§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, he rose to make an appeal to his hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson); and, in doing so, with a view to expedite Business which was set down for that evening, he should be under the necessity of following the example of the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Lalor), and would conclude with a Motion. His hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle had given Notice of a Resolution which he now saw on the Paper. When the Speaker was asked whether that Notice would have precedence over all others as a question of Privilege, he stated that this question could not be put in its present form, but that, in order to have precedence, it would be necessary that the hon. Baronet should specifically move a Resolution rescinding one on the subject of Mr. Bradlaugh 415 which was passed some time ago by the House. The view held on that side of the House was that the Resolution was illegal in the sense that it was contrary to the statutory law and the statutory rights of Mr. Bradlaugh. Into that he did not wish to enter. As a matter of fact, his hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle would not be able to put this Resolution in its present form before the House; he would be obliged to move a Resolution rescinding the previous Resolution; and he confessed that he did not for himself think that the bringing of such a Resolution before the House would in any way tend towards Mr. Bradlaugh taking his seat there. Since the Resolution of last month had been carried the Government had asked leave to bring in a Bill to enable Mr. Bradlaugh to affirm instead of taking the Oath. [Ironical cheeps.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite thought it very funny when he mentioned Mr. Bradlaugh; but they knew very well that, although the Bill was a general one, it was specifically stated that it was brought in in order to meet a particular difficulty. [Renewed cheers.] He was astonished hon. Members should cheer that statement. It was well known that that was the reason why it was brought forward at the present moment. Objection was taken, when leave was asked to bring in the Bill, to a Morning Sitting being taken; and hon. Gentlemen stated that they were prepared to sit up all night in order to prevent it. ["No!"] It was within the recollection of the House that hon. Members declared that they would contest the matter during the whole night. ["No, no!"] They thought it more simple to pass the night objecting to a Morning Sitting than to sit the next morning for three or four hours. However, it appeared very evident that the Morning Sitting would be of very little use, because they would then have been favoured with very valuable observations from several Gentlemen, and at 7 o'clock have been very much in the same position, so far as that Bill was concerned. Hon. Gentlemen opposite bore him out that they intended to use the Forms of the House to prevent that Bill being brought in. Under these circumstances, he would ask the Prime Minister what he intended to do with regard to the Parliamentary Oaths Act. He need not say in consequence of Mr. Bradlaugh only, because 416 it concerned the constituency which he (Mr. Labouchere) had the honour to represent. That constituency was naturally anxious that it should have full representation in that House. Mr. Bradlaugh himself was naturally anxious that he should not sit at the further side of that door for ever like a Peri at the gates of Paradise.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must point out that I understood the hon. Member to rise to make an appeal to the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle; but no question has been put to the hon. Baronet. No doubt the hon. Member is entitled to make any remarks necessary to make his question plain to the House, but he is going beyond that concession.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, of course he should follow that direction. He was arriving at his Question to his hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle, and was trying to clear the ground, and to explain to him what the position was before the Question was put. As he had said, the constituency of Northampton felt deeply grateful to the First Lord of the Treasury and to his Colleagues for what they had done, for the efforts they had made to secure to that constituency their Constitutional rights. At the same time, that constituency, he was happy to say, was a thoroughly Radical constituency, and did not wish to impede the progress of the Land Bill. He would, therefore, venture, in order to clear the matter for the hon. Member for Carlisle, to ask the Prime Minister to be good enough to tell the, House, if possible, what course the Government intended to pursue. His constituents were quite willing to wait patiently. But he would venture to ask the Government when the Oaths Bill would be brought in. He would venture to suggest that it should not be brought in until the Land Bill passed. He presumed that after the second reading they would soon be in Committee. He hoped the Bill would be passed in a reasonable time. The Parliamentary Oaths Bill was a Government Bill, and he hoped that the influence of the hon. Member for Carlisle with the Prime Minister would give some expectation that the Bill would soon be submitted to the House, when the House might decide whether to accept or reject it. If he might be allowed to make a suggestion to hon. Members opposite—["No, no!"] 417 —he would ask to be allowed to say this. Hon. Gentlemen opposite were not actuated by any personal feeling against Mr. Bradlaugh—
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Gentleman may make suggestions to the House; but he may not address any particular Members of the House.
§ COLONEL MAKINS
I rise to Order. The hon. Member for Northampton, at the commencement of his remarks, stated that he would conclude with a Motion. If he does so, I presume he will be in Order? I wish to ask if that is not the case?
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, he did not wish to detain the House; but he appealed to the hon. Member for Carlisle and to hon. Gentlemen opposite whether they were actuated by any personal or malevolent feelings towards Mr. Bradlaugh. ["No, no!"] He asked them not to say "No, no!" in a hurry, but to think over the matter; and it was possible that if he was to bring in an Indemnity Bill for Mr. Bradlaugh, and considering that Mr. Bradlaugh was a poor man, as everybody knew—[Cries of "Question!" and "Order!"]—and had incurred considerable expense—[Renewed cries of "Order!"]—
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
Then he would ask his hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle to withdraw his Motion, and formally begged to move the adjournment of the House.
§ SIR WILFRID LAWSON
said, he begged to second that Motion, as that was the most orderly course to pursue, and would enable him to state the position in which he and the House stood with regard to the Motion. He did not know whether the right hon. Gentleman would make a statement adverse to the Bill of the hon. Member for Northampton. With that he had nothing to do. He merely wished to explain why he gave Notice of what he intended to do. The Speaker had read a letter from Mr. Bradlaugh at 12 o'clock on Wednesday, when there was hardly anybody in the House. He asked the Speaker whether the question of Privilege might be brought forward at half-past 4 o'clock, and the Speaker had said that it might. But he thought it better not to do so at once, but to give one or two days' Notice. He waited all that afternoon and found 418 that nobody else took the matter up, and then on the Wednesday he gave Notice of the Motion which stood in his name in the Order Book. Now, that letter of Mr. Bradlaugh was a very important one. There was an important statement in it that the House had done something in absolute defiance of the statute—had, by actual physical force, prevented him from doing the duty imposed upon him by the express words of the statute. Mr. Bradlaugh had requested that the letter should be communicated to the House, and the Speaker had done so. When such a letter came from a Gentleman representing a large constituency, it ought to be dealt with in the House in some way or other. It was a grave charge, a serious charge, and he hoped the House would discuss it in a spirit totally free from bias. There was a real and grave Constitutional question—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I must point out to the hon. Baronet that it is not regular on a Motion for the Adjournment of the House to discuss a Motion which is on the Paper.
§ SIR WILFRID LAWSON
said, that the last thing he wished to do was to run counter to the Rules of the House; but he understood that this was a question of Privilege.
§ SIR WILFRID LAWSON
said, that being the case, he would simply state what he intended to do. He had intended to move a Resolution declaring the Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote) illegal, because he believed it was illegal; but the Speaker had stated that the most regular course would be to move the rescission of that Resolution. He should have been very glad to have done that that evening; but he thought it would not be quite courteous either to friends or foes to bring that Motion on without due Notice; and it would be very like taking the House by surprise. [Cries of "No, no!" and "Go on!"] Some Members said "No, no!" but that was his humble opinion. But he would tell the House what he would do. He proposed, on some day of which he would give due Notice, to move his Resolution as a matter of Privilege. ["No, no!"] Mr. Speaker had told him that he was in Order. ["No, no!"] Very well, if that was not so, the Speaker 419 could correct him. But he should not move his Resolution if hon. Members opposite would allow the Bill of the Attorney General to come on for discussion without having recourse to obstructive tactics.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Labouchere.)
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
said, he thought that the House must have been greatly edified by those proceedings. The House, perhaps, without knowing it, had been a witness of a most carefully conceived and well got-up burlesque. The House must bear in mind that Mr. Bradlaugh and his Colleague in all these affairs acted under the inspiration of the Prime Minister and his Colleagues. [Cries of "Oh!" and "Withdraw!"] And the course of events—[Continued cries of "Withdraw!"]—had been extremely—["Oh, oh"]—well arranged with Mr. Bradlaugh after his expulsion from the House. [Renewed cries of "Withdraw!"]
§ MR. A. M. SULLIVAN
said, he rose to Order. He did not know whether he really heard the noble Lord correctly in imputing to the Prime Minister that he had inspired an hon. Member in a disorderly course which had resulted in his expulsion. He would ask whether it was in Order to impute to a Member of that House that he had inspired conduct which had brought down the censure of the House?
I venture, Sir, to enlarge the appeal of the hon. and learned Member for Meath. I having stated in my place within no great number of days that I had no communication whatever with Mr. Bradlaugh, I beg to put it to you, Sir, respectfully, but very directly, whether the noble Lord is in Order in stating, in direct contradiction to my assertion, that Mr. Bradlaugh has taken all his steps in this matter under the direct inspiration of the Prime Minister and his Colleagues?
§ MR. SPEAKER
I am bound to say that, owing to the noise which prevailed at the time the noble Lord was speaking, the words spoken by him did not reach my ear. If the words imputed to him by the hon. and learned Member for Meath (Mr. A. M. Sullivan) were correctly imputed to him, they were quite out of Order.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
said, that after the statement of the Prime Minister he begged to withdraw unreservedly the statement he made. When he made it, he was bound to say he was perfectly in ignorance of the declaration the Prime Minister made the other day. He did not recollect it at all. But certainly he never intended to insinuate for a moment that the Prime Minister had any relation with Mr. Bradlaugh in his disorderly proceedings. All he ventured to say was this—that the whole course pursued by Mr. Bradlaugh had been of a nature always to gain the assent of the Government. That was a Parliamentary statement. What had occurred? Mr. Bradlaugh had written a letter to the Speaker after his removal from the House, and the Speaker, in the exercise of his discretion, communicated that letter to the House. He was bound to say there did not appear to him to be anything in that letter which necessitated so formal a communication. It only contained, in a more elaborate and enlarged form, what Mr. Bradlaugh stated at that Table. No doubt, Mr. Bradlaugh took that course after consultation with his friends, who were friends of great skill and experience, and with the view of raising a discussion. What took place? The hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) immediately said he would call the attention of the House to that letter, and he gave Notice on the same day of a Motion declaring that the Resolution of April 26 was illegal. He would explain to the Prime Minister why he (Lord Randolph Churchill) thought this step was not taken without consultation with some Member of the Government, if not with the Prime Minister. When the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) asked the Prime Minister yesterday what course he proposed to adopt with regard to the Oaths Bill, the Prime Minister said it would be impossible to state that until the House decided upon the Motion of the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle, showing perfectly clearly what it was open to anyone to infer. [Cries of "No, no!"]
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
begged the noble Lord's pardon. What the Prime Minister did say in answer to his Question was that he could not reply to the Question because he did not know what would 421 be done with the Motion of the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
said, it was the celebrated difference be-between tweedledum and tweedledee. There was not the smallest difference whatever. The hon. Member for North Warwickshire put the Question, what course the Government was going to take with the Oaths Bill, and the Prime Minister replied that he could not state until the House had decided upon the Motion of the hon. Member for Carlisle. It was perfectly open to the House to infer that the Motion of the hon. Member for Carlisle was brought forward with the assent of the Government and would receive the Government's support. ["Oh!"] That was the opinion largely shared by hon. Members on this side of the House—that, until the House decided upon that Motion, the Government would not proceed with the Oaths Bill. What had taken place since? It had been ascertained by sources of information open to the Government that if the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle brought forward that Motion, it would be rejected by a large majority, who would not declare their former action to have been arbitrary and illegal; upon which the hon. Member for Northampton—and he asked the House particularly to mark this—got up, and, though doubly interested in getting Mr. Bradlaugh into this House, he appealed to the hon. Member for Carlisle not to bring forward that Resolution, because the Government would not support it, and the Government would not support it because the House was going to reject it. And he wished to point out to the House further, to show how completely the hon. Member for Northampton was in accord with the Government, that he asked the House to postpone legislation in regard to the Oath until the Irish Land Bill should have passed the House—somewhere about July 30 or August 15. The whole transaction, as he had said, was a carefully got-up burlesque. A fly was thrown over the House to ascertain whether, by hook or by crook, Mr. Bradlaugh could be brought into the House. The hon. Member for Carlisle had only for the moment withdrawn his Motion, and now arose the question of procedure. The hon. Member for Carlisle said he would hold his Resolution in terrorem over the House, 422 so that if the House would not agree to any measure initiated or devised by him, he Would bring forward his Motion on any day he thought expedient. Mr. Speaker ruled yesterday that the Motion was of a privileged character. In his (Lord Randolph Churchill's) part of the House they did not understand that ruling, for when the Prime Minister last year brought forward a Resolution of an identical character, asking the House to rescind a Resolution of precisely the same kind as this one, Mr. Speaker ruled that it did not partake of a privileged character. They were unable to see the difference between the Motion of the hon. Member for Carlisle and the Motion of the Prime Minister last Session. There could be no doubt whatever that the essence of Privilege was the immediate character of the Question or Motion. The reason of the Privilege was that the nature of the subject was so urgent that it could not wait, and that all other Business must give way before it. The Speaker would, he hoped, rule that if this Motion was not proceeded with at once, it entirely and utterly lost its privilege. That was a point on which he particularly desired a ruling, so that this Motion might not be held over them in terrorem by the hon. Member for Carlisle. He also hoped the Prime Minister would answer the Question put to him by the hon. Member for Northampton, and state the course he proposed to take with the Oaths Bill—whether he intended to put it off till the Greek Kalends, or to take it immediately. There was no use keeping the House in the dark on a subject which, as the hon. Member for Northampton said, involved a great Constitutional question. The hon. Member also asked what would be the fate of any Bill of Indemnity he might bring in? Speaking only for himself, he would be glad to see him introduce the Bill, and would be ready to support him, for there was no doubt the action Mr. Bradlaugh took was entirely owing to the remarkably imprudent advice given by the Law Officers of the Crown; and, Mr. Bradlaugh having acted upon it, the Government must pass a Bill of Indemnity, or put down a Vote for him on the Estimates. No one on the Opposition side of the House would object to such a Bill. Turning to another point, he wished to draw attention to the Resolution under 423 which Mr. Bradlaugh was allowed by the House to affirm. At the instigation of the First Lord of the Treasury, that Resolution had been placed among the Standing Orders of the House. Now, the Courts of Law had declared that Affirmation by Mr. Bradlaugh was illegal; and therefore he wished to know whether the right hon. Gentleman would move a Resolution proposing that the Motion permitting Mr. Bradlaugh to affirm be expunged from the Records of the House? A Standing Order which invited Members to take action which had been declared illegal, and which subjected them to the heaviest penalties, was a disgrace and discredit to the House of Commons. The First Lord of the Treasury, having compelled the House to place the Standing Order on its Books, was the proper person to move that it be removed.
Sir, I shall begin by answering the Question which the noble Lord last put to me, because in his speech he has raised so many points, especially respecting the engagements of the Government, that I am unwilling to delay answering them while they are in my recollection, as otherwise I might forget them. He asks me whether I will move to rescind a very discreditable Resolution, which he says I induced the House to pass. I am not aware of any discreditable Resolution taken by the House at my instigation last year, and I am not aware that it is in my power to compel the House to remove a Resolution from its Records. As regards the Resolution, I have not made any examination of it lately, and therefore if I give a reply now it is subject to correction; but according to my recollection the Resolution simply disclaims a dictum which this House does not possess. [Lord RANDOLPH CHURCHILL: The Resolution allows anyone to affirm.] It disclaims any jurisdiction as to whether certain persons are entitled to affirm or not. If you deem that to be a very discreditable Resolution, I am not at present advised, but, subject to consideration and further examination of it, I have no intention of the kind referred to by the noble Lord. The noble Lord, after he had withdrawn one disorderly affirmation under the authority of the Chair, proceeded to other affirmations very much in his own manner. It seems to me that the noble 424 Lord hazards affirmations upon speculation. Sometimes they refer to what he supposes has been done by individual Members of the Government outside the House; sometimes to what he supposes has been done inside the House itself; and he makes them upon the chance of getting contradicted or not, as the case may be. Well, the noble Lord went stumbling on until he made three assertions about the Government, for not one of which is there the slightest foundation. He says, in the first place, that the Government assented to the proceedings of Mr. Bradlaugh. The Government has assented to no proceedings of Mr. Bradlaugh. ["Oh"] It is not to assent to the proceedings of any man when you affirm that, in your opinion, the cognizance of that proceeding is beyond your competence and jurisdiction. Our doctrine has been all along that it belongs to others to assent to or dissent from, to authorize or condemn, the proceedings of Mr. Bradlaugh. I hold that that is not a distinction between tweedledum and tweedledee. It is a very broad distinction palpable to the common sense of anyone. But the noble Lord went on to say that we were now acting in concert with my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson). That, again, is totally inaccurate. The Order of the Day which was under our charge was postponed before my hon. Friend had made public intimation on the subject of his intention to proceed with a Resolution in this House, and the two matters were totally disconnected. Then the noble Lord says that I stated that it was totally impossible for me to say anything upon the subject of the proposed Oaths Bill until the House should have disposed of the Motion of the hon. Baronet. I said nothing about it being totally impossible. What I said was that, as the Order of the Day stood for next Tuesday, and the Motion of the hon. Baronet for to-day, it appeared to me that it would be convenient that I should watch the fate of that Motion before making any declaration of intentions. The noble Lord also said that we are in concert with the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) in regard to the course which he has taken to-day; but that happens, also, to be totally inaccurate and unfounded. The hon. Member for Northampton courteously made a communication last 425 night to my noble Friend near me (Lord Richard Grosvenor), which was communicated to me a few hours ago. That communication did not at all invite my noble Friend to enter into negotiations with the hon. Member, but announced that the hon. Member intended to-day to make an appeal to the hon. Member for Carlisle. Therefore, Sir, we have no more to do with the proceedings of the hon. Member for Northampton than with the proceedings of the hon. Member for Carlisle. I am bound to say that the Notice of the hon. Member for Northampton did not make any reference and did not include any matter in which I am concerned. It was a Notice that he would make an appeal to the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle; but instead of, or rather in addition to, that, the hon. Member made an appeal to myself. Well, I am about to answer that appeal, which I consider a perfectly legitimate appeal. In order to explain that which I am about to say as to what we propose to do I had better, I think, refer in very few words to that which we have done. When the great difficulty arose, and those scenes, painful to us all, occurred in connection with Mr. Bradlaugh, a question was raised whether that difficulty might not be got rid of on the principle, which has been repeatedly pointed out as the only true basis of dealing with the question—namely, a general measure which would dispose, not only of this particular case, but of all cases that could ever come within a similar category as to the option between taking the Oath and making a Declaration. However, in the state of the Business of the House, and with the sense which I have entertained all along, and which, if possible, increases from day to day, of the paramount importance of the Irish Land Bill, I was not disposed to charge myself or the Government with any new engagement of a serious character—I mean of a character likely to make any sensible demands upon our time. But on communication in various quarters we did certainly receive the impression that a proposal of the nature which has since been indicated by my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General was a proposal likely to be opposed by a section of Members of the House, some of whom I see opposite, and who very frankly gave Notice of their intention to that effect; 426 but that, notwithstanding, the proposal was likely to receive a very large and general assent. [Mr. WARTON: No!] We had that impression, and thought it was correct. I had no doubt that those Members to whom I have referred would have stated their objections in a manly and outspoken way, and that when they found they were not largely supported they would have given way to the general sense and opinion of the House. It was with that expectation that my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General made known to the House his intention to submit a proposal for legislating on the subject; but I am bound to say that we learnt by degrees that our impression did not correspond with the facts. In the first place, we found that hon. Gentlemen opposite were disposed to resist almost en bloc the granting of a Morning Sitting for the purpose of ascertaining the judgment of the House; but I am bound to say—and it would not be candid or ingenuous if we did not admit it—that when we tried that case on a second occasion we were made aware that, while Gentlemen opposite were disposed to assume a large and active share in resistance to a Morning Sitting—which we understood to be resistance to the principle of the Bill—there were many hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House who showed their reluctance, by their absence from the division, to take any part in the matter. That being so, it became clear to me that the subject would require further consideration; and consequently I have arrived at the conclusion that it is our duty to adjourn the further consideration of our course in this matter until we have absolutely, or in substance, disposed of the Irish Land Bill. As far, therefore, as we are concerned, that Order practically will be no more heard of until we have reached that point in our Parliamentary progress.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
begged to apologize to the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) for having interrupted him while speaking; but he had felt it due to the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, and the House itself, to correct the erroneous impression entertained by the noble Lord as to the nature of the reply to the Question which he (Mr. Newdegate) had ad- 427 dressed to the right hon. Gentleman. He now wished to call attention to this—that the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) seemed to think that he was entitled to keep the question of Privilege as long as he liked in his pocket. This appeared to him (Mr. Newdegate) to be quite contrary to the clear understanding upon which questions of Privilege were raised in the House. He would, therefore, suggest to the hon. Baronet that if he meant to raise the question of Privilege, it would not be respectful to the House if he did not, within the next two or three days, move in the matter. Every question of Privilege took precedence of all other Orders, all other Business in that House; and the House had a right to know when its regular Business was to be thus interfered with and to be superseded. He hoped, therefore, that the hon. Baronet would understand that promptitude in Motions of Privilege was essential. He (Mr. Newdegate) had, during his long experience, known many questions of Privilege raised in the House, and had never known them allowed to stand over more than a day or two. He was afraid that the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) had given too accurate a description of the manner in which the question of the alteration of the Oath taken by Members was to be dealt with by the Government. The question was not a small one. A question which affected the constitution of the House was of far greater importance than any Irish question. It was a matter of Imperial importance; and he thought the House had a right to complain of the statement made by the Prime Minister when he told them that he would virtually act upon the advice of his substitute, the hon. Member for Northampton—and who seemed to expect to be his successor—that he should press the Irish Land Bill forward, and, when the House became thin and weak at the end of the Session, then proceed with the Oaths Bill, as the hon. Member for Northampton had informed them, de die in diem. This suggestion—that Her Majesty's Ministers should take advantage of the House—would not, he hoped, be accepted by the Government. Throughout the country this question as to the Paliamentary Oath was regarded as one of the greatest 428 importance. He received letters on the question day by day; some of them expressing a hope that he would vote in favour of a measure to admit the elected Member for Northampton to a seat in the House, some accompanied by threats. But the vast majority of the communications he received deprecated, in terms which did high honour to the writers, the proposal to introduce a Bill for the admission to a seat in that House of a person who was not allowed to take an oath in a Court of Law, and whom the Courts of Law had decided to be unfit to pronounce the solemn affirmation which, by law, was in some cases substituted for the oath. The feeling of the country was opposed to any such proceeding; and, while he hoped the House would insist that the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle should not continue to trifle with the question of Privilege, he desired to say, on behalf of the great majority of those from whom he had received communications on the subject, that they would regard it as a grave departure from his duty by the Prime Minister if he attempted, by deferring the question and taking advantage of the weakness of the House late in the Session, to pass a measure which they firmly believed would powerfully affect and would essentially damage the constitution of the House of Commons.
§ COLONEL MAKINS
said, that yesterday the Speaker had intimated his opinion that the word "illegal" had better be expunged from the Resolution, because the word might be misconstrued to mean a want of respect to the House. The hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle had not, however, withdrawn the word, and it had even been repeated by the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury. If the former Resolution of the House were illegal, there must be a remedy, and if there were no remedy there could be no illegality. It was not only disrespectful to the House to use such a term as "illegal," but it was an absolute absurdity to put such a Resolution as that of the hon. Member for Carlisle on the Order Book of the House.
§ MR. J. G. HUBBARD
said, he had heard with no satisfaction that the hon. Member for Carlisle did not intend to proceed with his Motion, for the discussion of which he had come prepared. 429 The sitting Member for Northampton asserted that that borough was at present inadequately represented; but he did himself injustice in that assertion, for no borough could be more efficiently represented, according to the views of the majority, than that which he represented. It was now evident that the Government Bill was to be introduced, not to deal with the subject of the Parliamentary Oath generally, but specially with the object of relieving and with introducing into that House the unqualified Member for Northampton. He denied that there was any foundation for the insinuation which had been brought against the Members of the Opposition, that they were actuated in this matter by feelings of malevolence towards Mr. Bradlaugh. What they were actuated by was a desire to prevent the House being implicated in a great insult offered to Almighty God. Judging from what he had heard from hon. Members on both sides of the House, the Prime Minister and the Attorney General would, if they attempted to force this Bill through the House and went to a division, be very much surprised to see the defections in the ranks of their supporters. This question was of a very much larger character than those who sat upon the Treasury Bench appeared to think, and he was perfectly satisfied that if time were given for the object of the measure to be fully understood throughout the country, such a feeling would be excited against it that the Prime Minister would be only too glad to wash his hands of it altogether, and to go on with the Public Business of the House.
§ SIR H. DRUMMOND WOLFF
said, he would not have taken part in this discussion had it not been for au observation which had just fallen from the Prime Minister. The right hon. Gentleman was in such a hurry the other day to introduce this Bill, that he was desirous of putting the House to very considerable inconvenience to carry out that object, and it was only in consequence of the feeling manifested on the part of a large number of hon. Members on both sides of the House that he withdrew his demand for a Morning Sitting on Tuesday for the purpose of bringing in this Bill for the relief of the junior Member for Northampton. But although the right hon. Gentleman had 430 been in such a hurry to bring in this Bill at that time, he now appeared to be desirous of putting off its introduction to the Greek Kalends. The right hon. Gentleman, not, perhaps, exactly by design, but at all events by the result of his action, now left the House at the mercy of the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle, who said in substance that he would not bring on his Motion then, but would flutter with it over the House during the whole of the Session, ready to swoop down on some private Members' night, and to bring it forward as a question of Privilege in the hope of snatching a division on it. In these circumstances, he desired to put a Question of Order to the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair. Last year, when the Prime Minister brought forward his rescinding Motion, the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair ruled that it could not be brought forward as a question of Privilege. Mr. Bradlaugh having written a letter a few days since to the Speaker, the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair ruled that the Motion of the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle in reference to it was one of Privilege, which would take precedence of other Business. Doubtless the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair had some good reason for this apparent divergence in his ruling. It was laid down in the work which he (Sir H. Drummond Wolff) made his principal study, Sir Erskine May's Parliamentary Practice, that a question of Privilege was treated as urgent because it was necessary that it should be decided at once. He could understand the right hon. Gentleman's ruling yesterday, because Mr. Bradlaugh's interests, which were paramount with the Government, required that the matter should be treated as one of urgency. But in that case surely the question should have been brought forward and decided at once. He could not understand, however, a question of Privilege being allowed to hang over the House week after week, like the sword of Damocles, to be brought on at any unguarded moment. He, therefore, begged to ask the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair to give a decision on the point, because although it might be very convenient to the Government to postpone the introduction of this Bill to some indefinite date, and to the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle to have his little flutter, such a course would not 431 tend either to the convenience or the dignity of the House.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member for Portsmouth, who spoke last, has referred to the valuable work of Sir Erskine May in connection with this matter, and I cannot do better than read the paragraph bearing on this question. It is as follows:—In order to enable a question of Privilege to be discussed it must refer to some matter that has recently arisen which directly concerns the Privileges of the House, and calls for its present interposition.When I communicated to the House on Wednesday last that I had received a letter from Mr. Bradlaugh, the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle asked me whether a Motion founded on that letter would take precedence as a matter of Privilege. Founding myself on the passage I have just read, I had no hesitation in telling the hon. Baronet that such a Motion properly framed and founded on that letter would have precedence. The question then arose whether the matter could be treated as a question of Privilege on a future day, and I stated that it appeared to me if it were put off for the convenience of the House the hon. Baronet would not forfeit his claim by so doing. The hon. Member for Portsmouth draws my attention to what occurred last year. I then stated from the Chair, in reference to the Motion of the First Lord of the Treasury as to the case of Mr. Bradlaugh, that it was not a case of Privilege and could not have precedence. That case and the case now under the consideration of the House are very different. In the first place, the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman referred to other Members as well as to the case of Mr. Bradlaugh. That case had been before two Select Committees, and also in various forms before the House for some months, and it could not be said to be a Motion of that character which required the instant interposition of the House, or that it was of such a kind that it was entitled to have precedence as a question of Privilege.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
Sir, I interpose reluctantly in this debate; but it is really important that we should know what we have to expect. The proceedings of the House with regard to Mr. Bradlaugh are perfectly well known to everybody, and they have 432 taken this form—the House has refused to allow Mr. Bradlaugh to go through the form of taking the Oath, and he having refused to accept the decision of the House as legally binding and having resisted the authority of yourself, Sir, the House has come to a Resolution by which Mr. Bradlaugh is excluded from its precincts until he shall engage not to disturb the order of the House. So far, therefore, we stand upon a footing which enables us to carry on our Business properly. I say nothing with regard to the proposal which the Government have made to introduce a Bill to deal with the question of the Parliamentary Oath further than this, that I entirely protest against the doctrine laid down very boldly, distinctly, and repeatedly by the hon. Member for Northampton that the Bill is one for the relief of Mr. Bradlaugh personally. That was a very distinct statement made by the hon. Member. If that is the light in which the Bill is to be viewed, I venture to say that the objections to it will become infinitely more serious than those which would, in any circumstances, be taken to it as a proposal to alter the Oath. That, however, is a question which we now understand the Government are not prepared to press forward at the present time, although they give us notice that they will take it up by-and-bye, when they shall have got through certain other Business. We desire to know what in the meantime is to be our modus vivendi with regard to the interruption of our Business, not by Mr. Bradlaugh himself, but by his Colleague and his Friends, who may from time to time bring forward Motions on which the Resolution of the 26th of April may be discussed over and over again? We must clearly have some understanding on this subject. The hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle stated that his course with respect to his Motion must depend upon the course which the Government might take with regard to the Parliamentary Oath.
§ SIR WILFRID LAWSON
What I meant to say was that my bringing forward of the rescinding Resolution would depend on the amount of obstruction given to the Attorney General's Bill.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
I am more puzzled than ever. The Irish Land Bill is nothing to it. Are we or are we not to be subject to continual 433 Motions as to the illegality, or the supposed illegality, of the Resolution of the House; and is the power of making Motions on the subject to be a continuous power? Is it a power that will continue for an indefinite series of weeks or months? If there is an immediate necessity of dealing with the question, no doubt we ought to proceed to consider it. I can quite understand that it might be so held—that the letter of Mr. Bradlaugh raised a question which seemed to touch the Privileges of the House, and it might be a very proper and necessary thing to take notice of it. But if it is a matter for weeks, possibly even for a longer time, I think that seems to have disposed of any claim of precedence which could possibly be made by the hon. Gentleman. This is a question which, whatever we may say of the views taken on one side or the other, deeply interests us, and deeply interests the country. It would be scandalous if a sudden decision were taken on a question of this sort without a full and proper opportunity for considering it. I cannot for a moment believe that the hon. Baronet would wish to obtain a decision in that way; but what we want to know is whether the hon. Baronet will give a distinct assurance that, under the circumstances as they stand, it is not his intention—or if it is his intention we should be glad to know whether it would be with your sanction, Sir, that such a step should be taken—to bring forward his Motion and to claim precedence?
§ MR. WHITBREAD
said, that Mr. Speaker had ruled that it was perfectly competent for the hon. Baronet, or for any other hon. Member, to have brought this question forward upon the reading of Mr. Bradlaugh's letter as a question of Privilege, and that he did not forfeit that right by postponing it for a reasonable time and for the convenience of the House; but he submitted that it would be a straining of that power beyond what was right and proper for the hon. Baronet to say he would bring forward his Motion at some indefinite and distant day when it might suit his convenience. The hon. Baronet further weakened his case by attempting to couple with it a sort of condition that his bringing it forward would depend very much upon the conduct of the Opposition. He (Mr. Whitbread) was of opinion that the hon. Baronet had, by the course he had taken, 434 really forfeited his right to bring his Motion forward on some future day.
§ SIR WILFRID LAWSON
said, he understood from what had passed from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote) that it would be a very abnormal course if he followed out what he suggested in his former speech. He (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) wished to take that course, because he thought it better that full Notice should be given of the rescinding of a Resolution. He believed he did not withdraw the Motion. Therefore, in that case, it dropped, and he should not be able to take that course. But, as Notice was given that night that he should call attention to Mr. Bradlaugh's letter, he should like to ask whether, after what had taken place, he should be allowed then that evening—[Cries of "No, no!" and "Yes!"]—whether he should then be allowed to move on the letter these words—That the Resolution of April 26, 1881, for-bidding Mr. Bradlaugh to take the Oath, be reminded as subversive of the rights of the whole body of electors?
§ MR. SPEAKER
The course proposed to be taken by the hon. Baronet must be subject to the usual Rules in regard to alterations of Notices of Motion that have been placed before the House. Now, it appears to me that there is one expression which I caught from the hon. Baronet which certainly imports into the Resolution new matter. Thus he speaks of the proceedings of this House as subversive—perhaps the hon. Baronet will read it again.
§ SIR WILFRID LAWSON
said, the Motion he read was an exact copy of a Motion passed in 1781, with the exception of the word "subversive," which he substituted for the word "expunged." It was as follows:—That the Resolution of April 26, 1881, forbidding Mr. Bradlaugh to take the Oath, be rescinded as subversive of the rights of the whole body of electors.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The point I have to consider is this, whether the Resolution in its altered form imports new matter not contained in the original Resolution; and in the original Resolution there was no expression whatever with regard to the rights of electors. I think if the hon. Baronet was to—if he will allow me to say so—terminate the Resolution 435 at the word "rescinded," he would be quite in Order.
§ SIR WILFRID LAWSON
said, he had supposed that this Motion for rescinding the Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, arising, as it did, upon the letter which had been received from Mr. Bradlaugh, would be considered a question of Privilege, and that he should have the opportunity of proceeding with it after the Motion for the adjournment of the House had been disposed of.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I am of opinion that if the hon. Baronet put his Motion in a regular form, he will be entitled to bring it on as a question of Privilege.
§ MR. LEWIS
said, he wished to draw attention to the serious position in which they were now involved by the most extraordinary proceedings of that evening. After the speech of the Prime Minister, quite 50 Members disappeared from the Conservative Benches in consequence of the statement, most distinctly made by the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle, that it was not his intention to proceed with his Motion that night. Under these circumstances, he hoped a mine would not be sprung on absent Members. It would be foreign to the spirit of the House, and opposed to all gentlemanly feeling, to discuss the Motion then; although to do so might possibly be only of a piece with the whole of that wretched affair. On Wednesday afternoon, after a long debate, the hon. Member for Northampton, who was sitting on the opposite side of the House, got up and said distinctly that he understood it to be the general feeling of the House that some measure should be introduced for the purpose of getting rid of the difficulty. Other Members got up and repudiated that suggestion. The noble Lord the Member for North Leicestershire (Lord John Manners) distinctly declined to promise on his own part, or on the part of those who sat near him, support to any such measure. He (Mr. Lewis) ventured to get up, and, amid cheers, declined to have anything to do with that Bill, but claimed to be at liberty to oppose it at every stage. On 436 the present occasion they were told that, after all, this question was to be introduced as a question of Privilege. He trusted the hon. Member for Carlisle would at once see the impropriety of proceeding in the way he had suggested. He desired to draw the Speaker's attention to a matter which appeared to have escaped his recollection, although it had been referred to by one or two Members. It was, whether, if the hon. Baronet did not proceed with his Motion for a week, a fortnight, or three weeks hence, it would still be competent for him to claim Privilege for it?
§ MR. SPEAKER
I thought I had made it plain that the hon. Baronet could not postpone indefinitely a Motion founded on the letter of Mr. Bradlaugh, and still claim precedence for it as a matter of Privilege.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
said, that the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle, in answer to an appeal from the hon. Member for Northampton, had disdinctly intimated to the House that he would withdraw his Motion. He, therefore, wished to ask the Speaker whether it was competent for the hon. Baronet first to give Notice of withdrawing a Motion, and then capriciously to declare his intention of bringing that Motion on at a later hour of the night, especially when a number of Members had left the House in consequence of his intimation that it would be withdrawn?
§ SIR WILFRID LAWSON
said, he was anxious to put a stop to that controversy. He withdrew his Motion at the beginning of the evening on the understanding, as he then thought, that he should be able to bring it on in a few days' or a week's time. In the course of the discussion it appeared that he could not do so, and then it occurred to him that he might not get another chance, and that it would be better that he should that night make the Motion, the terms of which he had read to the House. But it was stated that hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House had gone away not expecting the Motion to come on; and, therefore, although Members on his side might be ready to discuss the question, he did not think it would be fair to proceed with it that night, as that course might be held to be a surprise. Whether he should be able to bring the question on another night was another matter.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, the Bill of the Government had been described as a Bill for the relief of Mr. Bradlaugh—[Cries of "Order!"]—but it was not specially for that Gentleman's relief. [Renewed cries of "Order!"] He asked leave to withdraw the Motion for adjournment.
§ MR. BIGGAR
said, that before the discussion closed he wanted to say that the wasting of time on a question of this sort came with a very bad grace from the Government. They had arrested his friend John Dillon at a period when a subject in which he was deeply interested was being discussed in this House, and they had thus partially disfranchised Tipperary. There was nothing of remarkable interest for the borough of Northampton coming on, so far as they knew, during the present Session; and he would therefore suggest that the question of the disfranchisement of that constituency should be allowed to stand over until next Session.
MR. LYULPH STANLEY
remarked, that many Gentlemen on that (the Ministerial) side did not view the Bill of the Government as a Bill for the relief of Mr. Bradlaugh, but as a Bill for the relief of the House of Commons from the difficulty in which it had placed itself. He believed that Mr. Bradlaugh was legally entitled to take his seat, and that the House had placed an illegal impediment in the way of his doing so. The House of Commons had before then committed itself in an unguarded moment, and been afterwards obliged to eat its words. He believed that the same thing was likely to happen again, and that, unless some means were found for getting out of the difficulty, the House would appear in a humiliating position before the country.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.