HC Deb 02 May 1881 vol 260 cc1556-69

In reply to Mr. NEWDEGATE,


said, it was intended that the debate on the Land Law (Ireland) Bill should terminate at a convenient hour that evening, so as to allow his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General to submit his proposal in regard to the Parliamentary Oath. The proposal he anticipated would not require any large development by statement; but if hon. Gentlemen were desirous of discussing it—which he had been given to understand was the case—he should propose to adjourn that debate until 2 o'clock to-morrow. That was the only arrangement he had now before him. He, therefore, begged now to move the Resolution that stood on the Notice Paper in his name as to the Orders of the Day.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Orders of the Day, subsequent to the Order of the Day for resuming the Adjourned Debate on the Second Reading of the Land Law (Ireland) Bill, be postponed until after the Notice of Motion for the introduction of the Parliamentary Oaths Bill."—(Mr. Gladstone.)


said, he rose, with much respect, to ask the House to disagree to the Resolution. He owned that he was surprised at the inconsistency which was displayed by the proposal. A few days ago—he thought last Wednesday—the Prime Minister stated that he could not, under the circumstances, be induced to allow any legislation respecting the Parliamentary Oath to interfere with the very limited time which the Government had to give to the discussion of the Irish Land Bill; and yet the right hon. Gentleman now proposed to-day to break up the discussion on the Bill at an early hour in order that legislation affecting the Parliamentary Oath might be proceeded with. [Mr. GLADSTONE dissented.] Well, if it was not an early hour, better not do it at all. What could be the reason of that extraordinary, and, he thought, very unfortunate, change of opinion? It was difficult to assign any reason; but he must point out to the House that the Motion resembled the Irish Land Bill in this—that it was a concession to violence and mob law. It was part of an arrangement, he might almost say a bargain, entered into between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on the one part, and the two Members for Northampton on the other part, that, coute que coute, Mr. Bradlaugh should be brought into that House. The House had been asked to pass the Motion out of fear of what Mr. Bradlaugh might do, because Mr. Bradlaugh had intimated, or the Government thought it convenient to think that he had intimated, that if this course was not taken, Mr. Bradlaugh would come down every day and turn the House of Commons into a bear garden, and, under the protection of the Prime Minister, have a game at romps with the Serjeant-at-Arms. By agreeing to the Motion, the Speaker and the House would practically acknowledge that they were perfectly powerless to protect themselves from such scandalous proceedings, and that was an extremely discreditable position for the House to be placed in. But there was another reason which had occurred to him why the proposal was made. He thought it was intended partly to carry out the very thinly-veiled threat held out by the Prime Minister to the Irish Members that, if they permitted themselves to vote against him in this matter, they might be made to appear as if they were interfering with the pro- gress of the Land Bill; or, in other words, if they ventured to obey the supreme dictates of their conscience and religion, they would be preventing the rapid promotion of measures in which their country was vitally concerned. Another, and the third, reason why hon. Members should not agree to this proposal was that it had the appearance of an attempt to bully the House of Commons. They knew perfectly well—at least those acquainted with the Parliament of 1868 knew perfectly well—that the Prime Minister was not one who allowed himself to be thwarted with impunity; and if the House of Commons chose to go against the right hon. Gentleman's commands, the House was made to pay for it; and the penalty they were to pay for defeating the Prime Minister in the Lobby the other night was that they were at that period of the Session to be treated to Morning Sittings. Let the House think how the proposal affected private Members. Hitherto, every hour had been taken away from them without one word of apology or compunction. Now they had an interval of about a month or six weeks, when private Members might bring forward Motions or draw attention to grievances; but if they tamely allowed this brief interval to be taken away from them, and devoted to the relief of Mr. Bradlaugh, they would allow the Government to monopolize the whole time of Parliament during the Session, and establish a precedent which might be followed in future Sessions. Why were they to make that concession? Why were they to postpone the Orders of the Day? Was it that they might discuss matters of absorbing interest or overwhelming importance? Were they to discuss the fearful state of Ireland? Was it in order that they might ask explanations of the burnings, and the flayings, and the mutilations, or the conflicts between the police and the mob, and the bloodshed on either side? Was it that they might know how the Chief Secretary for Ireland was using or misusing the great powers that were intrusted to him for the preservation of order? Not a bit of it. If that was the object, they might depend upon it the Government would put every obstacle in the way. If they asked English and Scotch measures to be proceeded with, would they be listened to? Not a bit of it. But they were now asked to break off the discussion on the Land Bill in order that a tremendous Constitutional change might be effected, and without notice, suddenly, and under the threat of violence, to seat Mr. Bradlaugh where he had no right to sit. ["Oh, oh!"] That was the position of Mr. Bradlaugh; he had no right to sit in the House. The ulterior object of the Motion was to enable the Prime Minister to repeat his great and glorious coup of last year, and force the House of Commons to stultify itself, and practically reverse a decision already solemnly arrived at. On all those grounds he asked the House to divide against the Motion. He did not expect much support from hon. Gentlemen opposite; he had grown accustomed to their want of independence. But he had hopes that there were many Members on the Conservative side of the House, and he hoped there were some also on the other side, who would, at all costs and hazards, resist the imperious and arbitrary behests of the Prime Minister, and who would give no facilities for placing in the House of Commons brazen Atheism and rampant disloyalty.


said, it was a departure from all precedent that the House should be hurried into the consideration of the question.


reminded the hon. Member that the point immediately before the House related to the order of Business, and that the line of argument he was pursuing was consequently out of Order.


, resuming, said, he intended to address himself to the order of Business. The course which it was proposed they should take was quite unprecedented; and he would adjure the House, for the sake of its own dignity, to be careful not to seem to deal lightly or hastily with a matter of so much importance. He was unwilling to adopt any course which would be liable to the imputation of faction, baseless as that imputation might be; and consequently he would content himself by asking the First Lord of the Treasury at what hour of the evening he proposed that the power which he bad asked for from the House should be exercised?


, who rose amid considerable interruption, said, he could assure the right hon. Gentleman that there was a very strong feeling on both sides of the House that his Motion would tend to some very bitter and harsh words being uttered. The measure the right hon. Gentleman was now proposing, he would tell him, was one which was subversive of the Constitution of the country, and contrary to what was said in the Queen's Speech with regard to the important Business of the Session. The Parliamentary Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Practices) Bill, the Ballot Act Continuance and Amendment Bill, and the Bankruptcy Bill, which were characterized in the Speech from the Throne as very important measures, were all three on the Paper for discussion that evening; and yet the right hon. Gentleman proposed that the consideration of these Bills, as well as the discussion upon the Land Law (Ireland) Bill, should be postponed in order that a Bill might be brought in for the purpose of admitting Atheists into the Legislature. Watching, as he had done, the antecedents of the right hon. Gentleman, and knowing how strong his religious proclivities were, he could not help thinking that he did not like the task set before him, and, indeed, forced upon him, by two of the right hon. Gentlemen in the Cabinet—he meant the Members for Birmingham. ["Oh, oh!"] He could only tell the right hon. Gentleman that if he should continue to listen too readily to the opinions of the two right lion. Gentlemen whom he had designated, the Government of the right hon. Gentleman would not last very long. The Motion proposed by the Government being unprecedented, he trusted that every Conservative Member would vote with the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) in resisting it.


I have never, Sir, disguised from myself, nor have I disguised from the House, the difficulty which I feel to exist with regard to this question. I shall now endeavour, in a very few words, to express temperately what my own feelings upon this subject are. In the first place, I would say this—that the question which is raised by the intimation made on the part of the Government that they propose to ask for leave to bring in a Bill to alter the Parliamentary Oath, or in some way or other to deal with the Parliamentary Oath, is a question of the greatest gravity. It is a question of, at least, as much importance, I should say, as the question of the alteration of the Parliamentary Oath on the occasion when Jews were admitted to Parliament; and while I entirely desire to keep clear of any premature expression of opinion upon the measure itself, I may say that I am most anxious that it should be brought forward and discussed, on the responsibility of the Government, in a serious, solemn, and convenient manner. In the next place, I am very anxious that any proposal that may be made upon this subject should be made upon its own merits, and not with reference to the circumstances and the position of any particular individual. Nobody can for a moment doubt that it is the case of Mr. Bradlaugh which has raised the necessity, or, at all events, raised the question whether there should or should not be legislation upon this subject; and nobody can be surprised that, after what has taken place, the Government should think it right to invite the House to legislate with regard to it. At the same time, I hope the House will feel that its own dignity is concerned, and that other interests are concerned, in its not being allowed to appear that we are proceeding in anything like heat or haste in consequence of the occurrence of certain proceedings which have taken place. I think, also, that it is very desirable we should as soon as possible know what the nature of the proposal of the Government is, because I observe there are statements and comments made in public, and even in this House, as to that proposal, and we are really ignorant of what the nature of that proposal is. I think, therefore, that it would be convenient if the proposal were to be made known as soon as possible; but, on the other hand, I do not think the House should be asked to take even the step of allowing the introduction of a Bill without a fit and proper amount of time for its consideration. Now, I understand the course that the Government propose to take to be this—that they shall be allowed at some not very early hour this evening to make a brief statement on the nature of the Bill, and that then, having engaged the House in a discussion on its introduction, so that it may become an Order of the Day, they would propose to take a Morning Sitting to-morrow in order to further discuss it. That is equivalent to asking us to take to-morrow for the introduction of the Bill. There is never a Morning Sitting for the submission of a Motion, and so the Government propose to make their Bill an Order of the Day by introducing it to-night, and to continue the discussion to-morrow. Well, I am bound to say that I think that is too early. I think myself that it would be a reasonable and a feasible thing if we had the proposal of the Government made to-night, and that some later day should be taken for the discussion, unless, indeed, the Government say that the matter is one for which they will postpone other Business. But even that is open to the objection that it would mark the case as that of a particular individual, and give to the question a semblance—which I am 10th to impute—a semblance of hurry for the purpose of avoiding a scandalous scene. I think myself that such a scene is not to be anticipated; I do not believe that we are in danger of it; but if I thought that we were, I should say—"Let the House take its own proper course." I do not, however, allow myself to contemplate the possibility of anything of the kind. For the reasons I have given, I would recommend the House to assent to the proposal of the Government that the Orders of the Day should at the same time be postponed for the purpose of enabling the Government to make their statement; but I am not prepared to go on with the discussion at a Morning Sitting to-morrow, and I think that a later hour should be proposed.


Sir, from the observations that have been made, I think it would be supposed by hon. Gentlemen who knew nothing of anterior proceedings that to gratify some humour, or, at any rate, some opinion of their own, Her Majesty's Government were gratuitously inviting the House to legislate on the subject of the Parliamentary Oath. We are, however, doing nothing of the kind. We are endeavouring to meet a case of very great difficulty created by a vote of the House to which we were distinctly objecting parties. There would have been no necessity to ask for Morning Sittings or any other Sittings for the purpose if it had not been that we had the misfortune to differ from the majority of the House, and that this majority did that which I frankly own I thought was debarring one of Her Majesty's subjects from the exercise of his legal right. The House, therefore, found itself in very great difficulty; and, so far as we could judge, it appeared that the proposal to legislate was the course which was most agreeable to the general sense of the House; and further—the very last thing which I, for one, should have desired, overpowered as we are with Business—that if such a proposal were made, it should be made on the responsibility of the Government. It is therefore a proposal which is not designed to meet any view of Her Majesty's Government, for Her Majesty's Government have their own views, and I would have desired to take an entirely different proceeding. It is a proposal made entirely in the interest of what we conceive to be the dignity of the House—the House of Commons having, as it was perfectly entitled to, being the only judges of its opinion, declared its voice in a manner which appeared to point to the necessity of such a proposal. Well, under ordinary circumstances, it is my impression that it would be consonant with the courtesy usually extended to every hon. Member who makes proposals, even of this nature—and it ought not to be withheld from the Government—that the Government should be allowed to lay their proposal on the Table without any difficulty. This is not a measure required by the views of the Government, but one suggested by the Government in order to meet the views of others than the Government on this particular question. In this particular instance, therefore, I hoped that, without discussion, we would be allowed to lay the Bill on the Table. The right hon. Gentleman, however, says he will not allow us to place the Bill on the Table. We must, he says, first make a verbal statement in reference to the measure, and then, without our having had an opportunity of verifying or vindicating the statement by the production of the printed Bill, an interval must be allowed to interpose between the statement of my hon. and learned Friend and the bringing in of the Bill itself. [Mr. NEWDEGATE: By the Standing Orders of the House.] By the Standing Order of the House! Then there is a Standing Order of the House to the effect that the stage of a debate on which it has been moved to introduce a Bill must be adjourned before the Bill is brought in. That is a piece of information entirely new to me, coming as it does from an hon. Gentleman who has sat for 40 years in this House, and with some little experience of the Standing Orders of the House. Now, Sir, it appears to me that it would be by far the best course that this Motion, which is of a purely formal character, should not be made use of for airing the opinion of the House in respect of the Bill, and in saying that I am only following the example of the right hon. Gentleman. I think it would be most desirable that my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General should be permitted, without any delay at all, either to-night or to-morrow, to lay the Bill upon the Table of the House. If that were done then would arise the question, very fairly and properly stated as it has been, that this is a serious matter, and I agree with those who think that the stages of the Bill ought not to be unduly hastened. To that opinion I at once and very freely accede. I must say, on the other hand, that it would, I think, be a very unusual and inconvenient course if the proceedings should be interrupted after the speech of my hon. and learned Friend, and if I know not how many days were allowed to elapse before the Bill was laid upon the Table of the House. At the same time, I am in the condition of which the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) has availed himself. He knows very well the intense anxiety of the Government to get on with the important measure they have now in hand, and he has availed himself of the opportunity this formal Motion has given him of bringing pressure upon the Government by threatening to bring on debates and discussions, which, I believe, he has the great faculty of creating even in himself; and, therefore, the influence he exercises over us, whatever it may be on other grounds, is very considerable on that account now. I am too much in earnest about the Land Law (Ireland) Bill not to be sensible of the vital consequences of that measure and of my duty to press it forward, and not to do anything that can seriously interfere with it; and, therefore, much as I must regret what I think the very unusual and inconvenient course of allowing my hon. and learned Friend to make his statement, and then requiring an adjournment of the debate, which may last for many days before the introduction of the Bill, I shall certainly rather submit to such a course—I will not say concur in it—than waste and absorb the time of the House in discussing whether it should be followed or not. After once the Bill is introduced, then I shall freely accede to an interval before its second reading. At present, if I accede to it, I only accede to it complying with compulsion. As to the hour, I have already named the time as nearly as I am able at which we shall propose or endeavour to secure the postponement of the Land Law (Ireland) Bill.


said, if he could get anybody to join with him he should vote against the Motion. He looked upon the question as one of principle, and he maintained that the Conservative Party should be staunch in their defence of the religious feeling of the country on this question at every stage and turn. If not, it had better be absent from the House. As he had said, the question involved a great principle, and it was a matter of indifference to him what course the right hon. Gentleman on the front Opposition Bench took. [Cries of "Divide!"] The step taken by the Government was obnoxious to the strong convictions of millions of people in the country, and he would not be dragged into a particular Lobby by any terms or agreement made with right hon. Gentlemen opposite. The present state of this wretched dispute was far more serious than was its former stage. [Loud cries of "Divide!"] He asked—[Renewed interruption]—if he were not allowed to proceed he had but one course to adopt. The former question was one of law—[Cries of "Question" "Adjourn!" and "Divide!"] He begged to move the adjournment of the House.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Lewis.)


The Question is, "That this Debate be now adjourned." [Cries of "House!" and "Debate!"]


I certainly intended to use the word "Debate."


Mr. Speaker, the Motion made was "That this House do now adjourn."


I certainly intended to say "Debate."


I must ask the hon. Member what was the Motion he made?


Sir, I am perfectly candid with the House. By a slip of the tongue I used the word "House" instead of the word "Debate."


The Question is "That this House do now adjourn."

The House divided:—Ayes 43; Noes 318: Majority 275.—(Div. List, No.189.)

Original Question again proposed, That the Orders of the Day, subsequent to the Order of the Day for resuming the Adjourned Debate on the Second Reading of the Land Law (Ireland) Bill, be postponed until after the Notice of Motion for the introduction of the Parliamentary Oaths Bill.


said, that the right hon. Gentleman, in his speech just now, admitted a great part of the charge of the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) when he said it was not the fault of the Government that the House was to be called upon to have Morning Sittings, and to devote some of the time which ought to be given to the Land Law (Ireland) Bill to the discussion of the question of the Oath. He understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that he would not have felt it his duty to propose Morning Sittings if the majority had not voted against him the other day. The meaning of that was that the House was to be punished with Morning Sittings because a majority had disagreed with the Prime Minister and his Colleagues. He understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that if the hon. and learned Attorney General were permitted to introduce the Bill that night there would be no Morning Sitting on Tuesday, but that there would be one on Friday for this purpose, so as to avoid interfering with the progress of the Land Bill. That, of course, partially met the case of the opponents of the Motion, but not entirely; because, after the forcible way in which the right hon. Gentleman had insisted on the importance of carrying on the discussion on the Land Law (Ireland) Bill, if he did not ask for a Morning Sitting to-morrow, he would ask for one on some subsequent day. It seemed to be trifling with the House first to go on with the Land Law (Ireland) Bill, and then to introduce a measure which would involve the consumption of an enormous amount of time and the consequent deprivation of the rights of private Members for the Session. If he were correct in understanding that there was to be a Morning Sitting on Friday, he should vote against the present Motion.


said, he had understood the Prime Minister to say that, if the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General were allowed to make his statement regarding the Parliamentary Oath to-night, the further consideration of the Bill would be put off for a considerable time, so that the House and the country might understand the nature of the proposal that the Government thought it right to make under the circumstances. The suggestion he would make was this—that, the statement of the hon. and learned Gentleman having been made, the Government would not propose a Morning Sitting on Tuesday or Friday, which would deprive private Members of their just rights. If the other side had been in opposition, they would never for one moment have allowed such a thing, so he ventured to ask hon. Gentlemen to support the Opposition in pressing upon the Government to give a Government night for the discussion of one of the most important measures as to the constitution of the House. If the Government would grant that, there would be no further opposition to the proposal. He asked the right hon. Gentleman humbly, but firmly, whether he would give a Government night for the discussion of their proposals? But in stating this they would most certainly also reserve to themselves the right, after hearing the proposal of the Government, to consider what course they ought to adopt in the difficult circumstances in which they were placed.


ventured to urge the Government to accede to the proposal which had been made on the other side by the hon. and gallant Baronet (Sir Waiter B. Barttelot). He would say, let the Bill be introduced this evening, and its further consideration be delayed till Friday evening, otherwise the night would be lost as regarded the Land Law (Ireland) Bill.

MR. MAC IVER moved the adjournment of the debate, because he conceived that no good purpose could be served by the further adjournment of the question that night. He also thought that the Prime Minister should in a few words indicate to the House what was the precise nature of the Bill. He ventured to think that an Affirmation made by a notorious Atheist and Republican would be a mere formality, and not a solemn declaration of loyalty.


seconded the Motion for adjournment, in order to give himself an opportunity of addressing the House at an earlier period than he otherwise could. He hoped that the Prime Minister would not yield to the insidious appeal of the hon. and gallant Baronet (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) that he should give up a Government night for the discussion of the subject. As an independent Member fresh from Ireland, he could assure the House that the widest feeling of regret existed in that country that precedence should be given to this matter over the all-important subject of the Land Law (Ireland) Bill. Suppose the Government took a Morning Sitting the next day, would any more of the time of the House be occupied with the subject previous to the second reading of the Land Law (Ireland) Bill? He hoped the Government did not intend to yield altogether to the violence and intimidation of the electors of Northampton; and he had only to express his regret that they showed greater deference to his convenience than to the wants and wishes of the Irish people.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Mac Iver.)


hoped his hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Mac Iver) would withdraw his Motion for the adjournment of the debate if the Prime Minister would accede to the appeal of the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for West Sussex (Sir Walter B. Barttelot), and fix a Government night for the introduction of the Bill. If, however, the right hon. Gentleman intended to take a Morning Sitting, he would support the Motion of his hon. Friend.


said, he had voted with great regret against the Motion of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis), because that Motion was a mistake. The hon. Member ought to have moved the adjournment of the debate. He hoped the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Mac Iver) would not divide the House on his Motion for adjournment, because the question should be treated with the gravity with which it ought to be treated as a matter affecting religion. The first and oldest Standing Order with respect to Public Business was passed 99 years ago, and it was this— That no Bill relating to religion, or any alteration of the law concerning religion, be brought into this House until the proposal shall have been first considered in Committee of the Whole House, and agreed unto by the House. He trusted when the hon. and learned Attorney General made his statement, that the House would consider it in Committee in accordance with that Standing Order.


, in answer to the question which had been put to him, would say a very few words. He was anxious that the Bill should be proceeded with by his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General to-morrow, without a wrangle; but if a vote could not be given willingly that evening upon the question, it must stand over till Friday. It had been suggested that the matter, if taken on Friday, should follow Supply. He had no objection to that; but it must depend upon the appearance of the Notice Paper. He would leave it till Thursday to make a final arrangement. He appealed to the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Mac Iver) to withdraw his Motion.


said, he hoped, after the statement of the Prime Minister, that the Motion for the adjournment of the debate would be withdrawn, as he thought the House would have a fair opportunity for discussion.


said, that, in consequence of the appeal of the right hon. Baronet, he would ask leave to withdraw his Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Question put, and agreed to. Resolved, That the Orders of the Day, subsequent to the Order of the Day for resuming the Adjourned Debate on the Second Reading of the Land Law (Ireland) Bill, be postponed until after the Notice of Motion for the introduction of the Parliamentary Oaths Bill.

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