HC Deb 05 July 1881 vol 263 cc45-9

Mr. Speaker, I rise to a point of Order. I desire to ask you, whether it is true, as has been stated in the newspapers, that you have received a threatening letter from Mr. Bradlaugh—that is to say, not a letter threatening you with personal violence, but threatening to use violence for the purpose of impugning a Resolution passed by the House; whether it is your intention to take official notice of the letter; and whether you will take such steps as may be advisable for protecting the Serjeant-at-Arms and the other officers of the House from such violence in discharging their duties in pursuance of that Resolution?


Before the hon. Member arose, I was about to inform the House that I had received a communication from Mr. Bradlaugh, Member for Northampton; and I was about to communicate that letter to the House. I will do so now. It is in the following terms:——


Might I, Mr. Speaker, ask you a question on a point of Order, before you proceed to read that letter? ["Order!"] In spite of interruptions from the Prime Minister, Mr. Speaker having allowed me to put a point of Order, I insist upon continuing. I wish to ask you, Sir, whether it is competent for any hon. Member to move, after you have communicated that letter to the House; that it be not inserted on the Journals of the House, that it be not considered by the House; and that you, Sir, be requested by the House not to give any reply to it?


The letter, after I have read it to the House, will be laid upon the Table; it will then appear in the Votes, and it will be competent for any hon. Member to found a Motion upon it if he should think proper hereafter to do so. I will now proceed to read the letter to the House:—

"To the Right Honourable

"The Speaker of the House of Commons.


"I beg most respectfully to submit to your notice the following points;—

"1. I am advised that the interruption on the 27th April, and my removal on the 10th May last from the House by the Serjeant at Arms, when engaged according to Law and in precise compliance with the Rules and Orders of the House in attempting to perform the duty of taking my scat, was on each occasion absolutely illegal, and was an infringement of my rights and in breach of my privileges as a duly returned Member of the House.

"2. I am advised that the House of Commons had not any authority either by statute, or according to its own precedents, to pass any Resolution interrupting me or authorising the Serjeant at Arms so to remove me, I being then in the exercise of my lawful right and attempting the orderly performance of my legal duty.

"3. I am advised that I should have been justified in resisting the use of the illegal and therefore unjustifiable physical force on the part of the Serjeant at Arms.

"4. I am advised that, notwithstanding the illegality of the said forcible removal of myself by the Serjeant at Arms, I have no remedy in any Court of Law against the said Serjeant at Arms, as the privileges of the House of Commons protect its Officer even in wrongful acts, if such acts are done in pursuance of the Order of the House.

"5. I am advised that the Order of the House of the 10th May last, a copy of which order has been served upon me, does not authorise the Serjeant at Arms to use force or to employ force to prevent my re-entry into the House, to the Table of which I have been properly introduced, for the purpose of completely complying with the Law in order to take my seat at the time and in the manner provided by the Standing Orders.

"6. That if such Order should be construed to authorise the said Serjeant at Arms to attempt by force to prevent me from entering the House to complete and fulfil the duty required from me by Law, in the manner provided by the Standing Orders, then that any such user of force would be absolutely illegal, and may be lawfully resisted and overcome by me.

"I beg therefore, Sir, most respectfully to give notice that I claim to disregard the Order of the House of the 10th day of May last, and to treat the same as not requiring obedience from me, on the ground that such Order is absolutely illegal. I do not dispute the power of the House in its pleasure to vacate my seat if once I have taken it. In such case it would be for the Electors of Northampton to decide on a new Election as to whom they would wish further to represent them. I do not question, nor should I resist, the authority of the House to arrest me, this right it has exercised over Englishmen far more more important than myself, but I do deny, and, if it unhappily becomes necessary, shall feel it my duty to resist, the claim to prevent me, in spite of the Law, and by physical force alone, from complying with the Return and Mandate of my Constituents, whose lawful representative I am.

"In the name of the Law, Sir, and of my Constituents, I also most respectfully give notice that I shall, in the manner and at the time provided by the Standing Orders of the House, again present myself at the Table of the House to complete the fulfilment of the duty imposed on me by Law, and, in the course of the performance of which duty I have been most improperly and illegally interrupted and hindered.

"I, having obtained the leave of my Constituents to this effect, would have waited, and would still wait the reasonable pleasure of the House, as to any Legislation with reference to the manner of my taking my Seat; but, as the House does not express any opinion on this subject, and does not challenge in any way the lawfulness of my Return, it is due to my Constituents that I should insist on the performance of my duty in my unchallenged lawful right, and thus put an end to a state of things without precedent in the history of Parliament.

"I have the honour to be, Sir,

"Your most obedt. Servant,


"4 July, 1881."

I have deemed it to be my duty to communicate this letter to the House, because it contests the authority and the Order of the House itself. I may add also that I have given special directions to the Serjeant-at-Arms to enforce the Order of the House of the 10th May.


In view, Sir, of the last observations that fell from you, that the letter contests the authority of the House, and that you have deemed it your duty to take extra precautions, in consequence of that letter, to see that the authority of the House is not disregarded, I presume I shall be in Order in treating the communication which you have just read as a matter affecting the Privileges of the House, in the same way as the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) proposed to treat the former letter of Mr. Bradlaugh. Sir, I beg to move——


I must point out to the noble Lord, who wishes to know whether he can found his Motion upon a question of Privilege upon the precedent of the former letter of Mr. Brad-laugh, that the case upon which the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) made the Motion and the present case are not at all analogous. On the occasion of the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle making his Motion the matter was one of urgency; but on this occasion the noble Lord is unable to plead urgency.


Does this not affect the Privileges of the House in any way? The letter of Mr. Bradlaugh does not—["Order!"]—I would say that my solo object is to prevent the letter being printed in the Votes; and that, I think, is a distinctly intelligible object. But I beg to give Notice that I shall take the earliest opportunity of moving that this letter be not inserted in the Journals of the House, that it be not considered by the House, and that you, Sir, be requested to make no reply to it.


I should like to ask, as a point of Order, whether the Motion of the noble Lord will come on as a matter of Privilege, or whether it will have to go through the ordinary process of the ballot?


A Motion of this kind could not come on as a matter of Privilege; and I may add that, if the noble Lord proposes to take that course, it will be entirely without precedent. I apprehend that any communication which the Speaker makes to the House must, as a matter of course, be printed in the Votes.


I did not give the Notice, Mr. Speaker, in any sense as antagonistic to the communication you have made to the House, and I did not know that what I proposed to do would have that effect. What I want to do is to prevent, if possible, a letter of that kind—a letter which is of such a very peculiar character—being printed in the Journals of the House. Of course, after what has fallen from you, I shall not proceed with the Motion of which I have given Notice.


I apprehend that if the noble Lord wishes to take the action that he indicates, the best course for him or any other hon. Member sharing his views to adopt will be to move, subsequently, that the letter be expunged from the Journals of the House.


Should I be in Order, Sir, if I were now to move that the Order of the House of the 10th May be read by the Clerk at the Table? Sir, you have stated that you have given instructions that that Order of the House shall be executed by the proper officers of the House, and I therefore desire that it should be read at the Table, so that the House may see whether the terms of that Order are such as to give the House the strongest protection against violence or a violent interruption of its proceedings. I will move that the Order of the House of the 10th May be read by the Clerk at the Table.


Surely, Sir, the House would best consult its own dignity and the dignity of the Chair by leaving this in your hands. The action of the House was quite clear some time ago. You have entirely given expression to the feeling of the House, and the House may safely trust this matter in the hands of its Chair.


I entirely concur with what has just fallen from the right hon. Baronet the Member for North Devon. It would, in my view, be imprudent on the part of the House to interfere with its own Executive, so to speak, in the discharge of the duties which appertain merely to that Executive. It is the business of the Executive to look after the fulfilment of the Orders of the House; and, if that were not so, there would be no use in having an Executive. When the Executive finds it necessary to do so, no doubt it will come forward and appeal to the House for the purpose of having effect given to its action.


It may be convenient to the House that I should read the Order of the 10th May. It is— That the Serjeant-at-Arms do remove Mr. Bradlaugh from this House until he shall engage not further to disturb the proceedings of the House.


There is one point which I wish to see cleared up before this matter is allowed to drop. It is said that the Motion is absolutely made, and that the letter of Mr. Bradlaugh will be printed, and that the proper course for the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock to take would be to move that it be expunged from the Votes. I should like to ask whether, if the noble Lord moves to expunge it, that Motion will be one of Privilege or not? Can it be sprung upon us without due Notice?


It could not.


I beg to give Notice that I will make the Motion at the earliest possible moment.