§ SIR H. DRUMMOND WOLFF
asked the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether, before the Cabinet decided on proposing to this House the Resolution of the 1st of July, 1880, the Law Officers and the Lord Chancellor had considered the accuracy of the opinion subsequently expressed by the Solicitor General during the Debate, to the following effect:—A doubt has been suggested whether a Court of Law could decide this question. Ho was unable to understand how such a doubt existed. He asserted, with the utmost confidence, that if Mr. Bradlaugh were sued for penalties, no Resolution of the House could for a moment stand in the way of those proceedings. It was said, 'once get Mr. Bradlaugh into the House, and no one will sue him for penalties.' Those who said so must have very little confidence in their view of the Law. Did they really believe that no one would speculate upon their Law with £500 as a prize;or, whether it was decided that the Attorney General alone could sue for penalties; whether, if any doubt existed on the subject, the Attorney General was instructed or not by the Cabinet to institute proceedings himself; and, fur- 320 ther, if it is usual for a Judge to sit judicially upon a question upon which he has advised as a Minister?
This Question divides itself into several parts, and I will give the answer to these parts in succession and briefly. In the first place, neither the Cabinet, nor the Lord Chancellor, nor the Law Officers, before proposing the Standing Order of July 1st, 1880, considered it any part of their duty to examine the subject in respect to what would follow from a breach of the law, or attempted breach of the law. In the second place, in regard to the opinion subsequently expressed by my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General, that opinion was not the result of any formal reference to the Law Officers of the Crown; and he only gave expression to the opinion that an informer could sue, which was very widely prevalent in the Profession, and was subsequently confirmed by the judgment of two Courts of Law, although reversed by the House of Lords. In the next place, there was no instruction to the Attorney General to institute proceedings against Mr. Bradlaugh; nor, in truth, was there any opportunity for that question to be considered, because immediately after the voting—absolutely within an hour or two hours of the voting of the hon. Member—proceedings were taken by a private person. With regard to the last part of the Question, it is not usual for a Judge to sit judicially upon a question on which he had given his advice as a Minister, nor has it occurred in the present instance at all, because the Lord Chancellor has never given us advice on the matter, inasmuch as the matter had not been taken into consideration by the Cabinet or the Lord Chancellor beforehand.
§ SIR H.DRUMMOND WOLFF
asked, if they were to understand that the Motion made by the right hon. Gentleman in proposing the Standing Order on the 1st of July, 1880, was made by him to the House without having been previously submitted to the Cabinet?
Sir, the question which I said was not considered in anticipation by the Cabinet was, whether, if any presumptive cause for proceedings at law should arise, the state of the law was to be presumed this way or that, or proceedings were to be taken by the Cabinet?
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
asked the Prime Minister, whether, in consequence of the decision of the House of Lords in the case of "Bradlaugh v. Clarke," he correctly understood the right hon. Gentleman, on the previous Thursday, to state that it was not his intention to direct the Attorney General to institute proceedings against Mr. Bradlaugh for having sat and having voted in the House on the 22nd of February, 1882, or on any other occasion?
I would rather not be understood to be bound by the date quoted by the hon. Gentleman, because my impression is that that is not the exact date.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
If the right hon. Gentleman will refer to Hansard, he will find that the Speaker called the attention of the House to the fact that the hon. Member was sitting in the House, after he had been ordered to withdraw on the 7th of February; and he will also find appended to the Division List a note to the effect that the Speaker called the attention of the House to the fact that Mr. Bradlaugh had voted, but no proceedings were taken by the House thereon.
The Question now put by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire refers to a different matter from the Question of the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Drummond Wolff); and I had better, to avoid the risk of misunderstanding, ask him to put it on the Paper.
§ SIR WILLIAM HART DYKE
I wish to ask whether the present Lord Chancellor, when Attorney General in 1866, at the time the Parliamentary Oaths Bill was brought forward by the then Government, did not inform the House that henceforward action under that Bill could only be taken by the Attorney General; and whether, as a Member of the Cabinet, he was not responsible for the Resolution of July 1st, 1880, and for the reason then given by the Solicitor General, on behalf of the Government, for the adoption of the said Resolution?
There can be no doubt that my noble Friend is responsible with us for that proposal made for the Government in 1880; but with regard to the declaration made by him in 1866, as I have not the matter fresh in my mind, perhaps it would be better 322 that that Question should also be put on the Notice Paper.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
Are we to understand that when the Government pressed the House to pass a Resolution which invited Mr. Bradlaugh to affirm, they had not considered, by seeking the advice either of the Lord Chancellor, or of the Law Officers of the Crown, whether, if Mr. Bradlaugh complied with the Resolution, he would not render himself liable to an action brought against him by the Attorney General under the Statute?
As the Question relates to a matter of law, it would be better that Notice of it should be given.
§ SIR H. DRUMMOND WOLFF
I wish to ask whether the Government repudiate the plea on which the House was invited to pass the Resolution of the Solicitor General?
I may now say that I cannot answer the Question without taking exception to its terms, because they do not represent the issue before the House at the time.