SIR STAFFORD NOETHCOTE
asked the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether, having regard to the several decisions of the Courts of Law, to the effect, on the one hand, that a Member of this House, not belonging to one of the religious denominations who are permitted by statute to make an affirmation instead of taking an oath, commits an illegal act, subjects himself to penalties, and makes void his election by sitting and voting in this House without having taken the oath required by Law, and on the other hand that such a Member can only be proceeded against by Her Majesty's Attorney General, he proposes to repeal the Standing Order 22a, of the 1st July 1880, permitting Members to make a solemn affirmation instead of taking an oath, subject to any liability under statute; or whether he would undertake that, in the event of any Member so rendering himself liable, the Attorney General shall institute the proceedings necessary to maintain and enforce the Law?
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
Sir, before the right hon. Gentleman answers that Question, I wish to ask, Whether, having regard to the fact that the Lord. Chancellor in his judgment on Monday, in the case of Bradlaugh v. Clarke, stated that Mr. Bradlaugh is not entitled to affirm, but is bound to swear his allegiance, the Executive intends to take steps to protect Mr. Bradlaugh from interference in fulfilling, not only what he is legally entitled to do, but what the Lord Chancellor has, in the highest Appeal Court, stated it is his bounden duty to do; and, whether, in the event of the right hon. 83 Gentleman replying in the affirmative, he will give the House the assurance that the Government will not support any Bill sent down from the House of Lords, relieving Peers from pecuinary liability for sitting and voting before taking the Oath of Allegiance—two such Bills, one, I believe, in the case of a Bishop, having been passed with the concurrence of the Government in the present Parliament?
Sir, perhaps it would be more convenient that I should refer first to the Question which has just been put by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere). With regard to the inquiry founded upon the declaration of the Lord Chancellor, as I only received a quarter of an hour ago an intimation that this declaration had been made, I am quite ignorant of the terms and circumstances to which reference has been made. I think, therefore, I had better not make any answer upon that declaration without particulars, and without consultation with the Lord Chancellor before I make an answer. With regard to the second Question, I am not prepared to give any pledge upon the subject of Bills which may appear at a future time for relieving noble Lords from penalties in consequence of certain omissions on their part, because the course we may take upon those Bills would depend in a great measure on the circumstances under which the omission had taken place. I am afraid that I cannot give any positive answer upon either point. With regard to the Question of the right hon. Baronet (Sir Stafford Northcote), I am much obliged to him for having placed this Question before me. The Question begins by reciting two judgments which have taken place—one of them a judgment which put a negative upon any right to merely optional declaration in this House, that was given in relation to the case of Mr. Bradlaugh; and the other, the judgment which has determined that what is called the "common informer" cannot prosecute, and that there can only be a prosecution by the Attorney General. Under those circumstances, the right hon. Gentleman asks, whether we are prepared to move the repeal of the Standing Order which allowed Mr. Bradlaugh to declare, sub- 84 ject to liability in a Court of Justice; or, if we are not prepared to move that repeal, we will undertake that, in the event of any Member so rendering himself liable, the Attorney General shall institute the proceedings necessary to maintain and enforce the law. With regard to the repeal of the Standing Order, what we think is that we had better reserve consideration of that subject until the House has determined the course they think fit to take with regard to the Affirmation Bill. With regard to the other question, whether the Attorney General will undertake, on behalf of the Government, to institute proceedings in the event of what would now be a breach of the law in a Member tendering himself to declare, in face of the judgment of the Courts, I have to say that undoubtedly we do undertake that the Attorney General will think it his duty to institute the proceedings necessary in the case.
§ SIR H. DRUMMOND WOLFF
asked the Prime Minister, Whether the Cabinet, before proposing the Resolution of the 1st of July, 1880, for the acceptance of the House, consulted the Law Officers of the Crown, the Lord Chancellor, or the Judges of the Appellate Court, as to the opinion subsequently expressed by the Solicitor General in the course of the debate as to the competency of a Court of Law to decide the question, when—He asserted, with the utmost confidence if he (Mr. Bradlaugh) was sued for penalties, no Resolution of that House would for a moment stand in the way of the proceeding?
The hon. Gentleman has put to me rather a difficult and complicated Question; but, speaking from recollection, I am not aware that the Cabinet have entered upon the consideration of the matter to which the hon. Member refers. My hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General did, in the exercise of his duty, in this House give a certain opinion, and I believe that opinion was fully confirmed and corroborated by the judgment of the Court of Appeal. If the hon. Gentleman thinks it desirable that I should make further inquiry into the matter, perhaps he will give Notice of the Question.