HC Deb 06 March 1882 vol 267 cc190-223

I am anxious, Sir, to put two Questions to you on a matter of Privilege. In the first place, I wish to know, whether the House has been made acquainted with the return made to the Writ issued for a new Member for the Borough of Northampton. In the second place, I wish to know, whether the Resolution at which this House arrived on the 7th of February, respecting Mr. Bradlaugh's not being permitted to go through the form of taking the Oath, is still binding upon Mr. Bradlaugh, in the event of his coming up to the Table and offering to take the Oath?


With respect to the first Question of the right hon. Gentleman, I have to say that the certificate of the return of Mr. Bradlaugh for the Borough of Northampton has been communicated to this House in the usual way, and is now on the Table of the House. With respect to the second Question of the right hon. Gentleman, I have to say that I have considered very carefully the operation of the Resolution of the 7th of February as it affects Mr. Bradlaugh, and that I have come to the conclusion that that Resolution applied to Mr. Bradlaugh personally as Member for Northampton. When Mr. Bradlaugh ceased to be Member for Northampton, that Resolution, in my opinion, ceased to be operative; and although he has now been again returned as Member for Northampton, I cannot consider that that Resolution has revived, or is now in force.


Then, Mr. Speaker, as the Resolution to which I have referred, and which you have alluded to in your answer, was a Resolution that was adopted by this House, after full consideration, and by a very large majority, I apprehend that if Mr. Bradlaugh should now present himself again to take the Oath, it would be thought right to raise again the question as to permitting him to take the Oath, and the House would have that again submitted to it. But, as we are all aware, Mr. Bradlaugh, or any other Member who is returned, may elect his own time for coming to take his seat. He may do so either at the beginning of the Business, or at the end of the Business. If he should elect to come forward at the end of the night's Business, which may be at 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning, it would be difficult to really take the sense of the House—which would then be thin and exhausted—upon what must be regarded as a question of great importance, I have, therefore, thought it would be right, as Mr. Bradlaugh has not presented himself to-night, that I should take the earliest opportunity of submitting to the House a Motion which will have the effect of reviving or reaffirming the Resolution that was adopted on the 7th of February.


I rise to Order. I wish to ask you, Sir, whether it is open to any hon. Gentleman, before an elected Member has come to the Table to take the Oath, to call for the Writ, and to base any Motion upon that Writ? I ask you this particularly in regard to the Motion which the right hon. Gentleman has shadowed out, because I believe that the only Motions which have yet been put in such cases are Motions for a new Writ, the elected Member being disqualified by Statute from taking his seat.


As I understand the Motion indicated by the right hon. Gentleman, it affects the right of a Member of this House to take his seat, and it, is intended by it to renew a Resolution which the House arrived at during the present Session; and as it is one which concerns the Privileges of this House, I consider that the right hon. Gentleman is within his right.


I rise to Order. I wish to ask, Sir, if any hon. Member is in Order in rising to propose a Resolution on a question of this sort, and thereby interposing and preventing the House passing to its ordinary Business?


I thought I had clearly stated, in reply to the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), that the right hon. Gentleman is within his rights.


I make the Motion as a matter of Privilege. What I propose to move is to this effect— That this House, having ascertained that Mr. Bradlaugh has been re-elected for the Borough of Northampton, doth re-affirm the Resolution made on the 7th of February last, and doth hereby direct that Mr. Bradlaugh be not permitted to go through the form of taking the Oath prescribed by the Statutes 29 Vic. c. 19, and 31 and 32 Vic. c. 72. The Resolution at which the House arrived on that occasion was substantially the same as that at which it arrived last Session upon Mr. Bradlaugh's second election for Northampton; and now that he has been elected for the third time, I ask the House to pass a similar Resolution, for it does not in any degree alter the position of the House of Commons in regard to the question of taking the Oath. The ground upon which the great majority of the House objected to Mr. Bradlaugh going through the form of taking the Oath remains exactly the same—namely, that we consider that we are parties to the taking of the Oath, and that we consider that the taking of the Oath by Mr. Bradlaugh in the circumstances known to the House is in the nature of a profanation of that Oath. I need not on this occasion go into the arguments which have been repeated so often, and of the nature of which the House is fully aware, and I should only be fatiguing the House were I to do so on this occasion. I shall, therefore, content myself, Mr. Speaker, with placing this Motion in your hands.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House, having ascertained that Mr. Bradlaugh has been re-elected for the Borough of Northampton, doth re-affirm the Resolution made on the 7th of February last, and doth hereby direct that Mr. Bradlaugh be not permitted to go through the form of taking the Oath prescribed by the Statutes 29 Vic. e. 19, and 31 and 32 Vic. c. 72."—(Sir Stafford Northcote.)


It is only, Sir, because I believe there is a very general consensus of opinion in the House that this matter of Mr. Bradlaugh's election can only be dealt with by legislation that I venture to submit to the House for its favourable consideration an Amendment to the Resolution moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. The Amendment is— That it is desirable that the provisions of the 29 Vic. c. 19, and 31 and 32 Vic. c. 72, should be so far modified as to permit every elected Member of this House to take the Oath or to make the Affirmation prescribed under those Statutes at his own option. Now, Sir, I am bound to confess that I am what many of my Friends near me will consider somewhat unsound on the Bradlaugh Question. I am one of that very large section of this House who regard Mr. Bradlaugh's actions and opinions with something very like disgust. I do think Mr. Bradlaugh had a very strong position in regard to the House; but I think he has again and again thrown away the strength of the position. He has repeatedly brought forward the weak part of his argument, and has by his action done all he could to excite prejudice and hostility, both among hon. Members and among the outside public, against him. Mr. Bradlaugh has attempted to take the Oath, first by force, and then by unworthy—I may almost say childish—manœuvres——


I rise to Order. I wish to ask whether the word "unworthy," applied to a Member of this House, is in Order?


I did not catch the context, and I am not prepared to give a positive statement in the matter.


The hon. Member (Mr. Marjoribanks) has described the conduct of Mr. Bradlaugh as unworthy. [Cries of "No!"] Well, he said that he had been guilty of an unworthy manŒuvre.


I am not, under the circumstances, prepared to interpose in the matter.


The result of Mr. Bradlaugh's action has been—first, that the opposition to his taking the Oath has been grounded more upon personal dislike of Mr. Bradlaugh—[Cries of "No, no!"]—I assert that most distinctly—dislike of Mr. Bradlaugh rather than on the consideration of any broad principle of what is right or expedient for the good of the country; and, secondly, it has resulted in the exclusion of Mr. Bradlaugh from a seat in the House by an un-English Resolution, and on the very uncommon grounds—first, because he did not comply with a religious test; and, secondly, because he was prevented from complying with that religious test. The arguments as to the legality or the illegality of the action of the House of Commons have been urged, I may almost say, ad nauseam, and I will not enter into these arguments; but the experience of the last two years must, I may say, have proved that the House is, either legally or illegally, perfectly competent to exclude, and can exclude, and. that it will go on excluding Mr. Bradlaugh, until some change is made in the regulations under which Members of the House take their seats. We may deplore the fact that Mr. Bradlaugh has been elected. We may deplore the fact that so many of a large constituency like Northampton so far identify themselves with Mr. Bradlaugh as to think he is the only proper Representative of them in this House; but surely, if that is the case, he ought to be allowed to take his seat, for it is far better that expression of these opinions should be given in this House, and find their natural outlet in this House. I find that a Paper was presented to the House a day or two ago in regard to the practice of foreign States in this matter. I see in that Paper that in Belgium and Italy there is an Oath required, but there is no invocation of the Deity. The Members swear that they will be faithful to the Constitution. Then in Prance and Germany neither Oath nor Affirmation is required, and in the United States and Holland Oath or Affirmation is optional. ["Agreed, agreed!"] I do not wish to enter into any long speech in moving this Amendment; and I do entreat this House, remembering that the honour of the House has so often and so greatly been compromised, to give favourable consideration to this Amendment.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "it is desirable that the provisions of the 29 Vie. c. 19, and 31 and 32 Vic. c. 72, should be so modified as to permit every elected Member of this House to take the Oath or to make the Affirmation prescribed under those Statutes at his own option,"—(Mr. Marjoribanks,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


I prefer the Amendment of my hon. Friend (Mr. Marjoribanks) to the reasons which he gave for it. I think he was carried away by his own eloquence when he asserted that Mr. Bradlaugh has been guilty of unworthy manœuvres. You have ruled, Sir, that the phrase is Parliamentary; and, therefore, I do not complain of it having been used; but, at the same time, I must say that Mr. Bradlaugh has not had recourse to any unworthy manœuvres. Mr. Bradlaugh's view of his position has been entirely supported by the Prime Minister and by the Law Officers of the Crown. Therefore, if the reflection of my hon. Friend can be made at Mr. Bradlaugh, it can also be made against the Prime Minister and the Law Officers of the Crown. I am sorry to have again to repeat what Mr. Bradlaugh's view of his position is; but either hon. Members will not understand, or will persist in shutting their ears on the subject. Mr. Bradlaugh's contention has always been this—that he derives his right to go up to the Table of this House and take the Oath from the fact of his election, that he has a statutory duty to perform in doing so, and that this House is violating the Law and the Constitution in preventing him from doing that duty. I say, therefore, with all respect for the House, that if there are brawlers in this matter, Mr. Bradlaugh is not the brawler. I am sorry I must trouble hon. Gentlemen opposite by reading some extracts from a few speeches. I know that is a form of eloquence to which they object, but I really stand here defending the Constitution of this country. And not only so, but I am also defending the rights both of the electors of Northampton and the right of every elector in the country to choose whom they will to represent them. Well, hon. Gentlemen will remember that a former House of Commons put itself in opposition to the people. I allude to the case of Mr. Wilkes. We all know how that ended; but when I am told that a Resolution of this House is superior to the Law of the land, I claim to read some observations made by men who are recognized as almost, I may say, the fathers of the Constitution. In the debate with regard to Mr. Wilkes—[Cries of"Reading!"] Well, yes; I am going to read some extracts. They are not very long. In that debate Edmund Burke said— The right to incapacitate is not to he trusted with this House. The Constitution has not given it to us, because it would end in the destruction of the House. Mr. Wedderburn, in the same debate, said— Precedents there are none to support the proposal that the House has the power to declare the law with regard to the qualification of Members. Mr. Wedderburn further said— No man who is by any right eligible can be rendered ineligible by any ordinance, by anything less than an Act of Parliament. Mr. Grenville said— If a Resolution of the House is in the teeth of an Act of Parliament, it is in the teeth of the law. Where is the Gentleman who will rise up, and tell me that it is law? Mr. Grenville did not live in the present day— If a Resolution goes against the principle of the law, it is null and void. Mr. Cavendish said— I lay it down as a principle that no Resolution of the House can make a minority a majority, and I do, from my soul, abhor, detest, and abjure as unconstitutional and illegal that damnable doctrine and proposition that a Resolution of the House of Commons can make, alter, suspend, abrogate, or annihilate the law of the land. If it can, Sir, of what use are your Statute books? They are useless, if a Resolution can supersede them. Now, Sir, I gather from the Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman that it forbids Mr. Bradlaugh to go through the form prescribed by the Statute of taking the Oath. The Statute prescribes that Mr. Bradlaugh shall take the Oath as denned by the Standing Orders of the House. The Standing Orders simply state that Mr. Bradlaugh—and I do not think any lawyer will controvert it—has a statutory right to go to the Table of the House and take the Oath. The contention of the right hon. Gentleman, as I understand it, is that the House has the right to interfere, and by Resolution forbid him from exercising his statutory right. I apprehend, however, that the extracts I have read are perfectly germane to the question, because those extracts lay down incontrovertibly, constitutionally, and legally, that one Estate of the Realm, be it this House or the other, has got no right to prevent anyone from fulfilling what may be his statutory rights or his statutory obligations. I am surprised at the right hon. Gentleman coming forward with this Resolution before Mr. Bradlaugh came to the Table. As I understand, the right hon. Gentleman does so because it would be wearisome to come down so early as the hour of Prayers.


Oh! no, no. I referred to waiting till the end of the Business.


Oh, very well; it is wearisome at the end of the Business. That is pretty much the same thing, and I trust it will be always wearisome to any hon. or right hon. Gentleman in this House who attempt to interfere with the rights of the people. The right hon. Gentleman could not point to any single precedent for the course he is pursuing. He adopts a new course, which many hon. Gentleman on this side of the House think unconstitutional, simply to save him the little trouble of remaining until the end of the Business. I apprehend I am perfectly right in saying that I am upon the firm basis of the Constitution in resisting this unconstitutional Resolution of the Leader of the Conservative Party. Let me ask what is the distinction between a Resolution like this and absolutely disqualifying a Gentleman from sitting in this House? It will be remembered that on the day Mr. Bradlaugh was expelled, the hon. Member for the City of Dublin (Dr. Lyons) brought forward a Resolution that Mr. Bradlaugh should be disqualified from again sitting in Parliament; the hon. and learned Member for Launceston (Sir Hardinge Giffard) got up, and, after paying a compliment to the Parliament which turned out Mr. Wilkes, asserted that he was not prepared to go so far and that, and that he would not accept the proposition that this House had got the right to disfranchise any individual from his right of sitting in the House, if he were a duly elected Member. But I ask if there is any distinction between the two? Would it not have been more fair to Mr. Bradlaugh and my constituents had hon. Gentlemen supported that Resolution, rather than allow Mr. Bradlaugh to be re-elected by the constituents of Northampton, and then, before he comes to the Table, declare that he is not a fit and proper person to go through the form that is necessary for him to do to take his seat in this House? I will only say this at the end—the House of Commons has before now come in conflict with the people, and the House of Commons always has had, I thank Heaven, to succumb to the people. Let not the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends suppose that Mr. Bradlaugh is supported only by the constituents of Northampton. Hon. Gentlemen are surprised at Mr. Bradlaugh's popularity in this country. They say how can it be that a man who advocates what, I agree, are objectionable opinions with regard to religion can become popular? But let right hon. and hon. Gentleman understand this, that he has become popular notwithstanding his advocacy of those objectionable opinions with regard to religion; and that he has become popular mainly by the course adopted by hon. Gentlemen opposite. They are doing their best to make Mr. Bradlaugh a martyr; and I say Mr. Bradlaugh was not only supported by the Radicals of Northampton, but I am strictly within the truth in stating that during the recent election, I suppose 200 or 300 telegrams were received from political clubs in all parts of the country, urging the electors of Northampton to stand to their man. Whether Mr. Bradlaugh is to be elected once again, or a dozen times again, lean only say he will be elected and re-elected as long as he maintains the principle which the people consider their right—that of sending the man they choose to represent them. I would only say this further in regard to the Amendment proposed by my hon. Friend. It may be objected by hon. Gentlemen opposite that it would leave it open to Mr. Bradlaugh again to come to the Table. I will only say that I will engage on the part of Mr. Brad-laugh—[Cries of "Oh, oh!"] Well, I do not think hon. Gentlemen will say that Mr. Bradlaugh has ever violated his word to come into this House; and I will engage for him that, provided the Amendment passes, and provided a Bill is brought in, and proceeds with reasonable speed—["Oh, oh!"]—I mean two months—provided that Bill is prosecuted with fair and reasonable speed, Mr. Bradlaugh, until a decision has been come to by a majority, will not present himself at that Table.


Sir, the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Stafford Northcote), in submitting this Motion, has set us, or at any rate me, an excellent example in avoiding a re-statement of the arguments he used on a former occasion—arguments with which we are perfectly familiar. On the same ground, I purpose taking the same course, and it shall only be in the briefest words, to explain the reasons which would govern me in supporting the Amendment which has just been moved. Sir, that Amendment expresses the judgment of the House, to the effect that there ought to be legislation upon this subject, and it proposes to place the expression of that judgment in lieu of the Motion which has been submitted by the right hon. Baronet to-day. I am bound to say that in supporting the Amendment, I do so in reliance upon Mr. Bradlaugh, without any knowledge of the matter, but in reliance upon his forbearance and respect for this House, at least to this extent, that were legislation adopted—I think I am justified in making it as an inference from the speech that has just been made—we should have nothing to fear from Mr. Bradlaugh in regard to a possible repetition of scenes which we all regret.


Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will permit me to explain. I want to get this clear. What I said was, provided this be followed by legislation.


I am speaking within the limits of the assurance laid down in the statement made by the hon. Gentleman himself in his speech. I do not mean for ever, but I meant with reference to such language as he used. But with regard to the Motion before us, I observe, unfortunately, that it is a distinct step in advance. Previous Motions against Mr. Bradlaugh have been consequent upon attempts made by Mr. Bradlaugh to do certain acts, and they may in that sense be termed defensive. But it is obvious that this Motion has no reference to any express or apparent intention or act of Mr. Bradlaugh. It is founded upon expectation that he will do an act; it is not founded upon any act he has done, or attempted to do. In that sense, Sir, the Motion is a step in advance, and I cannot help saying, to me it appears a step less against Mr. Bradlaugh and more against the constituency than the steps which we have heretofore adopted. In truth, Sir, it comes perilously near to a Vote of Personal Disqualification; and I am bound to say, without in the slightest degree, Sir, contesting your decision as to the power to make a Motion of that kind, I really know not to what Motions, founded upon the appearance of actions in this House, it may not form a possible precedent. Therefore my objections, which I need not re-state, if they told against the previous Resolution, tell with much greater force against the Motion that is now made. On the other hand, I consider that from my point of view—be it what it may, whether it be the same as that which Mr. Bradlaugh and others are as competent to judge as myself—from my point of view I offer a concession not, perhaps, to be valued or acknowledged in voting for the Amendment now before us, because so far as I am able to understand the case, the law does not require to be changed for the purpose of relieving us from this difficulty. I approve of a change of the law, but I do not regard a change in the law as a necessity for disposing of the present case. Yet I am quite willing to vote for it, and I am quite willing to vote for it on two grounds—in the first place, that I am extremely glad—for I hold that we have no title whatever to dispose of the question, which is a question for the conscience of Mr. Bradlaugh as to the propriety of his conduct in taking the Oath—yet I am extremely glad that we are to be relieved from the position in which we are now placed, that he may be prevented taking the Oath. And, further, I am also glad to think that the proposal to legislate on this subject, while it affords authentic declaration of the intention of the House, may afford to many hon. Gentlemen who have heretofore voted for repressive measures against Mr. Bradlaugh, a means of escaping from—["No, no!"]—a means of escaping from what I think many of them, or some among them, at least, must feel to be an increasingly painful position. Those are the grounds, Sir, on which I shall give my vote in favour of the Amendment of my hon. Friend; and I do trust that the House may be disposed to adopt that Amendment rather than to prolong a struggle which it is in the power of the House to prolong, and which it may succeed in prolonging for a considerable time, but which can only have one end, and that end adverse to the views which are now prevailing in the House.


Sir, I desire to take notice of one expression of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, which I think is calculated to give a wrong impression as to the course of action which I have adopted. He says this is a distinct step in advance, and that we are not taking a defensive, but that we are assuming a sort of offensive attitude. Now, Sir, that I entirely deny. We have had Mr. Bradlaugh's statement, and that has always been perfectly consistent, made upon several occasions on which he has come to this House for the purpose of taking the Oath. He has always told us that he did not come of his own choice, but that he came in obedience to what he considered to be a duty imposed upon him by law. That has always been advocated by Mr. Bradlaugh, and has been repeated by the hon. Gentleman his Colleague tonight. We are therefore perfectly certain there is nothing that can have changed Mr. Bradlaugh's views in that matter, and we are perfectly certain, therefore, that it will be in Mr. Bradlaugh's view that he will come to the Table and propose to take the Oath. Well, then, Sir, the hon. Gentleman the other Member for Northampton says—"You propose to come and take this precautionary step, because you do not wish to have the trouble of a struggle occuring late at night." That is not the point, I must be excused for saying, which I pressed on the House. As a matter of fact, at the end of Business it almost invariably happens, and the whole House know it perfectly well, that you have a thin attendance of Members; and this being an important question, and one upon which the judgment of the House ought, I contend, to be pronounced when the House is full, and when Members attend to the Business, I proposed that it should be taken now, rather than wait. Sir, it seems to me that you might be placed in a very difficult position if Mr. Bradlaugh chose to make his appearance without your having any instructions on the subject, and if the view of the House is the same as it was previously at the beginning of the Session, which I think it is, it ought to be re-affirmed, so that you might have that to guide you which you would have had had it not been for this reelection. The Prime Minister says that my action is now much more directed against the constituency than against Mr. Bradlaugh himself. Sir, I deny that it is directed against the constituency. We do not dispute the right of the constituency to return Mr. Bradlaugh. If we did dispute that right, undoubtedly there would be a case for Mr. Corbett, who was the other candidate, to claim the seat. But no such question is raised. What we do object to is to a certain step being taken which is necessary to enable Mr. Bradlaugh to take his seat. Is that an unusual or unprecedented case? It is precisely the case of Baron Rothschild and Mr. Salomons. We never contested the right of the City of London to elect Baron Rothschild; nor did we contest the right of the constituency to elect Mr. Salomons. Baron Rothschild took the Oath, subject to a certain modification in its words, and the House refused to allow that taking of the Oath with that modification of words to be regarded as equivalent to a taking of the Oath as required by law. Our contention is that Mr. Bradlaugh cannot take the Oath without a modification of its spirit and meaning, and that is the contention, whether we are right or wrong, we have always made. We therefore say that as Baron Rothschild was re-elected, I believe, some five or six times before he ever obtained the right of sitting in this House, similarly Mr. Bradlaugh has been re-elected more than once, and we are still in a position in which we may refuse, and ought to refuse, to allow him to go through the form of taking the Oath, when, as we hold, he is incapable of doing so according to law. With regard to the Amendment, that is a question which is entirely apart from the personal question of Mr. Bradlaugh sitting. It is a question which ought to be argued independently of that consideration when it is brought forward. If a Bill is to be brought forward for the alteration of the law, let us see that Bill, and then discuss it. Otherwise, I decline to be a party to pledging the House to a Resolution in favour of such a Bill before we have received it, and also in connection with the particular case before us.


I approach this question from an entirely different point of view from that of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I should support the Resolution of the right hon. Baronet the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote) if it stood alone; but I also intend to support the Amendment proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire (Mr. Marjoribanks). I disagree entirely with the arguments used by the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), who said that the House was not within its rights in prohibiting and preventing the other Member for Northampton from coming to the Table and taking the Oath. We have done so because we believe he is incapable of fulfilling the conditions imposed by the Statute, and that is our justification for the course we have pursued. I have voted against Mr. Bradlaugh being permitted to take the Oath on previous occasions, because I could not be a party to sitting by and seeing that which, in my conscience, I believe to be profanation; and so often as this question comes before the House, if it unfortunately does come again, I shall vote in the same sense. But the Amendment is of an entirely different nature. I suppose there can be very few Members—probably none—on my side of the House who would disagree with the opinion that the time had long gone by when any religious test ought to be imposed on any Member who sought to take his seat in this House. On the other hand, I believe there are very few, if any, hon. Members on the opposite side of the House who would assert such an opinion broadly. The time for such tests has long since passed. Hon. Members opposite may feel, as I do, very reluctant to do anything which can in any way clash with the votes which they have given; and while they may taunt Liberal Members that this Amendment is really a Bradlaugh Relief Amendment, I shall not fear any such taunt, for the simple reason that I am asserting a broad, sound Liberal principle, that religious tests ought not to stand between Members who are elected, and who seek to take their seats, and it is upon that ground, and that alone, that I shall support the Amendment.


Sir, I think it must have escaped the attention of the hon. Member who has just sat down (Mr. Hussey Vivian), that there is one conclusive argument against the acceptance of the Amendment—namely, that in that case the Resolution of my right hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote) will be negatived this night. Then, supposing the proposal for legislation were entertained, and that legislation were introduced, and that the decision of the House was given hostilely, what would be the next thing that would happen? Mr. Bradlaugh, I presume, would walk up to the Table in the exercise of the right he claims, and demand to take the Oath. The Resolution of my right hon. Friend having been negatived, it would be contrary to the Rules to propose it again in the present Session. It is all very well. This is a very ingenious little trap; but I do not think the majority of the House of Commons are at all likely to walk into it. I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend the Loader of the Opposition that the two questions are entirely distinct. Let us pass this Resolution in the first place, forbidding Mr. Bradlaugh to take the Oath; then, if right hon. Gentlemen opposite should, think fit to introduce legislation after, let them bring in the Bill, submit it to the House, and I have very little doubt in my own mind what will be its conclusion upon the matter.


I confess I do not like the spirit in which the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. Chaplin) has approached the question. We have not got to think of what the hon. Member calls "ingenious little traps," but how the House of Commons can be rescued from a great difficulty, which I hope everyone who is mindful of the dignity of the House of Commons would wish to solve. In what position does the Motion of the Leader of the Opposition, who is in this matter the Leader of the majority, as we have been told, leave this House? Does it relieve it? No; it leaves it precisely in the same position as it was left last year after his Motion was carried, with the possibility of the same scenes being re-enacted, and with the necessity of the House remaining, if I may use the term, in a kind of state of siege, defending itself against the entrance of Mr. Bradlaugh by such means as he may employ. Is that a position in which the House of Commons wishes to remain; and is it not the duty of everyone in this House to endeavour to settle and get rid of the question which was so difficult, and which has not, I may add, increased the credit of the House of Commons? Whatever view we may take of Mr. Bradlaugh taking the Oath, whether it has been legal, or whether it has not been legal, we may, at least, hope to find an issue from the difficulty; because I refuse to believe what has been repeatedly asserted—that it is convenient to the Conservative Party to keep this question open. I do not believe that for the sake of keeping up a kind of belief that on this side of the House there is a kind of protection of Mr. Bradlaugh's doctrines, that for the sake of keeping up that belief, they would seek to see continued scenes which have not increased the credit of the House. I think we may fairly appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition—who on this question has the majority—to come forward on this occasion and give us some hopes that he will assist in the settlement, and the final settlement, of this question. We expected that he and his Followers would, at least, speak warmly and hopefully of carrying out legislation which is to put an end to the scandal which exists. What course did the right hon. Gentleman take? He said he would judge when he should see the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman and those who support him do not pledge themselves to any Bill when they accept this Resolution. The principle is simple enough. We all know it, though we attempt to disguise it—it is that every Member elected may make an Affirmation or Oath at his option. Is not that simple? Is it difficult to conceive the clauses by which that plain and simple principle may be embodied in a Bill'? I think it would be worthier of the Party opposite if they would give up the attempt to embitter the opposition to Mr. Bradlaugh, and assist not only this side of the House, but the work the House has to do. If the Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman opposite is carried to-night we may be in the same position again. We rest the case mainly on this, that we must get rid of the scenes here, and in support of that I shall vote for the Amendment of the hon. Member for Berwickshire, and I hope there will be many, even on the Opposition side of the House, who will be ready to follow in that course.


said, he wished to remind the House that last year they occupied a very different position from that in which they would now be placed if the Amendment were carried. Last year the Speaker was armed by a Resolution of the House with power to prevent a scandal which would shock so much the religious feeling of the country. If, however, his right hon. Friend's Resolution were now rejected, and the Amendment agreed to, the House would be placed entirely at the mercy of Mr. Bradlaugh. As far as he could understand the matter, there would be nothing except an abstract Resolution between the House and that profanation which they all deprecated. He was willing to accept the pledge given by Mr. Bradlaugh through his brother Member for Northampton; but let hon. Members consider what it was. It amounted to this—that if the House would kindly adopt the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway, Mr. Bradlaugh would undertake not to come up and try to take the Oath for a certain time. [An hon. MEMBER: An uncertain time.] His brother Member for Northampton said be might wait two months; but he would not pledge himself to any particular time—it might be two months, it might be less.


, interposing, expressed a hope that he might be allowed to explain. He did not say that he assumed that the Amendment would be followed by legislation. Of course, that legislation could not take place in a day or in a week. The hon. Member, as well as everyone else in the House, knew perfectly well what he meant when he said that Mr. Bradlaugh would not come to that Table if a Bill were prosecuted. He said it might be two months or three months. He would also say that Mr. Bradlaugh would, under those circumstances, give the fullest notice to the House before he came up to the Table.


said, he quite accepted what the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) had just said. He understood that Mr. Bradlaugh was not to be bound as to time; but let hon. Members see in what position that placed the House. They had no promise of a Bill to follow this abstract Resolution. The Prime Minister, who had done a great deal undoubtedly to endeavour to get Mr. Bradlaugh into the House of Commons, had not said a word about bringing in a Bill. And supposing a private Member were to bring in a Bill, did anybody suppose he would have the slightest chance of passing it? They all knew perfectly well that he would not, and therefore the House would be put into this position. At any moment Mr. Bradlaugh might say—"You are not advancing with the Bill as fast as I like, and I will come down to the House of Commons and try to take the Oath; for you have barred yourselves from trying to stop me by passing the Amendment."


said, that in the early stages of this question more than one right hon. Member on the Front Opposition Bench took the view that legislation was the proper mode of deal- ing with the difficulty. He hoped they were in the same mind still. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire, in a speech on a former occasion, dwelt at considerable length on this point. He (Mr. Whit-bread) hoped the right hon. Baronet was of that opinion still; if not, his second thoughts would be much worse than his first thoughts. It was but reasonable to suppose that the majority which carried the Amendment, if it were carried, would be ready to carry on legislation on the question. From whom would opposition come to such legislation? It was not to be feared from that side of the House. If hon. Gentlemen opposite feared a profanation of the Oath, and the Amendment were to pass, all they had to do was to meet the other side fairly and to abstain from obstructing the Bill. He did not wish them to abstain from expressing their opinions, but only asked that there should be no undue obstruction. If they would meet them fairly and take a division on the Bill, at a reasonable time, on its merits, and be satisfied with the decision of the majority, whatever it might be, they need fear no profanation of the Oath. But was it really the profanation of the Oath that they did fear? They had admitted over and over again that should Mr. Bradlaugh be returned at the General Election, they could not prevent him going up amongst the first Members and taking the Oath at the Table. Was it, then, really the profanation of the Oath that they cared for; or was it that some astute Party managers thought they had got a good question, and that they would like to keep the question alive? They on his (Mr. Whitbread's) side of the House thought Mr. Bradlaugh had a right to go to the Table and take the Oath; but they offered a way out of the difficulty, a way recommended by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire—the only way which they saw of avoiding profanation, because if a General Election came, he (Mr. Whitbread) thought it was reasonable to expect that Mr. Bradlaugh would be again returned, and then he would come to the Table, and before the Members present would take the Oath in a manner very like a profanation of it. They offered them a way out of the difficulty—namely, by the introduction of a Bill to deal with it. If the Conservative Party would only not prevent legislation, a Bill could be passed without any undue waste of time, and the profanation of the Oath would not take place. He wished to remind the House of these facts, because hon. Members opposite had not treated them in so temperate a manner as they did on the first occasion, when they offered to assent to legislation on the subject.


said, he regretted very much that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon should have attempted to introduction to this debate any question of Party, either on one side or the other. ["Oh!"] It was, he thought, hardly worthy of the right hon. Gentleman to say that the Conservatives wished to keep this question open for Party purposes. This was a matter which most deeply affected not only every Member of that House, but the religious feelings of millions of people of all Parties and of all creeds. He declined to speak of the matter as a Party question, inasmuch as it was one which had moved the hearts and feelings of many religious people in the country. The hon. Member who had just spoken (Mr. Whitbread) had alluded to a speech of his made a long time ago on this subject, when it came before him for the first time as a Member of the Select Committee. That Committee almost unanimously decided that it was absolutely impossible by law for Mr. Bradlaugh to make the Affirmation which the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster desired him to make. Upon the other question as to whether he should be permitted to take the Oath, the Committee upon that point also were unanimous in holding that such a taking of the Oath would not be a taking the Oath at all within the meaning of the Act, but would be an act of profanation. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster thought that there was only one thing to be done—namely, to allow Mr. Bradlaugh to take the Oath. For his own part, he had ventured to suggest that as Mr. Bradlaugh could not make an Affirmation, neither was he to be allowed, under the circumstances, to take the Oath, and that if the Government desired to get him into the House, their only method of getting rid of the difficulty was to introduce legislation on the subject. That opinion he had always held, and expressed; he said so now, and all the more strongly because he had never concealed the fact that he objected to such legislation all the more earnestly because it was introduced for the express purpose of letting in Mr. Bradlaugh. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen would remember perfectly well how great a difference there was in doing things for one particular purpose and in doing them for the advance of the general principle, and he did not see how the Amendment would have any real effect, because the moment the Bill was introduced, he was quite certain it would be so attacked and tied and bound up with the case of Mr. Bradlaugh, that it would have no chance of passing, and many Members who would be quite ready to support the general principle would vote against it. The hon. and learned Attorney General had made a speech on the subject and had promised to introduce a Bill—[The ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir Henry James): No, no.]—but they had never seen anything of it, and it appeared to him that they were in absolutely the same condition at that moment as they were at the beginning of the Session. The Amendment must be considered as a Motion for allowing Mr. Bradlaugh, whenever he chose, to go through the form of taking the Oath, and either the Government must help him in that, or they must come to the Resolution that they came to before. He should certainly vote for the original Motion proposed by his right hon. Friend (Sir Stafford Northcote), because it appeared to him that the Amendment was simply brought forward as a loophole by which certain scruples might be explained away, and hon. Members prevented from voting in accordance with conscience.


said, that when the question was first brought before the notice of the House, he ventured to express an opinion that the matter would never be settled until an Act was passed substituting a simple Affirmation for an Oath. Various opinions were expressed as to the advisability of adopting alternative systems enabling Members either to take the Oath, or to make Affirmation. For his own part, he thought considerable objection existed to such a course, which would tend to divide Members into two classes—into those who considered the Oath was the proper form to take, and those to whom the Affirmation was the proper form. Now, he objected to such a course. He had certainly said before that nothing would induce him to consent to Mr. Bradlaugh's taking the Oath; he had twice voted against it, and he should always continue to act in the same manner, because he held such an Oath to be no Oath at all, considering the known opinions of the hon. Member for Northampton. The proposal of the Leader of the Opposition was an operative proposal, and was necessary for the present crisis; but the Amendment had no operative effect at all, it was simply an abstract Resolution. He should be perfectly ready tomorrow to vote for a Resolution framed in the spirit of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Berwickshire (Mr. Marjoribanks), because it carried out his view; but he did not think the House could make a sort of bargain with Mr. Bradlaugh, of which his Colleague was to be the guarantee. Such a course was unbecoming the dignity of the House. He should like to know why the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, whose opinions on the subject they knew, had not bestirred himself sooner in the matter? He (Mr. Walter) was not insensible of the difficulties the right hon. Gentleman had to encounter; but he believed that there were many hon. Gentlemen opposite who, in their consciences, thought there was only one way out of the difficulty, which was to be found in the introduction of an optional test, or by simply substituting an Affirmation for the Oath. There was a great deal to be said against promissory oaths altogether. They were entirely different to those administered in Courts of Justice. A declaration of allegiance to the Sovereign required no Oath whatever to confirm it, for the penalty of breaking it would be not perjury, but treason. If it were necessary to impose a test of any kind whatever, tacking it on to a declaration of allegiance to the Crown was not the proper means of doing it. He should support the Leader of the Opposition; but, at the same time, he was perfectly prepared to vote for any well-considered proposal for the purpose of substituting a simple Affirmation for an Oath.


said, he would not detain the House for more than a very few minutes. No one would accuse him of being, or having been, guided by Party feeling on this subject. He wished to call attention to a letter, written by Mr. Bradlaugh, in order to show what was the position, with which the House had to deal, in Mr. Bradlaugh's estimation. This letter was addressed to the Editor of The Daily News on the 14th of February last, and was as follows:— With reference to your paragraph in today's issue, will you allow me to say that I have not this Session made, nor have I promised to make, nor do I intend to make, any communication to the Serjeant at Arms, with reference to my action in fulfilling the duty imposed on me by law as one of the Members for the Borough of Northampton. I reserve to myself the right at any moment, consistent with statute, and with the Standing Orders and Rules and Orders of the House, to claim to take my seat, though I shall probably select an occasion which seems to mo least injurious to Public Business. Now, that was the formal and public declaration of Mr. Bradlaugh, who, he (Mr. Newdegate) must say, had been perfectly consistent. Mr. Bradlaugh held that that House was acting illegally, and he defied the House with the sanction of the constituency of Northampton. He (Mr. Newdegate) was sorry that that one constituency of Northampton had undertaken to defy the House, and to set its knowledge of law above the knowledge of the Court of Appeal in this country; for the Court of Appeal had declared that Mr. Bradlaugh was liable to a penalty of £500 for the first vote he had given in the House. Mr. Bradlaugh's audacity in raising the question of the legality of the action of the House was, indeed, surpassing. Mr. Bradlaugh, as an avowed Atheist, had not taken, and could not take, the Oath of Allegiance according to the Statute. That Oath was intended to be binding upon every Member of the House before he could fulfil the duties of his position. Hon. Members spoke as if there were no limits to the Constitution—no limits, that was to say, by statute. This was somewhat surprising. They might as well declare that a woman, an alien, a clergyman, or even a Cardinal, might sit in the House, when the fact was that all these were excluded by the authority of the Statute Law, as was Mr. Bradlaugh. Some hon. Members, whose wise moderation he generally admired, had on this occasion disappointed him (Mr. Newdegate). But the hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr. Walter) had pointed out that Mr. Bradlaugh wished to proclaim to the country that the House of Commons dared not uphold the law of its own Constitution against the will of a single constituency. Was that the position which the House of Commons wished to assume, or have ascribed to it? It might be right that the House should consider the subject with a view to legislation; but with regard to the proposal of the sitting Member for Northampton, that Mr. Bradlaugh should, by agreement with the House, consent to abstain from his misconduct—that he should not obtrude himself upon this House, or violate its Orders, or defy or insult the Speaker, upon condition that the House should proceed thus under penalty to legislate at the dictation of the constituency of Northampton, was, to his (Mr. Newdegate's) mind, intolerable. Was that a position which the House of Commons was prepared to occupy? He (Mr. Newdegate) had read to the House the published declaration of Mr. Bradlaugh himself, and he must say that the present offer of the hon. Member for Northampton was so qualified, that it simply meant that Mr. Bradlaugh would subject the House of Commons to renewed indignities unless it proceeded under a sense of such penalty to deal with this subject in the way of legislation. But if the House were to consent, how could this House answer for the conduct of the House of Lords? The House of Lords knew that the Oaths were the very foundation of order in this House. If the necessity for taking the Oath of Allegiance were to be abrogated, any Member might deny the existence of God and found a Motion upon it; any Member might deny the right of Her Majesty to the Throne; any Member might deny the right to the succession of the Prince of Wales. All this was precluded, because each of those proposals was distinctly contrary to the Oaths of Members. It was the duty of the right hon. Gentleman the Speaker, if any such proposal were made in the House, to rise at once from the Chair and to state that the proposal must be withdrawn, that the debate thereon must cease, and the speech thereon be held to have been unspoken, because the whole was contrary to the Oaths of Members. There must, then, be some limits to the action of Parliament, and the limits he had described were assigned in the reign of Queen Elizabeth as the condition of this House being admitted to a share of the Imperial power. The object of Mr. Bradlaugh was to strike down the distinction between a Parliament and a Convention, which was an Assembly under no obligations. In the United States of America they resorted to Conventions, when there was a difference between the two Houses of Congress, or between Congress and the Supreme Court; but under what condition? That one question only should be decided by each Convention, and that afterwards Congress should immediately resume its functions within the limits assigned to it. This country was asked to go further in the direction of unrestrained Democracy, and in favour of absolute Atheism, than the Great Republic of the United States had consented to in its own case.


said, he had voted from the very first against allowing Mr. Bradlaugh to take the Oath, and had done so, as had other hon. Members, simply in order that a profane and improper act might not be committed. He begged to say that in the course he had adopted he was not actuated by Party spirit, and he protested against any hon. Gentleman on the other side saying or insinuating that votes given by hon. Members on this side were given from any other motive than that which ought to be respected in the eyes of all. Further, he must remind the House that this matter was represented in another light out-of-doors. The constituencies out-of-doors were persistently told by the hon. Gentleman who dared to come to the Table to take the Oath, that his exclusion was designed to prevent his bringing forward his Motion for a reform of the Pension List. That he also branded as a calumny, and there could be no real credence of it in the heart of the man who made it. Mr. Bradlaugh himself did not believe it. He knew perfectly well that the only ground against him was the religious ground, and his (Mr. Mitchell Henry's) opinion had always gone in that direction. In the present difficulty it would be most inconvenient and undignified for the House to make a bargain with Mr. Bradlaugh. Personally he had always thought it a great hardship that only three classes of persons, Quakers, Moravians, and Separatists, should be allowed to affirm. An alteration of the law was the true solution of the question. Not only now, but for all future time, and he could not understand why it was that when this difficulty arose first a measure of that kind was not introduced. The question could then have been fought out as a matter of principle, and not have been brought into the condition it was in now. Nor did he understand why, if he voted for this Amendment, he should be stultifying the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. He had one more remark to make. The House had put no disability on Mr. Bradlaugh; it was Mr. Bradlaugh who had attempted to impose a disability upon the Members of the House. His conduct in pretending at the Table that he could not conscientiously take the Oath, and then, when he found inconvenience arise, coming and saying, "Oh, I will take it," was as repugnant to his fellow-Atheists, as to any hon. Member of the House. Mr. Holyoake was as good an Atheist as Mr. Bradlaugh, and he had expressed his disgust and disapprobation of the conduct of the hon. Member for Northampton. He said it showed most clearly that his objections were not really conscientious. They knew nothing officially about Mr. Bradlaugh until he had refused to take the Oath, giving as his reason that it was not binding on his conscience. But for that statement, Mr. Bradlaugh might have taken his seat unchallenged long ago; but it was impossible now to accede to the request that no judicial cognizance should be taken of a piece of information that had been forced upon the House. Mr. Bradlaugh's object was to exhibit to the people out-of-doors his own disbelief in the existence of God and the insincerity of the religious feeling of the House, which, rather than be inconvenienced and embarrassed, would, he imagined, at his approach save itself all trouble by permitting the Oath to be profaned. If the House of Commons allowed him to go to the Table and take the Oath, they would afford him the strongest argument that could be given to prove to his disciples that there was no reality in their belief in a Superior Being. For that reason he should never vote for any course that would result in the Oath being taken by Mr. Bradlaugh. He would not allow Mr. Bradlaugh, if he could help it, to take the Oath; but, at the same time, he would cheerfully, readily, and heartily promote such a reform of the law as would relieve the consciences of all men who did not desire to swear, and permit them to express their allegiance to the Crown by making an Affirmation, which would be equally binding upon them as the Oath itself.


said, he presumed that if the Resolution excluding Mr. Bradlaugh were rejected, it could not be moved again this Session, while the acceptance of the Amendment would be a mere Platonic method of changing the law as to Affirmations. Mr. Bradlaugh had offered, by the mouth of his Colleague and Ambassador, to give the House a reasonable time to pass an Act abolishing the Oath; but it must be remembered, in the first place, that that House could not alone pass an Act abolishing the Oath. Such an Act must be passed first by that House, then by the House of Lords, and must finally receive the sanction of the Sovereign. It was proposed by the Mover of the Amendment that unless not only that House, but the House of Lords and the Sovereign, removed all obstacles in the path of Mr. Bradlaugh's profanation of the Oath within what might seem a reasonable time to Mr. Bradlaugh, Mr. Bradlaugh would come up to the Table, would insist upon taking the Oath—taking the name of God in vain, and profaning a solemn religious declaration to the scandal of all religious men throughout this country. Was it to be left to Mr. Bradlaugh to decide whether a reasonable time had elapsed for the House of Lords and for the Sovereign to remove the obstacles to his doing that which would enable him to further his atheistic propaganda? The hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Mitchell Henry) had plainly stated that point of the case. Mr. Bradlaugh had never ceased to assert his intention of making that House a platform for the spread of Atheism; and he had received encouragement from the Premier himself, who had promised Mr. Bradlaugh that if he would but wait a reasonable time the Oath should be abolished. What stronger proof of the mockery of Christianity, of the falsehood and hollowness of Christian men's profession of their faith, could be laid before the ignorant masses of this country than the proof the Premier proposed to place in the hands of Mr. Bradlaugh? He was surprised to hear from the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) such an argument as that which he had addressed to the House. He stated the question in all its nakedness and all its deformity, for he said that if they wanted to stop the profanation of the Oath, they must make haste to pass an Act for the relief of Mr. Bradlaugh. Such an argument was really a menace. An Act of such a nature would, in the opinion of many, be removing the last vestiges of the religious foundation of the Constitution, and ought not to be proposed without an appeal to the wishes of the country at large. The hon. Member said that if the House hesitated to pass such an Act, the very profanation they dreaded would be inflicted upon them. A more unworthy argument than that was never addressed to any Assembly, and he was surprised that the hon. Member had been so carried away by his allegiance to the Premier as to suggest that if the House desired to save the Oath from profanation they must abolish the Oath altogether. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen) had been supposed to be somewhat independent of his Party; but he regretted to find that he also was wanting in principle, for he had insinuated again and again that Party motives were at the bottom of the resistance to Mr. Bradlaugh. He (Mr. O'Donnell) did not admire the intelligence of those hon. Members who believed that statement of the case. But, coming to the Premier's statement itself, it was summed up in his recommendation that the Amendment of the hon. Member for Berwickshire (Mr. Marjoribanks) should be accepted as "an escape." An escape from a difficulty entirely recommended itself to the mind of the Premier; it was so characteristic of the right hon. Gentleman. He was never satisfied with the two plain courses of either saying "Yes" or "No;" but he must find a third course out of a difficulty, and in the present instance he had tried to find an escape for his Followers. His proposal for abolishing the freedom of Parliament by his contemplated Rules of Procedure was not unworthy of his proposal to abolish the Oath. How long was the discussion on the Rules of Procedure to be continued? Suppose Mr. Bradlaugh thought they were taking an unreasonable time with the discussion of the Rules, then was the Premier to stand up and adjure them to make haste with the Rules of Procedure, in order to allow him to bring in a Bill to prevent the profanation of the Oath? If there were an honest purpose behind the policy which was sought to be pressed upon the House, the Amendment would not be proposed as a substitute, but as a rider and in addition to the Resolution. If that course were taken, both the dignity of the House of Commons and the sacredness of the Oath would be protected, for they would be asked to vote in the first place, pending legislation, that Mr. Bradlaugh was incapable of taking the Oath, which he declared to be an idle form. That would be an honest policy. It would prevent the profanation of the Oath, and give expression to the wish of those who thought that the Oath ought to be abolished and Affirmations substituted. But, instead of that honest policy, they were asked to disarm the House as against Mr. Bradlaugh. The Amendment was one with no practical object, except that of legitimatizing the contingent profanation of the Oath under the protection of the good offices and the benediction of the Premier of Great Britain.


said, that, as one of those who had voted consistently against Mr. Bradlaugh taking the Oath, he felt it his duty to give the reason which would induce him now to vote for the Amendment. His opinion was that it would be best that every Member returned to the House should be allowed to take the Oath or to affirm, at his discretion, and he should vote for the Amendment upon the understanding that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister gave his assurance that Her Majesty's Government would bring in a Bill to give this option. [Mr. GLADSTONE dissented.] At all events, it was right and proper that a Member should be able to do what the Amendment proposed, and if it were carried he understood that it would be the duty of the Government to give effect to it. They knew perfectly well that if any private Member attempted to bring in a measure of this kind, there would be little chance of his carrying it; but, on the other hand, if the Government took the course he proposed, he believed they should find a solution of the difficulty. If, therefore, the Government would give the assurance he wished for, he should be delighted to vote for the Amendment. If this course were not taken by the Government, Mr. Bradlaugh might come at any time and do what he had already done, thereby profaning the Oath.


said, he desired to take the ruling of the Chair on the Question whether the Amendment was in Order? The Resolution of his right hon. Friend (Sir Stafford North-cote) dealt with a Question of Privilege, and it would prevent Mr. Bradlaugh, under certain circumstances, which, of course, it was not necessary then to recapitulate, coming to the Table and taking the Oath. The Amendment, he submitted, had no relation to the Resolution, for it did not refer to Privilege at all, but it committed the House to an abstract Resolution as to the necessity for, and propriety of, legislation upon the subject. He was recently witness to a ruling of the Speaker which seemed exactly in point. There was a Motion to issue a Writ for the county of Meath upon the ground that the person elected was not qualified to sit. To that it was sought to move an Amendment for an Address to the Crown, the effect of which would have been that a free pardon should be given to the person elected, and so remove all disability arising from previous conviction. The Speaker held that, in the circumstances, the Amendment was out of Order, and could not be put. He submitted that this Amendment, in the form it had taken, that of giving the go-by to a Question of Privilege, was out of Order and ought not be put.


The Resolution of the right hon. Baronet is to the effect that Mr. Bradlaugh be not permitted to go through the form of taking the Oath prescribed by the Statutes 29 Vict. c. 19, and 31 & 32 Vict. c. 72; and the hon. Member for Berwickshire proposes an Amendment that those particular Statutes shall be amended in the direction indicated by this Amendment. I am bound to say that, in my judgment, the Amendment is consequently quite relevant to the Resolution. It is true, as stated by the hon. and learned Gentleman, that on a former occasion, when it was proposed to issue a new Writ for the county of Meath, an Amendment was offered to the effect that Michael Davitt should receive a free pardon, and I did not consider that that Amendment was relevant to the Motion before the House. In this case the relevancy seems to me clear and complete; but on that occasion it did not appear to me that the proposed Amendment was relevant. Therefore, I am bound to advise that the Amendment of the hon. Member for Berwickshire is in Order.


said, he rose merely for the purpose of obtaining a clear understanding from the Prime Minister upon the question raised by the hon. Member for Wareham (Mr. Montague Guest). The time when the House was in a difficulty was the time when it should take the greatest care what it did in its anxiety to get out of it. The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) had made a proposal to the House which, clearly understood, meant that a Bill should be introduced by the Government to abolish the Oath, or that a Bill should be introduced for that purpose by a private Member, and every facility be given by the Government to that private Member to enable him to pass his Bill. It was notorious that a Bill of the kind referred to would meet with strong opposition in some quarters of the House, and that it would have very little chance of passing unless it was a Government Bill or secured Government time. The Prime Minister would be misleading the House if he were to induce the House to vote for the Amendment of the hon. Member for Berwickshire and did not intend to adopt one of those alternatives. He was surprised to hear the Attorney General say that the Opposition prevented the introduction of a Bill last Session, because the Opposition could not have done that if the Motion had been brought on before half-past 12 o'clock; but the fact that it was not threw considerable doubt on the bonâ fides of the Government, who brought on the Motion only when they knew the minority could stop it. He asked the Prime Minister whether they intended either to bring in a Bill or to give up Government time to a private Member's Bill?


I might, Sir, perhaps, refuse to answer a question such as that put by the noble Lord in connection with insinuations of want of bonâ fides. I do not feel myself bound to answer any question put in such a way. But as the question has been put in a very different manner by another hon. Member, it is right that I should explain what I stated. I gave no intimation either one way or the other upon the subject, but simply spoke in favour of the principle of such legislation. If the House should be pleased to adopt the Amendment of my hon. Friend, then, undoubtedly, it would be the duty of the Government to consider what would be the best course to take, and whether a measure brought in by the Government would be the best mode of facilitating legislation. It would be the duty of the Government, in good faith, to address itself to the question, and to arrive at such a decision as might, in its opinion, be most likely to attain the end desired by the majority.


said, the question before the House was one of such great importance that he did not wish to give a silent vote upon it. The House should clearly understand what its position would be if the Resolution of the right hon. Baronet opposite was negatived. He therefore wished to ask, whether, if the Resolution were negatived, there would be any power of preventing Mr. Bradlaugh presenting himself before a measure had been carried? As to the Amendment itself, there were only two arguments that he desired to address to the House. The first was that Members who had voted against the admission of Mr. Bradlaugh previously, and now voted for the Amendment, would be in a peculiar position. The misfortune was that a vote for the Amendment was ostentatiously a vote in favour of Mr. Bradlaugh, from which nothing could whitewash a Member in the eyes of the outside public; and yet there had been numerous occasions when such a Motion might have been brought forward and such a construction could not have been put upon it. There was another argument of much greater weight. If the Amendment was carried, it appeared to him that it would be a direct negative to the Resolution which the House had hitherto adopted. What was the legislation which the Amendment advocated? It was that Mr. Bradlaugh, or any other Member, had a right under present circumstances to go to the Table, and at his option either take the Oath or make a Declaration. Therefore, if Mr. Bradlaugh chose to come to the Table, and was willing to take the Oath, there would be no power in the House to prevent the profanation of the Oath. The proposed amendment of the law would, he conceived, in no sense make any difference. He, therefore, asked Mr. Speaker what would be the effect of negativing the Resolution, and whether, in the event of the Amendment being carried, the same Resolution could be moved again during the present Session?


said, that before that question was answered, he wished to ask whether, if the Amendment was carried, they should negative the Resolution?


In answer to the question of the hon. and learned Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon), I have to say that it is true that no Motion which is substantially the same as one which has been already negatived can again be made in the same Session. The House will know how to meet any situation that may arise without transgressing its own Rules.


(who rose amid loud cries of "Divide!") said, he would only stand in the way of a division for a few moments. He wished it to be distinctly understood that as far as the Speaker's ruling could be interpreted by the House—["Oh!"]—Gentlemen on his side of the House took the ruling from the Chair in the way in which it was given—namely, that the Speaker thought that some plan could be devised by that (the Opposition) side of the House if the occasion arose to repeat that Resolution in some other form. After all, the real question which remained to be decided was this—would the House practically permit Mr. Bradlaugh to take the Oath or would it not? It was perfectly plain that if Mr. Bradlaugh was not satisfied with the expedition of the proposed legislation, he might a month or two hence present himself to the House, and there would then be all sorts of objections made to any Resolution that might be made similar to that now proposed by the right hon. Baronet. Anyone who voted in favour of the Amendment must be understood by his constituents and the country as voting in favour of the admission of Mr. Bradlaugh, and upon no other question whatever.


said, he rose to a point of Order. He wished to put a question to the Speaker, in order to prevent any mistake on the part of hon. Members. If the Amendment were resolved in the affirmative—that was, if the House resolved that the words of the Motion of the Leader of the Opposition should not stand part of the Question, and the Amendment was then put as a substantive Motion and carried—he asked whether, if Mr. Bradlaugh came to the Table on any future occasion and a Motion similar in terms or similar substantially in intention to prevent Mr. Bradlaugh from taking the Oath were brought forward by an hon. Member, the Speaker would accept such Motion and rule it to be in Order?


I would assure the hon. Member most respectfully that I have quite enough to do to deal with points of Order as they arise; and I must decline to answer questions anticipating points of Order that may be hypothetically raised.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 257; Noes 242: Majority 15.—(Div. List, No. 37.)

Main Question put, and agreed to. Resolved, That this House, having ascertained that Mr. Bradlaugh has been re-elected for the Borough of Northampton, doth re-affirm the Resolution made on the 7th of February last, and doth hereby direct that Mr. Bradlaugh be not permitted to go through the form of taking the Oath prescribed by the Statutes 29 Vic. c. 19, and 31 and 32 Vic. c. 72.


I beg to give Notice that to-morrow I shall ask leave to bring in a Bill to amend the law with regard to Parliamentary Oaths.


I beg to give Notice that I will oppose any Bill not brought in by the Government on that question.

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