§ MR. BRADLAUGH (advancing to the Table)
I am here, Sir, to take and subscribe the Oath required by Law on my return as duly elected Member for Northampton. [Cries of "Order!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must point out to the hon. Gentleman, with reference to this matter, that the House having already ordered Mr. Bradlaugh to withdraw, it is my duty to see that the Order of the House is carried out. I must therefore call upon the hon. Member to withdraw below the Bar. If the hon. Gentleman refuses to obey that Order, and does not withdraw below the Bar, he must be removed from the Table by the Sergeant-at-Arms.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH (amid cries of "Order!" and "Withdraw!")
Sir, I most respectfully submit that, though the House has the right to vacate my seat or to expel me, the House has no right to interfere with me in the performance of my duty as a duly elected Member, by resorting to physical force. Therefore, unless compelled by physical force, I cannot withdraw.
§ The Sergeant-at-Arms came to the Table.
§ MR. SPEAKER
You will remove Mr. Bradlaugh below the Bar. 1253 Whereupon, the Sergeant having placed his hand on Mr. Bradlaugh, he was conducted below the Bar.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
Sir, the scene which occurred last night was a very unusual one, and the House will not desire that it should be renewed; therefore, I would now venture to ask this question of the Prime Minister—whether he will give facilities to enable me to introduce a Bill upon this subject, and which was printed last year, but not introduced because of opposition to it? I would ask whether he will give me facilities for introducing such a Bill, of course on the understanding that progress would be made with it, and the decision of the House taken upon it, and during that time Mr. Bradlaugh would not interfere in any manner with the Resolution which was passed last night by the House? ["No, no!"] I venture to ask this question.
I sympathize, Sir, to the full with the hon. Member for Northampton in his desire to avoid a repetition of the scene of last night. To some extent it appears to me, Sir, that your decision from the Chair, carrying out as it does, and giving effect to, the Vote of last night, has defended the House from a repetition of that scene in its fulness. Whether that defence is sufficient is another matter, upon which I will not now enter. I also feel that the difficulty of those who object to the Resolution which they think debars a duly-elected Member of Parliament from the exercise of a legal right, would be very greatly mitigated were it practicable for any Member of this House to suggest or to give effect to any alternative method of proceeding—were it possible, for example, to devise a mode whereby the title of Mr. Bradlaugh might be brought under the judgment of a Court of Law; or were it possible, as my hon. Friend has just asked, to enter seriously upon the work of legislation. But, Sir, when the hon. Member asks me if I will give facilities for the introduction of a Bill for the purpose of dealing with this case, he places me under a very grave difficulty. It is quite true, Sir, that many Members from Ireland do not appear to have considered, from the course they took last night, that they were involving the House in embarrassments that might—[Cries of "Oh, oh!" and cheers.]—I am sorry to be under the 1254 necessity of recommencing my sentence. It is quite true that many Members representing Irish constituencies do not appear to be under the belief that the course they took last night may involve the House in embarrassments seriously obstructing the progress of Business in which they feel a deep interest. I think, however, they will agree with me that I cannot on that account be at all influenced in my view as to the urgency of the Irish Business now before the House. The question put to me by the senior Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere)—and put in so proper a manner and so good a spirit—virtually amounts to this. Am I prepared to do one of two things—am I prepared to ask the House to vote a state of "urgency" for Public Business; am I prepared to give facilities for the progress of a particular Bill? I will not now endeavour to explain the modes by which, as far as I can see, facilities might be given, or at what cost; but I am not at the present moment, in the absence of any assurance as to the disposition of the House, prepared to make a request to that effect to the House. The giving of the facilities asked for really means the postponement of the Irish Land Bill; and I am not, Sir, prepared to postpone that Bill, much as I feel the great embarrassment in which the House, as it appears to me, is now placed by the vote of last night, and gladly as I would do anything which lay within my reasonable discretion for the purpose of relieving, not myself, but the House, from its present position. Looking, however, to the gravity of the issues involved in the Irish Land Bill and the condition of Ireland, I am not prepared to give up either of the two days which are alone at the disposal of the Government for the conduct of their Business and for the progress of the Irish Land Bill. I am sorry to say, therefore, that so far as I am concerned, I do not see any way of giving facilities for the Bill of my hon. Friend, if it is to be an opposed Bill. The question is really one which should be put to others rather than to me. ["Hear, hear!" and "No, no!"] I mean whether the Bill is to be an opposed Bill. ["Oh, oh!" and laughter.] I know not what is gained by that mode of meeting an inquiry; and, if the House will permit me to say so, I think that since yesterday evening at 9 o'clock there has been a 1255 little too much manifestation of that kind. If the Bill be not an opposed Bill, then, undoubtedly, the question might assume a different aspect. As far as I am concerned, I am not aware at the present moment of the mode in which it is proposed to proceed with it. All I can say is that Her Majesty's Government would be greatly disposed to give the most favourable consideration and to waive every secondary difficulty or objection for the purpose of promoting a solution of this matter. Sir, as I have said, the question whether the Bill is to be opposed is one for others rather than for me. If the Bill is to be opposed and discussed with a continual importation of the invidious topics and of the heated tempers which are too apt to accompany the discussion of a question of this kind, then I regret to say that it is not within my power to give the facilities for which my hon. Friend asks.
§ MR. A. M. SULLIVAN
Sir, I am sure the House will indulge me for a few moments if I offer one word of expostulation with the Prime Minister. He has, I consider, made a most unkind attack on the Irish Members. I quite sympathize with the spirit of the remarks made to the House by its Leader; but I assure him that there is not a Member in the House who feels the necessity of avoiding irritation and levity in dealing with the grave issues before it more than I do; but I do complain very strongly that he has singled out one, and only one, section of this House, not only to cast upon it special blame, but shall I say—did he mean it?—to lay before us almost a menace with regard to a measure of the greatest importance to our country—the Irish Land Bill—which is now before Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman has complained, that for the sake of the grand material benefits which might accrue to our country from the measure if passed, that we did not play fast-and-loose with our consciences last night.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must point out to the hon. and learned Member that the House is now engaged in that portion of the Business of the House which relates to Questions put to Ministers of the Crown. A Question has been put by the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) to the First Minister of the Crown, and the right hon. Gentleman has answered that Question. The 1256 hon. Member is not now putting a Question to any Minister of the Crown, but he is entering into a matter of argument and debate; and he is, therefore, out of Order.
Perhaps, Sir, I may be allowed to say that nothing could be further from my intention. [A laugh.] I think that that is a most unusual way of receiving an explanation. Nothing, I say, was further from my intention than to make an attack on the Irish Members for the part they took in the proceedings of last night; and so far from desiring to convey to them a menace not to proceed with the Irish Land Bill, I desired, as far as my power of expression enabled me, to convey the contrary. What I said was in effect that I felt that the part taken by them could not in the slightest degree absolve me from my duty of leaving no stone unturned for the purpose of prosecuting that Bill.
§ MR. RYLANDS
I wish, Sir, to put a question to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon, who is, I believe, in possession of the Bill introduced last Session by the hon. Member for Northampton, and which is simply to give Members the option of taking the Oath or of making a Declaration. [Cries of "Order!"] I am anxious simply to explain the terms of a question which I am about to put to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. [Renewed cries of "Order!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member, as I understand, proposes to put to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon a question with reference to a Bill which is not before the House.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Then if the Bill, in regard to which he desires to put a question, is not regularly before the House, the course proposed to be taken by the hon. Member is still more irregular. It is not competent to put the question which the hon. Member proposes to ask.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
Sir, in order to put myself strictly within the Rules of the House, I will conclude with a Motion. The Bill which I have already put into the hands of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon was introduced by me last year. I sought 1257 to introduce it this year, but I have been prevented from doing so. It is, in the simplest mode possible, to give every Gentleman—["Order!"]—who is duly elected—
I rise to Order. I wish to know whether the hon. Member is in Order, on a Motion for adjournment, in discussing the terms of a Bill which is not yet in the possession of the House?
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member for Northampton has announced his intention of concluding with a Motion; and I am bound to say that he is entitled to proceed, until, in the course of his address to the House, he may make use of any observations which are out of Order. As far as the hon. Member has gone at present, I have not observed that he has committed any breach of Order.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
The Bill in question will give, in the simplest mode possible, an alternative choice to any duly elected Member of affirming or taking the Oath of Allegiance. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon said last night that the proper course for Mr. Bradlaugh to take after the Resolution that had been passed was to wait outside until the House had legislated on the matter. I wish, therefore, to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, in the face of that statement, he would undertake not to place any impediment in the way of the Bill being discussed—[Cries of "Order!"]—and decide upon one way or other, provided that Her Majesty's Government gave facilities for its progress? [Renewed cries of "Order!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is now, under cover of a Motion for adjournment, proposing to put a question to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote) in reference to a Bill which is not before the House, and which I have already stated to be irregular. It is not made regular by the Motion for adjournment.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
Then, Sir, I will only venture to express a hope that we shall hear from some Gentleman exercising authority over hon. Members at the other side of the House that, provided these facilities are given, an expectation may be entertained that the Bill will be discussed within a reasonable time, in order that a vote may be taken upon it. At the same time, I 1258 would call the attention of the House to the fact that a question of Privilege can be brought forward every night. ["Oh, oh!"] It is, therefore, obvious that the position of Mr. Bradlaugh is an exceedingly difficult one. As was stated last night, Mr. Bradlaugh, rightly or wrongly, is under the impression that he has a valid right to tender himself at the Table to take the Oath from the fact of his having been duly elected. In that view he has been duly supported not only by the Legal Advisers of the Government, but by the principal Legal Adviser of hon. Gentlemen opposite. It cannot, therefore, be said that Mr. Bradlaugh entertains a wild opinion on the subject. For my part, I wish to avoid the difficulties that have been raised; and I propose, most respectfully towards Mr. Bradlaugh, that, if it is understood that the Bill will be allowed to be brought forward and a vote taken upon it within a reasonable time, my hon. Colleague will not till that is done come forward again to the Table; and I am sure that no hon. Gentleman on this side of the House will exercise his right of bringing the matter forward as a matter of Privilege. I beg to move the adjournment of the House.
§ MR. RYLANDS
Sir, I beg to second that Motion. I think that, as a matter of convenience, it is right that the adjournment of the House should be moved, in order that we may ascertain what course the Front Bench on the other side propose to take with regard to the difficult question before us. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir Stafford Northcote) has begun now a policy of silence and of "masterly inactivity;" but he cannot get rid of the responsibility which rests upon him in consequence of having induced the House to pass the Resolution of last night, which placed us in a position of very great difficulty. The right hon. Gentleman must have known, when he moved his Resolution, what course he intended to take if it were carried. I take it for granted that he had reason to believe that it would be carried; and surely, with his experience, he ought not to propose a Resolution which must lead to serious consequences, and then quietly sit down in his place with a placid countenance, and take no further trouble in the matter. It is impossible for him to take the course he did take, without at 1259 the same time undertaking the responsibility of guiding the House with regard to the future course which the House may have to take. The right hon. Gentleman did take the first step last night, in moving that Mr. Bradlaugh should withdraw, and he must have known that there was one other Motion which must follow—namely, that Mr. Bradlaugh, having disobeyed the Orders of the House, should be committed to prison. But the right hon. Gentleman shrinks from taking the second step. I remember the painful position in which the Leader of the Opposition placed himself last Session. Having induced the House to fall into a pitfall in this same matter, he went a step further than the step he ventured to take in a trembling manner last night. He then proposed that Mr. Bradlaugh should be committed, and that was the logical conclusion of the matter. But what happened? He came down to the House next day in a sort of white sheet of repentance, asking the House to let Mr. Bradlaugh out again. I am surprised that the Leader of the Opposition, having had the humiliating experience of last Session, should have ventured on taking the step he did last night, unless he was prepared also to take the subsequent step. I hope that the Government will not be induced to take action in order to carry out the policy of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon. Believing, as the Government do, that Mr. Bradlaugh, having been duly elected, has a legal right to come to the Table of the House and to take the Oath, I trust that nothing will induce them to inflict pains and penalties upon him because he seeks to perform his duty in accordance with his legal right. Then, if the Government will not do it, what position are we in? Is the right hon. Gentleman (Sir Stafford Northcote) to be allowed to get us into this position, and then to pursue a policy of "masterly inactivity?" If the majority of the House, on the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman, should decide to commit Mr. Bradlaugh to prison, what next? Would the right hon. Gentleman, as he has done before, move for his release? Mr. Bradlaugh would then make his appearance again. How long is that to go on? There are only two courses open to the right hon. Gentleman. One is to commit Mr. Bradlaugh, and keep him in custody as a public scandal and 1260 disgrace to this House during the Session. Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to do that? If he is not, the only course is to take up this matter as sensible and reasonable men. Do you want to keep out of the House of Commons Atheists? If you want to ostracize persons who do not believe in the existence of a God, then your present arrangements will not have that effect. The only alternative, therefore, is that we should have some intimation from the other side whether they will join with the Government in passing a Bill of Relief. If the right hon. Member for North Devon gave some assurance to that effect, the whole thing might be arranged in a manner satisfactory both to the House and the country.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Labouchere.)
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
I am sorry to interpose at this particular moment, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) is anxious to address the House; but I feel it necessary to address a few words to the House in answer to the appeal which has been so directly made to me. I noticed the observation of the Prime Minister a few minutes ago, in which he said, regrettingly, that there had been, since 9 o'clock last night, much more heat in the conduct of Business in this House than was at all desirable. I entirely agree with him in the remark; but I should really like to ask from what quarter the heat has come? I do not think that either the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. John Bright) last night, or that of the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands) this morning, was at all calculated to conduce to the frame of mind in which we ought to approach a question of such great gravity as that now before us. In bringing this matter before the House, I wish also to say that last night I endeavoured most carefully to avoid saying anything of an excited or heating character, and the Motion which I made was entirely in the nature of a defensive Resolution; for I wished to defend the House against a particular course which the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) proposed to take, and against which I thought it absolutely necessary, in the 1261 interests of what I consider religion and decency, to interpose in order to prevent an oath, or the form of an oath, being taken in a manner which would be offensive to those who regard the Oath as being something solemn. Beyond that, I did not propose to take any responsibility upon myself. At the same time, I am aware that, in taking that step, I incurred a certain amount of responsibility, and I did not take it without having carefully considered the responsibility I then assumed. What I wish to say with regard to this whole matter is, that I consider from the beginning of this transaction, which I date back to the 3rd May last year, when the hon. Member first came before the House and asked to affirm, the House has been left without guidance on the part of those who we might expect ought to have guided it. When I say that the House has been left without guidance, I do not mean to say that on no occasion proposals were made by the Government. They have made various proposals; but I must say that the proposals made have been in the nature of suggestions which, if accepted, would have had the effect of shifting from their own shoulders the responsibility of dealing, or proposing to deal, with a question of the utmost importance. They referred the matter to a Committee, and upon its Report they induced the House to pass a Resolution which shifted the responsibility on a Court of Law; and now again, having had the matter so clearly before them for so long a time as the whole of last Session and since the commencement of the present one, they are still without any counsel that they can give to the House if we refuse to accept one particular proposal which is made, and which conscientiously we cannot and will not accept. Without entering into any other question whatever, I say for myself, and I believe I speak the feeling of a very large body of Gentlemen on both sides of the House, we will not tolerate any proceeding, if we can prevent it, in which we shall be made parties to the profanation of an Oath. There then remain two questions still to be considered. One is—How is the order and decency of the proceedings of this House to be maintained? The other is—In what way are the admitted difficulties raised by the return of the hon. Member for Northampton to be dealt with, 1262 as to the mode in which Gentlemen elected to sit as Members should be allowed to take their seats? We have a right to have these two questions separately considered. With regard to one of those—namely, the actual solution which ought to be sought for out of the difficulty; that is a matter as to which we ought to be, in the first place, informed as to the views and intentions of the Government, who should also make some proposal to the House concerning it. With regard to the other question—the maintenance of order and decency in the House; I must say, with still more confidence, that, in my view, it is the duty of the Leader of the House to support the authority of the Speaker, who is the presiding Officer of the House, in maintaining the Orders of the House. I have acted under circumstances of very great pressure, and in the absence of any readiness to act on the part of those who ought to have acted, in order to get the House out of a difficulty. I think, as I have said, that proceedings of this kind ought to be initiated by the Leader of the House, for it is not becoming that such proposals should come from anyone else; but I say, also, that, at the same time, I am always willing to make any proposals where it is absolutely shown that the Leader of the House declines to exercise the functions which properly belong to him. But I still hope that if, by misfortune, it should become necessary to take any steps to vindicate the order and decency of the proceedings of the House, the Government will adopt the course that it is proper they should take. In answer to the appeal which has been addressed to me by the sitting Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), I can only say—although I do not admit that such a question ought to be put in the circumstances, for it is quite irregular, and quite impossible that I should answer it—that if a measure of the kind to which he alludes is introduced, I shall give it my careful consideration, whether it be introduced by the Government or by any private Member of the House. But I object entirely to the manner in which that proposal is made; and, whether it were good or bad, I could take no notice of it, if it were introduced, as was hinted by the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), in the nature of a bargain. The 1263 bargain into which he proposes we should enter is that we should undertake to facilitate, as far as we can, the discussion of a particular measure altering the forms of admission to this House, on condition of which he undertakes that his hon. Colleague will abstain—from what? From disturbing the proceedings of the House. That is a bargain into which, from my view, the House cannot consistently enter; and, in saying that, I hope I may say also that I trust Mr. Bradlaugh will be sufficiently well advised to abstain from anything of an indecorous nature, which can only lead to proceedings of a kind calculated to bring scandal on the proceedings of this House. I cannot, however, anticipate that he will undertake to interrupt by indecorous proceedings the Business of the House further than he has felt it necessary to do in order distinctly to raise the challenge he has put forward in asserting his right to a seat in the House. He has asserted his claim, and the House has distinctly pronounced its resolution to adhere to its decision that he cannot be permitted to take the Oath. I admit the great difficulty and the painful nature of the case, and I am most anxious to co-operate in any way I properly can to conduct it to a satisfactory conclusion; but I cannot assent to a solution in the nature of a bargain such as has been suggested by the sitting Member for Northampton; and I hope that we may be spared any more of the excited speeches which have been spoken, and those charges which have been so freely bandied about, but the imputing of which, in my view, is both un-Parliamentary and improper. We have acted in this matter from a sense of duty. We have regretted exceedingly the necessity under which we found ourselves placed; but by that action 1, for one, and I believe many others, intend to stand.
§ MR. JOHN BRIGHT
I would like to make an observation or two, rather by way of suggesting a course that the House might possibly take, and I do it entirely at my own instance, and not after any consultation with my right hon. Friend who is sitting near me (Mr. Gladstone). I judge from the speech of the right hon. Baronet (Sir Stafford Northcote) last night, in moving his Resolution, and I judge more clearly, if possible, from what he has said now, 1264 that his objection to the admission of Mr. Bradlaugh to this House is that he objects to what he calls the profanation of the Oath; I judge, also, that he does not object to Mr. Bradlaugh because of Mr. Bradlaugh's opinions upon a religious question. He laments those opinions, as I trust the great majority of us do; but what he objects to is Mr. Bradlaugh coming here and going through a ceremony which, to those who think it necessary, is, no doubt, one of great solemnity, but which, under the circumstances, can have no solemnity for Mr. Bradlaugh. That is the point. Then, if that difficulty be got rid of, as it clearly would be got rid of if Mr. Bradlaugh were allowed to affirm, our course would be clear; but he cannot affirm by reason of the state of law, as decided recently by two Courts of Justice. If that be really the case, if hon. Gentlemen who sit behind the right hon. Baronet and hold his opinions do not go beyond that, I think that our mode of arriving at a settlement of this question must be obvious, and that its attainment need not be far distant. Because, if the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends are not resolved to keep Mr. Bradlaugh out of the House on account of his religious opinions, but are merely resolved that they will not let him in through this door of the Oath, because that would be a profanation of a ceremony they hold to be one of great solemnity, then, surely, they would not object that some other door might be opened by which he might be admitted. You do not propose by the processes you are now going through to change Mr. Bradlaugh's religious convictions, or his absence of religious opinion. You do not propose to convert him at all; but you say you do not want, on account of those opinions, to keep him out. We have good reason to know that there are even now hon. Members of this House, and that there have, and will be hereafter, men whose opinions would not differ from those of Mr. Bradlaugh, who can come here through one of the two portals—either through the Oath, or through affirming; therefore, if the right hon. Gentleman has fairly and honestly expressed, which I do not doubt, his own views, and if, as Leader of the Party, the views of the 200 Gentlemen by whom he was fol- 1265 lowed last night, and who agreed with him, then surely it would not be difficult, by the general consent of the House, to pass a very simple measure to show—not that we approve of Mr. Bradlaugh's opinions, not that we rejoice to have men amongst us of his opinions, but that we have regard to the determination of the constituencies of the country with regard to the selection of their Members, and that we are anxious to interpose no improper obstacle—no obstacle at all, indeed—to their taking their seats in this House; and if a measure of the nature which has been indicated by the sitting Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), which would give to all Members of the House who come to the Table the option of taking the Oath, or making a Declaration such as the one as I am permitted to make—then the whole question would be settled, and hon. Gentleman would not be outraged by having the Oath made what they call a farce; Mr. Bradlaugh would not be debarred on account of his religious opinions in coming into the House where religious disabilities have been so long supposed to have been abolished, and the electors of Northampton would be fairly represented, according to the choice which they made at their recent election. Now, the right hon. Gentleman says that the House gets no guidance from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. How is it possible for my right hon. Friend to guide or steer in a directly opposite course to that which he wished to travel? How is it possible that he can induce 200 or 300 Gentlemen on this side of the House to approve of a policy, and to give their votes in favour of a course, which they are bound to condemn? We are as honest in the condemnation of your course as you may be honest in the condemnation of ours. But, surely, it cannot be expected that the Leader of the House, overborne as he was by a majority last night, can be expected at once, with enthusiasm, to take up a policy he condemns, and to insist upon a course the end of which he cannot see? The fact is, the course which has been pursued has brought the House into a difficulty that the wisest men in the House, whether it be on that side of the House or this, find it very irksome to decide what advice should be given. But it is found to be a matter of 1266 extreme difficulty what advice should be given. I could have advised you last night how to keep out of a deep hole; but if you have plunged into it, I find it very difficult to tell you how to get out of it. I think the right hon. Gentleman is hardly fair when he says there are rather urgent expectations that my right hon. Friend should give advice and strengthen the Party opposite in the course which has brought us to this disaster, and which may lead to even greater troubles. The right hon. Gentleman would not allow the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) to ask him a question, as he said it was impossible to answer it; but I now put it to him in the difficulty in which we are placed—and he has as much of that difficulty on his shoulders as any man man in the House—that being in this difficulty, from which I see no way of extrication, I put it to the right hon. Gentleman whether he can, on behalf of his Friends and himself, give any expectation that a general support would be given, or that there would be au absence of opposition to a measure so simple as that of which I have indicated? There remains the question of time, to which my right hon. Friend referred, and especially with reference to the Land Law (Ireland) Bill. We know that this House can be the worst in the world for getting any work through; so, at the same time, we know there is no other Body in the world that can get through more work in a little time, if there be a general unanimity to get the work done. I have no doubt whatever, if the right hon. Gentleman would accept this proposition—which is made in all seriousness and friendliness, and without wishing to condemn anybody for anything that has been done, because I am quite sure hon. Gentlemen opposite—that is to say, the bulk of them—are as perfectly honest in the course they have taken as I am in the course which I have taken; but we all find ourselves in this difficulty, and if he would accept it I am sure that it would give intense satisfaction; and I think it would be a great advantage to the House if the right hon. Gentleman could bring himself to give us some hope or expectation that he would allow us to escape by the door which I have endeavoured to open for us.
§ MR. J. G. HUBBARD
asked the House to look calmly at the circumstances of the case. If Mr. Bradlaugh had come down to the House without antecedents, nobody would have prevented him taking the Oath; but he had himself created his disability. He had openly said that the Oath which he was about to take would have no binding effect upon his conscience—that he denied the existence of the God whom he invoked. Could any man patiently endure to hear his father reviled or his Queen insulted? And how could the Members of this House do other than resent and resist indignities offered to their Heavenly Father and their Eternal King? The English mind revolted against such conduct as that. The Business of the House was being interrupted by an intruder. The proper course would be to remove that intruder by force if he resisted. Where was the Minister for the Home Department? Had he not got a large body of police at his service? And of what use were the police, or the officers of the House, if they could not protect the House from the intrusion of people who had no business there. It was absurd to talk of their having no alternative between admitting Mr. Bradlaugh, and having to submit to disorder at his hands. The right hon. Gentleman in the Chair was not supported last night as he ought to have been by the Government in his endeavours to carry out the Orders of the House; and it was now the duty of the House to see that the Speaker's orders were obeyed.
§ MR. WALTER
As one who voted last night in the majority, and who would do so again, if necessary, any number of times, I wish to make one or two observations in reference to the suggestion that has been thrown out by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. John Bright). I am exceedingly glad that the right hon. Gentleman addressed the House in the tone he adopted, and I hope he will forgive me for saying that, in my opinion, if last night he had made the speech we have heard this afternoon, a great deal of the heated temper which has been shown in this discussion would have been prevented. For my own part, I have never entertained any objection to Mr. Bradlaugh making an Affirmation, believing, as I 1268 did—until my mind was disabused by the decision of the Courts of Law—that the Affirmation in his case would be valid. I believed, also, that any Affirmation he might make would be a full indication of his sincerity and trust worthiness as a Member of this House. I thought, as I have said, that Mr. Bradlaugh might be allowed to enter this House by the portal of an Affirmation; but I have always felt that he ought not to be allowed to enter through the door whose passage involved the taking of an Oath. For this reason, I could not sit in my place and see the hon. Member perform the solemn act of kissing the Bible and invoking the name of the Almighty to help him, when I knew—and it is idle to say that the House has not official cognizance of the fact—that the hon. Gentleman belongs to a sect which does not believe in the existence of God. As a Member of this House, I say that if I assented to and witnessed the taking of the Oath by Mr. Bradlaugh, I should have my share in the responsibility—I do not scruple to say the guilt—of permitting a sacred rite to be abused. I do not, as I have said, object to Mr. Bradlaugh taking his seat; but I hold that he should do so after making an Affirmation—beyond that, I entirely decline to go. The question is one of conscience, and I deny the right of anyone to charge those who hold the views I do with either bigotry or intolerance. I think, however, the House would do well to attempt some such moderate and judicious solution as has been suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, for I cannot admit that, in my view, the matter is nearly so critical as it has been represented to be.
When my hon. Friend who has just sat down (Mr. Walter) commenced his speech by stating that he was about to offer some observations in reply to the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. John Bright), I must own that I had some feelings of alarm; but I experienced a feeling of relief when, as he proceeded, I found that my hon. Friend, although he earnestly and strongly supported the Resolution last night, was one of those who agree with the proposal of my right hon. Friend. That is so much to our gain, and all that 1269 is desired on this part of the subject is that other hon. Members should, if they can, act in a similar sense, and show that many of those, probably the bulk of them—although I have no means of knowing the fact—who voted in the majority last night are prepared to accept the suggestion of my right hon. Friend. With regard to the proposal of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), what I wish to say is that, provided there was a general disposition on the part of the House to entertain that suggestion, it might be possible on the part of the Government to make a proposal to the House on the subject—yet, at the same time, not interfering with the limited duration of time which we can give the Land Law (Ireland) Bill—a proposal to test the feeling of the House upon the suggestion of the hon. Member for Northampton by the aid of one or more Morning Sittings on Tuesdays and Fridays. ["Oh, oh!"] Hon. Gentlemen mock at that suggestion—I do not know who they are, but I only hope they are prepared with something better to propose. Therefore, my first object is to come forward and frankly recognize the speech just heard. The simple suggestion I would make is embodied in the words—"Sinon, his utere mecum." I do not hesitate to say that I feel no scruple whatever in supporting the Order of the House and in removing the difficulty stated by the right hon. Gentleman opposite; but I will go a little further than that, and say with respect to the difficulty in which I find myself, that it would be entirely removed if the House was about seriously to consider the proposed piece of legislation. As to the notion of making a bargain, I state frankly, and wish to state it broadly and plainly, if once the House is ready to entertain and pass its judgment upon the proposal of the sitting Member for Northampton, it is entitled to take at once the most stringent measure it may think fit to adopt for preventing any kind of interference with the order of its Business; and I do not hesitate to say that I for one should be perfectly free to support, or even to propose, such measures if they became necessary. I have now done all that it lies in my power to do, from my point of view, and I think some responsibility is laid upon the Members of the majority last night to state whether they are pre- 1270 pared to proceed upon such a basis as that I have indicated, and if not to state upon what basis they are prepared to proceed. Following that, I am bound to refer to the general statement which proceeded from the Leader of the Opposition. I had much pleasure in admitting last night that the right hon. Gentleman's speech on the Main Question was one to which no reasonable man could take exception, and I have equal pleasure in making the same observation in regard to his remarks to-day. I do not say we have come to an agreement; but we have made some approximation by the admission of certain general principles. It has been said that we should not tempt hon. Members to play fast and loose with their consciences, and the right hon. Gentleman has stated that this being a matter of conscience, he is bound to take a particular course. Nobody is more willing to admit the truth of that proposition, to assert it more broadly, or adhere to it more tenaciously than I am. I am glad that the Leader of the Opposition has confessed that the question is a great, a difficult, and a delicate one. But if it be a great, a difficult, and a delicate one, can we not put aside all manifestations of feeling in discussing it, all language that may tend to complicate it? If the subject is one of such difficulty and delicacy, surely the debate on it should be conducted with careful temper, and the fullest and fairest hearing should be accorded to everybody. In such a case, on each side of the House there should be a disposition to recognize the nature of the difficulty felt by the other side of the House. I entirely concur in the main defensive statement of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, in which he says that he and his Friends will be no parties to the profanation of an oath. I entirely concur with him that none of us ought to be parties to such a proceeding. But here we come to a point on which we part company. Our contention is, that by permitting Mr. Bradlaugh to take the Oath without our interference we do not in any sense make ourselves parties to that profanation. ["Oh, oh!"] It seems that even now there is a difficulty in restraining manifestations of feeling in discussing the question. You differ from me; but it is an issue with regard to which each side can give credit to the other side for the 1271 integrity and sincerity of their motives. While, however, I have not the least objection to make to the tone of the statements of the right hon. Gentleman so temperately made last evening and to-day, he said that from the beginning the Government had left the House without guidance. I entirely and absolutely dispute the accuracy of that statement. From the first we have taken a firm stand on this question. When the matter originally came before us last year we took the line of advising the House to send it before a Committee in order that the whole subject might be investigated, and we afterwards took the line of advising the House not to interfere to prevent Mr. Bradlaugh from taking the Oath. This year we have taken the same course, and we again advised the House not to interfere in the matter. Is not that guiding, or attempting to guide, the House on the subject? Did we not, in taking that course, attempt to recommend a distinct course to the House? What can Her Majesty's Government, what can the Leader of the House, do more than recommend the adoption of a particular course of action—one which, in their opinion, is in accordance with prudence and duty, and to many of us oven absolute legality? Surely, that is a sufficient answer to the charge that has been brought against Tier Majesty's Government that they have left the House without guidance in this matter. I should now wish to address a few words to the House on the subject of the duty of the Leader of this House on such an occasion as the present, and I will endeavour to do so in a spirit and a temper to which no one can object. As I understand the right hon. Gentleman opposite, it appears to be his contention that when once a Resolution has been passed by a majority of this House, it becomes the duty of the Leader of the House, whatever may be his opinion as to the legality of the particular Resolution, to propose the measures necessary to give effect to that Resolution. If that be the right hon. Gentleman's contention, I am bound to say that I entirely differ from it. I do not hesitate to say that no such duty as is suggested by the right hon. Gentleman is imposed upon the Leader of this House, either by law, or by Parliamentary usage. I have in my 1272 mind a multitude of instances in which the Leaders of this House and the Government of the day have declined to adopt measures to give effect to Resolutions of this House relating to matters of more policy of which they disapproved. But the question before us now is not one of policy; and I agree with the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and with others who sit on that side of the House, that the question now raised is higher than one of mere policy with them, and it is also one far higher than one of more policy with us. If, on their side, they do not wish to be parties to the profanation of an oath, how can they ask me to be a party to measures to give effect to and to undertake to be their guide and adviser in carrying out a Resolution to which I am opposed, and against which I have warned the House on every ground of competency and prudence—a Resolution which I believe will debar a subject of Her Majesty, duly elected and duly returned to this House, from the exercise of his legal right? Looking at the matter from the false point of view of hon. Members opposite, I think that they are right and consistent in what they have done, and that they have no choice but to go forward in the course they have entered upon; but, holding the opinion I do, the same thing is not so with me; and if I consider the Resolution to be a Resolution to debar a duly elected Member of this House from performing the acts necessary to enable him to fulfil his duties to his constituents, am I not under a similar compulsion, and would it not be a violation of duty on my part, would it not be the grossest inconsistency, to recommend measures for the House to give effect to the Resolution? Then, it is asked by the right hon. Gentlemen opposite—Do I intend to support the authority of the Chair? I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman opposite that I ought to support the authority of the Chair, and I place no limit to the doctrine that the Chair should be supported on all occasions. But what is supporting the authority of the Chair? I apprehend that supporting the authority of the Chair means sustaining the Speaker by every means in our power in the exercise of the authority which the House has committed to his hands. The contention of the right hon. Gentleman, 1273 however, goes far beyond that, and he now calls upon us to take the initiative in granting fresh powers to the Speaker. This is not a question of supporting the authority of the Chair in the exercise of the authority committed to the Speaker, because as you, Mr. Speaker, pointed out last night, your power in the matter was exhausted, and you said that you must refer to the House for fresh instructions. It was not, therefore, a question of supporting you in the exercise of the authority that you already possessed, but of giving you fresh authority, and of who should propose to give you that authority, that we had to determine. As to the Motion of supporting the authority of the Chair, I accede in the fullest manner to the doctrine that may be laid down respecting that; but it is different with Motions that are for creating fresh powers, and respecting which I, as Leader of the House, recommended a different course. In these circumstances, therefore, I must say that the initiative in giving you fresh power to give effect to the Resolution lay, not with the Leader of the House, who disapproved of the Resolution, but with the Leaders of the majority who last night approved of that Resolution, and carried it against the advice of Her Majesty's Government. Sometimes the question arises to my mind whether or not it is a question of legality. But I see distinctly, and when the Leader of the House distinctly sees in the course that has been taken a prejudice to legal right, surely it is strange that he should be thought the proper person to devise means to give effect to a Resolution to which he has so strongly objected. Having said that, I hope not offensively, and without having attempted to infringe upon or restrict the rights of others which we claim for ourselves, I may further say that I will make this admission—it is not my part, and it would be an offence to offer needless and obstructive opposition. Last night we began and prevented a division on the Main Question, and we then went on by endeavouring to prevent a division on the Question that arose in the subsequent discussion, and we shall continue to act in that spirit. Although, in cases of necessity, if I saw my opportunity, I might desire to give practical effect to that opinion, yet I fully agree, on the other hand, it would be an un- 1274 worthy course, or an undignified course, for me to endeavour to defeat that Resolution by obstructing the natural and consistent measures which might be proposed, though we do not feel called upon to take the initiative in carrying it into effect. We shall do nothing calculated indirectly to defeat that Resolution, and we are prepared to give fair and favourable consideration to any proposals for carrying it into effect. I trust that there will be no misunderstanding as to what I have said on this point. I am under the impression I cannot see my way, even were the expectations of this House much more definite and of a more distinct character than I believe them to be—I cannot see my way to be the author of a policy and take the initiative of a Motion which is to prevent the exercise of a legal right. I must conclude, as I began, by remarking that, as no proposition of a really remedial character has been proposed on this subject except by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, I hope that his suggestion will be accepted in a reasonable and in a favourable manner. After all, no merely defensive measures which we may take against Mr. Bradlaugh will ever settle this question; and, although I can assure hon. Members opposite that I regard those measures in no carping spirit, still I hope that we may arrive at some method of bringing this controversy to an immediate issue. It is something of a more positive character which you must have. Some hon. Gentlemen say that persons not believing in the existence of a God ought not to sit in this House. I recognize that as an opinion upon which hon. Gentlemen have a right to obtain the judgment of the House. But do let us endeavour to arrive at some method of carrying on this controversy to a legitimate issue; because, depend upon it, whatever we may say as to the duties of the Leader of the House or of the Opposition, however one may cast the blame one way or the other, the correct judgment of the public will be governed by a disposition not to enter into the minutiae of the matter, but, I am afraid, will pass some disparaging sentence on the entire proceedings and upon the entire body of the House for having got ourselves into a position of difficulty, and then, instead of welcoming 1275 any practical proposal for extricating ourselves from it, having found no better expedient in the circumstances than the miserable one of resorting to mutual recriminations.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that it was Mr. Bradlaugh's avowed intention to compel the House either to allow him to take the Oath, or to commit him to custody. He held in his hand a copy of The National Reformer, which contained the last speech of Mr. Bradlaugh, delivered by him before he came to the Table to be sworn, in which he said—I should be unworthy of the constituency which has elected me—I should be unworthy of the confidence which the people have placed in me, if I did not take my seat. I shall go to the Table of the House and ask to be allowed to take the Oath. If my right to take my seat is discussed, I must of course withdraw, while the subject is under debate; but except for that purpose I shall not leave the Table except for my seat—I shall not leave the Table except to take my seat, unless the House thinks it right to exercise its power, which it undoubtedly has, of committing me to gaol.He (Mr. Newdegate) wished to place those statements before the House, because he had very recent information that Mr. Bradlaugh regarded them as constituting a pledge to his constituency. Therefore, Mr. Bradlaugh came to the House with the avowed object of defying the authority of the Speaker. In the event, therefore, of there being any hesitation shown by the Leaders of the House on either side, to move that Mr. Bradlaugh be given into custody, he should himself, in the event of Mr. Bradlaugh continuing to set the Speaker's authority at defiance, make that Motion. He desired to say a word or two on the subject of the duty of the Leader of that House. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister might have objected to the course which the House adopted in 1880, and also last night, on both of which occasions the right hon. Gentleman represented the minority. The right hon. Gentleman now said, practically, that unless he had a perpetual majority, he had a right to abdicate his functions as Leader of the House for the preservation of its order and dignity, and that whenever a Resolution was passed that he did not approve of, no one had a right to call upon him to support the authority of the Chair. In the whole course of his (Mr. Newdegate's) long experience in Parliament he had never before heard 1276 any Leader of the House assume to himself such a position. The right hon. Gentleman had thrown the duty upon the House of having, when its nominal Leader abdicated his functions, to take steps for maintaining its own order and dignity. He had known Prime Ministers resign; but he had never known them, while they remained in Office, abandon their duty of supporting the authority of the Chair. He regretted that after his long political career the right hon. Gentleman should refuse to exercise his functions as Leader of that House, except upon the condition of his being supported by an abject majority. If such were the case, the right hon. Gentleman desired to assume the position of the infallible Pope of that House. He sincerely trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would not set so bad an example to those who were to follow him.
§ MR. NORWOOD,
in explaining that he had felt bound to support the Leader of the Opposition on this question last night as a matter of conscience, fully endorsed what had fallen from the hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr. Walter), who had stated in a clear and forcible manner the motives which had induced him and others on that side of the House to take that course. He had a strong conscientious scruple that he should have been a party to a profanation had he assented in any shape to Mr. Bradlaugh taking the Oath, in the sanctity of which that Gentleman did not believe. Having said that, however, he must add that he had no objection to Mr. Bradlaugh being admitted to the House through a fair and open portal that should be provided for him and for others in his position. In his opinion, the course which the Government should have taken last year was to have brought in a Bill to meet the case of those who had a conscientious objection to take an oath, and thus have saved the House from the difficulty in which it was now placed. He had spoken on this subject to hon. Members on that side of the House who had abstained from voting last night, and he was satisfied that they would hail with pleasure any solution of the difficulty such as that which had been proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. He must again thank the hon. Member for Berkshire for having so ably vindicated the motives of hon. Members on that side of 1277 the House in taking a course which was opposed to the view of the Government on this question.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
remarked, that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had said that he had carefully examined the position in which the Members of the Opposition were placed; but, with all respect for the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman, he thought that he was mistaken in the view of that position which would be taken by the public. No one on that side of the House asked, wished, or expected that the right hon. Gentleman would adopt their policy. The question of policy was determined by the vote of the House last night; but what they did desire and expect was that, the question of policy having been determined, the right hon. Gentleman, as the Leader of the House, would have maintained the authority of the Chair. The right hon. Gentleman had admitted that it was his duty to support the authority of the Chair. But how did he propose to support it? By remaining in his seat when it was defied and set at naught by the hon. Member for Northampton. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon rose last night and appealed to the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, and asked him whether he meant to vindicate the authority of the Chair or not, the latter remained silent in his place. The right hon. Gentleman was a master of argument, sophistry, and of what he called minutiæ; but he (Mr. Chaplin) thought that in this case the public would disregard minutiæ, and, in judging of the matter, would look at the broad fact that the authority of the Chair hail been openly defied, and that the Prime Minister, while the Leader of the House, had declined to exercise his duty and to vindicate that authority, merely because he did not happen to agree with a Resolution of the House which had been carried by an ample majority. This was the age of bargains. The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) had proposed a bargain between the House and Mr. Bradlaugh; and now another bargain was offered to the House by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. John Bright), by which he undertook, in the event of all parties agreeing to accept a certain Bill, to introduce the measure 1278 immediately. [Mr. JOHN BRIGHT: I never said any such thing.] Then, if the right hon. Gentleman did not mean that, what did he mean? He (Mr. Chaplin) hoped that no one on that side of the House would be so unwise as to commit themselves to the acceptance of a measure which they had not yet even seen. Personally, he had no objection to Mr. Bradlaugh. During the time that Gentleman had occupied a seat in that House he had acted with ability and with great moderation, and into his private belief it certainly did not come within the province of that House to inquire. The House, however, could not shut their eyes to the fact that it stood upon their records that Mr. Bradlaugh had openly avowed that an oath would have no binding effect upon conscience. That House professed, at all events for the present, to be a religious Assembly. They commenced their proceedings each day with prayer, and invoked the aid of the Supreme Being to guide them in their labours. In these circumstances, therefore, they ought not to be taunted with bigotry because they declined to sit by while the Oath was profaned. What was to be the nature of the proposed Bill? As far as he could understand, it would simply enable Mr. Bradlaugh to take his seat, and if so, it was opposed to the Resolution passed last evening. He certainly declined at present to pronounce any opinion in reference to such a measure. This was a very grave matter; and as long as the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister held the position he now occupied he certainly ought to vindicate the dignity of the Chair whenever it was assailed.
§ MR. WHITBREAD
thought the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster had thrown some light on the ultimate solution of this difficulty. In the course of the debate on this subject last year, Mr. Bradlaugh's right to affirm was contested on purely legal grounds, and it was said that the remedy lay in special legislation. Unless, therefore, it was desired to maintain the Oath as a religious test, he failed to see what evil consequences could result from adopting the practical suggestion of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. The right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) had said that if Mr. Bradlaugh had come up in the ordinary course of things in the 1279 crowd of Members to take his seat he might have passed, and they would not have noticed him. The hon. and learned Member for Launceston (Sir Hardinge Giffard) put the same thing, not quite so strongly. Because Mr. Bradlaugh had brought the case openly before them, they said he had himself to thank for the consequences. He could quite understand hon. Members declining to be party to what would to them appear like an act of blasphemy. If the real ground of the objection of Members on the opposite Benches to Mr. Bradlaugh's taking the Oath was that they could not consent to what seemed to them a profanation of the Oath, then he thought it might reasonably be expected that the difficulty in which the House now found itself would be met by the suggestion that had been made that a Bill should be passed to enable Members to affirm or take the Oath as they pleased. He felt sure the Opposition would find it very difficult to object to such a Bill. They could not object to it without going back to find totally different grounds from those which they had already stated. He gave them full credit for their motives throughout this controversy. There was a certain number of Gentlemen opposite who felt themselves justified in taking any steps to keep out men of Mr. Bradlaugh's opinions. He did not expect that such hon. Members would assent to the passing of such a measure; but many of those Gentlemen were very strong guardians of the law and order of the House, and, having recorded their opinions by a division, he was justified in hoping they would not think it right for them to offer a Parliamentary obstruction to the passing of such a measure.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, he was a little surprised at the speech of the hon. Member who had just sat down, who had so large an experience of the proceedings of the House. That speech might more properly have been made on the second reading of a Bill which was not yet before them. The whole object of the hon. Gentleman, as far as he could gather from his speech, was to obtain from some Members of the House whom he named, and others whom he did not name, some justification for the course they might or might not pursue when that Bill came before the House for consideration. Such a 1280 course on the part of so old and experienced a Member as the hon. Member, did seem to him to be a very curious mode of approaching this question. He (Lord John Manners) had had some experience in that House, and he must very respectfully decline to enter in any degree whatever upon a consideration of that measure on the present occasion. If he wanted any further proof of the extreme inconvenience of the course suggested by the hon. Member, he should find it in some of the speeches to which they had already listened. His hon. Friend the Member for Berkshire (Mr. Walter) had made a most admirable speech in tone and temper. He said he should be very willing indeed to see any measure passed which would admit Mr. Bradlaugh and Gentlemen who thought with Mr. Bradlaugh to affirm at the Table. He made that speech having heard the proposal thrown out by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. He (Lord John Manners) listened to that proposal of the right hon. Gentleman, and if he misunderstood it, the right hon. Gentleman would, no doubt, kindly correct him. But what was that proposal as he understood it? Why, that Mr. Bradlaugh and others similarly situated should be permitted at their option either to take the Oath or affirm. But such persons might then, by a new Statute to be passed by both Houses of Parliament and to be Royally assented to, do the very thing which last night the House of Commons decided they should not do. He maintained that in speaking thus he was not prejudging any measure, which, on the authority of Her Majesty's Government, might be submitted to the consideration of the House; but was only pointing out to the very experienced Member for Bedford the immense inconvenience of expecting Gentlemen in that House to rise in a haphazard manner and say they would support or oppose a Bill of the character indicated by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. It seemed most ungracious to say a syllable after the conciliatory tone in which the Prime Minister had addressed the House on that proposal upon the speech he had made. But while he wished to restrict his observations to the very narrowest possible compass, and while he tendered his thanks to the right hon. Gentleman for the 1281 whole tone and temper of that speech, the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman as Leader of the House, so far as that speech referred to the Order and dignity and decency of the proceedings of the House, was in derogation of what the right hon. Gentleman had said. The right hon. Gentleman drew a broad distinction between a question of policy and a question of Order. What they were discussing in the early hours of this morning, and what they were discussing now, was a question of the Order and dignity and decency of the proceedings of the House, and not of policy. When his right hon. Friend spoke early this morning as to the duty of the right hon. Gentleman as Leader of the House to maintain the dignity and Rules of the House, his right hon. Friend was referring to a proposal to which the right hon. Gentleman was a party, and to which he had given his own adherence. The question was put that Mr. Bradlaugh be ordered to withdraw, and the right hon. Gentleman himself assented to that Motion. And then it was that his right hon. Friend asked the right hon. Gentleman, as Leader of the House, to maintain the Order and dignity of their proceedings. The right hon. Gentleman declined to do so; and, therefore, while he raised no objection against the general principle laid down by the right hon. Gentleman, he said that it was wide of the mark in this particular instance, and that the condemnation passed by his right hon. Friend on the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman as Leader of the House remained intact and unimpaired.
§ MR. ARTHUR ARNOLD
acknowledged the moderate tone in which hon. Members opposite had expressed their views, and admitted that it would be unbecoming on his part, and especially in their absence, to instruct them how to proceed in a matter of so much difficulty and delicacy. The noble Lord who had just addressed the House appeared to fall into a considerable error. The right hon. Member for North Devon disclaimed the intention of imposing any religious test; but the noble Lord, in the speech he had just made, distinctly proclaimed his intention of retaining the Oath as a religious test. Hon. Members on that (the Liberal) side of the House believed that Mr. Bradlaugh had a legal right to take the Oath at the 1282 Table; but they denied that they were in any degree parties to the position in which the House was now placed. His hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), who was always courageous, logical, and consistent, pledged himself, if Mr. Bradlaugh presented himself at the Table again and again, as the hon. Gentleman held it his duty to do, that he would move Mr. Bradlaugh's committal to prison. Now, that was a perfectly logical and consistent course. It was the course taken by the right hon. Member for North Devon last year; and if the right hon. Gentleman had followed the same line of consistency, it was the course he would have taken on this occasion. The noble Lord the Member for North Leicestershire (Lord John Manners) accused the Prime Minister of declining to assist in maintaining and supporting the authority of the Chair. The Prime Minister did, in the most conspicuous manner, all that it was possible for him to do to support the authority of the Chair. When a Motion was made on the other side of the House that Mr. Bradlaugh should withdraw, the right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) at once rose and deprecated any opposition to that Motion from the Liberal Benches; and the authority of the Chair was supported without a single dissentient voice. The transaction was then concluded on the removal of Mr. Bradlaugh, and so was concluded, completely and entirely, the question of the authority of the Chair. Mr. Bradlaugh was not after that Motion contumacious. At this moment he was not acting in any degree contumaciously, and there was no question of his contumacy before the House. His hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire had now, with his usual consistency and courage, intimated that he was prepared to bring forward what he (Mr. Arthur Arnold) believed would be the solution of the question. His hon. Friend had told the House—and he was a man who never deviated from his word—that he would move the committal of Mr. Bradlaugh to prison if Mr. Bradlaugh presented himself again at that Table. He knew that his hon. Friend would keep his word, because he knew the man. He would suggest that the personal character which the question assumed, which would remain 1283 so long as the Bill continued in the hands of the senior Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), would be removed by the Attorney General or Solicitor General taking charge of the measure. No one desired to keep Mr. Bradlaugh in prison for the next five or six years; and the course he (Mr. Arthur Arnold) now suggested would, he thought, provide an early solution of the difficulty. But seeing the position the Government had taken up, seeing that in their opinion Mr. Bradlaugh had a legal right to take the Oath, and the House had no right to prevent him, the Government would be committing a grave error if they consented to undertake the responsibility of legislation, having regard to the state of important Public Business, until they had received from the other side of the House an intimation that their proposals would receive a fair and impartial support.
§ MR. R. N. FOWLER
said, there was one remark which he felt it his duty to make in consequence of what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to propose that a Bill should be brought into the House by the senior Member for Northampton, or, as was suggested by the hon. Member who had just sat down, by the Law Officers of the Crown, to enable Mr. Bradlaugh to make an Affirmation instead of an Oath. He should feel it his solemn duty in every division which might take place to give his vote against such a Bill. He did not think he should be entirely alone. He should not offer any unnecessary opposition to such a Bill being brought in; but whatever course was taken by his right hon. Friends below him he would feel it his duty to oppose it by every means in his power—to go into the Lobby on every occasion against it.
§ MR. SERJEANT SIMON
congratulated the House on the calmness which had succeeded the warmth of the previous night. He pointed out the difference of position occupied by Mr. Bradlaugh now as compared with that which he occupied on former occasions and when before the Courts of Law. The Courts of Law having decided against Mr. Bradlaugh's right to affirm, his seat became vacant, "as though," in the words of the Statute, "he were dead." But, by his re-election, he came to that 1284 House as a Constitutional Representative of the constituency that returned him, with the legal obligation to fulfil the duties of that position. He was bound by law to present himself at the Table to take the Oath and qualify himself for the discharge of his duties. He had no option. He could not resign his seat; he must perform his duties as long as the present Parliament lasted. There were instances in which Members had been threatened with pains and penalties because they had not taken the Oath. Mr. Bradlaugh had offered to take the Oath, and his position was, therefore, very different compared with what it was when he claimed to affirm. This was a matter which required the grave consideration of the House, and he trusted they would leave altogether on one side questions as to religious belief. It was said that it would be proposed to commit Mr. Bradlaugh to the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms. Was that to be repeated every Session during the present Parliament? Would that be a course in which the House would persist, or which the country would approve? He hoped hon. Gentlemen opposite would consider well what they were doing. They were attempting to deal with the question by a side wind, and he put it to the House—Would it not be more dignified to meet the question raised by the Bill of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), and determine, "Aye" or "No," whether persons of Mr. Bradlaugh's opinions should be admitted to that House? That, he thought, was the fair and becoming course, to take; and he hoped that the hon. Member who had blocked the Bill would re-consider whether he should persist in preventing its being discussed.
§ MR. J. R. YORKE
said, it was assumed that the supporters of this Resolution had no course open to them but to commit Mr. Bradlaugh to custody or to admit him to take the Oath. But the police might be instructed to exclude Mr. Bradlaugh from the precincts of the House, or, if he was twice guilty of a breach of Order, he might be suspended for the rest of the Session. With regard to the Bill of the hon. Member (Mr. Labouchere) for allowing Members to affirm, he should prefer one of two courses, either that they should leave the matter alone, or that they should pass a 1285 Bill abolishing Oaths and Declarations altogether. He remembered, when an undergraduate at Oxford, declaring his unfeigned assent to the Thirty-Nine Articles, and the memory of that unseemly ceremony had never vanished from his mind. He did not think that oaths strengthened the well-intentioned, or that they formed any barrier to the entrance of evil-disposed persons into the House. He believed that he was speaking in a manner not unworthy of a Member of the Conservative Party when he said that he—and he believed he represented the sentiments of others who sat near him—had no wish to retain idle forms and ceremonies, which, whatever might have been their original effect, had long ceased to be of any real value. They would, therefore, be prepared to seriously consider any Bill brought in by the Government with a view to the total abolition of all these ceremonies on entrance into the House, though if an Oath was to be retained at all the existing form would be much preferable, as having, at any rate, the dignity of antiquity, and it was their duty to prevent it degenerating into a mere farce. He congratulated the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on the change which had taken place in his tone since last night. The right hon. Gentleman had laboured to establish two measures of Ministerial responsibility; but the only two courses were, when a Government was placed in a minority—first, if the matter was one of supreme importance, to resign; and, second, if it was a matter of subordinate importance, to assist in carrying out the wishes of the House. He thought it highly to the credit of the Leader of the Opposition that he did not shrink from supporting the authority of the Chair under the circumstances. There was one point on which he wished to obtain information from the Government. When the Courts of Law decided that Mr. Bradlaugh could not affirm, the Statute declared that the seat which he held should be vacated "as if he were dead." When he read those words he came to the conclusion that they had got rid of the difficulty once and for ever. He, therefore, wanted to know why, if the seat of Mr. Bradlaugh was vacant, "as if he were dead," it was possible for him to rise again and be again elected for Northampton?
MR. S. COWEN
said, the only contribution he wished to make to the debate was a suggestion which he would compress into as few sentences as possible, and which, if adopted, would help to end the unhappy wrangle in which they had been engaged so long. There were two points upon which there was a general consensus of opinion in the House. First, it was contemplated by all—or, if not all, by nearly all—that the only way of effectively settling the question that had been raised was by legislation. All other specifics were but makeshifts, and would be found ineffective. Parliament had abolished the Christian tests and admitted Jews. They had abolished the Protestant test and admitted Catholics, and they would in time be compelled to abolish the orthodox tests and admit Freethinkers. Already men entertaining unorthodox opinions were permitted to make affirmation in a Court of Law in cases of the greatest nicety and importance; and surely if oaths could be dispensed with under such circumstances, they might be dispensed with in that House. Legislation, then, simple but effective, was the only satisfactory way of getting them out of the difficulty with which they were beset. The legislation would not be only for Mr. Bradlaugh, but it would apply to all, and would prevent a repetition of such occurrences. On that point they were agreed. They were also agreed that the only chance the Bill had of being carried would be by its receiving the aid of the Government. But the Members of the Ministry felt unwilling to commit themselves to the introduction of such a measure. The state of Public Business would not permit them to take it in charge; but the Premier and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster had both said that if the Bill of his hon. Friend the Member for Northampton was introduced, the Government would afford facilities for its passage. This was probably as fair an offer as they could well make. Affording facilities meant, in fact, using the power of the Government to aid the passage of the measure. Ministers hesitated to give a pledge until they had some engagement from the Opposition as to the course they would pursue. The Leader of the Opposition did not feel himself at liberty to make any bargain which would bind, or appear to bind, his supporters. In- 1287 deed, it was impossible for him to do that; but he had spoken with great moderation and fairness during the discussion, and it was reasonable to gather from his remarks that, while he might not really approve of the Bill to be proposed, no obstructive course would be taken towards it. This was as much as they could expect from the right hon. Gentleman under the circumstances. They had, therefore, these two points before them. They were all agreed that legislation should take place, and the Government were prepared to aid it, if they were not prepared to take it entirely under their control. Of course, there would be differences of opinion. That was only natural. There would be opposition. That was inevitable; but, nevertheless, the preponderating opinion of the House was in favour of the course that he had thus roughly outlined. The chief difficulty was Mr. Bradlaugh himself. He had presented himself at the Table and offered to take the Oath, and explained the grounds upon which he made the offer. The House had refused to allow him to swear, and he had asserted his right with energy and dignity. Having done that, it was fair to ask him to allow the matter to rest for a time. He had been a very active and ardent supporter of the Government. He had repeatedly declared his unwillingness to take part in any course that would be injurious to the Ministerial measures; and it was not unreasonable, therefore, to ask him, seeing the Government were prepared to lend their aid towards legislation that would admit him into the House, to allow his claims to remain in abeyance. He did not by any means ask Mr. Bradlaugh to forego his claims; but he thought it was fair to request that he might for a few days or weeks be at least passive. He knew Mr. Bradlaugh could not make that declaration himself; but probably his hon. Colleague (Mr. Labouchere) might give such an undertaking, and with that the House would be satisfied. If matters could be so arranged that Mr. Bradlaugh would withdraw from pressing himself upon the House, and the House, in its turn, would agree to give honest and business-like consideration to a Bill that would permit Affirmations to be made by those who desired to make them instead of taking the Oath, both the Government and Parliament would be lifted 1288 out of a very unpleasant dilemma. The question at issue was a far larger one than that of Mr. Bradlaugh taking his seat. It really was the removal of all theological disqualifications for the discharge of civil duties. A man's religious opinions, or his want of religious opinions, ought neither to aid him nor hinder him in his duty as a citizen; and if they could so alter the law as to enable Freethinkers to enter the House as they entered the Law Courts they would be giving effect to this principle.
§ MR. MACIVER
said, that the question of Oaths was a large one, and would require much consideration; but, he would ask, what had the constituency of Northampton done to deserve so much attention on the part of the House of Commons? What was this constituency that they heard described as a great and an important constituency? He could not help contrasting such a constituency with the constituency which he had the honour to represent. According to the Census of 1871, Northampton had a population of 45,000, and it had two Members. Now, Birkenhead, which he represented, had a population of 90,000, and returned only one Member. Was a constituency such as Northampton to delay the Public Business of the House in order that it might have the services of two Members? He did not wish unduly to press the Prime Minister; but he gave Notice that, on some day next week, he should ask the Prime Minister whether he had re-considered his decision of last Session, and would undertake to introduce a short measure, under conditions of urgency, for the partial disfranchisement of Northampton, and to give a second Member to Birkenhead? A constituency like Northampton had no right to insult the House by sending to its Bar a Member who they knew to be disqualified. He concluded by thanking the House for the patience with which they had listened to him. In saying that, he did not refer to the Gentlemen on the Radical Benches opposite, who were so anxious to have their most appropriate companion, Mr. Bradlaugh, among them.
§ COLONEL MAKINS
explained that, in blocking the Bill of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), he had been actuated only by the fact that that Bill simply aimed at enabling the hon. Gentleman's Colleague to take his 1289 seat, and did not raise the question of the desirability of doing away with the Oath as an abstract question. If the Government, on their own responsibility, gave Notice of a similar measure, the matter would assume a very different aspect; and he should hesitate very much indeed before be took the course of opposing its introduction. He congratulated the Government on the change in the tone of the debate which had been witnessed; but, at the same time, he thought it was rash on the part of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to offer a challenge as to the Member for Northampton coming to the House untainted by any crime. He thought that remark would have been better left out. He would also remind the right hon. Gentleman, with reference to his speech of the previous night, that Roman Catholics had been excluded from that House, not because their religion was deemed false, but because it bound them in an allegiance to a foreign potentate, which was incompatible with allegiance to the Sovereign of these Realms; and that the Jews had suffered disabilities because, similarly, they had always looked upon themselves as a nationality apart—a nation within a nation. Mr. Bradlaugh's character in that House had been marked by moderation, and his remarks of the previous evening showed that he was fully sensible of the dignity of the House.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE,
in asking leave to withdraw his Motion, said, he was not going into the rival merits of Northampton and Birkenhead, as he was sure that the latter constituency was highly intelligent, when they sent so intelligent a Gentleman as the hon. Member for that borough. He regarded the discussion which had taken place as eminently satisfactory, because it had become apparent that there was a general opinion on both sides of the House that some sort of legislation was necessary. [Cries of "No, no!"] He did not say a universal, but a general opinion, that legislation of some sort was necessary in order to enable Mr. Bradlaugh to take his seat without being obliged to take the Oath. It had also become apparent that the House did not wish to proceed to extremities with Mr. Bradlaugh, and that there was a desire, pending an opportunity which might be given to the 1290 House to consider whether such legislation should be accepted, Mr. Bradlaugh should remain beyond the Bar. He had not the slightest doubt that Mr. Bradlaugh would consent to that arrangement till the matter was settled. If there was to be legislation it was desirable it should take place as speedily as possible; and if the Government would consent to bring in a measure dealing with the question he need not say that he would gladly withdraw the Bill which he had prepared.
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR
said, it appeared to him that the Motion ought not to be allowed to be withdrawn without some words of explanation from the Irish Catholic Members. The Prime Minister thought fit to blame them on the present occasion, and complained that they were aiding in a movement the object of which was to embarrass the Government; and he pointed out that the natural result of that policy would be to defer, if not to defeat, the Land Bill. [Cries of "No!"] Well, those who heard the words of the right hon. Gentleman were ready to corroborate his opinion. At any rate, there was a general impression that was the purport of his remarks. The position of the Irish Members was exceedingly simple. They had no objection to Mr. Bradlaugh taking his seat in the House. Personally, he thought Mr. Bradlaugh had as much right to his seat as he (Mr. Arthur O'Connor) or the Prime Minister, and he believed the House would sooner or later have to admit Mr. Bradlaugh. The only question was whether it was possible that he should be admitted under present conditions? It was perfectly clear that the House would not admit him as long as the law remained as it was. It had been decided that he should not be allowed to affirm, and that he should not be allowed to go through the profanity of taking an Oath; and while it might be the duty of the Prime Minister to suggest a way of escape from the present dilemma, the Irish Members could not sanction that which they believed to be criminal. He believed to allow Mr. Bradlaugh to take the Oath would be to make themselves a party to a flagrant act of blasphemy. No matter what the opinion of the House or the Government might be, they could not sanction blasphemy. They could not assent to what they believed to be crimi- 1291 nal. If it was necessary to secure a good Land Bill or to secure Home Rule or anything else they desired to secure, that they should consent to the taking of the Oath by an avowed Atheist, they could not and would not consent. But the Prime Minister said the result would be to delay the Land Bill. How little the Prime Minister know the history of the Irish people! Did he not know that for conscience sake they had put up with every kind of civil disability? If the consequence of the refusal of the Irish Members to consent to this profanity should be a return to the penal disabilities from which they had only recently emerged, it would still be their duty to refuse. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, in his speech last night, referred to the opposition to the admission of Roman Catholics to this House. But it should be remembered that Mr. Daniel O'Connell was excluded until the form of the Oath was altered. The same thing was sought to be done with regard to Mr. Bradlaugh. At that time the House was, no doubt, technically right in excluding Mr. O'Connell. [Mr. JOHN BRIGHT: He refused to take the Oath.] O'Connell was not like the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who had a conscientious objection to take the name of God in vain, whose conscience was so tender, and who had such a reverence for the name of God that he himself would not go through the form of the Oath. And yet the right hon. Gentleman admitted his readiness to sit in the House and listen to the Oath being taken by an Atheist. The right hon. Gentleman had tried to show that the House would not be a party to the Oath-taking if the formality were gone through; but such an argument could not seriously be entertained. The right hon. Gentleman must have known perfectly well that the House would be a party to that act, for it would have had to be done in due form, with the Speaker in the Chair and Members present, and the fact of Mr. Bradlaugh having taken the Oath would have to appear on the record of the proceedings of the House. The Irish Members must decline to barter away their consciences because the Land Bill introduced by the Government appeared to the First Lord of the Treasury to deserve the support of Irish Representatives. Sooner than act in opposition to their consciences, they would put up 1292 with the loss of the Land Bill or of any other matter.
§ MR. LEWIS,
referring to the opinion of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) that there was a general feeling on both sides of the House that some legislation was necessary in order to enable Mr. Bradlaugh to take his scat in the House, observed that he failed to understand that there was any such feeling, and warmly repudiated participating in it. He had heard the speeches of the noble Lord the Member for North Leicestershire (Lord John Manners), and of the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin), and of several other hon. Members on his side of the House; and he had heard nothing said by any of them which justified the interpretation made by the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) and by other hon. Members on the Liberal side. His hon. Friends had not said anything about the course they intended to take in the event of the Bill referred to being brought forward. It would be a pity for the hon. Member for Northampton to proceed upon the erroneous assumption, in withdrawing his present Motion for the adjournment of the House, that there was a general concurrence of opinion that legislation was necessary for the express purpose of admitting Mr. Bradlaugh. He (Mr. Lewis) would be a traitor to his principles if he allowed any misconception to exist, as far as he was concerned, on this point. At present they had not the text of the Bill before them. Speaking as an individual, he knew of no step he would be less inclined to take than to adopt a measure which would have as its result the admission to this Assembly of a man who had in the face of the House and of the country openly proclaimed as one of the principles of his life and conduct that he believed there was no God.
§ MR. BLAKE
expressed surprise and indignation that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) should have thought fit to charge Irish Members with an intention to obstruct the Land Bill, because some of them had supported the Opposition in the present controversy. He had himself voted with the majority in the recent divisions from conscientious motives only. He repudiated in the strongest terms the imputation which the right hon. Gentleman had sought to cast upon him and his Colleagues. Although 1293 he sat on the Conservative side of the House he did so as an independent Member, not bound to either Party. But he did not hesitate to say that his sympathies were with the Liberals. As far as Mr. Bradlaugh was concerned, he felt gratitude to him for his recent attitude with regard to questions affecting Ireland. He felt especially so for the able and sympathetic speech he had delivered in favour of justice to the Irish people during the debate on the Coercion Bill. That speech had excited his (Mr. Blake's) admiration; but last night Mr. Bradlaugh had fallen in his estimation, as he had not shown the courage of his convictions when he sought to take an Oath in which he did not believe. He (Mr. Blake) would never be guilty of sanctioning such a blasphemous proceeding.
§ MR. WARTON
did not join in the semi-chorus of congratulation that the tone of this debate had altered. It was true there had been alterations in the tone of the Prime Minister. The previous night he "could" do nothing, that morning he first "would" do nothing, and, lastly, he was "willing" to do something. There had also been a change in the style of the Chancellor of the Duchy, though he liked the right hon. Gentleman best in his original style, when, for instance, he charged them all with bigotry. In displaying the harmlessness of the dove, the right hon. Gentleman was generally actuated by the wisdom of the serpent; and that wisdom of the serpent he had shown that morning in trying to pin the House to a single point. While the Premier was ranging over such a wide extent of years that they hardly knew where he was, the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands), following the lead of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster at a humble distance, had sought to extract from the Conservatives an answer to the question—"Do you wish to exclude Atheists?" Well, he, for one, shouted, in reply—"Yes!" for he objected both to blasphemy at the Table and to the presence of Atheists in the House. Hon. Members talked about the responsibility resting upon Members on that side of the House. Where were the missing Liberal Members? He asked the shepherd of the flock where were the sheep of the Liberal Party; where were the missing 99, for more than that 1294 number had strayed from the House? He had listened with admiration to the speech of the hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr. Walter), whose remarks had suggested to him that if Mr. Bradlaugh were examined he would ask that Gentleman—"Are you not the publisher and editor of a paper which has these words on its title page—'The principles of this paper are Republican, Atheistic, and Malthusian?'" No form of words could be devised to enable Mr. Bradlaugh, the editor of such a paper as that, to proclaim allegiance to the Crown. But probably it was because there were semi-Republicans in the Cabinet that the Government sympathized with Mr. Bradlaugh. The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) had reminded them that last year it was said that if Mr. Bradlaugh had come to the Table and been silent about his opinions he would have "slipped through." Well, he rejoiced that he had not so "slipped through." Hon. Members opposite would doubtless be glad to see him do so; for the idea of some of them seemed to be that Mr. Bradlaugh should get in honestly if he could, but that anyhow he should get in.
§ DR. COMMINS
said, that, as one of the Irish Members who voted for the admission of Mr. Bradlaugh, he wished to make a few observations on the incidents of that affair referred to so properly by the hon. Members for Waterford and Queen's County. He voted for the Motion for two reasons which seemed to him conclusive. He thought the legal arguments as to Mr. Bradlaugh's right to present himself at the Table and take the Oath, subject to such obligations as his own conscience might impose on him, were unanswered and unanswerable; and, therefore, he felt himself bound to vote for the conservation of the right which the Constitution gave him. He also voted for his admission on another ground—namely, that no matter how it might have been wrapped up in verbiage—no matter how disguised in sophistry—no matter how it might have been glossed over by professions of religious enthusiasm, the true motive which operated on the minds of those who voted the other way was a desire to impose a religious test as an indispensable condition of admission to the House. He did not care whether it was from the presence of religious conviction in the minds of those who voted against Mr. Brad- 1295 laugh's admission, or the absence of religious conviction from the mind of Mr. Bradlaugh, the desire of imposing the religious test still remained; and he, for one, never would give his approval to the principle which made the presence of religious conviction, or the absence of religious conviction, a necessary test for admission into the House. For those reasons he gave his vote for the admission of Mr. Bradlaugh, though he knew no vote could be more unacceptable to his constituents. But he was not a little surprised when told that morning that the Prime Minister had threatened the Irish Members with something like the fate of the Land Bill, because by the course many of them pursued the previous night they were helping the opposite Party to obstruct the Business of the House. He could scarcely believe that that was a correct representation of the matter. He could scarcely believe that the Leader of the House could take such an incorrect view of anything that was said or done by any Member of the Irish Party. They all occupied a kind of judicial position in this matter, and they voted according to their consciences. Therefore, he was perfectly astounded that such a false view of the position of the Irish Members could be taken by the Premier, who he learned had endeavoured to shift upon them, on utterly untenable grounds, the responsibility of any delay or mishap that might occur in the progress of the Irish Land Bill. If the right hon. Gentleman was misunderstood by the Members of the Irish Party, divided as it was, partly in favour of the Government and partly against it, he had no doubt that he would set himself right before the House; and, in doing so, he might probably facilitate the progress of that Bill which they had all so deeply at heart, and which the Irish Members wished to do all in their power to support.
I have no difficulty in answering the appeal of the hon. Member, although I did not hear the animadversion that preceded it to which he referred. I never imputed to the Irish Members any intention of obstructing the Irish Land Bill. [Dr. COMMINS: Co-operating with obstruction.] In the first place, I never referred to obstruction in that sense. I referred to the inconvenience, and possibly the obstruction, in a general sense, which 1296 would be the same as the possible consequence of a prolonged controversy on the subject before us. I said that even if the Irish Members, or any of the Irish Members, were prepared to encounter that inconvenience, I could not look upon that as relaxing my obligation with regard to the Irish Land Bill. On the contrary, I said I would do everything in my power to push that measure forward.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
thought the right hon. Gentleman should take notice of two facts—first, that nothing would induce that House to allow Mr. Bradlaugh to take the Oath; and, secondly, it had been conclusively shown in the course of the debate that the House would not support any measure dealing with the matter before them, unless such measure were introduced at the instance of, and on the authority of, the Government of the day. A Bill so introduced would receive fair and candid consideration from all parts of the House.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.