have a legal disqualification, Petition, lay it before the Judges. When you ask me to make a statement, you are guilty of impertinence to me, of treason to the traditions of this House, and of impeachment of the liberties of the people. My difficulty is, that those who have made the most bitter attacks upon me only made them when I was not here to deal with them. One hon. and gallant Member recently told his constituents that this would be made a Party question, but that the Conservative Members had not the courage to speak out against me. I should have thought, from reading Hansard, not that they wanted courage, but that they had cultivated a reticence that was more just. I wish to say a word or two on the attempt which has been made to put on the Government of the day complicity in my views. The Liberal Party has never aided me in any way to this House. ["Oh!" from the Opposition.] Never. I have fought by myself. I have fought by my own hand. I have been hindered in every way that it was possible to hinder me; and it is only by the help of the people, by the pence of toilers in mine and factory, that I am here to-day, after these five struggles right through 13 years. I have won my way with them, for I have won their hearts, and now I come to you. Will you send me back from here? Then how? You have the right, but it is the right of force, and not of law. When I am once seated on these Benches, then I am under your jurisdiction. At present I am under the protection of the Writ from those who sent me here. I do not want to quote what has happened before; but if there be one lesson which the House has recorded more solemnly than 1212 another, it is that there should be no interference with the judgment of a constituency in sending a man to this House against whom there is no statutory disqualification. Let me appeal to the generosity of this House as well as to its strength. It has traditions of liberty on both sides. I do not complain that hon. Members on that (the Conservative) side try to keep me out. They act according to their lights, and think my poor services may be injurious to them. [Cries of "No!"] Then why not let me in? It must be either a political or a religious question. I must apologize to the House for trespassing upon its patience. I apologize because I know how generous in its listening it has been from the time of my first speech in it till now. But I ask you now, do not plunge with me into a struggle I would shun. The law gives me no remedy if the House decides against me. Do not mock at the constituencies. If you place yourselves above the law, you leave me no course save lawless agitation, instead of reasonable pleading. It is easy to begin such a strife, but none knows how it would end. I have no Court, no tribunal to appeal to; you have the strength of your votes at the moment. You think I am an obnoxious man, and that I have no one on my side. If that be so, then the more reason that this House, grand in the strength of its centuries of liberty, should have now that generosity in dealing with one who tomorrow may be forced into a struggle for public opinion against it.
§ The hon. MEMBER then withdrew.
Two Gentlemen of the Legal Profession have addressed the House in support of the Motion which has been made by the right hon. Baronet opposite. One—the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth (Mr. Edward Clarke)—has said that this is not a question of law, but a question of the dignity of the House. Well, for my part, as regards the dignity of the House, my belief is that it will always be best and most effectually maintained by the strictest possible adherence to the law. But as regards the opinion of that hon. and learned Gentleman, that this is not a question of law, he must have observed that he is in direct conflict with the other legal authority who has addressed the House in support of the 1213 Motion. The hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst), on the contrary, states that it is most distinctly a question of law; and thus those two persons are entirely at issue on the fundamental proposition which lies at the root of their argument. But as I understand the hon. and learned Member for Chatham, he says that Mr. Bradlaugh is under no legal disqualification. He says that it is idle to profess that he can go to the Courts of Justice, for if he does go to the Courts of Justice, it will be found that he has complied with the conditions of the law, as the law is understood in the Courts of Justice, and if so, then the Courts of Justice, in declining to try the case, will give the most solemn affirmation that Mr. Bradlaugh has complied with the conditions of the law. Well, if that is so, then I must say that, in my opinion, there is very great force in the appeal that has just been made by the hon. Member for Northamption (Mr. Bradlaugh), who used these words—"There is no legal disqualification upon me, and you have no right to impose upon me any disqualification less than legal." Now, Mr. Bradlaugh is upon his trial before this House; but the House also, permit me to say it with great respect, is upon its trial. It would be unpardonable in me, though it is perfectly pardonable and natural in the hon. Member for Northampton—it would be unpardonable in me if I were to speak on this occasion with the slightest tinge of warmth, or to deviate from the driest possible line of argument; and in endeavouring to avoid anything of the kind, I shall only be following in that respect the speech in which the Motion was submitted to the House. Nothing could have been more unexceptionable than the tone of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. I do not wish to be censorious; but I must say that it was with some regret that I observed that when my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. H. Davey) rose to make a most temperate and most able legal argument on this case, without a single syllable of exaggeration or imputation, he was not heard with the patience which befits a judicial Assembly like the House of Commons. Now, the House itself is, as I have said, upon its trial. It is upon its trial before the constituency that has returned the hon.
1214 Member for Northampton, who justly says that, apart from the authority our constituencies give us, we are nothing. It is upon its trial before the general public, upon issues which will possibly come before future Parliaments, as the Parliament that proceeded against Mr. Wilkes was tried by a subsequent Parliament, and was emphatically, formally, and ignominiously condemned. It requires great self-denial to look closely and calmly at these questions. Let us consider what is and what is not the question before us, and what are the judgments of those whom we regard as authorities. I do not understand that the highest authority in the House—namely, the Speaker of the House—has declared any legal objection to the taking of the Oath by Mr. Bradlaugh. I cannot but observe remarkable absences on the other side of the House to-night. I say on the other side of the House, because, though I speak from no Party spirit, it is known that Gentlemen belonging to the Conservative Opposition intend to vote for the Motion. I observe, I say, the absence of a very high legal authority, the late Attorney General (Sir John Holker), which, following up as it does similar absences on former occasions, and his emphatic declaration in the Committee last year, indicates that his opinion is radically different from that of his Party. I observe, in the same way, the absence, not less conspicuous, of my right hon. Friend the senior Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Walpole), who took a prominent part in these discussions last year, who was the Chairman of both the Select Committees that sat last year, but who has not come down to support the contention of the Party opposite to-night. In regard to these and other authorities, I may perhaps be permitted to quote an independent authority, one who, if he had still held his seat in this House, would have spoken with an authority second to that of no one on this occasion—I mean Sir George Grey. Sir George Grey was an ornament of this House for fully 40 years, and he has not ceased to take a lively interest in its proceedings. He has given much attention to this question, and has followed it most carefully. I hold in my hand his written opinion, expressed in the most decisive terms, and going to the fullest length. He says, speaking as one of the public, that he has the fullest conviction 1215 that the opposition to the taking of the Oath by Mr. Bradlaugh, if Mr. Bradlaugh offered to take the Oath in compliance with the letter of the Statute, ought not to be tolerated—with great respect I give this as the opinion of Sir George Grey—ought not to be permitted by the Chair. This is the position in which we stand as far as authority is concerned. Most marked absences from the opposite ranks of persons of the greatest weight, who are unwilling to support the Motion now made; no semblance of countenance given to it from the Chair; and an opinion given in the strongest terms by one who has only recently ceased to sit among us, and who brought to the question the double qualification of long experience and legal knowledge—that double qualification again crowned by a personal character of the highest stamp, and perhaps I may be permitted to say, distinguished by a known regard for those interests of religion which, I believe, are weighing upon the minds of many hon. Gentlemen opposite. Well, Sir, so much for authority. The question we have to decide is not whether the hon. Member for Northampton has or has not judged correctly in coming to the Table to take the Oath. Internally—in foro conscientiæ—many among us may believe the hon. Member mistaken; but in the court of conscience the repetition of the words does not constitute the Oath unless the man who repeats the words is able to give to every one of them its full sense and its full force. Yes, I say that many a man may be of that opinion, speaking of that process which is internal to the mind; but that process internal to the mind of man is not the subject-matter that we have now to deal with. Mr. Bradlaugh may be mistaken in his belief that he is right in coming to the Table to take the Oath. It does not follow that we shall be right in interfering to prevent him. Indeed, I am bound to say, in the most open way, that I think every man must, in common fairness, admit that Mr. Bradlaugh is to be credited with the best and highest motives. He is under a primâ facie obligation and duty, a presumptive obligation and duty, having been elected by a constituency, to present himself at the Table as the only means in which he can fulfil his duty to that constituency. On the other hand, I need not animadvert upon his conduct. Far from it. I think it is 1216 generally admitted that his conduct while he sat on those Benches was the conduct of a man of great ability, integrity, honour, and public spirit. But I wish to point out that the question as to the manner in which he can take the Oath is not the question before us. It is purely an internal question for his own mind and conscience, or else for some other tribunal than this House. We must have other grounds on which to proceed if we are to be justified in the face of the world, and in the face of those who, if we make a false step now, may be hereafter involved in the consequences of our error. Neither is it a question whether we ought to be parties—I think I am now taking a simple argumentative objection to the argumentative opening speech—whether we ought to be parties to the taking of the Oath in a sense which we believe to be unworthy. The contention of my hon. and learned Friend behind me (Mr. Davey), and my contention, and, I believe, the contention now generally made in opposition to the proposition is, that we ought not to be parties at all. The Statute has not imposed upon us the duty of becoming parties, or the right of becoming parties, nor has it given us the means of becoming parties. Our duty and voice are strictly limited by the terms of the Statute. It may be that, in the view of those opposite, it is thought that we should become parties. My contention is that we should not become parties. We have no charge placed upon us in this matter which justifies the examination we are asked to make. Lastly, it is not the question whether the Resolution of last year, to which the Motion appeals, was or was not a just and correct Resolution. I am very far from saying that it was a just Resolution. What I say is, that we are not bound by it in point of fact or in point of form. It has gone; it does not exist. I do not understand very well the appeal to it. If it means a formal appeal, the Resolution is in no sense binding on the House. Let us see, then, to what an extent it is an authority, and what it is that the Resolution does. The contention, and I think the sound contention is, that the House of Commons is not a Court for administering the Oath. If the Statute intended to make the House of Commons a Court for administering the Oath, it would have told the House of Commons that it should administer 1217 the Oath. It carefully avoids saying anything of the kind. It requires the presence of the House, the presence of the Speaker in the Chair, as necessary to constitute a regular House; but it places no duty, and in placing no duty on the Chair it places no duty upon the House, and it gives no right to the House. It states that the Member shall present himself at the Table, and shall there take the Oath. The House is nowhere directed, and nowhere empowered by the statute, with respect to the taking of the Oath. What was done by the Resolution of last year? Undoubtedly, it did something beyond the simple passive attitude we take up in ordinary circumstances. The Resolution of last year went this length—by circumstances it was brought about that the House became cognizant of the fact that certain words of the Oath were to Mr. Bradlaugh a meaningless formula; and it became cognizant of that fact as part of the transaction, as part of the resgestæ, and the meaning of the prohibition contained in the Resolution of last year was that, as that knowledge had come to the cognizance of the House as a portion of the transaction, the House should take notice of it and not permit the Oath to be taken. Now, Sir, what is now contended? It is contended that what took place a year ago, and was applicable to the transaction which then occurred, is applicable to the transaction that is now before us; and the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite the Member for Plymouth (Mr. Clarke), to whose opinions I, for one, always listen with the respect they deserve, contends that this is the same transaction, and not only so, but he treats with very considerable contempt, as a kind of exuberance of special pleading, any contention to the contrary effect. I am not going to say it is special pleading carried to an extreme which contends that this is the same transaction; but I would ask the hon. and learned Member to have compassion on the infirmities of intellects less robust and vigorous than his own. I must own that in point of common sense, and in the sense of the Constitution, I contend that the transaction is completely separate. I hold, as contended by the hon. Gentleman at the Bar, that the 9th of April is the origin of these proceedings, and that we have no title to go back beyond that 1218 date; but I should like, in what little I have to say, to keep in view the two questions together. I do not wish to put too highly the abstract argument; I wish to mix together the arguments of the absence of right and the absence of prudence in the House. My hon. Friend behind me makes no abstract proposition. He invites the House to declare that it will not, under the circumstances, interfere. Those who think the House has no right to interfere can, I believe, with the great authority of the hon. and learned Member for Preston (Sir John Holker) to sustain them—can, with the utmost ease, support the Amendment. So can those who think that it is imprudent for the House to interfere, and in what I have to say, if I incline to the stricter view, I will look chiefly to the question of prudence, and I begin by affirming that we are invited distinctly to go beyond the Resolution of last year and to take a new and distinct ground. It is perfectly intelligible to say that when an Oath is taken in your presence, Sir, with attendant circumstances such as to constitute it part of the proceedings of the House, that we may take an objection to it, and that it is legitimate to take an objection. But what, Sir, is now contended for? I am not imputing to hon. Gentlemen opposite that which I believe they would fervently disclaim—namely, that they are going to adopt in principle all the odious consequences of religious inquisition; but I am going to charge that without such an intention they are calling upon us to take a step which, consistently followed up, will lead to those consequences. I admit that by the Resolution of last year, to which I was no party, we have committed ourselves to this extent—that if in the course of the transaction itself the House were put into a position of becoming aware that the Oath was being treated as a meaningless formula the House would take notice of it, and on its own responsibility determine that the taking of the Oath should not be permitted. So far you are pledged; but can it be that that pledge being given at that time is a declaration having the same force and effect now that the hon. Member for Northampton has been back to his constituency, and that they, being cognizant of the whole of the case, have re-elected him and 1219 made him anew a Member of this House as much as if the Parliament had been dissolved and had been newly chosen? In my opinion that contention is most irrational; but what I want to urge on hon. Gentlemen opposite is this. They may all agree with me at first sight that that contention is irrational; but I ask, and I think I am entitled to know, up to what point it is to lead us? I observe that not a single Gentleman, not even the Mover of the Resolution itself, has thrown the slightest light upon the subject. It is now shown that on a given occasion, when in connection with the taking of the Oath an opinion was expressed by the hon. Member for Northampton that part of it was meaningless, the House interfered. But what is now contended? It is now contended that, because that was done a year ago in a transaction upon taking the Oath with reference to a former election, we are to hold it is done at the present moment. To what consequences does not this lead? Does it not lead to this—that if, from any source, at any time, in any way, you could obtain the knowledge that a Gentleman who proposes to take the Oath has not the belief you consider it necessary he should have to make it a reality, you will not allow him to take the Oath? On what ground are you to stand? Is it because a communication has been made to the House at some former period? Is that the ground? ["Yes!"] "Yes!" says an hon. Member. Then am I to understand that the communication having been made to the House it is to be held good for ever? Pray recollect that in your contests with the people, or in your contests with a portion of the people—a constituency—you have great advantages in your dignity, your authority, and your power over their Representative who appears at your Bar; but you have one disadvantage, and that is you are temporary; but they are permanent. By-and-bye you will cease to exist; but they will remain on the spot. Their power, their position, does not die. And is it, then, intended that for years and years Mr. Bradlaugh is to be put aside as not being a Member of this House on the ground of a declaration made by him—I believe extorted from him—["Oh!"]—at least, reluctantly made by him—he thinks extorted from him—is it to be held that on account of 1220 that declaration so obtained from him last year, upon another election, throughout any number of elections, for any number of years, in any number of Parliaments, because that declaration was made to this House—is that declaration to be held good for ever, and is he to be prevented from taking the Oath until there is a recantation? Is that a rational or a reasonable contention? Or, if you say you will not be bound by that contention, how far will you go? It is said the transaction is the same transaction now. If the transaction is the same transaction after one election, it is ridiculous to say that it would not be the same transaction after any number of elections. Therefore, upon the strength of a declaration made last year—I hope I am not saying anything that may offend anyone—on the strength of a declaration made last year, imputing logical and argumentative consequences, Mr. Bradlaugh is to be repelled unless he comes to volunteer a confession to you—which you have no right to ask from him—that the state of his conscience has undergone a change. Upon what principle is it that this distinction rests? Is it because a communication has been made to this House? Is it the source from which the knowledge comes, or the form in which it comes? If you are entitled to take cognizance of a man's belief, these are secondary points—the real point is the amount of knowledge. Do you know that a man's belief is such as to make his oath an unreality? [Cries of "Yes!"] Supposing an hon. Member had published a treatise which had appeared this morning, in which he had declared the same opinions, that publication would have no relation to the House, nor would be addressed to the public. Would that be a ground for interfering? [An hon. MEMBER: It would.] Yes, it would. Very well, then, it comes to this—that the House is, upon all occasions when there is evidence forthcoming, to say that in the opinion of the House a man, offering to take the Oath, who does not hold the belief which Members think necessary to make the Oath a reality, ought not to be allowed to take it, whatever be the source of the information, and however it may be got at. [Cries of "Oh!"] I beg pardon. I hope that hon. Members will not interrupt me in the middle of a sentence. I 1221 was contending that it is not the source of the evidence, nor the sufficiency of the evidence, that should justify you. If it be demonstrated and clear that a man does not hold what you consider to be the proper belief, are you going to take your stand upon such a quicksand as this—"Although I have absolutely certain knowledge—and no doubt can exist in the mind of any rational man—I will not act upon it at all, because the source from which I derive it is only a public and solemn declaration, made deliberately in an authentic and, perhaps, systematic work, which cannot leave any doubt upon the mind of anyone?" It appears to me that the Gentlemen who recommend such a course as this are bound to tell us how far they mean to travel along this slippery road. It is quite evident, I think, from what appears to be admitted sporadically, at least on the opposite side, that this is not the last occasion on which the declaration of last year will be held to be valid. Then you thereby establish a principle of the greatest breadth; and it is this—that the House of Commons may not only refuse the Oath on account of something that has happened in the course of the transaction which shows the Oath to be unreal, but it may like-wise call for evidence aliunde, and if it has sufficient evidence it may refuse to allow the Oath to be taken. I should like to know what is the principle on which we are to stand? No declaration has been made of that principle. The Motion carefully avoids it; it refers us to a Resolution which does not govern the case; it refers us to a Resolution which speaks of a refusal founded on what happened in the course of the transaction; it invites us to apply it to a new transaction. My first contention is, that that Resolution was limited to the time it was passed, and it appears to me no one has argued the contrary, and that it is not without limit of time. Until we hear from Mr. Bradlaugh a recantation—which you profess not to desire, and are incompetent to ask or receive—you will inflict on him a permanent disability; and though you desire to limit the ground of it to a communication made to this House, you must necessarily go a good deal further; you cannot conscientiously stop short of this—that whenever you have evidence to convince you that a man's belief is not 1222 sound on fundamental portions of this Oath, you will not permit it to be taken. Is that a proposition that can be distinguished from a religious inquisition? I am as far as possible from imputing to any man the desire to institute it; but I have a perfect right to impute it to his argument. There is nothing more common in this House than for Gentlemen to use arguments, the real bearing and consequences of which they have not seen. Only two Gentlemen have addressed us who spoke with legal authority, and one disclaimed entirely any desire to deal with the question as a question of law. We contend, on the contrary—it is our strict, absolute, bounden, indispensable duty to deal with it as a question of law and as nothing else; and if we are influenced by any motive, any regard for what we call our dignity and consistency, any misplaced or misjudged regard for what we conceive to be for the benefit of our religion itself, that is an offence and an error. To maintain the law is our first and our only duty. [Cries of "Oh!"] There is surely nothing so monstrous in that statement that the observance of the law is our first and our only duty, that it should lead at once to a manifestation of impatience. I close, Sir, with the words used by the hon. Member himself—"If you are unable to fix on me a legal disqualification you must show, and as yet you have made no attempt to show, that you have a right to inflict upon me a disqualification which is less than legal."
§ SIR HARDINGE GIFFARD
The right hon. Gentleman has commented upon the absence of certain authorities whom he says ought to have been here; but he does not appear to have referred to the absence of the expression of an opinion on the part of the Legal Advisers of Her Majesty's Government. I trust, before the debate is concluded, that that omission may be supplied. I can understand the difficulty that really prevails with my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, because I observe that his name is among those who voted with the majority against the proposition of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Preston (Sir John Holker), and that he affirmed, upon his view of the law, that it was not only the right, but, under the circumstances, the duty of the House to prevent Mr. Bradlaugh from going 1223 through the form of taking the Oath. [The ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir Henry James) dissented.] If my hon. and learned Friend questions that statement I will give the language. [The ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir Henry James): I voted against it.] Then I will take it that my hon. and learned Friend voted against it himself. But what was the language of the Resolution—Your Committee are of opinion that, under the circumstances, compliance by Mr. Bradlaugh with the form used when the Oath is taken would not be the taking of an Oath within the true meaning of the Statute; and, therefore, the House can, and, in the opinion of your Committee ought, to prevent Mr. Bradlaugh from going through that form.Now, Sir, it appears to me that that expresses most guardedly and correctly the true condition of the question. What is the taking of an Oath? The Legislature has imposed that necessity upon every Member who comes to sit and vote in this House, and the question is by what Act is that legislative requisition complied with. It would appear the Prime Minister is of opinion that the mere repeating of the words and kissing the Book is a compliance with that form. That appears to me to be the whole question. And now let me invite the attention of the House to another consideration. There is no statute in point of law which involves the existence of a religious belief. It is part of the Common Law, and no person could be examined in a Court of Law who did not possess some religious belief—that is to say, that he must recognize the existence of a Supreme Power and of a responsibility here and hereafter. There is no statute that provides that. It is the condition of the Common Law and the Parliamentary Oaths Act, when it enacted that as a condition of a Member exercising his functions as a Member of Parliament, and it must be taken to have viewed the language in which the Oath was to be taken in the same sense as a Court of Justice requires the Oath to be taken. It is not an Oath unless there is the existence of that belief. Then, if the House is bound by the Statute and, as the Primo Minister says, the great thing is that we are to observe the law, the question is—Are we observing the law; are we complying with the requisitions of the Statute if we permit a Gentleman, who has proclaimed that the essential condition of an oath is absent from his 1224 mind at the time he takes the Book into his hands to go through the formula prescribed by the Act of Parliament—but, let it be remembered, prescribed as an Oath? And therein I can reconcile somewhat the difference which exists between the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst). Mr. Bradlaugh says—"A promise is binding on my conscience." He says—"I profess that when I say solemnly 'I mean to keep a particular engagement' that it is binding on my conscience." But Mr. Bradlaugh has never said, and he has not now in his later statement at all qualified what he said before—he has never said it is binding on his conscience as an oath. On the contrary, he proclaims that it is not binding upon his conscience as an oath, but that as a gentleman, and as one professing to speak the truth, it binds him, because any promise is binding upon him. Now, that is the exact state of the facts. Then can it be pretended that if a Member comes up to that Table and says at the time—I will deal with the question of the continuity of the transaction for the moment—suppose that when he takes the Book to be sworn he said, in the face of the House—"Now, I am going to repeat these words, and I intend to kiss this Book, but I beg you all to notice that I do not believe in the existence of a Supreme Being; that I do not believe in the existence of any responsibility hereafter, and to me it is not an oath." Would anybody say that that is taking an Oath within the meaning of the Statute? There is the finding of the Committee as to the jurisdiction of the House. The question of propriety and expediency is another matter depending upon the continuity of the transaction. Now, is this the same transaction? I am delighted to find that special pleading is not confined to my own Profession. What is the history of this transaction? It is really necessary to refer to it, although it must be familiar to the House. How is it that Mr. Bradlaugh comes again to tender himself at the Table to take the Oath? The history of the transaction has been related by the Prime Minister himself, when he contended that the point of departure was the 9th of April. That history is this—Mr. Bradlaugh declined to take the 1225 Oath; and the Prime Minister, rescinding the Resolution of the House, as far as it related to the Affirmation, enabled Mr. Bradlaugh to make an Affirmation. It has been held by a Court of Law that that is not a compliance with the Statute, and that Mr. Bradlaugh has not taken the Oath. And now, because a new election has been rendered necessary by that transaction, the Prime Minister says—"We are to shut our eyes altogether to that transaction as to the point of time." Is it because it was last year? The same argument would apply if it was only last week. A new election has been rendered necessary by Mr. Bradlaugh's refusal to take the Oath. Can it be alleged, then, that this is not the same transaction? The Courts of Law, I think, would recognize that, at least, this was the same person whose religious belief was a fallacy—I do not want to use that phrase; but I observed that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer continually used it, apparently to attribute to Members on this side of the House indiscriminately that they were desirous of perpetrating a religious persecution. We have rested the case on a totally different ground, and have not drawn a comparison between this case and those in regard to which the law has made no provision as to taking an oath or making an affirmation. And now let me call the attention of the House to the true position of things. By the judgments of the Courts of Law Affirmations, such as are referred to in the Statute, are confined to particular classes of persons, holding certain religious opinions. An oath has been stated, I think with the general assent of the House, to be an appeal to the Supreme Being. Now, then, there comes a person—returned by a constituency, it is true; but if returned by a constituency when unfit to perform the duties of their Representative—is the constituency to overawe and command Parliament? Suppose the constituency had returned a woman as their Representative. There are certain people who entertain strong views on that subject; and if that course had been taken, are we to be told that female suffrage was to be immediately established, because a constituency had thought proper to act in violation of the law? The constituency of Northampton sinned against 1226 light and knowledge. They knew that, in the opinion of the House of Commons, a Member holding Mr. Bradlaugh's opinions—and it is idle to pretend that we do not know what Mr. Bradlaugh's opinions are—is not entitled to sit and vote, and that the very election at which he was returned was rendered necessary by that condition of things. The Prime Minister says that the House of Commons itself is on its trial. I think it is. It is on its trial before the country, whether it will allow, at the dictation of a particular constituency, and in favour of a particular Minister, a profanation of the religious feeling of both sides of the House. I protest against its being supposed that this side of the House alone feels the importance of the question. I believe that, at any rate, it was felt quite as strongly last Session by the other side of the House; and it was because it was felt so strongly last Session on that side of the House that the Resolution of the Prime Minister was carefully guarded, and only applied to the Affirmation, and that the right hon. Gentleman did not attempt to rescind that part of the Resolution which prevented Mr. Bradlaugh from taking the Oath. It was no secret that a great many of the right hon. Gentleman's supporters entertained strong views on that subject, and that they were not disposed to rescind what they considered and believed to be in accordance with the whole opinion of the country—namely, the profanation of a solemn appeal to a Supreme Being by a person who had been lecturing all over the country, and endeavouring to persuade the people that religion was something in the nature of a farce, and that a Supreme Being does not exist. Under these circumstances, we are now invited by the Prime Minister to treat the question, he says, as a simple question of law; and as a question of law it is to be treated in this wise. I do not understand the Prime Minister to deny that an oath does import a religious consciousness. I rather gather, although it is not easy to follow him—I rather gather from his observations that, as far as the internal conscience of the person taking an oath is concerned, he thinks that the making of an oath involves a religious belief. But he says—"You cannot find it out; and you have no right to inquire." What is the condition in a Court of Law? How is it when objection 1227 is taken in a Court of Law? No doubt, in 99 cases out of 100, or in 999 cases out of 1,000, no one thinks of making an objection. A man takes the Book into his hand and is sworn, and no objection is made. But if the person about to take the Oath proclaims leis infidelity, and says he has no belief in a future state, and that the taking of the Oath is to him an unmeaning form, of course he is at once rejected. The practical difficulty will never arise unless a person claims to make an Affirmation on the ground that, as an infidel, he is a person entitled to affirm in a Court of Justice, and therefore entitled to affirm here. Therefore, the difficulty which the Prime Minister suggests will never, I venture to think, arise practically. No one will care to inquire into the abstract opinions of a person; and if such a person thinks proper to make the House a party to the proceedings in order to be able to say to the constituency hereafter—"See what I have done to the House of Commons. I told them I was an infidel, and I have taken the Oath in spite of them," and after an appeal to a Supreme Being, declares that no such Supreme Being exists—if that arises again I hope the House will interfere again. I do not think it is likely; but if it should, I am not struck with horror at the idea of rejecting a person who proclaims his infidelity in that fashion. But the Prime Minister says—"How far are you to go back? When are you to inquire into a persons views?" I should have thought that some of the advisers beside him would have told him the simple principle of law that things existing are presumed to continue until the contrary is shown. He might have learned that from the Law Officers, and, if so, we are not put upon any new inquiry with respect to Mr. Bradlaugh. He has given, with no uncertain sound, his views, and they continue until the contrary is shown. Therefore, the Prime Minister suggests what should be done under the circumstances. Do I understand that he is anxious that a person who makes those professions should be entitled to take an Oath, or is it that there is no right of interference in the House? Does he suggest that, although it is not an Oath, and although there may be a most outrageous profanation in language of what an Oath is, this House has no right to interfere?
1228 Then, if so, what is the meaning of the Statute? The Statute says a person who has taken his seat is to come with the full House, with the Speaker in the Chair, and take the Oath prescribed by Statute. Do I understand that the Prime Minister contends that there is no authority in the House to interfere, however outrageous the conduct of the person proposing to go through the form? Suppose there is an insulting and outrageous profanation, is the House not to interfere? I should like to know what is more insultingly profane than a man saying he will take an Oath, but he does not believe it. Well, now the sitting Member for Northampton was at great pains to point out that the Resolution of last Session was not binding upon us in the sense of its being an existing Order of the House. Nobody suggested that it was. If it had been, then the task of my right hon. Friend beside me would have been simply to call Mr. Speaker's attention to the Standing Order, and no Motion would have been necessary. But, although it is not binding in the sense of being an existing Order, is it not binding in this sense—that there was a deliberate discussion and considerable debate on the matter, and oven afterwards, when, under the circumstances I have pointed out, the Prime Minister rescinded part of the Resolution, he allowed one part of it to remained unrescinded? Now, no new reasons are advanced except that as it is found that Mr. Bradlaugh cannot enter by Affirmation he is to be permitted to enter by Oath. If one looks at this as a dry question of law, it comes simply to this—two elements are necessary in the taking of an oath, one the belief in the taker, the other in the words taken. The broad proposition is that the House will allow one element to suffice for both, and that if a man repeats the Oath, that is enough, and the House will not interfere. I think that would be an extremely mischievous and undesirable precedent, and one likely to lead to much more misconstruction and misapprehension of what is the real meaning of the House upon this matter, in those very uncertain and unlikely circumstances to which the Prime Minister has pointed—the cross-examination of any Member on his religious beliefs. We may be certain 1229 that unless a man protrudes his religion before the House, no person will be particularly anxious to inquire what his religious beliefs are.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
I am sorry to interpose; but I think it would be regarded as somewhat strange if, after the observations of the hon. and learned Member opposite (Sir Hardinge Giffard), I did not for a short time occupy the attention of the House. I never intended to be entirely absent from this debate; but I did not desire to rush too hastily into it. I was not encouraged by the attention paid by the other side of the House to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. H. Davey); but now that the House has listened to the legal argument of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Launceston (Sir Hardinge Giffard), I am sure it will not deny me consideration for a few minutes. There is another reason why I have not taken part in the debate till now. I admit that I was rather anxious to hear what the hon. and learned Member for Launceston would say, and how far he would share the views of his Colleague, the hon. and learned Member for Preston (Sir John Holker), who had expressed his views when we were discussing this question in a calmer atmosphere than we have to-night. When I thought the hon. Member for Northampton had not obeyed the Statute, and complied with the necessity for taking the Oath, I said so. I did not shrink from separating myself from some with whom I generally act, in supporting the Resolution that the hon. Member had not complied with the Statute, and in making record of that, not only in words spoken, but in the Resolution which resulted in the Report presented to this House. And when I felt that he had not complied with the necessary obligations, reasons were given why I thought he had not so done; and I did not shrink from the responsibility of that Report, which so far agrees with the views of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Launceston. Equally now, when I think the hon. Member has complied with the statutory obligation imposed upon him, I am as prepared not to shrink from saying what my opinion is. May I remind the House what is the view contained in the 1230 Report presented to this House when, by Resolution, the Committee reported that the hon. Member for Northampton had not complied with the statutory obligation. I hope the House will recollect that we accepted certain views of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Spencer Walpole) which he presented to the Committee. We agreed that the House could receive no evidence of any person's opinions; that it had no power to apply any interrogations to any Member who comes to be sworn. You can ask him nothing, you can take no evidence of anything outside this House, nor even of anything that has occurred inside this House. That was not the view of hon. Members on the Liberal side of the House only, but of the Conservative Members of that Committee. We agreed in these views, and they are expressed in the Report; but when we had to report whether the hon. Member for Northampton had complied with the statutory obligation of taking the Oath, and also had to consider whether this House could take notice of the fact that he had not taken the Oath, we proceeded by steps. We first said the House could take notice whether the Oath had been taken or not. The House took notice of that when Alderman Salomons refused to use the words "true faith of a Christian," and, as a determination of a question of fact, held that the Oath had not been taken. The House certainly had this power to notice whether the Oath was taken or not as a matter of fact; and if the Member refused to kiss the Book, or to utter only a portion of the Oath, we agreed the House had power to interpose. We did, therefore, so far admit, not that the man's mind could be probed, not that you could receive evidence or extraneous knowledge or information as to his religion; but that you could enter upon the question of fact as to the Oath being taken or not. Upon the next question I certainly spoke with great doubt; and I ask the Mover of the Resolution to consider that it is possible the hon. and learned Member for Preston was right, and that I was wrong on this point; but the opinion I expressed was that when the hon. Member for Northampton claimed to make Affirmation, and, when he was asked, gave the grounds why he so claimed, his answer conveyed the in- 1231 formation that the Oath at that time was not an oath binding to him. I also went further, and stated that we regarded that statement as contemporaneous with the transaction when he claimed to take the Oath. That was the view expressed in the Committee, and we carefully guarded ourselves to this extent—we said it was because the declaration was a contemporaneous declaration that we believed and thought the hon. Member had not, as a matter of fact, taken the Oath at all; but we protested against the House asking him questions or looking at any other action than that which occurred contemporaneously with taking the Oath, and that it must be a part of the same transaction or you could not take cognizance of it. It may be that the hon. and learned Member for Preston was right. He moved an Amendment, stating that you could not listen to a contemporaneous observation; but I adhere to the opinion I then expressed. Every safeguard we put to that Resolution is of utility now. We then said you could take no evidence; you could not probe a man's belief, and everything we then said you could not do hon. Members are now asking the House to do. The hon. and learned Member for Plymouth (Mr. E. Clarke) said this was a piece of fantastic special pleading. I have known a great deal of accuracy and logic conveyed in the words "special pleading;" but the hon. and learned Member says you must not consider this as a legal question. He says it is a piece of fantastic special pleading to call what we had before us last May extraneous to what we have before us in April this year. He seems to mean by extraneous something outside this House. I suppose what the hon. and learned Member (Mr. H. Davey) means by the words of his Amendment is that it shall not be something extraneous to the transaction. May I ask what is the connection between what has occurred here in this House to-night and what occurred in May last year? I get my answer from the hon. and learned Member for Launceston. He says that, in consequence of what took place last year, an election at Northampton was necessary, and Mr. Bradlaugh returns here again. But it was no necessity for the electors to return him again. He has come back by virtue of their choice, not, as my hon. and 1232 learned Friend supposes, with the knowledge that they were electing a disqualified person; for the person they have chosen to elect labours under no disqualification. If that is part of the same transaction, I will ask the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth to consider where he will say it has ceased to be part of the same transaction. Suppose it occurred in the next Parliament, and at a General Election instead of a bye-election, under the same circumstances, you would say exactly the same thing. What is it we have to say here? Hon. Members have used the words—"We have the evidence of what took place here last year." That is exactly what the Committee reported you could not look at. It is not less evidence that it has occurred in this House if it be not part of the same transaction. What is it we are listening to when we ask what occurred here? Although I admit that, as a matter of degree, we have comparatively certain evidence—probably sure evidence, because Parliament says so—it is still evidence which we have to accept as proof. What did the right hon. Member (Sir Stafford Northcote) write to Mr. Bradlaugh for? Was it not to obtain proof of what Mr. Bradlaugh says? I admit the courtesy of that letter; but did not the right hon. Gentleman wish to give Mr. Bradlaugh an opportunity of recantation? What was it the right hon. Gentleman was wishing to obtain? To obtain the opposite to that presumption which my hon. and learned Friend named, that a thing, once existing, must always be supposed to exist until the contrary is shown. From first to last the argument on the opposite side of the House is that we have certain evidence of Mr. Bradlaugh's opinions, and that, therefore, we ought to act upon that evidence. May I remind the hon. and learned Member for Launceston of what fell from himself? Does he think he was justified in the principle he has placed before the House when he said—"We know Mr. Bradlaugh's opinions full well; we know he has been lecturing throughout the country on infidelity?" Was that evidence? That was not before the Committee last year. What is it that the House is listening to? It is listening to hearsay evidence; and we are asked now, in the face of this Re- 1233 port, to accept from the hon. and learned Member for Launceston the statement that Mr. Bradlaugh has been lecturing throughout this country in support of infidelity, and to hold that, therefore, it would be an act of profanity to allow him to take the Oath. We cannot discuss this matter of profanation in the manner he pointed out. It is equally profane if any Member, not believing in a Supreme Being, asks to come here and take the Oath. Are you to allow every person to come to this House, except the Member for Northampton, and make no exception? And yet if the principle he advances is to prevail, the hon. and learned Member, if he has heard any gossip in private life, if he has heard in any way of a man's disbelief, ought to endeavour to cause the House to say the taking of the Oath by such a person would be an act of profanity, and, therefore, to refuse to allow him to take it. But in this House there would be no declaration of a lecture; there would be no declaration of private conversation; and, therefore, you would have to probe the views of every Member of this House. In the face of this House you can administer no interrogatory. If you could you would have to say—"Did you lecture on infidelity? Did you write such an article?" Is the House about to agree to the view of my hon. and learned Friend? When last year we said the Member for Northampton had not taken the Oath, we said that because, as a matter of fact, he had not done so; and my view was that if at that time the House had allowed him to take the Oath a Court of Law would have had to determine whether the Oath had been duly taken or not. The penalty that is imposed on a person who sits without taking the Oath is one which the law imposes and enforces; and if the Oath has not been taken the consequence is the vacating of the seat and a pecuniary penalty. It was not till I came to the conclusion that the course the hon. Member took last year was such that the Courts would have held him to be sitting without having taken the Oath that I agreed to the Resolution of the Committee. Now, he comes here tonight and asks to have the Oath administered. The hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) says, of course, the Courts must say that he has 1234 taken the Oath. If he had done only what he did last year the Courts would, as I thought, have decided that he was liable to penalties; but the hon. and learned Member for Chatham says, of course, now he has taken the Oath in the view of the Courts; and yet we are asked to say that this Oath has not been taken. I would ask the House to recollect what its power is, and not to go beyond it. You may be dealing with an unpopular man; you may have a majority objecting to that man taking the Oath; but if this precedent be once established you will never be able to rescind it. If this House is to say whether there has been profanation, you will have discussion; you will have the consideration of what a man's opinions are; and you will even have to discuss the point of my hon. and learned Friend, that when a man comes to this House with no belief in a Supreme Being he he ought not to take the Oath. Whether the Oath has been taken is a bare question of law; but we shall set a precedent of inquiring into considerations which ought to be foreign to political controversy and to discussions in this House; and I ask the House, not only because Mr. Bradlaugh is legally entitled to take the Oath, and to perform the statutory obligation placed upon him, but also because it would be impolitic in the last degree to enter into the inquiry as to a man's faith, to accept the Amendment of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Christchurch.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
I am most reluctant to detain the House; but there are two points, and one is of a personal nature, upon which I think it necessary to say a few words. Reference has been made to a letter which I wrote yesterday to the hon. Member for Northampton; and a construction has been put upon that letter which most assuredly is entirely incorrect. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General asks why I wrote it; and he says I did it to put a question to Mr. Bradlaugh. I did no such thing. I had no contemplation of the letter being published; but I wrote it for this purpose only—I thought it was a matter of courtesy to a Gentleman whose right to take the Oath I was about to challenge, to give him notice of my intention, in order that he might not be taken by surprise when I took so strong a step. At the same time, in, 1235 stating what I was about to do, I thought it necessary to put in a qualification that if anything occurred to alter the view I took that would be taken into consideration. I thought it possible he might make some statement that would alter my view. That is the simple explanation; and I can assure the House that I had no intention, directly or indirectly, to do that which is justly condemned by the hon. and learned Gentleman and others—that is, questioning the religious opinions of any man. I entirely repudiate any action of that sort. I also wish to take notice of an expression in the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Christchurch (Mr. H. Davey). The Amendment said that the House ought not, on the ground of information from extraneous transactions, to offer any opposition to the admission of Mr. Bradlaugh. His (Sir Stafford Northcote's) whole contention was that this was not a case in which they were proceeding on information extraneous to the transaction, and it was upon that ground he bad been proceeding. They might take the thing in more than one way. They might say that each successive step was a separate transaction; they might say that when Mr. Bradlaugh came up on the 3rd, of May and asked to affirm, that was one transaction; and when he came up on the 21st of May and offered to take the Oath, that was another transaction. They might like to say that anything that took place on the 30th was extraneous to anything that took place on the 21st of May; but the Attorney General could not contend that, because he himself moved in the Committee which sat on the question of the Oath the words which were put in the Resolution—namely, "that this House can, if it thinks right, exercise its power to prevent Mr. Bradlaugh taking the Oath." Why did the hon. and learned Gentleman do that? Because it was part of the transaction which began on the 3rd of May. That transaction was not complete, and was not complete up to this moment, and that was evident if they took into consideration the course of events. The House refused to allow Mr. Brad-laugh to take the Oath. A difficulty thereupon arose, and it was solved for a moment by a Resolution. of the House that Mr. Bradlaugh be allowed to affirm, subject to the decision of the Courts of Law. That decision was given, and it 1236 was in consequence of that decision that the seat became vacant. It was not as if there had been a Dissolution—had it been so, they would have had to begin again with an entirely new question. It was not as if the hon. Member had accepted the Chiltern Hundreds, and vacated his seat and been re-elected; but it was a part of that transaction which began on the 3rd of May and had been continued ever since. All he asked the House to do was to maintain to the end that which they decided upon last year. They decided, after various proceedings, to part of which the hon. Gentleman was a party, that Mr. Bradlaugh ought not to take the Oath. That was only binding for the Session; and, therefore, he did not appeal to the Speaker to put it in force himself. He contended, however, that the Resolution having been come to, and never having been rescinded, and the House not having been put in possession of any new information, they were entitled, and being entitled they were bound, to call upon the House to adhere to its former determination.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
wished to draw the attention of the House to a change in the position of affairs, which might cause very great inconvenience. For the first time, he had heard it stated that this House was not to consider itself a Court. He would like to know how the House could take evidence if it were not a Court; he would like to know the meaning of the laws as regarded the administering of the Oath to Members; and he would like to know what was the meaning of the law which required that the House should be full, and that the Speaker should be in the Chair if they were all to be lay figures. The very Resolution of the House under which the case of Mr. Bradlaugh had been tried referred the matter to the Courts of Law, and what had been the result of that reference? It had been to prove that Her Majesty's Advisers were totally wrong in law, and that the Affirmation was only another form of oath. That was the decision of the Court of Appeal, and the House was now asked to accept the opinion of the present Law Officers. Mr. Bradlaugh's affirming had been proved by the Courts of Law to be totally wrong in law; it would therefore be utterly unbecoming that the House should meet, and that the Speaker 1237 should occupy the Chair and witness another disgraceful exhibition, and yet be unable to intervene. They were asked not to ignore the Resolution merely of last Session, but they were asked to ignore the evidence before their own Committee. They were asked to believe that the declaration of Mr. Bradlaugh before their own Committee that the Oath was no oath to him if he took it, that it was a category of meaningless words—they were asked to ignore that evidence, and why? Because Mr. Bradlaugh had made an explanation, because the constituency of Northampton had re-elected him, and Mr. Bradlaugh had not changed his opinions; and there was not a tittle of evidence to prove that Mr. Bradlaugh was returned this year on different terms to those on which he was returned last year. They were asked to believe that the circumstances were different. Were they to close their ears to the transactions of Northampton before which constituency the Prime Minister told them they were on their trial. They were on their trial before that constituency, and that constituency persevered in attempting to force the opinion of the House. How totally different was the conduct of Mr. Bradlaugh from the conduct of Baron Rothschild and Alderman Salomons. They were returned time after time; they made no attempt upon the House, they made no attempt to force themselves upon the House; their constituents were content to wait until Parliament saw fit to change the law. What was the constituency of Northampton that this House should bow before it? Was it a greater constituency than the City of London? Was it a greater constituency than Greenwich? The City of London was content to remain disenfranchised for 10 years, and Greenwich was content to remain disenfranchised for seven years until the law was changed. Her Majesty's Government were now about to knowingly sanction the profanation of the Oath—the Oath which Mr. Bradlaugh had told them would be painful to him. That declaration he had never retracted, and yet for a mere matter of political convenience Her Majesty's Government were about to sanction an evasion of the law in a matter which they knew perfectly well deeply touched the religious convictions of the people of the 1238 country. He warned the House that Her Majesty's Government were on their trial before the nation, and he would be greatly surprised if they did not meet with their just reward.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 208; Noes 175: Majority 33.1240
|Alexande r, Colonel C.||E nis, Sir J.|
|Amherst, W. A. T.||Errington, G.|
|Ashmead-Bartlett, E.||Estcourt, G. S.|
|Aylmer, Capt. J. E. F.||Fairbairn, Sir A.|
|Balfour, A. J.||Feilden, Major-General R. J.|
|Barne, Col. F. St. J. N.|
|Barttelot, Sir W. B.||Fellowes, W. H.|
|Bateson, Sir T.||Fenwick-Bisset, M.|
|Beach, rt. hn. Sir M. H.||Filmer, Sir E.|
|Beach, W. W. B.||Finch, G. H.|
|Bellingham, A. H.||Fitzpatrick, hn.B.E.B.|
|Bentinck, rt. hn. G. C.||Fitzwilliam, hon. C. W. W.|
|Bentinck, G. W. P.|
|Birkbeck, E.||Fletcher, Sir H.|
|Birley, H.||Floyer, J.|
|Blackburne, Col. J. I.||Folkestone, Viscount|
|Blake, J. A.||Forester, C. T. W.|
|Boord, T. W.||Fowler, R. N.|
|Bourke, right hon. R.||Fremantle, hon. T. F.|
|Brise, Colonel R.||Galway, Viscount|
|Broadley, W. H. H.||Gardner, R. Richardson|
|Brodrick, hon. W. St.J. F.||Garnier, J. C.|
|Bruce, Sir H. H.||Gibson, rt. hon. E.|
|Brymer, W. E.||Giffard, Sir H. S.|
|Burghley, Lord||Goldney, Sir G.|
|Burnaby, General E. S.||Gorst, J. E.|
|Burrell, Sir W. W.||Grantham, W.|
|Buxton, Sir R. J.||Greene, E.|
|Campbell, J. A.||Greer, T.|
|Carden, Sir R. W.||Gregory, G. B.|
|Chambers, Sir T.||Halsey, T. F.|
|Chaplin, H.||Hamilton, Lord C. J.|
|Christie, W. L.||Hamilton, I. T.|
|Clarke, E.||Hamilton, right hon. Lord G.|
|Clive, Col. hon. G. W.|
|Close, M. C.||Harcourt, E. W.|
|Cobbold, T. C.||Harvey, Sir R. B.|
|Coddington, W.||Hay, rt. hon. Admiral Sir J. C. D.|
|Compton, F.||Hicks, E.|
|Coope, O. E.||Hildyard, T. B. T.|
|Corbett, J.||Hill, Lord A. W.|
|Corry, J. P.||Hill, A. S.|
|Courtauld, G.||Holland, Sir H. T.|
|Cross, rt. hon. Sir R. A.||Home, Captain D. M.|
|Cubitt, rt. hon. G.||Hope, rt. hn. A. J. B. B.|
|Daly, J.||Hubbard, rt. hon. J.|
|Davenport, H. T.||Kennard, Col. E. H.|
|Davenport, W. B.||Kennaway, Sir J. H.|
|Dawnay, Col. hn. L. P.||Knight, F. W.|
|De Worms, Baron H.||Knightley, Sir R.|
|Digby, Col. hon. E.||Lacon, Sir E. H. K.|
|Dixon-Hartland, F. D.||Lawrance, J. C.|
|Donaldson-Hudson, C.||Lawrence, Sir T.|
|Douglas, A. Akers-||Lechmere, Sir E. A. H.|
|Dundas, hon. J. C.||Lee, Major V.|
|Dyke, rt. hn. Sir W. H.||Legh, W. J.|
|Eaton, H. W.||Leighton, S.|
|Elliot, G. W.||Lennox, Lord H. G.|
|Lever, J. O.||Puleston, J. H.|
|Lewis, C. E.||Rankin, J.|
|Lewisham, Viscount||Rendlesham, Lord|
|Lindsay, Col. R. L.||Repton, G. W.|
|Litton, E. F.||Ridley, Sir M. W|
|Loder, R.||Ritchie, C. T.|
|Long, W. H.||Rodwell, B. B. H.|
|Lopes, Sir M.||Rolls, J. A.|
|Lowther, hon. W.||Ross, A. H.|
|Lyons, R. D.||Ross, C. C.|
|Mac Iver, D.||Round, J.|
|Mackintosh, C. F.||St. Aubyn, W. M.|
|Macnaghten, E.||Sandon, Viscount|
|M'Coan, J. C.||Schreiber, C.|
|M'Garel-Hogg, Sir J.||Sclater-Booth,rt.hn.G.|
|Makins, Colonel W. T.||Scott, Lord H.|
|Manners, rt. hn. Lord J.||Scott, M. D.|
|Master, T. W. C.||Selwin - Ibbetson, Sir H. J.|
|Maxwell, Sir H. E.|
|Miles, Sir P. J. W.||Severne, J. E.|
|Monckton, F.||Smith, rt. hon. W. H.|
|Morgan, hon. F.||Stanhope, hon. E.|
|Morley, S.||Stewart, J.|
|Moss, R.||Storer, G.|
|Mowbray, rt.hn.SirJ.R.||Sykes, C.|
|Mulholland, J.||Taylor, rt. hn. Col. T. E.|
|Murray, C. J.||Thomson, H.|
|Newdegate, C. N.||Thornhill, T.|
|Newport, Viscount||Tollemache, H. J.|
|Nicholson, W. N.||Tollemache, hon. W. F.|
|North, Colonel J. S.||Tottenham, A. L.|
|Northcote, H. S.||Tyler, Sir H. W.|
|Northcote, rt. hn. Sir S. H.||Walrond, Col. W. H.|
|Norwood, C. M.||Warton, C. N.|
|O'Connor, A.||Watkin, Sir E. W.|
|O'Donnell, F. H.||Watney, J.|
|O'Donoghue, The||Whitley, E.|
|Onslow, D.||Whitworth, B.|
|O'Shea, W. H.||Williams, O. L. C.|
|Paget, R. H.||Wilmot, Sir J. E.|
|Palliser, Sir W.||Wortley, C. B. Stuart-|
|Pell, A.||Wroughton, P.|
|Pemberton, E. L.||Wynn, Sir W. W.|
|Percy, Earl||Yorke, J. R.|
|Phipps, C. N. P.|
|Plunket, rt. hon. D. R.||Crichton, Viscount|
|Powell, W.||Winn, R.|
|Price, Captain G. E.|
|Acland, Sir T. D.||Bryce, J.|
|Agnew, W.||Burt, T.|
|Anderson, G.||Buszard, M. C.|
|Armitstead, G.||Butt, C. P.|
|Arnold, A.||Caine, W. S.|
|Balfour, Sir G.||Campbell, Sir G.|
|Balfour, J. B.||Campbell-Bannerman, H.|
|Balfour, J. S.|
|Barclay, J. W.||Carbutt, E. H.|
|Baring, Viscount||Causton, R. K.|
|Barran, J.||Cavendish, Lord E.|
|Beaumont, W. B.||Cavendish, Lord F. C.|
|Biddulph, M.||Chamberlain, rt. hn. J.|
|Bolton, J. C.||Cheetham, J. F.|
|Brand, H. R.||Childers, rt. hn. H. C. E.|
|Briggs, W. E.||Chitty, J. W.|
|Bright, J. (Manchester)||Clifford, C. C.|
|Bright, rt. hon. J.||Cohen, A.|
|Broadhurst, H.||Collings, J.|
|Bruce, hon. R. P.||Commins, A.|
|Cotes, C. C.||Macliver, P. S.|
|Courtney, L. H.||M'Arthur, A.|
|Cowen, J.||M'Laren, C. B. B.|
|Craig, W. Y.||M'Laren, J.|
|Cross, J. K.||M'Minnies, J. G.|
|Cunliffe, Sir R. A.||Magniac, C.|
|Davies, R.||Mappin, F. T.|
|Dilke, A. W.||Marriott, W. T.|
|Dilke, Sir C. W.||Martin, R. B.|
|Dillwyn, L. L.||Mason, H.|
|Dodson, rt. hon. J. G.||Mellor, J. W.|
|Duff, rt. hon. M. E. G.||Milbank, F. A.|
|Edwards, H.||Monk, C. J.|
|Edwards, P.||Moreton, Lord|
|Farquharson, Dr. R.||Morgan, rt. hn. G. O.|
|Fawcett, rt. hon. H.||Morley, A.|
|Ferguson, R.||Mundella, rt. hon. A. J.|
|Firth, J. F. B.||Nolan, Major J. P.|
|Fitzmaurice, Lord E.||O'Gorman Mahon, Col.|
|Fitzwilliam, hn. H. W.||The|
|Flower, C.||O'Shaughnessy, R.|
|Foljambe, C. G. S.||Paget, T. T.|
|Foljambe, F. J. S.||Palmer, G.|
|Forster, Sir C.||Pease, A.|
|Forster, rt. hon. W. E.||Pease, J. W.|
|Fort, R.||Peddie, J. D.|
|Fowler, W.||Pender, J.|
|Fry, L.||Potter, T. B.|
|Fry, T.||Pulley, J.|
|Gladstone, rt. hn. W.E.||Ralli, P.|
|Gladstone, H. J.||Ramsden, Sir J.|
|Gladstone, W. H.||Rathbone, W.|
|Gourley, E. T.||Reid, R. T.|
|Gower, hon. E. F. L.||Richard, H.|
|Grant, A.||Richardson, T.|
|Grant, D.||Roberts, J.|
|Grenfell, W. H.||Rogers, J. E. T.|
|Grosvenor, Lord R.||Russell, G. W. E.|
|Hamilton, J. G. C.||Rylands, P.|
|Harcourt, rt. hon. Sir W. G. V. V.||Seely, C. (Lincoln)|
|Sheridan, H. B.|
|Hardcastle, J. A.||Shield, H.|
|Hartington, Marq. of||Simon, Serjeant J.|
|Hastings, G. W.||Smith, E.|
|Hayter, Sir A. D.||Spencer, hon. C. R.|
|Henderson, F.||Stanley, hon. E. L.|
|Heneage, E.||Stansfeld, rt. hon. J.|
|Herschell, Sir F.||Story-Maskelyne,M.H.|
|Hibbert, J. T.||Summers, W.|
|Hollond, J. R.||Taylor, P. A.|
|Holms, J.||Thompson, T. C.|
|Hopwood, C. H.||Tillett, J. H.|
|Howard, J.||Tracy, hon. F. S. A. Hanbury-|
|Hutchinson, J. D.|
|Illingworth, A.||Trevelyan, G. O.|
|Inderwick, F. A.||Villiers, rt. hon. C. P.|
|James, C.||Waterlow, Sir S.|
|James, Sir H.||Whalley, G. H.|
|James, W. H.||Whitbread, S.|
|Johnson, W. M.||Williams, B. T.|
|Kensington, Lord||Williams, S. C. E.|
|Kingscote,Col. R. N. F.||Williamson, S.|
|Laing, S.||Willis, W.|
|Lambton, hon. F. W.||Willyams, E. W. B.|
|Law, rt. hon. H.||Wilson, I.|
|Laycock, R.||Wodehouse, E. R.|
|Leake, R.||Woodall, W.|
|Leatham, W. H.|
|Lefevre, right hon. G. J. S.||TELLERS.|
|Lloyd, M.||Labouchere, H.|
|Mackie, R. B.|
Main Question put.
Resolved, That, having regard to the Resolution of this House of the 22nd June 1880, and to the Reports and Proceedings of the two Select Committees therein referred to, Mr. Bradlaugh be not permitted to go through the form of repeating the words of the Oath prescribed by the Statutes, 29 Vic. c. 19, and 31 and 32 Vic. c. 72.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Mr. Bradlaugh, you have now heard the Resolution to which the House has come, and I have now to direct you to withdraw.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH
The Resolution of the House is against the law, and I respectfully decline to fellow your direction, Sir. I refuse to withdraw. I am here commanded by my constituents.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Mr. Bradlaugh having declined to withdraw, I have now to ask the House for instructions as to the course I shall pursue. As the House knows, without the Orders of this House I have no authority to exercise force to compel Mr. Bradlaugh to withdraw.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE said
Sir, I rise to put a question to the Prime Minister, the Leader of the House. I wish to ask him whether, the House having adopted by a majority a certain Resolution, and you, Sir, having in conformity with that Resolution called upon the hon. Member for Northampton to withdraw, and the hon. Member having declined to withdraw, and you having appealed to the House for instructions and authority in the matter—I wish to ask the Leader of the House whether he intends to give any counsel to the House, or to propose to the House any course for the purpose of maintaining the authority of the House and the Chair?
My answer is this—that the appeal of the Speaker of the House to the House is an appeal to the majority of the House, and as I voted in the minority, I desire to leave it to the majority to carry out its will. [Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT: Hear, hear!]
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
There is a difficulty in seeing what 1242 so very much amuses the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department. The Prime Minister, the Leader of this House, having, as I consider in this matter, abdicated the proper functions of his position, and having called upon those who voted in the majority upon a particular question to act in a matter in which the honour, as I consider, of the whole House is at stake, I will not refuse to accept the responsibility; but I do it under protest, and I do it maintaining that it is inconsistent with the traditions of the House and with the duty of Leader of the House that he should refuse to deal with a Resolution adopted by the House. Sir, under the circumstances, and in conformity with your appeal to the House for authority, I will now move that you do order that Mr. Bradlaugh do now withdraw.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Bradlaugh do now withdraw."—(Sir Stafford Northcote.)
The right hon. Gentleman has been obliging enough to read me a lecture upon the duties of the Leader of this House, and I, with great respect to him, am not prepared to accept any lessons from him upon that subject. It appears to be his opinion that it is the duty of the Leader of the House, upon an occasion when he has had the misfortune to differ in opinion from the majority of the House, to immediately take into his hands the guidance of that majority, and to make a proposal in prosecution of the vote that majority has carried. I challenge the right hon. Gentleman to produce to me an authority, either in principle or in practice, in support of that proposition. In my experience it has not been so; I have not known the obligation enforced upon Leaders of this House, or acknowledged by them. It is their duty as Members of this House, quite irrespective of the question whether the House has concurred with them or otherwise, at all times to consider and advise with the House in matters contributing to the dignity and advantage of the House. I do not think it to the dignity or advantage of the House that the Leader of the House should, upon an occasion of this kind, or upon the carrying of a 1243 vote of this kind, immediately take out of the hands of the majority the direction of their course. Without in the slightest degree attempting to embarrass or impede the course taken in this matter, we shall leave the direction to those who are responsible for what has been done, and not take upon ourselves the responsibility which does not belong to us, by taking the matter out of their hands.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
I merely wish to point out what will be the consequence of this Resolution being passed. Mr. Bradlaugh, as I stated when I was addressing the House this evening, from his point of view, considers that he has got a perfect right to take the Oath; that he has derived that right from his election, and that the House has got no legal right to prevent him. As Mr. Bradlaugh stated, of course the House is stronger than any single individual; but I would point out to you, Sir, what will occur if this Resolution is passed. Mr. Bradlaugh, very naturally, will conceive it his duty to return, and return again, in order to fulfil what he believes to be, not only his right, but his duty. If this Resolution is passed the House will have to face this position—that it will be necessary to retain Mr. Bradlaugh in prison during the whole time this House sits, and this Parliament exists. I want the House to understand that I shall take the liberty of asking the House to divide on this Motion; and I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman, who in this case is leading the House, that he should carry out his own views to their proper end. He should carry them out logically, as Mr. Bradlaugh intends to carry out his, by moving, not that Mr. Bradlaugh be ordered to withdraw, but that he be committed to prison. We should then see how long the right hon. Gentleman would lead the House; we should then see how long the right hon. Gentleman would keep in prison a Gentleman who had been elected a Member of the House, and who had got as good a right to a seat in the House as the right hon. Gentleman himself. Sir, last year, the right hon. Gentleman moved that Mr. Bradlaugh be committed to prison, and hon. Gentlemen opposite jeered and smiled; but they did not jeer and smile 1244 when the right hon. Gentleman had to come down the next day, and very humbly move that Mr. Bradlaugh be released. I tell the right hon. Gentleman that when he tries to set himself against the whole constituencies of the country, though he may have a subservient majority behind him, he may find that he is not the first man who has set himself against the nation.
§ MR. JOHN BRIGHT
The hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House knows my views upon the general question that has occupied the attention of the House to-night; but after the decision of the House which has been arrived at—after full and sufficient debate—I would recommend that he should take my advice, and not ask the House to decide upon the question which has been submitted by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. The decision of the House is clear. I do not know what proceedings will be taken; but clearly, whatever they are, they will not be furthered in any way by having another division. I hope the hon. Member will not ask the House to take another division.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I have now to call upon you, Mr. Bradlaugh, to withdraw, in obedience to the Order of the House.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH
I am here in the performance of my legal right and my legal duty, and I respectfully refuse to obey the Order of this House as being against the law.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH
I trust that the House will not resort simply to force, because I am here in the performance of my legal right. I admit the right of the House to deal with me after I have taken my seat.
§ The Sergeant-at-Arms having placed his hand on Mr. Bradlaugh——
§ And he was then conducted by the Sergeant-at-Arms below the Bar.
§ Mr. BRADLAUGH,
however, again advancing within the Bar, said—I have come here to take and subscribe the Oath 1245 according to law. I refuse to submit to an illegal Order of the House.
§ The Sergeant-at-Arms conducted Mr. Bradlaugh below the Bar, when the hon. Gentleman again advanced within the Bar; but was prevented from reaching the Table by the Sergeant-at-Arms, assisted by the Messengers of the House.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH
I refuse to submit to the Order of the House, and physical force must be used to remove me. I am ready to submit to any legal Order of the House; but the House has no right to expel me by mere force. I am ready, I say, to submit to an Order of the House dealing with me otherwise. I ask the House not to put me to the indignity of a physical struggle with the Messengers of the House. The House has an authority to which I will submit. [Cries of "Order!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must again take the pleasure of the House, after the course which has been taken by Mr. Bradlaugh. Mr. Bradlaugh has been ordered by the House to withdraw, and he refuses to comply with that Order. He still claims his right to take the Oath as a Member of the House, and I must throw myself upon the House for instructions. [Cries of "Gladstone!" "Northcote!" and "Leader of the House!"]
§ After a pause——
MR. STAVELEY HILL
I rise to ask you, Sir, whether—the House having agreed upon a Motion that Mr. Bradlaugh be ordered to withdraw—the Order has not been given by the House already that Mr. Bradlaugh be removed?
§ MR. SPEAKER
The Order agreed to by the House, and given by the Chair, was that Mr. Bradlaugh should withdraw below the Bar. The Order goes no further than that.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
I gather, Mr. Speaker, from what you have said, and from what has taken place, that you are of opinion that the proper course now to be taken is that some hon. Member should submit to the House a Motion for committing Mr. Bradlaugh to the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms, in consequence of his disobedience to your Orders. I did, last year, upon a similar occasion, make such a Motion. I should nut, in the least, 1246 shrink from the responsibility of making such a Motion now, but for one consideration, and that is, that I consider it would be hard to move for the committal of Mr. Bradlaugh when his conduct appears to be encouraged and supported by Her Majesty's Government.
I shall be prepared to give my authority to any proposal, within the bounds of usage and precedence, which would lead to the maintenance of the authority of the House; and I do not think that a prolongation of the present scene is desirable. I think any decision agreed to on the part of the majority of this House should be carried into effect. I shall be prepared, therefore, to support any proposal made on the part of the majority of the House for securing the order and regularity of our proceedings. I must, however, say that I entirely repel and repudiate the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that the conduct of Mr. Bradlaugh has been sanctioned or encouraged by the Government. The Government have neither spoken a single word, nor done an act of any kind, to encourage the proceedings of Mr. Bradlaugh. They have, undoubtedly, expressed an opinion that it is unwise for the House to interfere with Mr. Bradlaugh in his claim to take the Oath. They have expressed that opinion in a regular manner, by speech and by vote; and, having done so, they acquiesced in the decision and Order of the House that Mr. Bradlaugh should withdraw. Indeed, a Member of Her Majesty's Government rose for the purpose of requesting that that Order should be assented to without a division. Under these circumstances, I certainly consider that the accusation of the right hon. Gentleman is groundless and wanton, and it is for the right hon. Gentleman to state the facts upon which a charge so grave has been founded.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
This is rather an irregular discussion; but after the appeal which has been made to me, I am bound to explain on what grounds I made the charge I did. I am of opinion that the words I used were perfectly justified; and I will tell the House under what circumstances, and with what meaning, I used those words. A question of the highest importance has been under discussion throughout the evening. A certain course was pro- 1247 posed by me, and it was opposed by an independent Member selected from the other side of the House. The Amendment proposed by that hon. and learned Gentleman was supported both by the speeches and votes of Her Majesty's Government. According to the terms of that Amendment, the course which I proposed the House should take was disagreed to, on the ground that it was not expedient. The terms of the Resolution were not challenged even by the words of the Amendment. The Motion which I had originally made was adopted, after a full discussion, by a majority of the House. It is new to me to be told that I have a majority at my back. The Resolution, however, was carried by a substantial majority in a House in which, I beg to say, we (the Opposition) do not usually command a majority. That having been the case, it became a Resolution of the House. The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) challenges, not the policy of the Resolution—which was challenged by the hon. and learned Member for Christchurch (Mr. H. Davey) and the Members of Her Majesty's Government—but he challenges the power of the House. [Mr. LABOUCHERE: The legal power of the House.] Well, the legal power of the House; and the legal power of the House, we contend, has been already admitted, even by the Committee on which the hon. and learned Attorney General sat last year, and in which he moved words to the effect that the House had the power to do what they had already done. The matter now stands thus—the House has chosen, against the advice of the Government, to adopt a certain Resolution; which, although deemed, perhaps, by the Government to be unwise and imprudent, they were unable to say, and they did not say, was beyond the legal power of the House. That having been admitted, it is challenged by the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) on the ground that the House has exceeded its legal powers; and, so far as we can see, the hon. Member stands alone against the whole body of the House in that contention. [Cries of "No!"] At any rate, it was not called in question by the Amendment. Then, this is the position of the House. Having, against the advice of the Government, no doubt, adopted the Resolution which we say it had the 1248 legal power to adopt, it empowers the Speaker, as the presiding authority, to give effect to that Resolution by an Order. An individual Member of the House challenges its power; but the Speaker gives the Order—not on the authority and responsibility of the Government, or of an individual Member, but of the House. The Order was thus given, and when it was given, I should imagine that there was nothing more entirely the duty of the Whole House than to see that the authority given to the Speaker was properly supported. I should have thought that, under the circumstances, it would not have been altogether unworthy of the Leader of the House to have given some counsel to the Member, whose cause he has, in a certain sense, been fighting, and to prevent him from placing himself in a position which appears to be a false position. The hon. Member (Mr. Bradlaugh) has done everything that, it seems to me, honour required on his side. He has had the decision of the House given against him, and I can conceive no more proper course for him to take than to say that he would look for some future alteration of the Law or Rules of the House, and to act as others have done in similar cases—namely, to remain Member for Northampton, although he finds himself excluded from taking his seat in the House. Or, if he thinks he has any legal right in the matter, let him take the steps he may think competent to try that legal right. It is not for me to give advice. These are only suggestions which might have occurred to me if I had been the Leader of the House; but if the Leader of the House does not find himself in a position to give advice of that sort, the House has a right to expect from him some movement in support of the authority of the Chair. Last year, as I am reminded, I took upon myself the responsibility of moving the committal of the hon. Member; but on the following day I moved his release. If it were necessary to take the same step now, I should do precisely the same thing to-morrow; but I do not consider myself bound to take upon myself and to exercise the right or duty which does not, I conceive, properly belong to an independent Member. While the Government maintain the attitude they do by silence, and by abstaining from that which would be their natural course 1249 of action, supporting the Chair, I do not think that I am called upon to relieve them from their duty.
I presume the House would wish me to speak again, although I have already spoken. The right hon. Gentleman has now stated the grounds upon which he founds his action; and he says the conduct of Mr. Bradlaugh was sanctioned and encouraged by the Government. It is for the House to decide whether that charge is justified. How stands the case upon which he has made that most scandalous charge? He says the Leader of the House had refused to support the Chair. The Leader of the House had spoken on the Motion, and having some respect for the Forms of the House, he did not think it his duty to rise again. In consequence, I begged my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to rise on my behalf and in my place, and request the hon. Member for Northampton not to oppose the Motion which had been made; and it is under these circumstances that I am charged by the right hon. Gentleman with having sanctioned Mr. Bradlaugh's action. I conceive that, under those circumstances, I am justified in saying that nothing could be more groundless than that charge. So far as I understand the matter, another charge now arises—namely, that the Motion for the withdrawal of Mr. Bradlaugh having been carried, and the Motion not having been obeyed, the right hon. Gentleman appears to entertain the opinion that it is my duty to suggest the mode by which he and those who have voted with him are to carry out their Motion. I will not take any step until it appears to me that I can do so with advantage to the House. Whether I am wrong or not, it is surely an excess beyond the bounds of reason and fairness, as they am commonly understood in this House, to say that because I do not think it my duty to find the means and expedient by which the majority may give effect to their Motion, I am giving sanction and encouragement to the conduct of Mr. Bradlaugh. I give no such encouragement or sanction to his conduct, and the charge is utterly groundless.
MR. J. COWEN
observed, that the House found itself somewhat in a dilemma. It had arrived at a Resolution which neither the Leader of the 1250 House nor of the Opposition seemed disposed to carry to a conclusion. Under the circumstances, he thought the House had better settle the matter. A night's consideration might soften asperities and clear the atmosphere. Mr. Bradlaugh had been ordered to withdraw, and he had obeyed the Order—at least, he had withdrawn behind the Bar. Tomorrow, possibly, some means might be found of getting out of the difficulty. Under any circumstances, he thought the prolongation of that scene did not tend to the dignity of the House, and, as the best solution of an unpleasant dilemma, he would move that the House should adjourn.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Joseph Cowen.)
§ MR. O'DONNELL
regarded the Motion as a most proper one, and said, that in the present state of the House, and seeing the strife and confusion which seemed to reign in the policy of the Government, he thought it would be well that not only the House, but in a special degree the Government, should have an opportunity of considering the situation. The House had been witnesses on several occasions of the expulsion of hon. Members. In those expulsions almost uniformly the Head of the Government had taken an active and energetic, if not a distinguished, part. It was true that on those occasions the Gentlemen whom he helped so energetically to expel were not habitual supporters of his policy. He (Mr. O'Donnell) hoped that among the questions which the right hon. Gentleman would take into consideration, and which he would be able to expound with more lucidity than he had displayed that evening, would be the question whether or not he declined to have anything to do with the repression of offences against the authority of the House when committed by supporters of the Government, and would only remember that he was Leader of the House when there was an opportunity of bringing the penalties of the House on the heads of some independent Member or a frequent opponent of his policy. He (Mr. O'Donnell) had heard the right hon. Gentleman speak with emphasis on the necessity of maintaining the authority of the House 1251 and of the Chair; and he did hope that when next the right hon. Gentleman rose, he would be able to explain the apparent discrepancy between his conduct that night and on former occasions.
§ MR. ONSLOW
reminded the Head of the Government that the question of the majority was over. The present question had been unanimously agreed upon—namely, that the hon. Member for Northampton should withdraw; and he appealed to the hon. Member opposite, what was the use of an adjournment when the House was agreed that the hon. Member should withdraw? If the House adjourned now they would be in exactly the same position when they met again, because the Prime Minister would refuse again to interfere. The hon. Member would have been told to withdraw, and no Resolution would be before the House. The question was not one of a majority—that question was over—and when an hon. Member had been ordered to withdraw and had refused to obey, it was the duty of the Head of the Government, in order to preserve law and order in the House, to show what course the House should take in order to restore the order and dignity of the House.
§ Question put, and agreed to.