§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [2nd May], "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair" for Committee on the Parliamentary Oaths (Motion for Bill).
§ Question again proposed.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be further adjourned till Tuesday next, at Two of the clock."—(Lord Frederick Cavendish.)
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, he objected to the Motion. He, for one, at all events, had no wish that the Bill the Government had to introduce should not be, as soon as possible, in the hands of Members. He was anxious that not only the House but the country should be able to proceed to judgment on the Bill; therefore, it was not with the view of preventing the Government from making progress that he made the present objection, but it was because he altogether rejected the proposal for a Morning Sitting on a Tuesday early in May, without a much stronger reason being alleged by the Government than any which had yet been offered, or than he was able to imagine. It seemed to him that the Government had attempted this Session to reverse every tradition that had hitherto governed the House. They began the Session a month earlier than usual. No sooner had they begun it than an entirely new engine was devised for managing their debates. Before Easter the rights of private Members were entirely sacrificed—he admitted for a great public object—and they met after Easter on a most unusual day for the transaction of Business. And now the Government intended to add to this 2047 long list of innovations the innovation of taking a Morning Sitting as early as the 10th of May. He would like to know what the justification for this course was? The Government, they knew, intended to bring in a Bill. Was this Bill for the relief of any large class of Her Majesty's subjects? Was it to carry out any principle of reform? He was perfectly aware that in its provisions the Bill was general, that it dealt with a class in form and not with an individual. But he apprehended there was no man in the House who doubted for a moment that the whole object of the Bill was to deal with an individual and not with a class. The Bill was general in form, but it was particular in substance—it dealt with an individual as truly as a Bill of Attainder and a Bill of Indemnity did. Everyone knew that it was simply brought in to meet a difficulty which one single individual, by his own conduct, created. He had nothing more to put before the House; but he wanted to ask the Government this one question. Were they prepared to state that the measure they were laying before the House was one of great public importance—were they prepared to state that they were going to confer a benefit upon any large class of Her Majesty's subjects? If they were prepared to make these statements, the House would know exactly on what ground it was that Ministers wished to take away the rights of private Members who had Bills on the Paper for Tuesday, and to introduce a most dangerous innovation in Parliament. It was most important for them not to assent to any precedent rashly. If their debates were governed by precedents, next year, or the year after, the Government then in power might wish to trespass upon the rights of private Members, and might wish to bring forward some measure which a large section of the House might think of small importance. They might wish to have a Morning Sitting soon after Easter; and if the House assented to the Motion now made, a future Government would be able to refer to the precedent established this year and to say—"How can you refuse what you granted in 1881?" For these reasons, he hoped the House would refuse to pass the extraordinary Motion now made; and he begged to move as an Amendment that 2048 the words "Two of the clock" be omitted from the Motion.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the words "at Two of the clock."—(Mr. Arthur Balfour.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words 'at Two of the clock' stand part of the Question."
§ SIR JOHN HAY
asked, whether this was not an opposed Motion, which, owing to the half-past 12 o'clock Rule, could not be taken, due Notice of the opposition having been given?
§ MR. SPEAKER
This is an Order of the Day, and the House cannot do otherwise than postpone it. It is the duty of the hon. Member in charge of the Bill to state what he proposes to do with the Order of the Day—either to proceed with it at once, or to postpone it. I do not consider the Rule with regard to opposed Business applies in this case.
rose to another point of Order. He wished to ask whether it was open to any Member of the House to postpone an Order of the Day to a time which, in the ordinary course, the House would not be sitting? The House had never resolved that it would sit on Tuesday at 2 o'clock, and, according to the Standing Orders and Rules by which Business was conducted, the time of sitting on Tuesday was 4 o'clock. The House having made no other different Resolution, the time at which they might be expected to meet on Tuesday was therefore 4 o'clock. In illustration, he might ask whether it was competent for an hon. Member to propose the postponement of an Order of the Day until Sunday? If the House had already resolved to sit on Tuesday at 2 o'clock, he could understand the Motion.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I have to say that, according to the ordinary practice of the House, the House fixes the hour at which it will sit. If no particular hour is specified at which the House will meet on a given day, the House will sit at the usual time. It is competent for the House to fix any particular hour it thinks fit.
§ SIR HENRY SELWIN-IBBETSON
said, he should be the last person probably in the House, with the experience he had had of the difficulty of conducting the Business, to interpose any objection to the course proposed by the Go- 2049 vernment on this occasion except for one particular reason. The House ought to consider very carefully the question of the rights of private Members. Now, Tuesday next, in the ordinary course of things, would be devoted to the consideration of a question which affected a very large class of people in the country, whose interests had long been in abeyance, and whose case it was very anxiously expected would be brought under the notice of the House on Tuesday. He need hardly remind the House how difficult it was after a Sitting had been taken to get in the evening that attention directed to any particular subject which the subject might very properly deserve. The hon. and gallant Member for South Ayrshire (Colonel Alexander) had, on more than one occasion, obtained the first place for the consideration of the question of police superannuation throughout the country; and on two occasions already this Session, when he had so obtained the first place, he had been obliged to forego it for the convenience of the Government. And now, again, with fortune which was perhaps unequalled, he had obtained the first place for Tuesday next; and it did seem hard that a large class of people, whose case the hon. and gallant Gentleman hoped to bring before the House on Tuesday, should have, for the third time this Session, to submit, in consequence of the appeal of the Government, to a postponement of the consideration of their claims to a time which might never arise during the present Session. It was scarcely necessary to say how difficult it was for private Members to obtain opportunities for the discussion in this House of questions in which they were particularly interested; and it was hard if they were, at an early period like the present, to lose the opportunities they had gained after much labour and waiting. But it was doubly hard if they were required to sacrifice for the third time during a Session the opportunities so obtained. He did not like, from the experience he had gained in the House, to offer any opposition to the Motion of the Government; but he thought the House ought to consider that, in agreeing to the Motion, they would be dealing almost unfairly with a class of men who had long and anxiously been wishing for their grievance to be brought before the House, and who had at last obtained 2050 an opportunity, which, however, they seemed on the point of losing.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
gathered from the tone of the few speeches delivered that there would not be any reason for any very great difference of opinion between the two sides of the House upon this occasion. The hon. Baronet the Member for West Essex (Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson) had based his objection upon the importance of the Business which was already on the Paper for Tuesday next. He (the Marquess of Hartington) thought he was in the recollection of the House when he said that many most animated and important debates had taken place at an Evening Sitting. Of course, if the House agreed to the Motion which had been made by the Government to give a Morning Sitting to the consideration of the introduction of the Parliamentary Oaths Bill, the Government would feel bound to do whatever was in their power to make a House in the evening. It, moreover, seemed to him that if the subject to be discussed first thing on Tuesday was, as he had no doubt it was, of that importance to deserve attention, there would be, apart from any undertaking on the part of the Government, a sufficient attendance to insure its adequate consideration. His hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Courtney) informed him, though he did not wish to put it forward as a matter of much importance, that the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ayr must be under no apprehension that the subject of police superannuation would escape the attention of the Government; in fact, matters had proceeded so far that a Bill had been drafted by the Government authorities on the subject. The hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. A. J. Balfour) had said he was extremely anxious to see the measure of the Government brought in, and to see what the Government proposals were on the subject. [Mr. A. J. BALFOUR: No!] He understood the hon. Member to say he was anxious to see the Bill, but that he required very strong reasons to justify him in assenting to a departure from the ordinary practice of the House in taking a Morning Sitting at so early a period of the Session. The hon. Member need not be alarmed that they would establish any dangerous precedent if they agreed to the present Motion, for he was informed that in 2051 1879 the late Government asked for and obtained from the House a Morning Sitting on the 6th of May fur the purpose of considering a Valuation Bill, to which they attached so little importance that it was abandoned before the close of the Session. But the hon. Member wanted strong reasons to persuade him of the importance of the Bill, and he asked whether it was intended to relieve a very large class of persons? He (the Marquess of Hartington) thought there was very little difference of opinion that the Bill was one of a most important character, and that whether it affected a large class of persons or not, or whether it be for the relief of Mr. Bradlaugh, or a large number of Her Majesty's subjects, it was undoubtedly a Bill which was pressing, inasmuch as it would relieve the House itself. As was pointed out by the Attorney General the other night, the suggestion that this difficulty ought to be met, and could only be met by legislation, came last year from the Front Opposition Bench—from the right hon. Gentleman the late Home Secretary (Sir R. Assheton. Cross). During the present Session the suggestion had been made on both sides of the House. The House had undoubtedly found itself in a very considerable difficulty. ["No, no!"] He did not blame the majority of the House; but it had, by passing a certain Resolution, placed the House in a position of considerable difficulty. The majority would make no definite proposal; but, after a great deal of unseemly discussion, a suggestion came from both sides of the House that the difficulty should be met, and ought to be met, by legislation. The Government were very far from saying the legislation they proposed was the proper remedy; but, at all events, it was the proposal they had to make to the House. The Government were anxious to lay before the House as soon as possible a proposal to meet the case; and surely it was a matter of importance that the House should be relieved from the position of difficulty and embarrassment in which it found itself. If ever there was a legitimate occasion for a Morning Sitting it was the present. For these reasons, he thought the House would be disposed to assent to the Motion.
SIR ASSHETON CROSS
My right hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote) is unfortunately unable to be here to-night; 2052 but we have had some correspondence on this matter, and on his behalf and my own, and that of my Colleagues, I have to say that we undoubtedly object to a Morning Sitting on Tuesday. Whatever may have happened under peculiar circumstances in 1879—into which I will not enter at this moment—it is very well to quote one instance, but not without taking the surrounding circumstances which made it necessary at the moment into consideration. We object to a Morning Sitting at this early period of the Session under such extraordinary circumstances; but when we come to what the circumstances are, our opinion undoubtedly is that they make rather for not giving facilities than for giving facilities. The noble Lord has said that the House is agreed that there should be legislation, and has referred to something which fell from me in the early part of the discussion, to the effect that legislation was the only way of dealing with the subject. What I stated was, that for those persons who wished to introduce Mr. Bradlaugh into the House the only possible way was by legislation. I was perfectly convinced that he could neither affirm nor take the Oath; but it is one thing to say that, and another to give facilities for legislation; and I, for one, can only say that I have no wish to admit Mr. Bradlaugh into this House at all. Whatever the substance of the proposed Bill may be, I should feel bound to vote against it; and, under these circumstances, I—and my right hon. Friend who has asked me to speak to-night is of the same opinion—am of opinion that it is a question on which there is not the slightest reason, but rather the contrary, for giving facilities. The Bill should come forward in the ordinary course. It is objected to by a large number of persons in this House, and we can see no reason for giving facilities for bringing in a Bill to which we strongly object.
§ MR. HEALY
wished to draw a parallel between the way in which the Government had treated one hon. Member of that House, and the way in which they had treated another hon. Member. One hon. Member who, in the last Session, acted towards them in a way which was exceedingly servile, and who had stated that he did not believe in God, and was charged by some people with having blasphemed God, was, in order that he might obtain admission to the 2053 House, to get from the hands of the Government the extraordinary favour of a Morning Sitting all to himself. Another hon. Member, whose only offence was that he had saved hundreds of people from starvation, and had gone through America hat in hand begging for the starving people of his country, and had prevented families from being evicted; who had not blasphemed God, but who had blasphemed the Government in Ireland, had not been allowed a minute's time for the discussion of his arrest.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 128; Noes 122: Majority 6.—(Div. List, No. 195.)
§ Main Question proposed.
§ MR. RITCHIE,
in rising to move the adjournment of the debate, said, he thought that after the division which had just taken place, and looking to the divided nature of the opinion of the House on the subject, as evidenced by the narrow majority the Government had obtained, such a departure from the ordinary mode of taking Business ought not to be insisted on. Therefore, in order to give the Government time for further reflection on their extraordinary position, he should conclude by moving the adjournment of the debate. The noble Lord had said that the object of the Bill was to get the House out of a position of great difficulty, in which its action the other day had placed it; but he considered that the House was placed in a position of difficulty, not by the action of the House, but by the non-action of the Government.
§ MR. MONK
rose to Order. The right hon. Gentleman in the Chair had, on a previous occasion, ruled that it was not necessary for the House to decide to what future day a debate should be adjourned, and that it was not competent to an hon. Member to move the adjournment of a debate. He (Mr. Monk) had, therefore, to ask, whether it was not necessary that the day for the resumption of the debate should now be fixed?
§ MR. SPEAKER
The judgment of the House with regard to the time at which this debate should be resumed is about to be finally taken on the Question now proposed from the Chair. The hon. Member is not out of Order.
§ MR. RITCHIE,
continuing, said, the difficulty in which the House found it- 2054 self was owing to the want of action on the part of the Leader of the House in not seeing that the conclusion to which the House came was carried out. The House surely had power to see that its Resolutions were carried into effect without any alteration in the law; and he maintained that it was totally unnecessary that in order to carry out the Resolution of the House the Government should propose an alteration of the law, and to do that by the unusual course, at this time of the year, of a Morning Sitting. The noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Hartington) had told the House that the last Government had asked the House to sit in the morning in the beginning of May; but this year there was an altogether different state of circumstances, for the House met a month before the usual time, land until within the last week or two the Government had had control over every day of the Session. Now they proposed, by the method they asked the House to adopt, to still further curtail the rights of private Members, as there could not be any doubt that there was not that amount of energy and vigour shown when the House met at 9 o'clock in the evening as when it met in the ordinary way. He wished to warn the House as to what they were about to embark in. The question was not only one of a Morning Sitting, but it was one of carrying this Bill through by Morning Sittings. It was perfectly useless and idle for the Government to say that they only wanted a Morning Sitting to place the Bill in the hands of the House. The Leader of the House did not disguise the fact that the only method by which he hoped to carry the Bill was by Morning Sittings; and if the House consented to depart from the ordinary course and commenced Morning Sittings on Tuesday, the next thing the Government would propose would be to have Morning Sittings on Fridays and Tuesdays, and so coerce the House until this Bill was passed. The object of the Morning Sitting was to pass a Bill in which the country was not generally interested. It was to give admission to a Gentleman who had been elected, and had come before the House on two or three occasions proposing to enter the House in two or three different ways. It was immaterial to him in what way he entered, or what principles he sacrificed; but the House was asked to sacri- 2055 fice a great principle in order to admit him—to adopt a course involving matters of serious moment to the country in order to admit this man. If they were going to have Morning Sittings there were plenty of measures which the Government might deal with which were of much more importance that the admission of Mr. Bradlaugh. There was a question in which a much larger number of persons were interested, which they might bring forward. What had become of that Bill in which every inhabitant of the Metropolis was interested—the Metropolitan Water Supply Bill? Hon. Members who were in the last Parliament would remember distinctly that every Gentleman now sitting on the Treasury Bench constantly pressed the Government, in season and out of season, to take up that measure, looking at the importance of passing it into law. Yet it was now placed on one side and ignored. If the Government were to ask the House and private Members to sacrifice their time and meet at 2 o'clock in the day in the beginning of the month of May, it ought to be for the purpose of dealing with questions of great Imperial importance, and not such a question as the admission of Mr. Bradlaugh into Parliament. The Jews and the Roman Catholics were knocking at the door of that House for years before they were admitted; but the Government now came down in hot haste and asked for the admission of Mr. Bradlaugh against the wishes of an immense majority of the people of the country the moment he presented himself. Under all the circumstances, and in order to give the Government time for further reflection as to the extraordinary course they proposed to adopt, he would move that the debate be now adjourned.
§ MR.R. N. FOWLER
begged to second the Motion of his hon. Friend (Mr. Ritchie). He approved of the proposition of his hon. Friend, but upon somewhat different grounds from those which he had assigned. His hon. Friend made a strong point of the rights of private Members; but he (Mr. R. N. Fowler) wished to point out that the Government had a most important measure before the House—the Customs and Inland Revenue Bill—and if they asked for a Morning Sitting for the sake of proceeding with that important measure, which considerably affected the interests 2056 of the commercial community, probably no objection would have been raised. But what was it that Her Majesty's Government were asking a Morning Sitting for? The hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. A. J. Balfour) said he was anxious to see the Bill. He (Mr. R. N. Fowler) had no curiosity to see the Bill. He thought it had been sufficiently explained by the statement of the hon. and learned Attorney General. There was no doubt whatever what the Bill was. It was a Bill to admit into that House an hon. Member who, by his own confession, was an Atheist; and as he (Mr. R. N. Fowler) was opposed to the admission of an Atheist into that House, and as he intended, by every means in his power, to resist such an admission, he opposed the Bill of the Government, and seconded the Motion of his hon. Friend.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Ritchie.)
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
I wish to say a few words upon the matter. Nothing, I think, could be more unfortunate than for the House to get into a long wrangle upon this question; and I would therefore put it to the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Hartington) whether, seeing the very even division that has just taken place, it would not be the wisest course, in order to avoid that which would be a great misfortune, to allow the debate to stand over until Monday, when it could be decided by a very different House? It must be adjourned until some time, and if adjourned now until Monday, there would be plenty of time to settle the question of the further adjournment. The wisest course, then, would be that this debate should now be adjourned, and I recommend that course for two reasons—in the first place, in order to give the Government time to consider whether, seeing the strong expression of opinion in the House against having a Morning Sitting for this purpose, it would not be wise to give it up; and, secondly, to give the House a fuller opportunity of considering the proposal which the Government has made.
§ MR. JOHN BRIGHT
The hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ritchie) and the hon. Member for the City of London (Mr. R. N. Fowler) have 2057 told us very plainly what their object is in objecting to the adjournment of the debate until 2 o'clock on Tuesday. I would therefore ask right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Opposition Bench to consider their position in the matter, because on Wednesday week, when I took the opportunity of stating at some length my opinion upon the question, and suggested a mode of extricating the House from the difficulty in which it is now placed, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote) appeared entirely to agree to the proposition I made that legislation on this subject should be resorted to. [Cries of "No!" from the Opposition.] As some proof of the accuracy of what I say, I beg to recall the recollection of the House, and especially that of the hon. Member for the City of London (Mr. R. N. Fowler), to what occurred, because the hon. Member got up afterwards and stated that although right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench might adopt the suggestion which I had made, they must make their account with certain other Members of the House who held different opinions. As the hon. Member (Mr. R. N. Fowler) lifted his hat when I referred to him, I have no doubt that he assents to the representation I have made.
§ MR. R. N. FOWLER
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. What I said was that whatever my right hon. Friends did I should oppose the Bill.
§ MR. JOHN BRIGHT
The hon. Member also said that right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Opposition Bench must make their account with hon. Members on the Benches behind them. I recollect the words expressly.
§ MR. JOHN BRIGHT
The hon. Member also said—and I do not wish to disguise it at all—that although he should not take any part in obstructing the Bill, he should feel it his duty in every division to vote against it. What I complain of, and what I say is extraordinary, is that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader on that side of the House, not being here to-night, should have commissioned his Colleague the late Home Secretary (Sir R. Assheton Cross) to make a statement which, in my opinion, is entirely at variance in spirit with the declaration made on the 2058 occasion to which I refer by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon. The House will remember the condition the House was in on that occasion. It was felt—I am quite sure the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon felt, and most men in this House felt—[An hon. MEMBER: No!]—I say, yes—that the House was in a very unpleasant position, and that it was most desirable we should extricate ourselves from it. When I put a question as to whether he objected to the admission into the House of the hon. Member for Northampton on the ground of his disbelief, or on account of the manner in which it was proposed to admit him, the right hon. Gentleman stated distinctly that it was because he objected to the profanation of the Oath. One hon. Member opposite got up and said I had been endeavouring to pin the right hon. Gentleman to that view. [Mr. WARTON: Yes!] I did not pin him to any view. I said that was my own view, and I believe that the right hon. Gentleman felt it to be so sensible a view that he found himself bound to coincide with it. Her Majesty's Government now propose that there should be a Morning Sitting on the 10th of May, in order to discuss the introduction of the Bill which my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General has already explained to the House. Hon. Gentlemen opposite know that in regard to a measure of less importance than this, their own Government had a Morning Sitting on the 6th of May. All that we propose now is that we should take a few hours—from 2 to 7 o'clock—and that the House shall meet again in the ordinary way at 9 o'clock. Any other course would materially retard the progress of the most important Business that can possibly come before the House. ["No!"] I speak of the question we have before us in the Bill now standing for second reading in regard to the state of Ireland. I put it to every thoughtful man in the House if it is wise on the part of the House of Commons to allow that question to drag on from day to day—[Mr. HEALY: Declare urgency.]—or to oppose its uninterrupted progress by an accidental question like that which has now come before us? The Government have no interest in the question of altering the Oath. Some hon. Members have said this Bill is only for one man. 2059 Now, I undertake to say that when the House shall have passed the Bill brought in by my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, there are scores of Members in this House who have hitherto taken the Oath, who will gladly avail themselves of its provisions to make an Affirmation in place of taking an Oath; and, on that account, we may fairly ask the House to allow us to pass the Bill. The feeling of the House has already been shown to be in favour of meeting at 2 o'clock on Tuesday. If the majority had been the other way, what would the House have thought if my noble Friend had got up and asked the House, because the numbers were so evenly balanced, to allow the Government to have their way? The House has determined by a majority what ought to be the course of proceeding. I therefore ask, not on account of Mr. Bradlaugh, but on account of the pressure of great and most momentous Business, that the House should facilitate and not interpose any obstacle in the way of the Government, whose labours during the Session have been exceptionally onerous, and who have been subjected to a pressure which they cannot throw off, which they must grapple with, and which they must bear. I trust that, under the circumstances, the House will agree to what has already been decided, and will agree upon adjourning the debate until 2 o'clock on Tuesday.
§ VISCOUNT SANDON
The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. John Bright) used strong words when he spoke of the great and momentous Business before the House. I think he underrates the feeling of hon. Members on this side of the House. He does not appreciate the fact that we consider this question of altering the Parliamentary Oath to be as great and momentous a question as can be brought before us. I appeal to the knowledge of hon. Gentlemen of what has happened on both sides of the House in regard to the question. What is the meaning of the division which has just taken place? The right hon. Gentleman is a Member of a Government which possess a very large majority. What, then, was the meaning of the absence of some 200 Members who usually support Her Majesty's Government? I say, with the right hon. Gentleman, that we feel this to be a great, a grave, and a momentous question.
2060 [Laughter."] It is a question that is not to be treated slightingly with laughter and jest. Surely our feelings are to be considered in a matter of this kind. The question is either a very small one—and nobody can suppose that it is a very small one—or it is one of the very gravest and of the very last importance. All we say on this occasion is that we do not want to interfere with the progress of Business; but we do say this—that we are determined that no extra importance shall be given to this question of the admission of the hon. Member for Northampton, by giving to it special and unusual facilities. We do not intend to oppose his admission in any undue way; but we conceive the question to be one of the gravest and most momentous which can be brought before us in regard to the constitution of the House; and we expect that every opportunity will be given to us for expressing our opinion upon it.
§ MR. WARTON
remarked, that he was extremely sorry for hon. Members who thought it right to indulge in laughter, because they evidently understood the importance of the question. He should be as ashamed of himself as he was of them if he were not prepared to treat the matter in the most serious light. He certainly regretted to see a Liberal Government bringing all its influence, just and unjust, and using arguments perverted and false, in order to induce the House to see in the question anything but a determination on the part of a Radical Government to foist an Atheist upon the House. It was a question upon which the spirit of the country was fairly aroused, and it was rapidly rising to a pitch of which those who sat on the Front Bench opposite were utterly ignorant. He held it to be his duty, superior to his action on any other question, to avail himself of every means that were possible to resist this wicked attempt on the part of Her Majesty's Government. He called it a wicked attempt because the grossest perversion had been used. He was exceedingly sorry that the subject had been forced upon the attention of the House, and he regretted that the duty of opposing the proposition now made by the Government had been supported by such weak arguments. The hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. A. J. Balfour) put it on the early period of the Session; 2061 the hon. Baronet the Member for West Essex (Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson), on the prejudicial interference it might have with the discussion of the question of police superannuation. No doubt, that question was of the utmost importance, and he sympathized with every word that had been said in regard to it; but when these grounds were assigned as the reason for objecting to the Government proposal they only formed an excuse for the ingenious perversion and misrepresentation which had been indulged in on the other side of the House, certainly by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, as to what the real motives of those who opposed the Bill were. The right hon. Gentleman had done him (Mr. Warton) the honour to refer to him, because he was the Member who had charged the right hon. Gentleman, as he charged the right hon. Gentleman now, with having picked out one part of the statement which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote) made, and misrepresenting it as the whole of the argument of his right hon. Friend. Let it now be known that the Radical Party—not the whole of them, because some voted against the Government, and others stayed away—let it be known that Her Majesty's Government and those who supported them were determined, rightly or wrongly, although there were important Bills before the House, such as the Land Law (Ireland) Bill and others, to bring Mr. Bradlaugh into that House, and that the Tory Party were determined to do all they could to prevent him from being admitted. Both the country and right hon. Gentlemen opposite now knew what his feeling was in the matter. All the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon said was that he objected to the profanation of the Oath. The Tory Party as a body objected to the profanation of the Oath, and they objected, also, to the admission of an Atheist into that House. The country must be made aware of that, and see that there was no further misunderstanding upon the matter.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that last year the House, acting on the Reports of two Committees, placed Her Majesty's Government in a minority upon the question relating to Mr. Bradlaugh. It would, 2062 therefore, do very wrong in allowing the independent expression of its opinions by its majority to be passed over by Her Majesty's Ministers. Either that House was an independent Assembly, or it was an abject following of the Government; and if it intended to retain the character which it had borne during the last 300 years, it would not submit to having its opinions slighted in any manner by Her Majesty's Ministers. The House now objected to having that which, by its majority, it had declared to be a great question taken at unfitting hours, and on undue occasions, at the instance of Her Majesty's Ministers; and he could assure hon. Members that the communications which both he and right hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Front Bench of the Opposition had received all proved that the feelings of the country would be outraged if this question were treated by the House with less gravity than the great majority of the English people attributed to it. He should vote against the exceptional appointment of a Morning Sitting, because he considered it indicated that Her Majesty's Government were at liberty to shuffle off this question. Perhaps they were conscious that, by their conduct, they had already violated the deepest feelings of the people. He was convinced Her Majesty's Government were making a great mistake. Throughout the whole of this business they had been wrong in law; they had obliged Mr. Bradlaugh to incur heavy penalties; and he supposed if they succeeded in altering the law for his convenience, the next Motion they proposed would be that Mr. Bradlaugh should be indemnified out of the public money for having broken the law at their suggestion.
§ MR. HICKS
pointed out that at that time of the year there was a number of Committees sitting upstairs. The Business under their consideration was of a kind that involved great expense to the parties connected with it. He wished to ask Her Majesty's Government whether these Committees were to be suspended during the discussion of this question; and, if so, whether the parties who would undoubtedly lose large sums of money by their adjournment were to be indemnified? On the other hand, if the Committees were not suspended, were the Members constituting them who wished to take part in the debate 2063 on a question of vital Constitutional importance to be debarred from doing so? The House should bear in mind that if this Motion was agreed to, it would be competent for Her Majesty's Government, or any private Member, on Motion for adjournment, to take the House at a disadvantage at any moment. Why, he asked, did not Her Majesty's Government demand a Morning Sitting for the Land Law (Ireland) Bill as well as for the Parliamentary Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Practices) Bill, of which they had at one time heard so much, but now heard so little? In the last Parliament hon. Members opposite were never tired of talking about bribery, surely they had abundant evidence of bribery at the last Election. Why, then, was not the Bribery Bill pressed forward?
thought he could give a reason which might possibly induce Her Majesty's Government to assent to the Motion for adjournment. When they moved that the debate on the Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," be postponed until Tuesday at 2 o'clock, he had no doubt they believed that with their large and docile majority they would be able to carry the Motion. He thought that the division which had just taken place must cause Her Majesty's Government some slight misgivings as to whether, when the Motion was put on Tuesday, it would be carried. In his opinion, it was likely that the House would refuse it; and, looking at the narrow majority for the Government on the last division, he suggested that it would be well to wait until Monday, to see whether there was to be a Morning Sitting or not.
§ COLONEL MAKINS
said, that a flood of light had been thrown upon the Bill by the statement which had been made from the Benches opposite that it was not merely intended for the purpose of bringing Mr. Bradlaugh into the House, but for the relief of "scores" of persons who were anxious to affirm, instead of taking the Oath. He pointed out to the right hon. Gentleman who made that statement (Mr. John Bright) that there need be no hurry at all so far as that point was concerned, for it was impossible for those hon. Members who, it was said, now desired to affirm to shuffle off the Oath they had already taken. Therefore, unless, in consequence of the narrow majority for the 2064 Government, as shown by the last division, the right hon. Gentleman saw another General Election looming in the immediate distance, it was quite impossible for the hon. Members in question to exercise the right which the Bill would give them until the next Parliament.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
said, he was surprised at the simplicity of the hon. and gallant Member for South Essex (Colonel Makins) in attaching the least importance to the argument of the right hon. Gentleman which he had just referred to. Had the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster been speaking a week ago, and there was a necessity of coming to an early decision upon the question, he would have said—"Look at the constituency of Northampton, deprived of one of its Representatives in this House; is not that grossly unfair to the people of Northampton?" Why did not the right hon. Gentleman use that argument now? It was because he knew that by making an allusion to a constituency which had but one of its Representatives in the House, he would call to mind the fact that another constituency was deprived of its Representative—not by the law of the land, but by a breach of that law, and of the Constitution, committed by right hon. Gentlemen opposite. It was difficult to say which of the two speeches delivered in the course of the evening by Members of the Government was the more unsatisfactory. But the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster had referred to the number of Saints' days which were observed in Ireland in a manner which was scarcely appreciated by the Irish Members. With the permission of the right hon. Gentleman, he would remind him that the great mistake of the Government, of which he was a Member, was that they had, so to speak, too many Saints' days in the carrying out of their present proposals. The right hon. Gentleman, with the endeavour to shift on to Irish Members the responsibility for the blunders committed by the Government in Ireland, had said there were great questions before the House with regard to that country, which must be immediately settled. Let the Government, then, proceed with the Land Bill, than which there was nothing more momentous, de die in diem, and defer the Parliamen- 2065 tary Oaths Bill, which could very well wait, until it was settled. For his own part, he intended to support the principle of the Parliamentary Oaths Bill; but he was not at all bound to admire the blundering tactics of the right hon. Gentleman and his Colleagues. The answer of the Irish Members to the appeal of the right hon. Gentleman that they would support the Government in urging on the settlement of the question with regard to Northampton was that they would do so, if he would give them like support in filling up the vacancy for Tipperary.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 115; Noes 127: Majority 12.—(Div. List, No. 196.)
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
rose to make an appeal to his noble Friend (the Marquess of Hartington), in view of the strong feeling shown by the Opposition on this question. He did not see much importance in the argument that, even under a Conservative Government, a Morning Sitting had taken place early in May, for private Members were still justified in insisting on their rights. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. John Bright) had attempted to draw a red herring across the path, saying, "Do not interfere with the Land Bill." Private Members manage the Business of the House; they did not fix first, second, or third readings of Bills. It was the Government who put down the Bills; and if the progress of the Land Law (Ireland) Bill was interfered with, it would be entirely owing to the course the Government had adopted. ["No, no!"] Well, he was stating the simple fact, and was pointing out to the Government that if that Bill had been delayed, or was likely to be, it was owing to hon. Members on the Ministerial side of the House. The noble Marquess said no other suggestion had been made. Here, then, was a suggestion—let the Government introduce and proceed with the measure in the ordinary way. If they did this, he would answer for himself—of course, he could not answer for others—that he would not place any obstacle in the way of the measure proceeding to the second reading stage. Of course, he would 2066 reserve to himself the right to do what he liked on the second reading. He could not conceive anything more unreasonable than to ask private Members to give up their rights for the purpose of allowing the introduction of a measure they most strongly opposed. If the noble Marquess was prepared to bring on the measure in the ordinary way, let him consent to the proposal that he (Mr. Chaplin) now made, that the House do now adjourn.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Chaplin.)
§ COLONEL BARNE
said, he wished to support the Motion. He had the strongest objection to giving the Government facilities for the introduction of a Bill which would have the effect of introducing an Atheist into the House.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
said, that if the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Dublin (Colonel Taylor) would state, on the part of the Opposition, that they were determined to pursue he (the Marquess of Hartington) would not say "Obstructive" tactics, but that active opposition, he would not put the House to the trouble of dividing; but, as the noble Viscount the Member for Liverpool (Viscount Sandon) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross), who had taken so prominent a part in the discussion, were now not in the House, he did not know whether the Opposition intended to refrain from offering further impediment to the Motion for the adjournment of the debate until Tuesday. ["No, no!"] He was sorry it was not so. The noble Viscount the Member for Liverpool had made rather a curious statement a few minutes ago, when he said that the matter was one of most vital importance, and that the magnitude of it could not be exaggerated, and had qualified it with the assertion that the question as to the Morning Sitting was of even greater importance. And there was one argument which had struck him very much indeed. The hon. Gentleman the Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ritchie) had complained of the inaction of the Government. Surely they could be no longer charged with that. They were desirous of introducing a Bill, and they 2067 had explained what the measure was they desired to introduce, and it was only right that they should be afforded an opportunity for their proposal. The Government should strive as long as they reasonably could to get their proposal considered. It had been said that they should put it down for a Government night; but the Government had no intention of doing that to the exclusion of the consideration of the Land Law (Ireland) Bill. If the House refused to adopt the proposal they made, that the measure should be dealt with at a Morning Sitting, then he was afraid the difficulty could not be removed, and that it would be for hon. Gentlemen opposite, under the guidance of the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets, to say when the Bill should be taken.
said, he had only to say this—that he had had no communication with his Friends who usually sat on that (the Front Opposition) Bench since the last division; but he could inform the noble Marquess that hon. Members on that side of the House were determined to continue the present opposition.
§ EARL PERCY
said, the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington) had expressed surprise at hon. Members on the Front Opposition Bench, who took such an interest in the question, having left the House. He (Earl Percy), however, rose to express his inability to understand the exact position in which Her Majesty's Government professed to be placed, because, on the one hand, they were informed by one right hon. Gentleman that this was a very small measure—one merely for the purpose of removing a temporary difficulty—but, on the other hand, another right hon. Gentleman declared that it was a most important Bill, and that they ought to make the greatest sacrifices in order to bring it forward. The noble Marquess said it was owing to no fault of the Government that they were placed in the difficulty in which they now found themselves; but he (Earl Percy) would ask, was the difficulty not owing to the action of the Government last Session? The Government were fairly warned, and might have foreseen that this difficulty would arise. They should have avoided it by early legislation if they intended to deal with it at all. They had chosen to put it off to a crowded Session when a 2068 great difficulty arose, and did not now propose to give the facilities that were ordinarily afforded when such Bills were brought forward. The noble Marquess seemed anxious that one-half of the House should fix a Morning Sitting against the wish of the other half, notwithstanding that, in a matter of this sort, it was desirable that they should have, practically, the unanimous consent of the House.
§ SIR JOHN HAY
said, that, as a Scotch Member, he wished to say that this proposed measure was repulsive to the good sense of the Scotch people, and that as it could not be denied that the measure was for the relief of Atheists—for Atheists in general, or one in particular—he should remain there as long as he could find any ether Member to join him in offering every Parliamentary means to oppose the Motion.
§ DR. LYONS
desired to explain the course he was about to take. He was strongly opposed to the admission of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Northampton, and last year had voted against the Government with regard to the hon. Member being permitted to take his seat. He had a conscientious objection to Mr. Bradlaugh's admission into that House, and upon that question he had recorded his vote with hon. Gentlemen opposite. But the question was now losing the aspect of principle, and degenerating into one of unreasonable obstruction. Though he still abided most strongly by his conscientious convictions, and should take every opportunity of recording his vote in affirmation of them, he would not countenance an unreasonable obstruction in any matter upon which the House had arrived at a decision. It was greatly to be regretted that the Army without Leaders, as he might venture to designate the Opposition at the present moment, should put themselves in the position of unreasonable hostility to the action of the Government on this subject. He could not see that any good purpose whatever would result from it. They might continue to sit until that time to-morrow; but he did not see that that would advance the cause which he (Dr. Lyons), in common with hon. Gentlemen opposite, had mostly at heart. He felt it his duty, in the present aspect of the case, to support Her Majesty's Government, because he could not conceive what good 2069 object could be served by the obstruction which was being adopted by the Opposition.
§ SIR HENRY SELWIN-IBBETSON
said, he should be sorry to abandon principle for the sake of Party. He would remind the House that the position taken by the Opposition on this occasion was one which was hardly fairly designated by the hon. Member for Dublin (Dr. Lyons) as pure obstruction; because, when a division was so close as the one they had just taken, the course taken by the Opposition was seldom strongly resisted by the Government, especially when the real question at issue was the postponement of a subject to a further day. Under the circumstances, he hoped the noble Marquess the Leader of the Government on the present occasion would see that this was not a case of pure obstruction; but that the demands of the Opposition were perfectly legitimate.
§ LORD EDWARD CAVENDISH
said, if the Government were prepared to resist the Motion for adjournment, he would very cordially support them; but, at the same time, he regretted they had decided to oppose it, although he did so for a different reason to what had been given by the hon. Member for Dublin (Dr. Lyons). A number of irresponsible minor lights appeared to think that that evening they were playing a very important part; but they seemed to have forgotten one consideration, and that was the very difficult position in which they were placing the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote). When their excitement had cooled down, and when they had received the castigation which they would probably receive in the course of a very few hours for their conduct this evening, they would regret the course they had adopted, and on Monday put on the white sheet.
said, the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington) had asserted that the Government were bringing forward this Bill for the purpose of getting the House out of a difficulty. It was the Member for Northampton who was in a difficulty; it was the constituency of Northampton, and not that House, which had deliberately put itself in a difficulty. From the beginning of the Bradlaugh business to the present moment the House had been 2070 of one opinion, and Mr. Bradlaugh had been of another. In the first place, he was legally wrong; and, in the second place, he was wrong in the action he took; and he imagined now that by keeping up a kind of threat that he would appear constantly at the Table of the House and claim his right in spite of the decision of the House, and in spite of the decision of the Courts of Law, he would be allowed to take his seat. The Government had been beaten on every occasion, and they wanted to thrust him upon the House. The Government did it deliberately, and when they were resisted they resorted to the charge of obstruction. They who, upon principle, were opposed to the admission into that House of a man who had no belief in God, and no regard for principle or decency of any kind, would resist him by every means in their power.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
appealed to the noble Marquess to consent to the adjournment. He did not pretend to speak as an exponent of his Party; but he was satisfied there was a considerable section in the House who were prepared to go into the Lobby in support of the adjournment, and do their utmost to resist the proposal of the Government.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
did not know what hon. Gentlemen meant by saying they were not engaging in obstruction. There had been two divisions, and in each of them the Opposition had found themselves in the minority. He (Mr. Labouchere) was always under the impression that the minority ought to cede to the majority. [A laugh.] Hon. Gentlemen laughed at the very idea of such a thing. They now said they would not resist; they say, "although a minority, we can sit as long as you, and perhaps longer; and therefore, possibly, we may win." [Lord RANDOLPH CHURCHILL: Hear, hear!] The noble Lord said "Hear, hear!" If he (Mr. Labouchere) remembered rightly, the Irish Members took a similar course when the Coercion Bill was before the House, and he (Mr. Labouchere) thought they were right; but Conservatives who did not think they were right were constantly attacking them for their obstructive tactics. As hon. Gentlemen opposite had asserted their intention to resist, by every obstructive means, the introduction of this Bill, he would ask the Government 2071 what was the use of a Morning Sitting on Tuesday? It seemed to hint that at the end of the Sitting they would be in precisely the same position as they were now. They would have a number of speeches, and that was all. Under those circumstances, anxious as he was that the measure should be brought on, he would ask the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington) whether there Was any use in continuing that strife? It seemed they would revert to the position in which they found themselves before it was suggested that the Bill should be introduced. And then he did not say what would happen. It was possible on Tuesday evening Mr. Bradlaugh might come to the Table. [Lord RANDOLPH CHURCHILL: Hear. Hear!] The noble Lord cheered. No doubt he would be glad to see Mr. Bradlaugh at the Table. Be that as it might, Mr. Bradlaugh had always claimed he had a statutory right to come to the Table, and that had been the difficulty which the Government was now attempting to meet. If the Bill of the Government could not be brought in, Mr. Bradlaugh would maintain his statutory right; consequently, when hon. Gentlemen opposite said that if a Morning Sitting was not taken on Tuesday they would be able to bring forward the question of police superannuation, he was sorry to say he feared they would be greatly dis- appointed.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
said, the House had been treated to a threat in a perfectly undisguised form. Mr. Bradlaugh's alter ego had informed the House that if it did not assent to a Morning Sitting, Mr. Bradlaugh would come to the Table and repeat those discreditable scenes of which they had lately had so many. All he could say to the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) and his alter ego (Mr. Bradlaugh) was, that if Mr. Bradlaugh thought it necessary to assert what he considered his statutory right, the House of Commons would think it necessary to assert its authority.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 100; Noes 121: Majority 21.—(Div. List, No. 197.)
SIR H. DRUMMOND WOLLF
trusted that the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington) would now see his way 2072 to meet the wishes of the large minority. The noble Marquess must have seen from the first that the opinion of the House was divided, and he could hardly congratulate himself on the small majority which the Government had obtained. All that was being proposed was that the debate should be adjourned till Monday, in order that the discussion might be continued when it was more expected than it had been that night. The House had received no Notice of a Morning Sitting for Tuesday; but it had been started upon them by surprise, and he thought it would only be within the courtesies of Parliamentary life, and fair, that the noble Marquess should agree to the proposal. He begged to move the adjournment of the debate.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Sir H. Drummond Wolff.)
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
If we cannot congratulate ourselves upon a very large majority, we can congratulate ourselves upon a sufficient majority. I acknowledge that the minority appear to be extremely determined; and, while I have been delighted to hear several times this evening that there is no desire on their part to resort to obstruction, their action appears to my mind to bear so close a resemblance to obstruction that I do not propose to contend with them any longer. I am quite willing to accede to the wishes of hon. Members opposite.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till Monday next.