HC Deb 23 April 1883 vol 278 cc915-88

Order for Second Reading read.


in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, he was sure the House would agree with him that in the procedure within its walls they ought to be most sensitive in relation to the rights of the constituencies, and that they ought to take no course that would deprive any constituency of its due rights. Without doubt, a constituency had the right to elect any Member whom it should think fit, presuming that such Member was not disqualified by law from taking his seat in the House; and the proposition he wished to submit was this, that if disqualification existed it should be marked and defined, and that the constituency should have notice through the law of such disqualification. After this notice had been given the constituency ceased to have the right to elect the disqualified person. But if the House, by Resolution, rejected those who were by law qualified to sit, they ran the risk of being placed in the unseemly position of throwing back the Member on the constituency, which might then throw back the Member upon Parliament—a position that certainly ought not to be assumed by Parliament, and was not a just position in which to place a constituency. As he had said, a constituency had a right to return any person, provided no disqualification existed, and there was no disqualification existing that was known to the law in respect of the religious belief of any man. There were 116 Statutes upon the Book imposing disqualification in respect of the election of a Member of Parliament, but amongst them there was none, either directly or indirectly, on the ground of the religious belief of the elected Member. If hon. Members would refer to an authority who was not likely to err in such a matter, they would find it specifically stated in Blackstone's Commentaries, after setting out the different grounds of disqualification, amongst which none, on account of religious belief, was to be found, that— Subject to these restrictions and qualifications every subject of the realm is eligible, by common right, to election. It was interesting to note that when Sir William Blackstone, in the House of Commons, justified the declaration of disqualification of Mr. Wilkes on the ground of his belief, Mr. George Grenville sprung to his feet and quoted that passage against him; and if the student of law would refer to it he would find that Sir William Black-stone published another edition of the Commentaries, altering the passage; but that afterwards, by a Resolution of the House in 1782, the original passage was shown to be correct. This absence of disqualification, however, was not confined to Members of the House. There was no such disqualification on religious grounds which would prevent a Peer of the Realm from taking his seat in the other House. A Peer might be summoned who was known to hold views not entertained by the Christian community, and if he chose to take his seat, could do so without hindrance. In the same way, as no such consideration could affect the right of a Peer to take his seat, so there was no Office, except those which had to deal with ecclesiastical patronage, for which a person could be disqualified by his religious belief. Again, in the reformed Parliament of the year 1833, when an Act was passed regulating the affairs of India, the House, enacted— That no native of the said territories, nor any natural subject of His Majesty resident therein, shall, by reason only of his religion, place of birth, descent, colour, or any of them, be disabled from holding any place, office, or employment under the said Company. Now, there was, as he had stated, a general right of election, and the House, though it might unquestionably impose conditions precedent to a Member's taking his seat, ought not to impose such conditions as amounted to a disqualification. The disqualification should be direct and by law, and direct notice of it should be given to the constituency; but the House had no right to admit the legal freedom of election, and then to interpose an indirect barrier between the elected Member and his seat. That had never been the intention of the Legislature in imposing different Oaths to be taken by Members of Parliament. The Oaths imposed had been imposed for political objects, and not for the purpose of effecting religious tests in any time and under any circumstances, and they did not so exist at the present moment. In Saxon times there was an Oath of Fealty, and in pre-Reformation times an Oath of Allegiance; but these were general, and did not affect Members of Parliament. He would remind the House that at Common Law no Parliamentary Oath of any kind existed. There came a time when there was a struggle in this country between the assertion of a Papal Power and the Ecclesiastical Supremacy of the Crown, and then, for the first time, the Oath of Supremacy was imposed, in order that there might be some assertion made by those who took Office that they supported the ecclesiastical power of the Crown. In the 3rd year of the Reign of Elizabeth, the Oath of Supremacy was imposed upon Members of Parliament, although not upon Jews, whose loyalty was assured; but that Oath was political in its object and in its creation, and it was not an Oath that imposed any religious test. In the Reign of James I., after the Gunpowder Plot, there was a further Oath of Allegiance, which was also imposed only as a political and not as a religious test. These two Oaths of Supremacy and Allegiance, although directed against Roman Catholics, were not directed against the doctrine of the Church, but only against the political action of Roman Catholics. As time went on, loyal Roman Catholics took Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy, and sat in Parliament without outrage to their feelings. At the time of the Popish Plot in the Reign of Charles II., Members of Parliament were required to make a Declaration against the Doctrine of Transubstantiation of the Roman Catholic Church. In practice the Declaration did create a religious test towards the Roman Catholic only; but the object of that Declaration was that they should deal with the political action of Roman Catholics of the time. Then they passed to the time of William III., when there was a necessity, in order to support the Protestant Succession, of imposing the Oath of Abjuration—namely, abjuration of the Stuarts. That Oath was continued to the Reign of George I.; and now they had arrived at a time when every Member of Parliament who took his seat at that time had to take six different Oaths. He had to take the Oath of Supremacy and Allegiance twice over, first before the Lord Steward, and again at the Table of the House; he had to take the Oath of Abjuration and the Property Qualification Oath, which came into force in the Reign of George II., and also the Oath or Declaration against the Doctrine of Transubstantiation of the Church of Rome; and every one of those Oaths, except the last, had been dictated by political necessity, for political objects, and was never intended to be a test of religious opinion. That was the unhappy position of a Member coming to take his seat. But they came to a happier time, when the Relief Bill of 1829 was passed. Up to that period full notice was given to the constituencies that if they elected a Roman Catholic he would have to declare his disbelief in the tenets of his Church, and, therefore, he was practically disabled from sitting in the House. When O'Connell was first elected for Clare the constituency knew that he could not sit in their House. No Petition could be presented against a Member on the ground of religious belief. The terms of the Declaration against Transubstantiation formed the only barrier which prevented a loyal Roman Catholic from taking his seat. The Act of 1829, of course, repealed the Statute of Charles II., which made it necessary to make the Declaration against Transubtantiation. The Oath of Supremacy was in a certain form retained, but every obstacle to Roman Catholics entering the House on the ground of religious belief was removed. The relief against Oaths continued. The Quakers were allowed to affirm in 1833, and the Jews were relieved from using the words "the true faith of a Christian" in 1858. Coming now to the only Oaths Act at present affecting the entrance of Members into that House—namely, the Statute of 1866—he had to ask what was the test imposed by that Statute. There was, of course, now no recital of the words "on the true faith of a Christian." The Oath had ceased to be any test of Christianity. Those who were not Christians could take it. Hon. Gentlemen could not but remember the argument which was used when it was proposed to admit Roman Catholics—namely, that if that were done they would destroy the Protestant character of the House. In the same way, when it was proposed to admit Jews, it was said that the Christian character of the House would be destroyed. There was now no test either of the Protestantism or of the Christianity of the House. They had reduced it to a test of Theism alone. And what was this test? It was a test defined by no standard. It would be represented by the Theism of a Mahomedan, a Buddhist, or even a fire-worshipper. It was a Theism which was represented by the words of the hon. Member for Portsmouth when he said that he desired the belief in some kind of God or other.


said, what he did say was "belief in one Deity or another." He subsequently explained his meaning to be "a Deity of Trinity or a Deity of Unity."


said, that he was quoting the words from memory. It occurred to him at the time he heard the hon. Member for Portsmouth speak, that his hon. Friend had been deeply studious, and had been consulting Puffendorff, as he had taken exactly the same view as that learned writer. Puffendorff had used these words— That part of the form of oaths under which God is invoked as a witness or as an avenger is to he accommodated to the religious persuasion which the swearer entertains of God, it being vain and insignificant to compel a man to swear to a God in whom he doth not believe, and, therefore, doth not reverence. He would ask his hon. Friend to pursue his studies a little further in the matter, because it so happened that there was a judicial decision that the words "so help me God" formed no part of the oath at all. That had been determined by Lord Campbell, who declared, in the case of Mr. Alderman Salomon's, when similar vows in the Oath of Abjuration were in question, that if a person refused to repeat those words, the Oath was, nevertheless, properly taken. There was no doubt about this—that if the Oath were imposed as a condition precedent, any Member could take it without fear of interference. The Speaker had determined that no question could be asked about a Member's religious belief, and the Committee which reported in June, 1880, found that there was no power in the House to interrogate a Member who desired to take the Oath of Allegiance upon any subject connected with his religious belief. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir E. Asshe-ton Cross), who intended to move an Amendment that evening himself, said, on July 1, 1881— It must not he supposed, therefore, that they wore even suggesting that the House had any right to make an inquiry of its own if a Member presented himself to take the Oath without bringing to the notice of the House such matters as Mr. Bradlaugh had referred to. It was clear, therefore, that as the Oath could be taken by anyone, there was nothing to prevent a person having no belief from taking it. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon once explained to the House that he objected to the profanation of the Oath by its being taken by a man who had no religious belief. That view was accepted by a large number of Members, whose views were expressed by the hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr. Walter), who said that he should vote against the proposal to allow the Member for Northampton to take his seat, not because the hon. Member had no religious belief, but because he objected to being a party to the desecration that would be caused by the invocation of the name of God by one who had no belief. Now, what the Government proposed was that an unbeliever should be permitted to take his seat without taking the Oath, and thus without being guilty of the desecration spoken by the hon. Member for Berkshire. In fact, the supporters of the present Bill wished to see unbelievers take their seats without the act of profanation, while its opponents were apparently willing that they should do so after having been guilty of that act. Did they really wish that that which they called an act of profanation and desecration should be perpetuated? It had been said by hon. Members opposite that the Bill was proposed for the purpose of admitting Atheists into the House. Did hon. Members who said that realize the fact that the present Rules did not exclude Atheists? Had they forgotten that Bolingbroke and Gibbon both took the Oath and sat in that House? And were they not aware that others who belonged to the school of thought which they represented in the past could do exactly the same thing now? What course, he asked, could the Government take except that of legislation? In proposing legislation they only accepted the invitation that had come from the Front Bench opposite. What did the right hon. Gentleman who was to move the Amendment say on July 1, 1880?— They might depend upon it that whatever the fate of the Resolution then before them was, it would not settle the question. Legislation roust he brought forward; and, so far as that Resolution went, it would not get them out of the difficulty. This question would require legislation. At the present moment, he admitted, legislation would be almost impossible. He agreed that it would take a long time; hut it was not necessary to legislate that Session, or in a hurry. Would the right hon. Gentleman tell them that night what legislation he would propose? As he opposed the present Bill, the only kind of legislation which he could put forward was a Bill to disqualify men from sitting in Parliament unless they should subject themselves to an inquiry into religious belief. Would the right hon. Gentleman have the courage to introduce such a Bill as that? Then there was a statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford North-cote) to which he wished to draw attention. The right hon. Gentleman said, on April 27, 1881— The hon. Member (Mr. Bradlaugh) has done everything that it seems to me honour requires on his side. He has had the decision of the House given against him; and I can conceive no more proper course for him to take than to say that he would look for some future alteration of the law, or Rules of the House, and to act as others have done—namely, remain Member for Northampton, although he finds himself excluded from taking his seat. Then, in answer to a direct question put to him by the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) as to whether he would favourably consider the Bill which would give to everyone a right to affirm, the right hon Gentleman replied— I can only say—although I do not admit that such a question ought to be put in the circumstances—that if a measure of the kind to which he alludes is introduced, I shall give it my careful consideration, whether it is introduced by the Government or by a private Member. I admit the great difficulty and the painful nature of the case, and I shall be happy to co-operate in any way I properly can to conduct it to a satisfactory conclusion. The right hon. Gentleman having thus promised to give careful consideration to the question, would he tell them what stops he proposed to take in order to bring the matter to a satisfactory conclusion? Surely the right hon. Gentleman could not think that such a conclusion could be reached by leaving things as they were. It was the duty of every Member in that House to endeavour to bring about a satisfactory conclusion; and, believing that, he would ask hon. Members opposite to consider the results of the course which they had hitherto taken. Many hon. Gentlemen had imagined, by the maintenance of this controversy, some Party benefit or gain might accrue to them. But had they counted the cost, or reckoned the price, of their action? Had they ever compared the position of the chief actor in the controversy three years ago with his position now? Three years ago he was a man of great power, capable of influencing men; but his followers were few. He had no cause to fight for but one that was negative, no banner but one that was colourless, and no faith to create enthusiasm. Hon. Members opposite, however, had supplied all these wants, and now his followers believed they were fighting for the rights of constituencies. They were fighting to destroy a political wrong and to remedy a political grievance to which only one man was now practically subjected, but from which many might suffer in the future. It was sad to find that those who had taken up Mr. Bradlaugh's case, and had at first supported it on political grounds, were, in many instances, adopting his lead with regard to religious teaching and all Christian doctrine. The right hon. Gentleman was certainly right in saying that a controversy producing such results should come to an end, and it was because he shared that opinion that he asked the House to accept his Motion that this Bill be read a second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Attorney General.)


said, that if he could help it no word from him should offend in any way the junior Member for Northampton (Mr. Brad-laugh), because he wished to deal with principles and not with men. He had two propositions to lay before the House. The first was, that the hon. Member had avowed himself to be an Atheist and an unbeliever, and had, of his own free will, forced the notice of the fact upon the House. The second was, that the Government, even before his election, and certainly ever since, had done their best in every form and way they could, to secure that that Gentleman should take his seat; they had brought in this present measure with the sole and express purpose of admitting Mr. Bradlaugh to the House, and they had taken that course under a pressure which ought never to have been yielded to by those who guided the destinies of this great country. He did not know whether his first proposition, that Mr. Bradlaugh had forced upon the notice of that House the fact that he was an Atheist and an unbeliever, required any proof on his part. He should not have thought it necessary to have adduced any proof on the point had it not been for the expression of the Prime Minister that Mr. Bradlaugh's statement on the subject had not been made voluntarily, but had been forced from him by questions which had been put to him by the Clerk at the Table. Without going at length into the controversy upon that point, it was sufficient that he should refer to the records of that House, to the letter which Mr. Bradlaugh had written on the subject, and to the Report of the Committee which had sat for so many days discussing this question—the discussion being conducted, according to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, with the greatest calmness and coolness—in which they stated that Mr. Bradlaugh had voluntarily made known the fact that he was an Atheist and an unbeliever.


observed, that what he had said was that Mr. Bradlaugh's avowal had been forced from him, not by questions put to him by the Clerk at the Table, but by questions put to him by the Committee.


remarked, that if the right hon. Gentleman would refer to the pages of Hansard, he would find that his statement on the point was correct. Mr. Bradlaugh's letter was undoubtedly a voluntary one, it was produced before the Committee, and it was now upon the Table of that House. That letter, dated the 20th of May, 1880, contained the following passage:— The Oath—although to mo including words of idle and meaningless character—is regarded by a large number of my fellow-countrymen as an appeal to Deity to take cognizance of their swearing. It would have been an act of hypocrisy to voluntarily take this form if any other had been open to me, or to take it without protest, as though it meant in my mouth any such appeal. With regard to his second proposition, that the Government had done all they could during the last two years to enable Mr. Bradlaugh to take his seat, he might remind the House that it was Mr. Adam, their former Whip, who had invited Mr. Bradlaugh to offer himself for election at Northampton. At that time, Mr. Adam, in conjunction with the whole world, was fully acquainted with Mr. Bradlaugh's Atheistical opinions. Since that time the Government had doubled backwards and forwards in this matter, and had tried to open every possible door to admit Mr. Bradlaugh into that House. Whether the point involved was whether he should be allowed to take the Oath or to make an Affirmation, or whether he should be admitted by Resolution of the House, or by legislation, they had always posed as his supporters. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. John Bright) had said that if one door was not open to Mr. Bradlaugh another must be opened, and that, having been elected by the people of Northampton to represent them, he was entitled to take his seat. In fact, there had been a dogged and obstinate determination on the part of the Government that Mr. Bradlaugh should take his seat at all hazards. In order to see whether he was right or wrong upon this point, it was necessary that he should recall what had occurred in connection with this question during the last few years. On the 3rd of May, 1880. Mr. Bradlaugh first came to the Table of the House to take an Affirmation, and on objection being raised to his doing so the Government proposed to refer the matter to a Committee. In the course of the inquiry before the Committee, the Law Officers of the Crown took the view that Mr. Bradlaugh had a right to affirm; but the Committee reported that he had no such right. He might here say that the Government appeared to have supported their Law Officers whenever they were wrong, and to have thrown them overboard whenever they were right. On the 21st of May, Mr. Bradlaugh presented himself at the Table of the House for the purpose of taking the Oath, and objection being raised to his doing so the Government expressed their regret that any question should be raised on the subject; but eventually another Committee was appointed. Before that Committee the Law Officers of the Crown expressed an opinion that Mr. Bradlaugh had no right to take the Oath, and that the House had a right to prevent him from doing so. On the 21st of June Mr. Bradlaugh fell back upon his claim to make an Affirmation, and on that occasion the senior Member for Northampton brought forward a Motion on the subject. That Motion was supported by all the weight and ingenuity of the Primo Minister; but he was happy to say that it was defeated. Then came all the scenes in that House to which he need not more directly refer. Then came the first abdication of the Prime Minister of his duties as Leader of the House. In the course of those occurrences the Prime Minister had handed over the conduct of the House to his right hon. Friend the Member for North Devon, and the latter right hon. Gentleman had vindicated the honour of that House in a manner that he believed had met with the approval of that House, and certainly with that of the country. On the 1st of July the Government themselves came forward with a Motion that the House should permit Mr. Bradlaugh to affirm, subject to any legal penalty which might be imposed upon him for so doing. The Motion was carried, and Mr. Bradlaugh made an Affirmation accordingly. The matter, having come before a Court of Law, the Report of the first Committee which had been carried by the casting vote of Mr. Walpole was affirmed, and the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown was set aside, some of the learned Judges who gave their decision on the point thinking the case to be too clear for argument. Thereupon the seat was declared vacated, and thus ended the first chapter of this sad and painful controversy. The people of Northampton then elected Mr. Bradlaugh for the second time, and on Mr. Bradlaugh coming again to take the Oath, the Government did their best to induce the House to permit him to take it, on the ground that the second election had entirely put an end to everything that had preceded it; but the House declined to be turned aside by this argument, and the Government received a second defeat in connection with this question. Then came more scenes, and then followed the second abdication of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister, for the second time, handed the guidance of the House to the right hon. Member for North Devon, and for the second time that right hon. Gentleman had vindicated the honour of the House to the satisfaction both of itself and the country, and he believed that both the House and the country were grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the course he had then taken. The hon. Member for Northampton then suggested legislation on the subject, and the Government immediately followed suit; and when the hon. Member asked for facilities to bring in a Bill similar to that now before the House, the Prime Minister said that the Government would have been prepared to give his application the most favourable consideration, but that to accord him the facilities asked for meant the postponement of the Irish Land Bill, and, therefore, they could not consent to his application. On the 2nd of May, however, the Government appeared to have at last made up their minds on the question, for on that day the Prime Minister himself proposed that the Orders of the Day should be postponed in order to allow the hon. and learned Gentleman (the Attorney General) to bring in a Bill dealing with the subject. As, however, the right hon. Gentleman desired to carry his supporters with him, the consideration of that measure was indefinitely postponed, and no more was ever heard of it. On that occasion, however, a warning was addressed to the House by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in reference to outside force which ought never to have been uttered in that House, significantly alluding to the presence of a mob outside the House, and expressing the opinion that the action of the House would result in bringing it into an unfortunate and calamitous position. On the 2nd February, 1882, Mr. Brad-laugh again attempted to take the Oath. His right hon. Friend again made his Motion. The Prime Minister was not in the House; but the Home Secretary threw his shield over Mr. Bradlaugh, and moved the Previous Question, well knowing that if that Motion had been carried Mr. Bradlaugh would have taken the Oath without a word being said against his doing so. But the Government was beaten again. More scenes followed. On the 7th February, Mr. Bradlaugh went through the mockery of administering the Oath to himself. The Prime Minister abdicated his functions for the third time. The Leadership of the House was again handed over to his right hon. Friend, and on the first, second, and third occasions his right hon. Friend discharged the duties of Leader of the House to the satisfaction, not only of the House, but of the whole country. Mr. Bradlaugh was expelled. After the third election, which took place on the 6th of March, 1882, his right hon. Friend asked the Speaker, whether the return had been made, and immediately on the answer that the return had been made, his right hon. Friend thought that the wise and prudent course was not to allow the House to have all those scones enacted in it which were so fatal to its dignity, and therefore he moved to reaffirm the Sessional Order, and that Motion was also carried, although the Government opposed it as violently and with as much ingenuity and eloquence as they had opposed anything, on the ground that his right hon. Friend ought to have waited till Mr. Bradlaugh came forward in order, as it would seem, that there might be fresh scenes. Then, on the 15th of February this year, the first night of the Session, the noble Marquess opposite gave Notice that the Bill before the House would be introduced. Thus from beginning to end, the Government had done all they possibly could to induce the House to let Mr. Bradlaugh take his seat. The hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down had said that the question of legislation was first introduced by himself (Sir R. Asshe-ton Cross) and his right hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote), and was good enough to read a short extract from a speech which he himself made. But nothing could be further from presenting the case in its true light than the extract given by the hon. and learned Gentleman from his speech. If the hon. and learned Gentleman had read the whole of the speech, the House would have seen how different it was from that which was presented to them by the Attorney General. The hon. and learned Gentleman had said that he had shown a spirit of prophecy, and that the prophecy had come true. What he had said wag that he was quite certain that by no eloquence, by no ingenuity, power, or force, could Mr. Bradlaugh ever affirm or legally take the Oath, and that the only possible plan for those who wanted Mr. Bradlaugh to take his seat was to legislate. If the hon. and learned Gentleman had gone to the end of his speech he would have given a fairer version of it to the House. He would read the concluding words addressed to the House on the occasion referred to. They were as follows— If the right hon. Gentleman brought forward a Bill now it would he felt in the House of Commons and in the country that he was doing it to let in an Atheist, and it was, therefore, not an opportune time to legislate. If in the course of time there was a class of persons who objected to take an Oath, and it was proposed to legislate alio intuitu, it might he fairly discussed; but let them take care, whether they proceeded by Resolution or by legislation, that they were not supposed by the country to be doing it for the purpose of letting in an Atheist, or because they were not strong enough to lay aside their timidity, or doubted their ability for preserving the dignity of the House and the order and decency of its proceedings. He repeated, that those persons who wished to let Mr. Bradlaugh in would have to bring about special legislation, because he could not affirm and the House would not allow him to take the Oath. Anyone who studied the question would see that whenever the object of Government was to assist Mr. Bradlaugh they came to the front and exercised their legitimate functions as Loaders of the House. But whenever it became a question of resisting Mr. Bradlaugh they left the Leadership of the House in the hands of his right hon Friend. The Prime Minister always floated along the stream, and pleaded now that the House had no jurisdiction, now that the question ought to be left to the Courts of Law; and now, again, there was a now departure. Then the Resolution of his right hon. Friend the Member for North Devon was termed aggressive and not defensive. It was noticeable how the Prime Minister always followed the lead of the hon. Member for Northampton. He had done so in 1880. First, there was the Affirmation, then the Oath, then the Affirmation, the Government doing all they could to help Mr. Bradlaugh to take either the one or the other. Then, in 1881, there was the Oath, then legislation was proposed, and then the Oath lurned up again, the Government still doing all in their power to help either in one way or the other, they cared not which. Thus the Government had no policy of their own, except to get Mr. Bradlaugh in, and as to the means of getting him in they always accepted the advice of the hon. Member for Northampton. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General had, that evening, renewed the old argument of pressure from within and from without in favour of the Bill. His first argument was that he had been returned by the constituency of Northampton. His second argument was that the dig- nity of the House was at stake as to the first. He would read two short extracts in illustration of what he referred to. On May 21, 1880, the late Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said— He is returned here by a large majority to whom his religious opinions were as well known as they are now to us. The whole of the electors were fully cognizant of his views and yet he was elected and he comes to this House. You will land yourselves into a sea of troubles. Recollect the case of Wilkes. You come into conflict with a great constituency. Next month, on the 21st of June, 1880, the same right hon. Gentleman said— All the constituencies of the Kingdom, you may rely upon it, will consider this cause their own. I am hero as the defender of what I believe to he the principles of our Constitution, of the freedom of constituencies to elect, and of the freedom, of the elected to sit in Parliament—that freedom which has been so hardly won, and which I do not believe the House of Commons will endeavour to wrest from our constituencies. The Prime Minister spoke quite as strongly to the same effect. The Bill assumed that legislation was necessary. But why were they to alter the law because one constituency elected a Member who could not under the existing law take his seat? That was not the way in which the great City of London was treated. That great constituency waited a long time—until other constituencies showed they were of the same opinion—before their chosen Member was allowed to take his seat. It was true that constituencies were free to elect whom they chose; but if they wished their elected Members to sit, they must elect those whom the House would allow to take their seats. But had Mr. Blight's prophecy come true? Had the other constituencies made that case their own. Why, from every town and from every village Petitions had been sent against that Bill. He did not know how many had been presented that day; but last week he had been informed by the Officers of the House that 3,700 had been presented, signed by 514,000 persons. That did not look as if the constituencies had taken up Mr. Brad-laugh's case as their own. Petitions had come, not only from all towns and villages, but from persons of all classes and creeds—Roman Catholics, Church of England, Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians—protesting against the Bill. He h ad himself presented a Petition from Salford, signed by 6,000 persons, for the same purpose, headed by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Salford. But what had Northampton itself done? There had been Petitions from that town itself, signed in one case by 10,000, in another by 6,000, persons against the Bill. But there were other means of testing whether Northampton was making that matter its own. In the first election Mr. Brad-laugh was elected by a majority of 700, in the second the majority was reduced to 132, and in the third it was only 108. That did not look as if Northampton was making the question its own. It was surely, then, scarcely right to alter the law for that constituency alone, or, indeed, for any other. Then the learned Attorney General said that there was no disqualification by law, and that of all disqualifications, if any existed, the constituency ought to have ample notice. He maintained that the constituency of Northampton had had ample notice. It had had ample notice that this man could not affirm, and that he would not be allowed to swear. It was just as much in the minds of the electors that he could not perform the duties he was elected to perform, as if the Statute had declared in so many words that Charles Bradlaugh could not be a Member of the House. If a constituency were to elect a clergyman, a convict, an alien, a public officer, or a woman, would the House alter the law? Supposing that the constituency which returned O'Donovan Rossa had thrown that person back on the House over and over again, would the House have altered the law for that reason? If this argument were to be used, it ought to be carried to its legitimate conclusion; if not, it had better be put aside at once. The second argument was that of the dignity of the House. The Prime Minister spoke perpetually about the dignity of the House being interfered with. His right hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen) was also rather taken with this argument at one time, for he said, on the 6th of March, 1882— 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. But surely the House was not to be frightened. On the night when Mr. Bradlaugh was turned out of the House, the right hon. Gentleman the late Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said— I have been outside the House within the last few minutes. I will put this question to Members opposite. Where are they leading us? This is now a manageable affair. There were only a few thousands at the meeting last night in Trafalgar Square, and there are only a few thousands assembled outside the House to-day, bat this is exactly one of those things which grow, and the House will, if it persists in its present course, bring us into some most unfortunate and calamitous position. Surely this was a statement which no one ought to use. Was force at last to be found a remedy, and was violence to be recognized as a legitimate means of promoting legislation "otherwise than by argument?" One thing was quite clear—namely, that if the Leaders of the House abdicated their functions in the way they were now doing they were in great danger of not preserving the order and dignity of the House. It was clear, too, that if the words spoken by the late Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster were paraded outside those walls, it might be difficult for the House to control public opinion there. But as far as order and decency within the walls of the House were concerned, his right hon. Friend had shown how well and how easily they could be preserved if the House would only be firm. As far as the outside world was concerned, the right hon. Gentleman's prophecy had proved so untrue that not a single constituency had made Mr. Bradlaugh's cause their own. Indeed, there was no more fear of disturbance about this matter than there was about the Inland Revenue Bill. That argument ought, therefore, he thought, to vanish entirely from their minds. But then came their main argument. When his hon. and learned Friend announced his intention of bringing in a Bill, two years ago, he said, on the 2nd of May, 1881— Without regarding the circumstances immediately before us, I believe there is a far stronger and better ground on which to base the introduction of this Bill—namely, that there should he no religious tests for persons entering this House. Again, the Prime Minister, in his celebrated speech of the 22nd of June, 1 880, made use of the following words, which he hoped the House would bear in mind:— They are about to take up the position of objecting on religious grounds to the appearance of Mr. Bradlaugh in this House; for nearly two centuries this House has been the scene of conflicts of the very same kind. We have been driven from the Church ground. We have been driven from the Protestant ground. We have been driven from the Christian ground, and the final rally is made upon this narrow ledge of the Theistic ground. He protested altogether against almost every line of that statement. He protested against the words "freedom of religion" being connected with this controversy at all. It was not a question of religion; it was a question of irreligion. In all the instances enumerated by the right hon. Gentleman relief had been granted to those who were unable to take the Oath in consequence of religious scruples. But this was not a question of the relief of religious scruples. It was a question as to whether a man who had no conscientious scruples —["No, no!"]—should be allowed to sit in that House. He should like to give an answer in Mr. Bradlaugh's own words to the Gentlemen who cried out "No!" Mr. Wynne, speaking of Arch-dale's case, in 1698–9, said— In regard to a principle of the religion, he had not taken the Oaths nor would take them. But what did Mr. Bradlaugh say in his letter of the 20th of May, 1880, which was now on the Table of the House. He said— The religion of John Archdale and Joseph Pease forbad them to swear at all, and they nobly refused. No such religions scruple prevents mo from taking the Oath. He was unable to agree with the Prime Minister in regard to this being a "final rally." If the people of this country were fond of religious freedom they were just as fond of political freedom. If they were to alter the Oath because of conscientious or unconscientious objections, what would they do if a Member, returned for Northampton or some other constituency, were to object to the substance of the Affirmation and Oath? Were they to alter the law because a Member who had been elected for a constituency refused to make any declaration of allegiance to Her Majesty at all? The Prime Minister had better halt before he talked about that "final rally." He had heard a rumour, though he did not know whether it was well-founded, that this Bill was to be made not retrospective. He had also heard a question put that elicited an answer which would lead the House to the belief that if the second reading were passed some clause would be introduced so as not to make the measure retrospective. He was perfectly astonished to hear of any such thing. This matter had been before the Government for three whole years. The hon. Member for Northampton got out this Bill years ago. It was the hon. Member for Northampton's own Bill which the Attorney General tried to introduce.


said, he had never seen the hon. Member for Northampton's Bill.


remarked, that the present Bill sought to extend the operation of the 41st section of the Act of 1860 to Members who wanted to take their seats in that House. Well, that was the object of the hon. Member for Northampton's Bill, and the Attorney General knew it. After having taken all this time to make up their minds and to bring in a Bill, Her Majesty's Government came forward at the last moment and said that in Committee they would propose an alteration. Why did they do this? Because they thought that by doing so they might catch a few votes. This was, in his judgment, a most despicable trick; and when they came to a division, he believed it would be found that the device of the Government had not been successful. If the Government thought they were wrong in their arguments, they had better give up the Bill altogether; but if they believed they were right, why should they put Mr. Bradlaugh to the expense of going to Northampton to be elected again? If they had the courage of their opinions, they ought to carry them to their legitimate conclusion. If Mr. Bradlaugh were put aside, there would remain no grievance to be redressed. It was impossible to get over the fact that the Bill was brought in for his relief, and for his relief alone. On the 1st of June, 1880, a Motion was proposed to allow any person to make Affirmation according to the existing law. Mr. A. M. Sullivan proposed that the Motion should be made prospective only; but the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government objected to that and divided the House, thus showing that at that time there was a decided opposition on the part of the Government to make any action prospective only. What, after all, was the broad ground of opposition to the Bill? It was no longer, be it known, to use the words of the Prime Minister, a judicial question; but it was a political and Constitutional question of the greatest delicacy and importance. It was whether an avowed Atheist should or should not be allowed to take his seat in that House. It was now no longer right to set aside those topics to the introduction of which the Prime Minister perhaps rightly objected while they considered the matter a judicial one—he alluded to topics which were classed sometimes as religious instincts, sometimes as religious principles, and sometimes as Constitutional policy. It would be found that the religious instincts of the country shrank from the Bill, that the religious principles of the people were opposed to it, and that the Constitutional policy of the vast majority of the country was against it. In rejecting the Bill the House was not asked to impose any new test; those who voted against the Bill would not be imposing any test at all. The House was not asked by rejecting the Bill to refuse relief to any person who conscientiously objected to the existing law. They were not asked to disturb the present state of things with which everybody, except Mr. Bradlaugh, was perfectly content. But what were they asked to do by passing the Bill? They were asked to take a decided step in the wrong direction, and to offend the consciences of the vast majority of the people of this religious country. And this for the purpose, not of relieving any one who had conscientious principles, but for the sole purpose of admitting to the House an Atheist. They were asked to remove that which all clung to as their only safeguard. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that when it was first imposed, the Oath was not imposed as a religious test, and probably he would have said that, if a religious test had been wanted, it would not have been a good one; but, though it was not so intended, it did not follow, as it had become a safeguard, that we should do away with it unless we could find some other that would constitute an equal protection. It might be that Atheists could sit in the House, and we could help it; but he did not see how that affected the question at all. They had no means of knowing the religious opinions of any man; they had no means of knowing in their corporate capacity whether Members were Atheists or not; but what they were now asked to do was willingly and knowingly to admit Atheists after they had, in their corporate capacity, full knowledge of the fact. This, he maintained, was a totally different thing. In daily life we had to do with many persons whom we might shun if we knew their opinions; but, so long as we were ignorant, none could blame us. The moment the knowledge was brought home to us, unless we shunned such persons, we might be considered by some as blamable for mixing with those whom we ought to shun. Many years ago, when relief was granted to the Jews in this matter, he heard that speech of Lord Lyndhurst, in which he recognized it as a tribute that a glass of water was brought to him by the Earl of Derby; and in that speech, which was an argument in favour of religious liberty, Lord Lyndhurst said— Religious liberty I hold to he this, that every man with respect to office, power, or emolument, should be put upon a perfect equality with his neighbour without regard to his religious opinions. But that was a very different thing from what was now proposed. The hon. and learned Gentleman throughout his speech had made a confusion between religious belief and the absence of religious belief—as if the two could be the same thing. Lord Lyndhurst was speaking of "religious opinions," of those which involved religion and belief, and he thought it was right especially to guard himself against being misunderstood by adding— Unless these opinions are such as to disqualify him for the proper performance of the duties of office. [Mr. GLADSTONE: Hear, hear!] The Prime Minister said "Hear, hear!" but the contention was that unbelief and infidelity ought to disqualify a man for the office of Member of Parliament, and he was very sorry that the Prime Minister did not agree with that view. It might be said that there had been Atheists who had been good men, and who had lived straightforward and honest lives according to their lights; but they could not argue from one in- dividual to a class, and as a class he would not wish to see Atheists Members of this House. They were, at all events, lacking in that religious principle and those conscientious scruples which ought to he the mainspring of every action in private or in public life. As he stated, there had been Petitions from all classes and creeds against this Bill. In forwarding a Petition from the Civil Eights Committee of the Wesleyan Conference, signed by the then President, Mr. Benjamin Gregory, the then Secretary, Mr. Olver, said— Allow me, on my own responsibility, to add that the Petition will convey hut a very feeble impression of the alarm which has prompted it. Differing as the members of the Petitioning Committee do on all questions of Party politics, and scarcely less on the political bearing of various theological beliefs, there is hut one conviction on the subject of the Petition. The Common Law of England, our 'unwritten Constitution,' has never yet allowed an avowed disbeliever in the existence of God to become an arbiter in matters affecting the lives or liberties of his fellow-subjects, even by service on a common jury. No change hitherto made, by whatsoever statute effected, has ever contemplated the possibility of an avowed Atheist seeking admission to the House of Commons. Whatever changes have been made have been always for the relief of persons who expressly acknowledge their responsibility to Almighty God for the due discharge of their respective trusts. He trusted the House would throw out the Bill, and that the Prime Minister would be arrested in his reckless course by Members of all creeds and political Parties in every quarter of the House. The right hon. Gentleman would find out at last, though it might be late, that the divisions that had taken place during the three years of this controversy had been but the expression of honest and earnest opinions, which were the result of solemn convictions. He believed that those opinions were now strengthened, and that those convictions were firmer than they ever were before. Finally, he believed that the Prime Minister would find that he could not force this measure for the relief of an outspoken infidel upon an unwilling House in defiance of the deep religious instincts and the firm religious convictions of a religious and a thoughtful people. He begged to move the Amendment of which he had given Notice.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Sir Richard Cross.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


said, he believed he spoke the sentiments of others as well as his own in saying it would be infinitely more agreeable to refrain than to take part in this debate; but, as the Representative of a large constituency, including many classes and creeds, he found it impossible to be silent. From the first outbreak of this painful controversy, his individual opinion had not changed. But, unwilling to add to its bitterness, he had hitherto abstained from giving public expression to the growing dislike of the sacrifice demanded, which animated those with whose feelings and convictions he was best acquainted. On a subject so grave, and in his view so important, he deemed it his duty to inquire further, and as far as possible to ascertain to what extent the antipathy preponderent in domestic, social, and religious life throughout his own borough, existed in other portions of the Metropolis. In concert with several hon. Friends on either side of the House, he had sought with care, but without resort in any instance to the ordinary means of publicity which might be said to win or warp opinion, to guage fairly and to estimate correctly the divergent leanings of the public mind. The conclusion thus arrived at did not pretend to be either authoritative or exhaustive, but it was irresistible from the diversity of the elements and the worth of the influences that contributed to its weight. A still wider interchange of sentiments left no room for doubt that throughout the Kingdom the same rooted aversion widely existed to any change of law or usage tending to dispense with the recognition by Parliament of the supreme authority of God. For the first time in the religious history of the country the best men of rival communions felt it consistent with their honour and their duty to subscribe the same significant remonstrance against the legislative change proposed. Beside their separate Petitions to both Houses of Parliament, he held in his hand their joint declaration against the Bill, containing the names of Churchmen and Dissenters, Catholics, and Protestants, men of small means and men of large possessions, 100 Peers of the Realm, 22 Bishops of the Church, the whole of the Bishops of the Catholic Church in England and in Ireland, Members of the Privy Council and eminent bankers, distinguished members of the Legal and Military Professions, leading Presbyterian and Wesleyan ministers, county magistrates and municipal authorities; and he therefore said, with the greatest respect for the Prime Minister, he really and truly believed that, in that sensitive and conscientious regard for public opinion which had always distinguished him, he had been unconsciously misled into believing that the people generally were willing to renounce a prescriptive observance which had always been regarded as a token and symbol of the national faith. That, however, was not so. It was idle to ask what was the theological value of the Oath, or to argue from its neglect or evasion in particular cases that no practical harm would ensue from its abject surrender to threats of open force. The brake did not always prevent the train from running off the line; but what would be said of the guard who was willing to place in the hands of some crazy third-class passenger the instrument on which was believed to depend the safety of all? The acceptance of this wretched Bill, the gist of which was the omission of the words "So help me God," was practically an abjuration of religion in the work of Parliament. As for the right of the House to fix and enforce a rule of admissibility and of conformity to its sense of dignity and order, nothing could be more incontestible in point of precedent or by the example of other Legislative Assemblies. From the oldest Constitutional country in Europe to the youngest, from Holland to Italy, there had always been a rule of admission, the application of which rested with each House of the Legislature. He hardly knew of a country, either in history or at the present time, which did not require an Oath from those who wished to participate in its Administration. When the Dutch of all classes and of all creeds revolted against Spain, they bound themselves by a solemn oath to defend the liberties of their country. They suffered, no doubt, certain sectaries, because they were especially religious men, to appeal to Heaven with uplifted hand in witness that their words of fealty to the new State were true, not because they scoffed at a Christian pledge, but because they believed in the worth of it. Such affirmation was equal to an oath; but what resemblance did it bear to a declaration by one who asked leave to make it avowedly, because he believed in nothing? In Italy, within the last few months, a law had been passed preventing anyone from taking part in the work of the Legislature who did not recognize the fundamental obligation of reverence for the Most High. The practice of the United States of America had often been quoted, and the late Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster had constantly told his countrymen to look to the States for an example. But the States of America, when they had won their independence after a desperate conflict, did not so completely turn their back on the traditions of the old country as to withdraw from the necessity of acknowledging the presence and the power of God. Every man, on election to the Senate, or the House of Representatives, took either an Oath to be faithful to the Constitution— [An hon. MEMBER: There is an alternative Affirmation.] No; but an equivalent Affirmation. The country, on emerging from a period of national suffering and struggle, did not allow men who trifled with conscience to be Members of the Legislature, and nothing could be less like an anti-religious alternative than a religious equivalent. If the Bill now before the House contained the words accepted by the Quakers when affirming under the Act of William III., if it acknowledged that faith which we and our fathers had always held, and he hoped our children would hold to the end of time, if it merely accommodated sectaries by the simple omission of the words "I swear," he, for one, would not stand there to oppose its second reading. It was the substance, it was the spirit, of the Bill that he objected to. He would not say it was the design of the Prime Minister, for he would not believe it could be the intention of the right hon. Gentleman; but, as a Representative of the people, he unhesitatingly said that it was the tendency of the Bill, demanded as it had been demanded, and conceded as they were asked to concede it, to begin the abjuring and ignoring of all responsibility to Heaven, and for that reason he objected to vote for the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman. He had been sur- prised to hear the Attorney General say that every constituency had a right to elect whom it pleased who was not disqualified by law, and that the House had no power to question the right of the Member elected to take his seat. It appeared to him that the House had a perfect right to do what the Lords had done in the case of Lord Wensleydale. In that case, when, in a mistaken hour, Sir James Parke was made a life Peer, the House did not question the legality of the Act, but refused him leave to take his seat. Nor did the Liberal Ministry of the day, or the House of Commons, ever impugn the conduct of the House of Lords in thus acting. The Queen had the acknowledged right to nominate whom she pleased to be a Peer of the Realm, but the Peers had an incontestible right to decide who was eligible to sit with them as a Colleague in legislation. In another case, Lord Queensberry was held to be disqualified for election as a Scotch Representative Peer, and not being chosen at Holy rood, the question of his inadmissibility did not arise at Westminster. The House of Commons might, on similar grounds, take that course, and refuse Mr. Bradlaugh leave to take his seat, not because he was not Member for Northampton, but because, if the people of Northampton, with a knowledge of the Orders of the House, chose to elect a man whom they knew the House would not admit, it was their affair, and not that of the House. Their duty was not to Northampton, but to England; and he would go further and say, with every feeling of reverence, their duty was not to the mob in Palace Yard, but to consider how their conduct would stand in the great record when they were to be judged by God. The case of O'Connell had been referred to. He personally knew the great Tribune, and had in his possession curious memorials not only of his earlier but of his later years, and if ever they saw the light they would bear witness to the fact that, whatever his violence or excitement of language or temper might have been, in heart he was devoted to the principles of order and Constitutional liberty as opposed to anarchy, and to the growth of religion as opposed to Atheism. In O'Connell's early life he had been painfully impressed with the demoralization and madness to which France had been brought by Atheistic revolution. Returning to Ireland in the spring of 1793, he met on shipboard two young men of talent and education from his own country, who showed him with a boast the handkerchiefs they had dipped in the blood that fell from the scaffold of Louis XVI. Not long after the misguided brothers Shear paid the forfeit of their lives for treason. O'Connell said that was a lesson to him ever to warn the people of the dangerous consequences of abandoning religion. He came to the Bar of that House, and asked to be allowed to sit for Clare before the Relief Act was passed. Every one knew he would be refused, because it would be a straining of the power of legislation to make the law retrospective. O'Connell retired without a murmur, and was re-elected, and when Constitutional liberty was extended, he came and took the Oath like a Christian man. If they wanted to get rid of Oaths altogether, there might something, no doubt, be said for it. But, in that case, let a general Bill be brought in, not one insulting to the feelings of the nation, but a Bill to obviate profanation of the Oath. Let them begin by wiping away affidavits for all sorts of purposes, and by teaching the people that oaths were not essential to judicial procedure. But let not the Legislature of the land begin, as they would if they passed this Bill, by telling the people that it was a matter of indifference whether a man was sworn or not. They were told that this was the final step in the direction of religious liberty. He could not find words to express his amazement at such a mode of reasoning. When Mr. Pease came to the Table, was it to make a mockery of Oaths, to turn the whole thing into a parody or a burlesque? He came with the gravity with which he would have attended a meeting of his own sect, and prayed to be allowed to make an Affirmation, not as an alternative, but as an equivalent to the ordinary obligation. He regarded his solemn Affirmation, made in the presence of that House, as made in the presence of the Most High. And so with regard to Baron Rothschild. He had himself sat in that House until 4 o'clock in the morning, dividing again and again with Lord John Russell in favour of admitting the Jews. Baron Rothschild did not claim his seat because he wanted to subvert religion or to destroy the dynasty. He asked nothing more than to have the harness of political obligation fastened tighter upon him by being allowed to take the Oath in the way most binding on his conscience. He believed that the growing conviction of the people of England of every sect, was that they had far better stay as they were even though they lost the services of a Member for Northampton. What was the argument for disregarding Oaths altogether? The Attorney General argued that, having made these concessions, they ought, for consistency's sake, to take another stop onwards regardless what the consequence might be. Because, in the enjoyment of the healthful air of the breezy downs, they did not fear to approach the verge of the cliff, were they to be told that they must take one step further over the precipice, though that involved destruction? The hon. and learned Gentleman also said that the opposition to this Bill, was the opposition of men who wished to prolong scenes in that House, and that it was instigated by political aims and objects. Well, if this were a political question, he would take the Attorney General at his word. Before the Member for Northampton was a candidate for that borough he issued a work, not about Atheism, but about the Constitution of the Realm, and since ho had been reelected he had brought out, under his name, a sixth edition. The object of that work was to secure the annulling of the Act of Settlement and the Act of Union, as preliminary to overturning the Throne. So that, if they were to speak of first steps, this Bill was the first step to the revolutionary changes which the hon. Member for Northampton had the courage to propose. The day might come, he hoped he should not be there to see it, when, as in France, old England would abjure all she had reverenced and held sacred for centuries; but when that day came they must have invented some better philosophy than Christianity, and something wiser to teach in their secular schools than the Gospel—something that would outshine all the learning and teaching of 1,800 years. He was not in favour of such changes, and he did not believe that they met the approval of the Kingdom generally; and, therefore, he was quite sure it was not the duty of that House to disregard the feeling of the people, which time out of mind had been in favour of binding each Member of the Legislature with his fellow-Members by the most sacred ties. Those who thought with him preferred the deliberate opinion of the middle classes of the country, to the effervescence of Trafalgar Square and Northampton Marketplace. He asked hon. Gentlemen who were reluctant to dissociate themselves from the Prime Minister on this question, to inquire in their own hearts what respect for law would remain in the hearts of the people if this Bill were passed. Nearly every man in the country, if asked what was meant by right and wrong, would refer his interrogator to the principles and precepts of the two Testaments. Was it, then, not material that they should only have among them in that House, where laws were made, men who acknowledged the binding force of the laws contained in those Books? He had heard it said that this Bill was the first step towards getting rid of the "old superstition," and so it would be looked upon by those who turbulently asked for it. Even if they thought the Bill justified, even if they voted for it, they could not doubt that the persons who were to be directly benefited and privileged by it would rend the air with their exultations, and would boast that they had browbeaten the House of Commons, and had executed the threat which they loudly proclaimed, that they would make the House succumb. The attempt to break the door had failed over and over again. What was the remedy? What was the alternative? The proposal to take it off its hinges and to let in everybody whatever they thought, and whatever they believed or disbelieved. This was a small thing, intrinsically, to look at on paper; but it was a very great thing in the manner in which it ought to be regarded, and in the consequences to which it might lead. Time out of mind an Oath of Allegiance had been the test of admissibility to participation in the Business of Parliament. The spite of sect and grudge of Party had sometimes overladen it with unworthy disabilities whereby Catholics and Dissenters were wronged. These excrescences had happily been cleared away, till nothing now remained but one simple patriotic pledge of loyalty; fruitless grafts of bigotry and faction had been lopped one by one, but they should therefore all the more readily concur in guarding from mutilation the venerable stem.


said, he had listened with great attention to the very interesting but inconsequential speech of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Finsbury (Mr. W. M. Torrens), which was one of those highly Conservative orations with which they had of late been favoured so often from the Liberal side of the House. Interesting, however, as the hon. Member always was, ho was not always accurate. With regard to what he had said respecting the Oath in the Italian Parliament, the Italian Oath, singularly enough, was very much the same as the Oath sworn at the Table of that House, with the exception of the very words that had been objected to—"So help me, God." That was a sample of the accuracy of his hon. Friend. But what had always appeared to him—for he was an old enough Member of the House to remember the long discussions and the many weary days spent in discussing the admission of Jews to Parliament— and appeared to him now, passing strange, was the exaggerated importance which hon. Gentlemen seemed to attach to the form, of Declaration made at that Table by hon. Members before taking their seats in the House. The Attorney General had told them the history of the matter to-night; but the original meaning of that ceremony had been entirely lost sight of, and the Oath of Allegiance had now become, in the minds of many people, a religious test. They had lived to witness this extraordinary spectacle. The whole of the Opposition side of the House, and some weak-kneed people on that side of the House too, had argued themselves into the belief that the original intention of the framers of the Oath was to make it certain that Parliament should consist only of Theists. All he could say was, that if that was their original object, they had bungled very much in their manner of bringing it about. For all history, as had been fairly shown by the Attorney General, and, he would add, as common sense too, told them that the Oath, as taken at that Table, was in no sense or manner whatever part of a theological creed. From the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross), one would suppose that they were sitting in Convocation, or in the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. His conviction, was that they had nothing to do with the religious opinions of any man whom a constituency chose to send to Parliament. The Oath had been, and was now, solely political. It was originally an Oath of Allegiance to the Reigning Family, and was intended to keep Jacobites out of the House. But he was prepared to go a great deal further, and say that, in his opinion, it was of no use at all. No one would accuse Gentlemen who held theoretical Republican opinions in this country of any desire to overthrow the Monarchy. There were no Pretenders to the Throne of the country; and, that being so, although he came from a part of the country supposed to be very straight-laced in religious matters, he confessed ho should have been very much pleased if the Government had introduced a Bill for the abolition of these Oaths and Affirmations altogether. There was nothing whatever in the circumstances of this country at the present moment, nor, he trusted, was there likely to be for many generations to come, to justify them at all. They had no conspirators here, and if they had conspirators who were plotting against the British Constitution, they would no more be kept out of that House by the utterance of these words than Revolutionists had been kept out of the different countries of Europe by the passport system. They might depend upon it that, notwithstanding the fervent religious outbursts of the hon. Member for Finsbury and others, there was a great deal of truth in the words of Hudibras— Oaths are but words, and words but wind, Too feeble instruments to bind. Great stress had been laid upon the vast multitude of Petitions that had been presented. He was free to admit that there were thousands and millions in this country at the present moment who were under a most profound delusion in regard to this whole subject. And how had this delusion been brought about? Why, it had been fostered and encouraged by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the other side, who went about the country telling their constituents that at the present moment Atheists could not get into Parliament, and that so anxious was the present Government to get that class of people in, that they had introduced a Bill to enable Atheists to take seats in that House. In all his experience he had never known such misstatement of a case. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire described the words of the Oath as the safeguard of the British Constitution. If the hon. Member for Northampton had chosen to take the Oath at the beginning of his agitation, as he did now, they would already have seen the dreaded Atheist in Parliament, who, they were told by Members opposite, could never have got in except with the aid of such a Bill as this. The hon. Gentleman had not originally, as he was now willing to do, and might have done at all times, come forward and taken the Oath; being well advised, he had taken a different course. The hon. Gentleman might have desired great notoriety; he might have courted to become a popular idol, and might have had an eye to being made a martyr and a hero. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman know that there were foolish people enough on both sides of the House to play his game for him. He hoped to be carried on the shoulders of the people by their means, and he must say that his sagacity had been rewarded, for they had given him a reputation and a notoriety that he never had before. They had enabled him to attain the objects of his ambition, and to sell a good many of his books. Well, but they in this House ought to know a great deal better, and he objected to men deluding the country, telling them that no Atheist could get into the English Parliament, just as no Atheist could get into the Italian Parliament. He ventured to say there was no man who knew better than the hon. Member for Finsbury that there were many Members of the Italian Parliament who did not believe in Christianity, and many who did not believe in a Divinity. As to Atheists getting into Parliament, surely they could not be kept out by these few words. Why, did hon. Gentlemen not know— it was time the country knew, at all events—that many men had come up to that Table and taken that Oath who did not believe in God—["Names!"]—men who were known to be not only infidels, but Atheists, had not only sat in that, House, but on the Treasury Bench as Secretaries of State. They were not the kind of people to stick at trifles; and as they could not be kept out already, his argument was—"Of what use are these words?" There were two or three classes of people that these words kept out. They kept out gentlemen who wished for their own purposes to be able to gain great notoriety by refusing to take the Oath, and thereby making what had been described as a "scene," and they kept out a few very excellent, conscientious people, who objected to this kind of swearing at large. The professed unbeliever walked up the floor of the House and took the Oath very much in the frame of mind of the well-known wit, who when asked if he was prepared to sign the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England replied, "Certainly; forty, if you choose." The country ought to know that scores of men had taken the Oath at the Table of the House of Commons who never listened to it, who did not know what it was, and who had not the slightest idea of its purpose. The Oath was an empty form. He stood there to maintain the right of every constituency in this Empire to return any person they chose without legal disqualification to be a Member of this House. [An hon. MEMBER: O'Donovan Rossa?] They were completely exceeding their powers and acting ultra vires when they dared, directly or indirectly, to impose any test on a man's religious opinion. He always disliked to hear the solemn realities of religion discussed in this House. He did not know what his fate might be; but he believed the young Members of this House would live to see the day when ecclesiastical topics would not be discussed in that Assembly, any more than they were in the Congress of the United States of America. Some hon. Members were looking forward to damaging the Ministry in regard to this Bill, but they could not prevent it passing in the end. The legislation of England never went back. During all this century they had been removing one after another those obstacles which stood in the way of absolute liberty; and it was no more in the power of those narrow ecclesiastical bodies — Roman Catholic and Protestant, Established and Dissenting—to prevent the passing of a measure like this than it was in the power of their predecessors to convince mankind that the world was not round.

The right hon. Member opposite (Sir R. Assheton Cross) quoted a lamentable production in the shape of a Petition from the Conference of Wesleyan Methodists. The Wesleyan Methodists had lived to be ashamed of many of their doings, and he believed not many years would pass over their heads before they would be ashamed of the Petition which they had presented to this House against the Affirmation Bill. He was happy to think that even in so-called bigoted Scotland, Town Councils had petitioned in favour of the Bill, and he was delighted to see that a deputation of the three Dissenting Denominations in England had also unanimously petitioned in its favour. They did so because the English Voluntary Dissenters understood, and had always understood, the true principles of religious liberty; and it was on these principles, and these alone, that he gave his most cordial support to the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General.


thought that, notwithstanding the remarks which had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken, the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Fins-bury remained unanswered. Allusions to "bigoted Scotland," the Wesleyan Denomination, and so forth, would not avail much in answer to that remarkable speech. He agreed with one remark made by the right hon. Gentleman —namely, that he disliked to hear the solemnities of religion discussed in that House. But if these were discussed, whose fault was it? He was surprised at the language used about Petitions. He had always observed that if Petitions were in favour of the views of an hon. Member, they were of the greatest importance; but if otherwise, they were of no importance; and, accordingly, the right hon. Gentleman had described the Petitioners in this case as under a delusion in thinking that Atheists were excluded from Parliament, while he had stated that there were dishonest Atheists who had not been excluded from the House by the Oath, nor even from the Treasury Bench. The right hon. Gentleman had alluded to the words of the Oath as "miserable words;" but they were, at all events, necessary to the taking of his seat by a Member of that House, and he should have thought that was hardly a proper term to use with regard to them. There were two classes who would advance with a light heart to the support of the Bill before the House. One of the classes consisted of those who thought that anyone, no matter what his opinions were, ought to be allowed to take his seat if elected by a constituency; and the other class were those who, having had scruples about the Bill, had had them relieved by the undertaking of the Government that the Bill should not be retrospective. As to the first class, he knew that extreme opinions were held by some hon. Members; and he remembered seeing, on one occasion, the senior Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron) reported to have said that if Beelzebub were returned to Parliament, he would be in favour of his taking his seat. That was an extreme case, no doubt, to take, and it clearly pointed to the return of persons of well-known bad character to this House, and the hon. Gentleman did not shrink from such a possibility. He thought that if there was one thing which would less than another commend the Bill to the House, it was the notion that hereafter it would be open to the constituencies to return anyone, no matter what his opinions were, and that, as a matter of course, he would be allowed to take his seat. As to the second class who would support the Bill, he would say that it was not until the Government had gone through an extraordinary variety of gyrations and transformations of mind on the subject that they resolved the Bill should not be retrospective. He was told that this declaration satisfied the mind of many who would otherwise have been opposed to the Bill. The intention of the Government, as he understood, was to get rid of the association of the Bill with a particular individual, while, at the same time, this particular individual had only to go and obtain re-election from the constituency and come back and take his seat in the House. He should like to ask whether this Bill would have been introduced or pressed upon the attention of Parliament if Mr. Bradlaugh had not existed? Whatever change of opinion the declaration of the Government in regard to the Bill, in view of its non-retrospective character, might make upon the House, the country, he ventured to say, was not deceived by the change of plan. The country understood the circumstances under which they were asked to accept the Bill. As regarded the Government itself, what were the circumstances? They had all along been determined to get Mr. Bradlaugh seated. They were willing that he should affirm, even at the risk of his coming into collision with the Courts of Law; and they were willing that he should take the Oath, even though he did so without attaching any meaning to it. In what position had the House been placed? The authority, the Rules, the Order, and feelings of the House had been outraged again and again. This was a time when the old respect for the House and the authority of the Chair was not what it used to be, and yet no such outrages had been inflicted on the House in connection with any other matter. It had been said that the Bill was not retrospective; but he observed that, in the last day or two, a particular individual still regarded it as specially applicable to himself, for he announced that if the Bill was not pushed forward he should take his seat, asserting that he was entitled to do so by law. Whether Mr. Bradlaugh went through re-election or not he did not know; but, at all events, he considered the Bill specially applicable to his own case, and none other. The Attorney General had referred to the old forms used in the House, and it had struck him that all of that reference tended to show how reasonable was the language of the present Oath. Just because the language of the Oath in former days was such as we would not think of imposing at the present time, the language of the Oath at the present time was reasonable and unambiguous. How wide was the door which the Oath as it was at present threw open to all, however widely they differed in a thousand ways. It would be as undesirable, as, indeed, it would be impossible, to invent an Oath or maintain the existence of an Oath which excluded any of those varieties of opinion which existed among Christians, whether Protestants or Roman Catholics, or among Jews. The present Oath violated no feeling entertained by Christians of any denomination or by Jews. It embodied the words of Holy Scripture, "Fear God and honour the King." It was as far removed in its simplicity from the subtleties of the school men and from the shibboleths of the sects as any words that could be invented, and it was such a declaration as that the Prime Minister desired to abandon, to render optional, or to overthrow. The Archbishop of Canterbury said, the other day, that Parliament would not become un-Christian if the present Oath was abolished. Very possibly not, because the present Oath did not make Parliament Christian. He had observed the other day that Mr. M'Coll, a clergyman who was a great admirer of the Prime Minister, said that the present Oath was not only not Christian, but anti-Christian, and supported that statement by pointing out that in former days the Oath contained the words "on the true faith of a Christian." Hardly anybody but an ecclesiastic would have ventured to make such an assertion. No one contended that the Oath was a bulwark of Christianity; but it was a recognition of God, and that was no small matter. He had also seen it stated that the Prayers with which Parliament was opened every day were of far more importance than the Oath. Those Prayers concerned the House as a whole, and the Oath was taken by the individual Member; but he did not know how long Prayers were likely to be used if there were such an incursion of persons into the House as they were told were waiting to enter if the present Oath were changed. Nothing could be more abhorrent to him or further from his intentions than to inquire too closely about the opinions of any man; but if they were called upon to enter into this invidious task of criticizing the opinions of individual men, whose fault was it? It was not the fault of those who sat on the Opposition side of the House. The Attorney General had made frequent allusions to religious belief, and incapacity on grounds of religious belief. But this was not a question of religious belief. It was a question of irreligious belief. The proposal before the House emphasized and illustrated the sort of case to which the present Oath was obnoxious, and which the alteration of the Oath was intended for all time coming to embrace and to accommodate. All assertions about a baffled and disappointed electorate seemed to him to be of comparatively small importance compared with the importance of the principle which they were asked to abandon in the face of the whole country, at the bidding of the Government of the day. It was said that the people of this country would misunderstand the placing of any obstacles in the way of a Member who had been returned to Parliament. There was likely to be a greater misunderstanding on the part of the people in another direction. If this Bill passed into law, the country would say that Parliament attached but little importance to the fundamental principle of human belief—namely, the existence of a God who made, and who would judge the world. In a speech which the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government was reported to have made at Newark, in 1837, it was maintained that avowed unbelievers and men who had no belief in Divine revelation were not fit to govern the nation, whether they were Whigs or Radicals. For himself, he was one of those who preferred the earlier teaching of the right hon. Gentleman on those subjects. They were asked to carry out this legislation in the interests of toleration and of liberty, and it was said that those who proposed it were liberal-minded, and those who opposed it were intolerant and narrow-minded. He had lived long enough to think that there was nothing so illiberal as Radicalism, and nothing so often misused as the name of Liberty. They were asked to give in this Bill a new display of hostility to tests. They had lighted upon a time when everything novel and eccentric and abnormal in opinion was indulged, and flattered and worshipped. One thing that must not be looked for was indulgence and toleration for those who held ordinary religious opinions. This case they now had before them was apparently not strong enough in itself, because it had suddenly been discovered that there were numbers of persons waiting outside the doors of Parliament who could not enter until the Oath was abolished. All he could say was that they had never heard of these persons until the case of Mr. Bradlaugh arose. Another surprising assertion had been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter) to the effect that troops of dishonest Theists came into the House at present. Nothing could be more repugnant to him than to question in the remotest degree what was the opinion of anyone who sat in the House. But if the view of the right hon. Gentleman were correct, it was a very shocking admission, and a very barefaced assertion on the part of the right hon. Gentleman, and one that ought not to be made in any language of triumph and of self-congratulation, but with shame and regret. The right hon. Gentleman made light of the opinions expressed outside of the House by Petitions, the only way in which they could be brought under the notice of the House; but when it could be stated that at the end of last week there were 3,700 Petitions, with 513,000 signatures, it was a fact to which attention might well be drawn, and which no sneers by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose could avail to dispose of. Again, the right hon. Gentleman, to his astonishment and indignation, referred to "bigoted Scotland." He hoped the epithet that a Scotch Member chose to level at Scotland was not wholly deserved. He was sorry that the right hon. Gentleman's experience justified him in applying that epithet to Scotland. He had also observed that any movement in which clergymen were interested was supposed to be of an especially narrow and degrading kind. When there was an election for one of our great Universities it was said the clergy came forward as if they were so many sheep, and as if the fact that they did act together was a proof of their narrow-mindedness and want of enlightenment. So it was in this case. The right hon. Gentleman had sneered at the strong feeling displayed by the clergy on the subject of this Bill. But the clergy of the country were not so absolutely identified with ignorance and prejudice and narrow-mindedness as it was convenient to suggest that they were in view of legislation of this kind. The number of Petitions against this measure was taken by those who were in favour of legislation as a proof that there was prejudice excited on this subject and unscrupulous partizanship against the great and good Government now in Office. Without attaching undue importance to the Petitions and to the expression of opinion at public meetings, and other signs of that kind, he would say that they would receive attention from this House and from the Government if it suited their purpose. The Petitions were in an enormous proportion hostile to their legislation. He wanted to know whether this was to be made a Government question or not, or was to be another of those open questions of which they had heard so much lately. Were they to have what was called the "confidence trick" played upon them once more? Was the acceptance or the rejection of this Bill to be a proof of Confidence or Want of Confidence in Her Majesty's Government? Ho would suggest that this would constitute an admirable cry for the Liberal Government to go to the country with. He had at the last Election lost his seat, but regained it three months afterwards, and it was during that brief period that the first discussion in reference to the case of Mr. Bradlaugh took place in Parliament. He remembered that it was said that he owed his election to the feeling excited among the people of Scotland in reference to Mr. Bradlaugh. For himself, he did not believe ho owed it to anything of the kind; but for the sake of argument he would assume it was so, and if that were the case it would give some reasons why he should oppose the present legislation of the Government. Certainly, however, the constituency which he had the honour to represent had petitioned against this Bill in a very remarkable manner, and there was nothing more remarkable in connection with the Petitions which he had received than the extraordinary variety of Petitioners who signed them. They had been threatened by the senior Member for Birmingham that if this measure were rejected they would be "landed in a sea of trouble." For such a master of English, that seemed a singular expression; at any rate, he did not think that such legislation as this would deliver either Party from trouble. Great efforts would be made to dissever this measure from the case of the hon. Member for Northampton. He thought the Government did not intend it to be a Bradlaugh Relief Bill; but the Attorney General, at the close of his speech, made a powerful appeal to the House, grounded on the fact that Mr. Bradlaugh had obtained notoriety in consequence of the delay that had occurred. If that was not identifying the case with Mr. Bradlaugh, he did not know what was. It was because this case was inseparably connected with Mr. Bradlaugh that he should oppose the Bill to the utmost of his power.


was astonished that a pious, good Christian like the Prime Minister, at a time when infidelity was spreading in the land, should bring in a Bill to facilitate the admission to the House of a man who denied the existence of a Supreme Being. The Irish Party had often attempted to bring before the House the subject of the distress in Ireland; but they had failed to obtain an adequate amount of attention, while weeks had been devoted to this subject. The fact was, the shoemakers were the most unmanageable class in society; they were opposed not only to Christian doctrine, but to all doctrine. Speaking on behalf of the Irish Catholics, he would say that they had no objection to any particular creed; but they felt it would be lowering the position of the House if they wore to give up the last remnants of their belief in a God by assenting to the Bill. For these reasons he should feel it his duty to oppose the Bill as far as he possibly could.


regarded this as a purely secular question, and did not think that the House had any right to constitute itself a Court of Conscience. The manner in which the oaths were administered did very much, in his opinion, to lesson the reverence in which they were held; for instance, the way in which Members of Parliament came up in great batches to take the Oath did not tend to increase the respect due to it. The Commission of 1867, on which the Duke of Richmond, the then Bishop of Oxford, Mr. Russell Gurney, Mr. Justice Shee, and Mr. O'Reilly sat, came to the conclusion that all promissory oaths might, with advantage, be abolished. They reported in these terms— Oaths of Allegiance have seldom, if ever, been found to be of any practical benefit to the persons, or the institutions, whose safety and stability it has been sought to maintain by imposing them. In peaceful and prosperous times they are not needed; in times of difficulty and danger they are not observed. We are therefore of opinion that promissory oaths should, in all cases, be abolished, and that in those few and special cases where it appears desirable that a promise should be made, it should be made in the form of a declaration. Even the dissentients from the Report of that Royal Commission, who might be supposed to be in favour of the existing system, expressed themselves to be of the opinion that Oaths of Allegiance had seldom been of any practical benefit, as in times of quiet they were not needed, and in times of danger they were not observed. Among those dissentients were to be found the names of Lord Lyveden, Mr. Bouverie, Mr. Lowe (now Lord Sherbrooke), Sir William Stirling-Maxwell, and Dean Milman. The tendency of modern legislation was to get rid of oaths. Formerly, about 300,000 oaths used annually to be taken in the Customs and Excise Departments alone, all of which had since been abolished. The House itself had, by solemn Resolution, decided that Mr. Bradlaugh should be allowed to affirm, no doubt with the reservation that he should, by so doing, be subject to any legal penalty which he might incur. But the House thereby recorded its opinion that Affirmation was sufficient as a pledge of allegiance, and so far as the fidelity of the engagement and its binding validity were concerned, they accepted the Affirmation. In pursuance of that Resolution, Mr. Bradlaugh had sat and voted in that House, and proved a useful Member. He hoped the House would agree to the second reading of the Bill.


said, that as he had been recently returned to that House, after a contested election, he was in a good position to judge of the feeling of the country on the subject. The Conservative Party had been blamed by the right hon. Member for Montrose because it had been said by their speakers that the Liberal Government was doing all in their power to get Atheists into Parliament. But he (Mr. A. F. Egerton) could not admit that there was any inaccuracy in the statement thus impugned, because, to his mind, that was exactly what the Government were doing. Let them look at the position of that House, which was one of the highest Courts in the country. If witnesses were examined on Election Petitions, he thought they might fairly claim to swear or affirm on the same terms as Members of Parliament; and if this claim were allowed in the case of such witnesses, the privilege ought logically to be extended to every Court of Law in the Kingdom. At present, no form of Affirmation excluded all idea of a Supreme and Supernatural Power, and he ventured to say that it would be extremely dangerous to introduce the principle embodied in this Bill. He would not go into the argument, as to whether oaths should be abolished throughout the country; but he might remark that in the case of the great majority of witnesses an attestation on oath had a far greater effect on them than a mere promise to tell the truth would. If they practically abolished the appeal to a Divine Power in that particular Chamber, the effect of the abolition would have a far greater extension than most of the supporters of this measure would wish to give it. He noticed that the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell) had placed on the Paper Notice of an Amendment to abolish all Declarations and Oaths taken in the House of Commons. It might be that there were a few Republicans in that House who considered that a Declaration or an Oath of Allegiance was an improper one to take; but, for his own part, he held to the belief that the great majority of his countrymen thought the Oath or Declaration of Allegiance with respect to either House of Parliament, was neither immoral nor improper. He hoped that when the Bill went into Committee—if, indeed, it got that length— the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy would bring forward his Amendment, and he was sure he would then be convinced, by the general feeling against it, that there was still an opinion in this House that loyalty to the Crown was one of the qualifications which every hon. Member ought to possess. Every unprejudiced person must admit that the Conservative Party could not have taken any other course than that which they had taken in these discussions, under the guidance of the right hon. Baronet the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford North-cote). It was said that Mr. Bradlaugh ought not to be excluded now, because he could not be prevented from taking the Oath and his seat in the next Parliament. He saw no force in that argument. In the next Parliament, no doubt, the Member for Northampton could come forward, and take the Oath, according to the present law, and he agreed that no Member would have a right to ask him a question with regard to it. It was not the business of any member of that House to make an inquisition into the private opinions of any other Member; but a man's open declaration must be taken as a proof of what his private opinions were. Again, it was said that there ought to be no Oath, because a considerable number of Members of Parliament secretly held the same opinions as Mr. Bradlaugh; but that, he contended, was a matter which the House could not inquire into. He believed that if the Bill passed, there would be a revolution, not only in that House, but in every Court of Justice throughout the Kingdom; that it would lead a vast number of people to believe that the oaths taken in Courts of Justice were of no value whatever, and it would bring about a far greater amount of perjury than there was at present. Therefore, for the reasons he had stated, he hoped the House would reject the Bill by a large majority.


said, he would remind the hon. Member who had just spoken that the Bill did not propose to abolish the Parliamentary Oath, which would remain available for 99 out of every 100 Members who entered the House. It would simply create an alternative machinery for those who objected to the Oath. On several occasions during these debates hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition side had invited Her Majesty's Government to solve the difficulty by legislation. From the kind of opposition offered to this Bill, it was obvious that legislation would always be inopportune so long as it could be said that its object or effect would be that of admitting Mr. Bradlaugh. If the raising of the cry of "A Bradlaugh Relief Bill" was to render legislation inopportune, he was afraid they were far distant from the time when it would be otherwise than inopportune. It had been said by the hon. and learned Member for Launceston (Sir Hardinge Gif-fard) that what was required was legislation of the kind that enabled Sir David Salomons to take his seat; but when such legislation was brought forward, then it appeared that the Opposition were not anxious that the question should be solved by the very means indicated by a late Law Officer of the late Government. The only alternative was the indefinite prolongation of a controversy that was fatal to the peace of the House and compromising to its dignity, but which was commended to the Opposition by the possibility of using it to damage the Government. It was not to be denied that the Petitions against the Bill reflected a wide dislike to it; but this display of feeling was raised under a complete misconception as to the real issue raised by the Bill and the attitudes of those who advocated it and of those who opposed it. It might be that if it had not been for Mr. Bradlaugh the necessity for amending the law might not have arisen. Still, it must not be inferred that the feeling shown by the hostile Petitions was the only one of which Parliament was bound to take notice. In the fierce light of this controversy another feeling had deepened into a conviction, and it was that the law was eminently unsatisfactory and called for amendment quite apart from the manner in which it would affect Mr. Bradlaugh. All Parliament sought by the Oath was to obtain an assurance of loyalty, and not a profession of religion, from Members who entered the House; and had Mr. Bradlaugh not been so honest, as some thought, or so egotistical, as others thought, he might have come to the Table and repeated those words, and no one could gainsay his right to take his seat. In this, as in all analogous cases, the purpose of Parliament was effectuated by the body and substance of the Oath, and not at all by the form of the sanction. Hon. Members knew very well that, as things were, the Oath altogether failed to exclude Atheists; and that many men of honour and blameless life, whose views of a personal Deity were agnostic or negative, already sat in the House. ["Name!"] That was undoubtedly the fact; there were agnostic Members of the House whose attitude towards the Oath was precisely the same as that of Mr. Bradlaugh. He agreed with hon. Members opposite that there was profanity in compelling an avowed Atheist to make an appeal to God; but the profanity was not on the part of the Atheist, it was committed by those who insisted on the performance of such a ceremony. It was idle to say that every man must be presumed to be a believer till he avowed the contrary; for it was perfectly well known that in many cases no such presumption was possible, and that the Oath was taken with the full consent of hon. Members opposite by many men to whom the words conveyed no meaning. The Bill, with so many unbelievers already in the House, was not a Bill for the admission of Atheists. It sought to reconcile existing facts with the religious sense of the House; to get rid of a profanation that shocked the House at large; to rescue the House from a conflict with the constituencies; and to preserve the reverence and decency of its proceedings.


Sir, I cannot give a silent vote on this occasion, for, if I were to do so, I might appear to justify the argument used against Jews and Roman Catholics before their disabilities were removed, that if admitted to Parliament they would show themselves insensible or hostile to the religion of the country. It is because I consider it my duty to protect the religious feeling of the country that, however I might differ from the general body of my countrymen in religious opinion, I feel bound to address the House in opposition to a Bill, the tendency of which is to outrage the feelings of men of every religion. I failed to gather from the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Cambridge (Mr. Hugh Shield) whether he was in favour of the Bill or against it. Some of my hon. and learned Friend's arguments I welcome as supporting the view which I myself entertain. The hon. and learned Gentleman said this particular case was precisely of the same kind as that of Sir David Salomons.


explained that he was quoting the words of the hon. and learned Member for Launceston (Sir Hardinge Giffard), who said that the legislation needed was of the same kind.


I would ask whether the hon. and learned Member did not adopt those words, because, if he did not, then where was their relevancy? But the two cases are entirely different. In the case of Sir David Salomons it was not proposed to pass an Affirmation Bill, the question being whether the Oath containing the words "on the true faith of a Christian" should be omitted, so as to enable conscientious Jews to take it. But when Mr. Bradlaugh, on second thoughts, came to take the Oath, he would have taken it without any scruple or omission whatever. There was another argument used by the hon. and learned Gentleman. He admitted that the Petitions against the Bill outnumbered those in its favour, and the extraordinary inference he drew from this fact was that this was no representation of public opinion, and that the House ought not to be influenced by it. That statement of my hon. and learned Friend, as it seems to me, was somewhat damaging to his case. The argument has also been pretty extensively used that Mr. Brad-laugh was entitled to take his seat because the constituency of Northampton had returned him, and because he was under no legal disability; but this argument is entirely fallacious. It is absurd to say that there is no legal disability. The conditions which the House has laid down as conditions precedent to a man taking his seat are as much of a disability in the case of Mr. Bradlaugh as in the case of a felon, a lunatic, or a woman. A man not qualified is exactly on the same footing as a man disqualified. It is said, also, that some time since a Bill was passed enabling Affirmations to be made. But if this question of admitting Atheists was considered so important and burning a question, then how was it that this modification of the law was not made in their favour? Atheists existed when that measure became law as well as now, though possibly they were not so obtrusive and aggressive, and did not thrust themselves forward by the dissemination of disgusting publications. The fact is that at that time Parliament never contemplated the possibility of admitting to the House men who openly avow their disbelief in a Supreme Being. It may be that some men now in the House are Atheists; but, if so, they did not, like Mr. Bradlaugh, object to take the Oath on that ground; and we must judge men by their public professions, not by their private reservations. I would remind the House of what has been said on this subject by a great authority. On the 25th of May, 1854, during a debate on the Oaths Bill, an eminent statesman made use of these words, which will be found in HansardI know there are some Gentlemen here who think we should come to the discharge of our duties without any oath. I do not happen to be one of that opinion. I revere the principle of the oath. I think it tends to maintain that serious, reverential temper with which men ought to address themselves to solemn duties; hut I say this, if you want to gain the real and substantial objects of the oath, you ought to frame it in a manner that should adapt it to those objects. Our Oaths ought to be brief—ought to be simple. They ought to be the same for all—they ought to go directly to the point; they ought to be divested of all needless and useless words, in order that the words we use by solemn sanction in the presence of God may be used with a sense of the presence of God, and a temper which befits men doing a solemn act."—(3 Hansard, [133] 900.) Those were the words of the present Prime Minister. It appears to me somewhat strange—I had almost said inconsistent—that the Bill now before the House should be fathered by the very man who, on that bygone occasion, had uttered those words. What had been prevented in the past, and what it was hoped would still be prevented, was that openly and avowedly, and with the assistance of the Government, men should desecrate that which is sacred to the great majority of people. The question whether Mr. Bradlaugh should be admitted ought to be settled by the general feeling of the country, and not by the feeling of any particular constituency. That feeling has been adequately proved, and will be still further proved, I think, by the number of Petitions which will be presented to the House. If the Prime Minister thinks those Petitions do not represent the feeling of the country, why does he not elect to stand or fall by the Bill? Does he not test it in some way? Why did he not mention this Bradlaugh Relief Bill in the Queen's Speech? Why should he not inaugurate a new Mid Lothian campaign with, Excelsior-like, a new Liberal banner, bearing, not the old motto of "Peace, Retrenchment, and Reform," which is somewhat hackneyed and out of place, but the strange device, "Bradlaugh and Blasphemy?" These are not my words; they are the words of the late Lord Beaconsfield, whose prophetic spirit showed him what was likely to come in a very few years. I am inclined to doubt whether that device would recommend the Liberal banner to the Scotch constituencies. The feeling of the country is against a Bill which, disguise it how they may, is simply a Bradlaugh Relief Bill, because it does not wish to see the House of Commons degraded into a "Hall of Science" for the discussion of The Fruits of Philosophy, and because the Atheism of the junior Member for Northampton is not a mere opinion, but a doctrine which ho loudly proclaims to the world. It is to such aggressive and militant Atheism that Lord Macaulay referred, when, speaking on April 17, 1833, he said— Every man, I think, ought to be at liberty to discuss the evidences of religion; but no man ought to be at liberty to force on the unwilling ears and eyes of others sounds and sights which must cause annoyance and irritation. The distinction is perfectly clear. I think it wrong to punish a man for selling Paine's Age of Reason in a back shop to those who choose to buy, or for delivering a Deistical lecture in a private room to those who choose to listen. But if a man exhibits at a window in the Strand a hideous caricature of that which is an object of awe and adoration to 999 out of every 1,000 of the people who pass up and down that great thoroughfare —if a man, in a place of public resort, applies opprobrious epithets to names held in reverence by all Christians—such a man ought, in my opinion, to be severely punished, not for differing from us in opinion, but for committing a nuisance which gives us pain and disgust. He is no more entitled to outrage our feelings by obtruding his impiety on us and to say that he is exercising his right of discussion, than to establish a yard for butchering horses close to our houses and to say that he is exercising his right of property, or to run naked up and down the public streets and to say that he is exercising his right of locomotion. He has a right of discussion, no doubt, as he has a right of property and a right of locomotion. But he must use all his rights so as not to infringe on the rights of others. But why is this measure introduced? It is remarkable that the Bill of the senior Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) should have been adopted by the Government immediately after Mr. Bradlaugh's large meetings in Trafalgar Square; and I cannot help thinking that their action was, in some degree, the result of that meeting, when the Freethinking mob came into the vicinity of the House, and when Mr. Bradlaugh, like "Bombaastes Furioso" apostrophized the Prime Minister— He who dares these boots displace, Shall meet Bombastes face to face. I regret that the Prime Minister does not adhere to the principles which he once so eloquently expressed. Men change their politics and their creed; but there are principles which underlie both. Religion is in this country the basis of every institution; scarcely any work is undertaken without the invocation of the Deity, to which those who differ from the creed of the Established Church listen with reverence; and yet how are we to reconcile the Prime Minister's action now with the memorable words he used in this House on March 31st, 1835? If in the administration of this great country the elements of religion should not enter—if those who were called to guide it in its career should be forced to listen to the caprices and to the whims of every body of visionaries, they would lose that station all great men were hitherto proud of. He hoped that he should never live to see the day when any principle leading to such a result would be adopted in this country."—(3 Hansard, [27] 514.) In spite of that expression of hope, the right hon. Gentleman has lived to see the day when the principles to which he referred are put forward for acceptance, and when their adoption is advocated by the right hon. Gentleman himself. It seems strange that, in a land where most public undertakings are commenced with prayer, as in our own Assembly, the Government should require to be reminded by one who does not profess the religion of the country that it would be a desecration to pass a Bill enabling a man of no creed and no faith to enter the portals of this House. I do not fear the aspersion of bigotry, because I am only defending that which it is the paramount duty of every good citizen to protect—namely, the religious feeling of the country; and I will, therefore, unhesitatingly give my vote against the Bill.


said, if he ventured to intrude a few remarks upon the House that night, he must plead as his excuse, as a Scottish Member, the strong feeling that existed in his country on this question—a feeling which he could not help thinking had not as yet been adequately given expression to on either side of the House. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter), in speaking upon this subject, had alluded to the bigotry of Scotland. If bigotry meant a dislike to professional Atheism, he did believe, and was proud to believe, that Scotland was bigoted, and he hoped it would long continue to be so. But, apart from the right hon. Gentleman, hon. Members who spoke for Scottish constituencies had been that night conspicuously silent; and he could not help feeling that behind that somewhat unusual silence they might recognize the activity of the constituencies, who were determined that if their Members would not curse this Bill they, at all events, should not bless it. He could not help thinking that the Government deserved some credit for the ingenuity which they sometimes displayed in uniting in opposition to their schemes the most divergent and apparently irreconcilable interests. The dream of a united Ireland had been temporarily realized in opposition to the Government on the mail contract. Before that united opposition the Government had been compelled to give way. He thought that in Scotland—at all events among the religious bodies—there was a unanimity both remarkable and rare against the Bill. From Scotland they had Petitions presented against it from the Roman Catholics, from the Episcopalians, from the Presbyteries of the Established Church, from the Free Church, and from the United Presbyterian Church; and, in the face of this unanimity — which, unfortunately, was rare amongst the religious bodies of Scotland—it was idle to say, whatever they might call this Bill, that it was not offensive to the religious feelings of the people of Scotland. One and all had petitioned against it, declaring that it was subversive of religion, and offensive to the religious instincts of the people. He was aware that an attempt had been made to salve the conscience of hon. Members who disapproved the Bill, as it was originally drafted, by making it not retrospective; and he could not help thinking that the Attorney General, in promising this, was somewhat ungracious in taking as his precedent the Bill for the relief of Roman Catholics. He could not see what right the hon. and learned Gentleman had to confound a just and necessary measure of toleration with a measure which, for the first time, recognized and exaggerated the power of Atheism as a force in the country. Whether this Bill was retrospective or prospective was surely a matter of the purest detail, as was also the question whether Mr. Bradlaugh was enabled to take his seat to-morrow, or whether he was compelled to go through the form of another election. The sting of the Bill was this—that Mr. Bradlaugh, by professional Atheism, had forced it upon the Government and upon the House of Commons. He would not follow the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment (Sir R. Assheton Cross) in the history of the different proceedings which had taken place in connection with Mr. Bradlaugh. The Bill, however, was finally brought in in obedience to certain threats by Mr. Bradlaugh. If the Government did not bring in the Bill, Mr. Bradlaugh threatened to do something — they did not know what, and they would never know what he would have done, because the Government gave way. The Government brought in the Bill also in obedience to the demands of the senior Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), who seemed to play the part of impresario to Mr. Bradlaugh, and to make him a sort of property of his own. In his political flights he seemed to have adopted towards him very much the same part as was played in the flights in mid-air, at another place not far from the House, by the famous Zazel. He hoped that, as Mr. Farini was cut short by an Act of Parliament, the hon. Member's production of Mr. Bradlaugh would be cut short by the rejection of this Bill. Whatever the Government might say about this Bill, whatever they might call it, it was a Bradlaugh Relief Bill; at least, it was either a Bradlaugh Relief Bill, or it was a Bill to deliver the Government from Mr. Bradlaugh. In either case it was one which they ought to oppose to the best of their ability. The names on the back of the Bill were those of distinguished Members of Her Majesty's Government; but the only name by which it would be known would be that of Mr. Bradlaugh. He had forced it on the Government; he had forced the Government to give way; but he had not yet forced the House of Commons to give way. Again, the time chosen for bringing the Bill forward was objectionable. There had been no warning of its coming. If they read through the speeches made in Mid Lothian on which the triumph of the Liberal Party was founded, they would find no hint or promise of the Bill, and they would find no mention of it in the Speech delivered from the Throne. An announcement of such a measure might have seemed incongruous with another portion of the Speech from the Throne, which invoked the Divine assistance. It had taken the place of many other Bills which the country had pronounced in favour of. There were Bills anxiously expected both in England and Scotland, and by hon. Members on both sides of the House— he meant the Landlord and Tenant Bill and the Municipal Reform Bill. Yet those important measures had been shelved in order to enable the Government to press forward a Bill which was introduced in a scare, and which the country had constitutionally pronounced against. He hoped the Bill would not be passed; but, if it passed, he did not know who would be grateful to the Government for bringing it in. Members on the other side of the House would not be grateful for being driven to stake their popularity with their constituents in order to please the Government, and Mr. Bradlaugh's gratitude would be somewhat similar to that of a successful highwayman to his victim. Whatever the general verdict of the House might be, he believed the verdict of Scottish Members had been in accordance with the opinion already expressed by the vast majority of their fellow-countrymen, and that they would oppose the Bill, which, whenever it might have been introduced, would have been offensive to the religious feelings of a large fraction of the community, but which, introduced, as it had been, in obedience to the noisy clamour of a small section, was offensive not only to the religious feeling of the country, but to all those who valued and respected the credit of Government in this country.


would not imitate the line of argument which had been adopted by the noble Lord who had just sat down. He approached the consideration of the Bill with the feelings of a Member who had himself made an Affirmation on becoming a Member of the House, and whose simple word was accepted equally with the Oaths of other hon. Members. He should have thought hon. Members opposite would have been glad to accept a Bill which would make their simple word as binding as their Oaths were now, freeing them from the obligation of invoking the Supreme Being upon undertaking that which, after all, was merely their duty. Besides, there were not two men in the House who would define the term "allegiance" in the same way; and, according to Paley, the word was chosen purposely "for its general and indeterminate signification." Supposing an Indian subject of the Queen, a sun-worshipping Parsee, were to be elected a Member, what attitude would the House adopt? The connection of Mr. Bradlaugh with the question had been greatly magnified on the opposite side of the House; but he regarded it merely as an incident, which, however, he regretted, and should have been glad if the matter could have been fought out in reference to some other individual than Mr. Bradlaugh. But if there was a great principle underlying the measure before the House, there ought to be no hesitation in asserting that principle because the hon. Member for Northampton was concerned. The ground on which he based his support of the Bill was that which he took at first—namely, that he believed it was a step in the direction of removing from all public action that invocation of the Supreme Being which was unnecessary to it, and especially to the proceedings in that House.


said, he rose to make a few remarks upon one of the most remarkable questions that had come before the House of Commons for many years. The hon. and learned Member for Chelsea (Mr. Firth), who had just sat down, had said that the connection of Mr. Bradlaugh with the Bill before the House was a mere incident; but anyone acquainted with the history of the Bill could come to no such conclusion. In fact, any unprejudiced person who had followed the proceedings of the Government in this matter from the commencement of the time when Mr. Bradlaugh was first returned to the House could not but feel that his agitation in connection with this Bill had been paramount in importance with the Government, and that he had at last forced them to introduce it. If the Government had been anxious to introduce a measure for the amendment of the Parliamentary Oaths Act, free of partizanship, they would have done so three years ago, when Party feeling was not nearly so strong in respect to it as now. But they knew then perfectly well that the feeling of the country was against them, and since that time they had been playing with the question, until at last they had been driven into a corner, and were bound to act. Mr. Bradlaugh and his public meetings had had more influence on the Prime Minister than the religious feeling of the country. He (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) regarded the question as one of the most serious that had ever come before the House. It was a political question, no doubt; but it was far more a religious question, and it was because the religious feelings of the great mass of the people had been deeply stirred by it that the matter was far more serious than the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister seemed to imagine. He was perfectly justified in saying that a great majority of the people were against the Bill, and the Petitions presented to the House in reference to it fully bore out that statement; for there had been Petitions from Roman Catholics, from Jews, from all classes of Dissenters, and from the great mass of those who belonged to the Church of England. Up to last week, 2,912 Petitions, with 372,918 signatures attached, had been presented against the Bill. In addition to that, it should be remembered that many of the Petitions were signed officially by only one person to represent large numbers, or the number of signatures to the Petitions would have been much larger. That was a proof that the mass of the people were against the Bill. But how many Petitions up to the 11th of this month had been presented in favour of the Bill? Only 767 Petitions, with a total of 88,258 signatures attached; and it was well known the enormous efforts that had been made to obtain signatures in favour of the Bill. He could assure the Prime Minister that he had greatly deceived himself, and had miscalculated his strength in the country, if he thought that he would be able to carry his Bill through Parliament. For the first time in the history of the country, it was proposed by the Government to allow Atheists, who did not believe in the existence of a Deity, as Atheists, to affirm and take their seats in that House; that was the issue that was before them. He believed— and, if he was wrong, he should like to be put right—that the Government did not mean to make this a paramount matter; it was not to be a question of Want of Confidence if they sustained defeat over their Bill. That was the attitude now of the Government with reference to all delicate questions. The Channel Tunnel Bill they would not take up as a Government question, but were content to abdicate their proper functions, and had handed it over to a Committee of Members from both Houses of Parliament; and on Friday night there was a question relating to the welfare of the Army and Navy—a question which, up to that time, had always been supported by the Government, but had now been allowed to drift into an open question. The Prime Minister paired himself, and went away, leaving the other Ministers to vote as they liked. The noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War, with the honesty which always characterized him, said he should support the Contagious Diseases Acts, and so did the Judge Advocate General, and others; but the Ministers who were engaged in permeating the Cabinet with their particular and individual views voted against them. No doubt, as the noble Marquess walked past to support the Acts, the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain) said, in his heart, that the noble Marquess was one of that class that "toil not, neither do they spin," and that he was glad again to have it in his power to show that contempt for his opinion which he had been able to show before when the noble Marquess was Leader of the Opposition. It was strange that none of the Colleagues of the President of the Board of Trade had, up to that time, risen in their places and repudiated the doctrines which he had enunciated at Birmingham. It seemed as if, in this question, as in others, the pernicious principles of Ministers of his stamp which had permeated the Cabinet seemed to have even permeated to the Prime Minister himself, and to cause him to forget the strong feelings that he held in the past with regard to religious subjects, for he was now prepared to cast his lot in with those who were anxious to subvert the religious institutions of the country. He (Sir Walter B. Bart-telot) looked back with surprise to the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman, published in an instructive work on Church and State, in which he denounced the fatal anomaly of allowing men to enter Parliament who had no religious views, to legislate for those who did believe in Christianity, and predicted that, if that were allowed, they would have a political life without any religious influence at all. Lot him read to the House two passages from that work— The tendency of that proud ungodly spirit which brands the forehead of the age is not only to tolerate in the occupant of civil office a personal incapacity to discharge its obligations aright, so far as they bear upon the welfare of our religion, but to sever from that occupancy altogether any obligation to promote its purposes or to respect its existence. And now let us trace the workings of this principle, supposing for a moment that it should be unsuccessfully resisted, and should attain its full development as regards the personal composition of the Government and the Legislature, it avows the desire to remove the remaining restriction, that of profession of Christianity; if it gains this it gains probably everything. For the anomaly I of appointing persons who deny Christianity to legislate for its benefit would be so palpable and glaring, it would so grate upon the average common sense of mankind, as speedily to bring the question to issue—whether the support of Christianity be one of the proper objects of Legislature, and powerfully to assist towards a fatal decision."—[p. 224.] It is clear that it has relations and reckonings with men in their national capacity. How are these relations to be conducted by a Government which has not a religion? The law is not the act nor the voice of an individual, nor of a number of individuals as such; but it is a public instrument proceeding from a public power, and that power the greatest upon earth, and yet, under the proposed system, that power will be without religion."—[Chap. 8, p. 286.] Those words, written many years ago, when the right hon. Gentleman was a strong Tory, full of youth and mental vigour, and when he was not permeated with that spirit of Party which had since beguiled him into making such a vast number of mistakes, were true now. England was the most religious country in the world. She had done more for religion, religious liberty, and toleration than any other country in the world; she propagated the Gospel in all parts of the world, and sent civilizing influences all over the globe, and she had a Parliament that was respected and honoured by every nation—a Parliament that commenced its work every day by Prayer; and yet, at the end of the 19th century, the Prime Minister, who had written in support of Church and State, was the leader in an attempt to alter the Oath of Allegiance so as to enable a limited, and a very limited, number of Atheists to take part in the legislation of this country, as Atheists. That would not be tolerated for one moment, and they had a right to expect from men like the Prime Minister and the Lord Chancellor, who had not hesitated in the past to declare their religious belief and opinions, very different guidance to that which they were now asked to follow. He had a painful recollection of the manner in which the Prime Minister, when he found himself in a minority in the earlier stages of this question, abdicated his position and the functions of his great Office which he held, and permitted the Leader of the Opposition to lead the House; but now he attempted to force the Bill upon the House and the country. England was the most tolerant country in the world; it made every allowance for the difficulties of the position in which its statesmen were placed. It forgave great mistakes; it condoned and sometimes it forgot them. It might forgive all that had happened in Ireland; it might forgot even that disastrous and disgraceful retreat after Majuba Hill; it might even forget the way in which the Suzerainty of their beloved Sovereign was now being treated in the Transvaal; but there was one thing it never would forget, knowing, as it did, the mercies, the benefits, and the blessings that it had received from that Almighty Being, whose they were, and whom they were bound to serve—it never would forget or forgive the man and the Government who struck down that name in order to bring into that House those who profanely and blasphemously declared that there was no God.


having taken the extreme step, which he felt could only be justified by very strong conviction, of dividing against the Motion that the Speaker leave the Chair previous to the introduction of the Bill, wished to say that he regarded this measure as a national insult to the God who had made us great, and as a disgrace to the country; and, therefore, he considered it to be his bounden duty to go into the Lobby on all occasions to vote against it. Although it was styled the Parliamentary Oaths Act Amendment Bill, its more correct title would be "The Bradlaugh Relief Bill." He trusted that this country was not to be reduced to the position of France, which was stated by Foote and Ramsey, the friends of Mr. Bradlaugh, on the occasion of the recent trial for blasphemy, to have been governed by Atheists for the last five years. In his opinion, Her Majesty's Government were responsible for this Bill, which had been introduced because, at the commencement of the Session, the House had been threatened by an ill-conditioned mob. He objected altogether to this "surrender of Bloomsbury," as it had been termed. Relief had been informer times given to those who had conscientious scruples as to taking an oath; but this was an Act to relieve a man who boasted that he did not believe in a God. He asked the House and the country at large, were they, at the bidding of Mr. Bradlaugh, to renounce the Christian religion of the country? Was it creditable to the Government to bring forward a Bill, not out of well-considered political convictions, but in deference to the threats of the mob who thronged Palace Yard on the opening of the Session? He appealed to hon. Gentlemen interested in Missions whether they were prepared to give a severe blow to all the denominations who sent to distant lands to preach the Gospel by admitting this man to the House. The Report of the Bible Society, to which, in common with many hon. Gentlemen opposite, he belonged, stated that the election of Mr. Bradlaugh had been a great hindrance to Christian Missions. He challenged the Government to appeal to the country on this question; and he implored the House not to sanction the measure which had been submitted to it.


said, there had been such gross misrepresentation that evening of the feeling of the people of Scotland, that he could scarcely allow the misstatements to go to the House unchallenged. It was said the constituencies of Scotland felt very strongly against the Government measure, and that the Representatives of Scotland were in a dilemma between their fear of hurting the Government to which they were attached, and the fear of their constituencies rising in revolt against themselves. All that was a complete misstatement. No Representatives in the House, however attached to Liberal principles and to the present Government, could be more perfectly independent of the Government than the Scottish Members. On the other hand, they know their constituencies were entirely Liberal, and entirely with their Representatives on this question; and, even if they had any reason to apprehend the feeling of the constituencies, the Scottish Members were so strong in their convictions that they would not be afraid to vote in favour of the Bill. It was said that the people of Scotland were a thoroughly religious people, and so they were; but they were also a thoroughly intelligent people, and they viewed this question in its true light. He was satisfied that the feeling of the large Scotch constituencies was distinctly in favour of the Bill. They had no fear of Atheism. They knew very well that, so long as the people of Scotland were thoroughly religious, there was no fear whatever of any infusion of unbelief from Scotland. He did not think any Scottish constituency would have re- junior Member for Northampton to the House; but, upon the other hand, they not only loft the Liberal Representatives free to take their own course in the matter, but they sent them to Parliament with the thorough knowledge of what their opinions were upon the subject. He could speak from his own experience. He had on different occasions addressed public meetings consisting of thousands of all opinions, and had avowed his views and course of action on the question, without a word of dissent or remonstrance, but the contrary. He should support the Bill, be-cause he saw nothing in it which was not in the lines of the Constitution and an act of justice. The Scotch Representatives would vote in the division on that question with the utmost confidence, not only that they were doing right, but that they carried their constituents entirely with them.


said, he had listened with great attention to the argument of the hon. and learned Attorney General in moving the second reading of the Bill; but he had not been able, at the conclusion of it, to ascertain whether in the hon. and learned Gentleman's view—which it would be an important thing for the House to know— whether his hon. and learned Friend thought that any alteration of the law was necessary. He had heard his hon. and learned Friend state that, according to his view, as the law stood at present, every hon. Member who was duly elected by his constituents had a right to go to the Table, and take the Oath, if he so pleased. If that was the hon. and learned Gentleman's view, he should like to ask him what was the necessity for this Bill? If it was intended, under cover of bringing in a Bill, to reverse the decision of that House, he could understand it. But if the hon. and learned Gentleman thought that the law, as it at present stood, allowed persons to take the Oath, without any inquiry into their religious belief, and that that was what his hon. and learned Friend thought ought to be the law, then he confessed he should have been glad to learn—as his hon. and learned Friend had as yet given no explanation—upon what grounds he thought the Bill was necessary at the present moment. In a political sense, he (Sir Hardinge Gif-fard) could quite understand how it was necessary; but, for the sake of his hon. and learned Friend's argument, he was unable to see to what that argument led. He did not wish, however, to leave his hon. and learned Friend in that dilemma; because he (Sir Hardinge Giffard) did not believe the law did permit persons to take the Oath, if they were incompetent to take it; and a cardinal fallacy into which his hon. and learned Friend and others had fallen during the debate was that kissing the Book and repeating certain words constituted the taking of an Oath. If the hon. and leagued Attorney General was right in that respect, they wore, of course, entitled to say that that which had raised the question originally, that which for three years had kept the House of Commons in debate, and that which alone raised the question now, was a question confined to Mr. Brad-laugh. If it had not been for Mr. Brad-laugh, according to the hon. and learned Attorney General, this question would not have arisen; and it could not arise in the future, unless some future Member elected by a constituency thought proper, at the time he took the Oath, to toll the House that he did not believe in it. That was their condition; and, therefore, this was a Bill not to remedy anything in the past, which the hon. and learned Attorney General objected to, not to remedy anything in the future, which might give rise to inquisitorial investigation into what people's religious opinions were, but, excluding the past and the future, it must be confined to Mr. Bradlaugh. That, he believed, was the truth. Then, why was it not avowed? Why did they have a form of general words? Why was the Bill not entitled—"A Bill to enable Mr. Bradlaugh to take his seat in the House of Commons?" That was what it really was. What was the object or the usefulness of the historical survey the hon. and learned Attorney General had given as to what the changes which from time to time had taken place in the Parliamentary Oath? The law at present was that a man should take an Oath or make an Affirmation, which, in the present state of judicial decision, might be assumed to be an Affirmation by a person who had a religious belief. Whatever other vicissitudes the law had undergone, that, at all events, was now clearly established. No Judge had been found to say that the Affirmation, which was given as the alternative to the Oath, was not an Affirmation which involved upon the person who took it no religious belief. Therefore, the state of the law at present was that the person himself either took the Oath, which, he (Sir Hardinge Giffard) contended, involved a religious belief, or made an Affirmation on the hypothesis that he had a religious belief, and that according to that religious belief it was wrong for him to take an Oath. It was desirable that the House should understand what the issue really was which was raised, because it could only be confused by such dissertations as that which they had had from the hon. and learned Attorney General that night. The hon. and learned Gentleman all through his speech used the phrase "religious test" and "religious difference," as if it was equivalent to the absence of any religion. Now, that the law had never stated and had never held. Why was it that in the Courts of Justice a person must take an Oath? The hon. and learned Attorney General could toll them of no Statute that involved it, or enacted it; but it was, nevertheless, the Common Law of the country. Why was it that a juror in this country must take an Oath? It was because the Common Law involved the necessity of persons acting upon a jury under the sanction of religion; and was it supposed to be less important to make laws than to administer them? The Crown and the Legislature, in both of its branches, by actual enactment must take an Oath— he was going to say of some kind or another—but he hesitated to use those words; because, although they exactly expressed what he meant, he found that equivalent words used by his hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Drummond Wolff) had been made the subject of a sneer, as if the hon. Member, in an irreverent manner, had supposed some Deity or another. But he had observed that while the hon. and learned Attorney General had, at one moment, referred to that point for the purpose of casting ridicule upon a state of belief which could speak in an irreverent manner of "some Deity or another," he, nevertheless, treated it subsequently as an argument which deserved attention. Now, what he (Sir Hardinge Giffard) intended to express was that, in some form or another, or in some kind of religious belief, this country had always insisted upon persons entrusted with office among them, pledging themselves to the due performance of the duties of that office under a solemn and religious sanction. [Mr. THOROLD ROGERS: No!] He said "Yes," and probably the House would hear more of that by-and-bye. The hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. T. Rogers) had been good enough to interrupt him; but the hon. Member would, perhaps, have an opportunity hereafter of explaining what he meant, not by inarticulate interruption, but by a fair statement of his views. He (Sir Hardinge Giffard) said that Christianity was part of the Common Law of this Kingdom, and it was because it was part of the Common Law of this Kingdom that persons must pledge their Oath in Courts of Justice. They did it as an appeal to a superior Power; and here let him remind the hon. and learned Attorney General that when he referred to those questions which had been raised as to what form the Oath was to be taken in, he was arguing against himself. That which the Judges had pointed out was the solemnity of the form, and the particular religious belief must be left to the person who took the Oath, but that the application of the Oath was universal, and so it continued down to the time when the Bill was introduced, which permitted, for the first time, persons to be examined about their religious belief by a Judge before they were permitted to be examined as witnesses. And why was that? It was because, as it was argued, when the Bill was introduced, and especially by Mr. Mill, that witnesses examined in Courts of Justice were not permitted, but compelled, to be examined, and not for their own sakes alone. In fact, the state of the law was such that those who were most deeply interested in the question were not permitted to be examined at all. The fact that they had an interest excluded them; and it had only been of recent years that that disqualification was withdrawn. But the obligation to take the Oath before a man could be examined as a witness was universal, no matter what the form was in which the person was sworn—whether by breaking a saucer, or by any other performance, such as some of them had seen in Courts of Justice. It must be something that was binding on the conscience, and witnesses were to be under some solemn obligation of religion which involved their responsibility hereafter for what they might say and do. That was the universal obligation. Then, he wanted to know why they had, as it was said, got rid of religious tests in the sense—in the wider and more catholic sense of what was religion, and what the obligations were which religion involved— whether, in point of fact, they were committed to the proposition that they were not to insist upon any religious qualification at all? If that was the proposition, how far were they to go? Were jurors to be exempt? Were they no longer to be compelled to take an Oath, or to make a religious Affirmation? Was the Crown to be exempt, and the Members of the Legislature? Let him remind his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General that, to a very large body of Christians, the fact that the Oath was voluntary rendered it lawful, if it was compelled to be taken by the civil magistrates; but once make it unlawful, and such persons would feel they need not take it, and they would not take it, and they ought not to take it. Therefore, if they had this system of doing away with any religious provision at all in their most solemn acts, what would be the result? Was the House to continue to commence its proceedings by prayer? [Cries of "No!"] Hon. Members opposite said "No!" That was quite consistent; but it was very desirable that the country should understand what they were doing, if they were abrogating any provision for religion, and if they were refusing to recognize the fact that there was something beyond and above them in this world. It was well the country should understand that, for the sake of Mr. Bradlaugh, the House and the country were to be committed to a system which was to discourage the provision of religion among them. The familiar argument they had heard from the hon. and learned Attorney General, who had trotted out Wilkes's case over and over again, was susceptible of an easy answer. The law, as it stood, told every constituency that their Representative must take an Oath or make a solemn Affirmation. The hon. and learned Attorney General said the constituencies had no notice of that. But it was the law as it stood; and, in his own Bill itself, his hon. and learned Friend assumed that it was the law. Then, with out applying his(Sir Hardinge Giffard's) observations to the constituency of Northampton in particular—for it would be almost grotesque to do that—every constituency ought to know that every Member returned to Parliament, before he could take his seat, must go to the Table and make a solemn Affirmation or take an Oath. Then, would the hon. and learned Attorney General say that it was lawful for a man, at the time that he took the Oath, to tell them that it had no binding effect upon his conscience? Would the hon. and learned Gentleman say in any Court of Law, before Denman's Act was passed, that a man could go into a Court of Justice and say—"I am prepared to kiss the Book and to repeat the words of the Oath; but I do not believe one word of it." The hon. and learned Attorney General knew perfectly well that in such a case the Oath of the man so taking it would be rejected. Aye, and further, if it had been a question of dispute—if the man had professed a religious belief, and it had been pressed on the other side that he was not a person who had a religious belief, the Judge must have tried the question and made up his mind whether the man had a religious belief or not before he permitted him to be sworn. If that assertion was denied, he could quote various judicial authorities in support of it; but he did not apprehend that it would be denied. Well, what were they to do now? They were asked to do that which the hon. and learned Attorney General said was unnecessary; and what would happen in the future was this—that anybody who pleased might go up to the Table and say—"I prefer to make a solemn declaration." What was the meaning of the word "solemn?" Did it mean an appeal to a higher Power? [Cries of "No!"] Then, excluding that supposition, what was there solemn about it? There was the form. In the equivalent case of a man going into a Court of Justice and saying—"I want to make the declaration provided by Denman's Act," the Judge had to satisfy himself, by an examination of the person, that, according to his views, an Oath would have no binding effect upon his conscience. The hon. and learned Attorney General had not followed that example. He had not suggested that they should ask a person going to the Table whether, according to his views, an Oath had any binding effect upon his conscience. That was passed by. And why? Was it merely to ascertain whether a person had religious views, or not, and that the House should not proceed to inquire whether the man had any religious belief or not in the House of Commons, although, in any other position in life, on taking an office, such an inquiry would be necessary? If that was the object, why not say so, and tell the House of Commons and the country that that was what they meant, and that their object was to exclude religion from the House of Commons? That was one of the things they desired to do by the present Bill. He quite agreed that no man could be examined about his religion. It was commonly understood that religion was a matter between a man and his Creator. He believed that proposition would be gladly accepted by the country; but the question was, whether they could inquire if a man had any religion at all; whether that which had long been treated by the Constitution as the basis of civil government could be excluded from inquiry in regard to a seat in Parliament? It was admitted that the Constitution was based upon religion, and that, at that moment, it was part of the Common Law of the land, and persons who railed against Christianity were liable to indictment. They were now about to pass an Act of Parliament which would enable a person, who was an avowed and aggressive blasphemer, who had avowed his disbelief in anything sacred, and who had made himself conspicuous in the country for doing that which rendered him subject to indictment, because he had railed against religion, which was the Common Law of the land—they were to allow that person to become one of the makers of the law, because they would not permit any inquiry into his religious belief. He (Sir Hardinge Giffard) declared that that was contrary to the whole practice and policy of what they had done in the past. They had called on persons to pledge their solemn promise in various forms. They might have drawn the test too tight. That was quite possible; but if those who were responsible for drawing the Act of 1866 meant, by the generality of the words they used, to allow afterwards something that would get rid of the obligation of the Oath, altogether, they were not candid in the manner in which they brought forward the matter in the House of Commons, because it was only considered as a desirable change from two into one of the different Oaths which a Member had to take. Certainly, the legislation of 1866 was not directed towards anything in the nature of the abolition of Oaths altogether. And now let him ask the hon. and learned Attorney General what alteration in the law, as it now stood, he supposed would be brought about by this Bill? He (Sir Hardinge Giffard) should like to learn that from his hon. and learned Friend. He had pointed out that, according to the view of the hon. and learned Attorney General, it was unnecessary. What alteration in practice would take place if the Bill were passed? Was it anybody else but Mr. Bradlaugh who was pointed at by the Bill? He would like some hon. Gentleman on the other side of the House to be good enough to say whether that was so or not. What possible contingency was the Bill supposed to meet, except Mr. Bradlaugh's case? Then, if that were so, he had endeavoured to show that the Bill struck a very serious blow at the religious profession of the country, and it would have no operation except bringing Mr. Bradlaugh into the House of Commons. Just let them see what the history of the transaction was. The first Resolution of the House of Commons was that Mr. Bradlaugh should not be permitted to take the Oath. Then there was a Resolution that he might be permitted to make an Affirmation, which they were informed at the time, with great confidence, was perfectly legal; but he believed that that great confidence had since been very much shaken. For three years the question had been debated over and over again, and at last Mr. Bradlaugh said—"I will not be juggled with any longer. I will bring down a mob of people to the House of Commons, and you shall pass an Act of Parliament to admit me." He (Sir Hardinge Giffard) did not say that this Bill was introduced in consequence of that threat; but it was introduced immediately after it. He had no right to say it was in consequence of it, because, at present, that had neither been avowed ' nor denied; and he did not know, therefore, what counsels there might have been which induced Her Majesty's Government to bring forward this Bill. But he knew this—that in the Press which was devoted to Mr. Bradlaugh's cause, not long ago, there appeared an article, in which it was stated that the people would not be juggled with any longer, but that they would pull down the Park railings again; and then, perhaps, the Government, which had been shuffling and quibbling, would meet them, and do at last what, in fact, they had promised to do before. Again, he did not say the Bill was introduced in consequence of that; but immediately after that came the appointment of the second reading of the Bill for that night. He believed it was the feeling of a great many people that, at all events, the Government should explain very distinctly that they had not been acted upon in that way, and undoubtedly the impression that they had been so acted upon might produce serious mischief. He did not accuse them of having been so acted upon, and it was quite possible that they might explain why they had taken their present course; but, undoubtedly, the country and the House had a right to ask why, if Her Majesty's Government thought that an alteration of the law was necessary, it was not carried into effect three years ago; and why it was done now, when the hon. and learned Attorney General could give no other reason for it than to point to the one instance of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Brad-laugh), and say—"Some Member has been elected by a constituency, and has not been permitted to take his seat." Under these circumstances, it seemed that these were matters which most urgently called for explanation from Her Majesty's Government. It was a question which could not be muffled or cloaked. The question was, whether Her Majesty's Government had yielded to the pressure of Mr. Bradlaugh; and, if so, whether it had yielded to that pressure in this sense—that, rather than lose the support of Mr. Bradlaugh and his friends, they were willing to surrender the religious character of the House of Commons and of the country.


said, that various hon. Members who had addressed the House had availed themselves of the occasion to allude to past history in regard to religious toleration. He had looked forward to the debate with some anxiety, because he knew that there had been in the sad records of the past much that showed that political rancour and religious bigotry had been let loose more freely and with less restraint upon questions of religious tests than almost upon any other subject that had ever been brought before Parliament. He wished, if it wore possible, that they could keep themselves entirely free from any such spirit on this occasion; but ha was afraid that the "drum ecclesiastic" had been beaten too actively on this occasion to encourage the hope that this spirit would not manifest itself in the House of Commons. There was, no doubt, some difficulty in the House calmly considering its duty on that occasion. The functions of the House were of such a character as to land them in such difficulties. It was the belief of many hon. Members in that House that some of the highest functions of Parliament were the government of the Established Church of the country; and that, in order that the affairs of that Church might be properly maintained, civil disabilities must still prevail in the House, rather than any inconvenience or danger should arise to the Established Church. But no one could deny that the chief functions of the House related to the secular concerns of the country; and his position was, that the selection of any Member by a constituency, who was not disqualified by law, was the function and right of that constituency, who were entitled to send to Parliament any man who, although he might avow himself an Atheist, was regarded by them as the fittest person to represent them. That was the simple proposition laid down by the constituency of Northampton at that moment, and it had been pressed upon the House for some years back. He would not attempt to go into the technicalities of the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite the Member for Launceston (Sir Hardinge Giffard), who had just spoken. But if he might venture to speak for a considerable number of those in the country, who were as earnest in the defence of what they believed to be the interests of truth and religion as hon. Members on the other side of the House who had spoken that night upon this question, he would venture to say that there was perfect unanimity among them as to the course which the House of Commons was called upon to take upon this occasion. He was glad to hear from his hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen (Mr. Webster) that he was able to qualify to so largo an extent the views which had been put forward on the other side of the House in reference to the feeling upon this question which existed in Scotland. It might be true that there was amongst certain sections in Scotland, represented by the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho) and other hon. Members, a feeling that a Representative sent to that House, because, unfortunately, he did not profess and hold the Christian religion, should be excluded from that House; but they knew that the same class of persons in Scotland had opposed the admission of Roman Catholics into the House of Commons, and also, at a later date, the admission of the Jews. They might have seen their error upon the latter point; but if they were to refrain from doing their duty now, it would be fatal to the course which had been taken in regard to the Jews and Roman Catholics, and Jews and Roman Catholics could have no right in that House, although some of the latter -were now occupying whole Benches on the other side of the House. He believed that the great mass of the Dissenters of the country, when the debate was thrashed out, would be found ready to support the Government, as taking the only fair and legitimate course which could be taken in these days at least—namely, that of allowing Mr. Bradlaugh, it might be after another election, to take his seat. Did they intend to maintain this spirit of exclusion? Suppose other constituencies took the same course as that of Northampton, was the House of Commons going to disfranchise one constituency after another, because the members of such constituencies elected happened to be Atheists? If that was to be the case, Parliament must go a great deal further. Parliament did not hesitate to call upon any individual who was elected to discharge every function which appertained to him; and he was entitled to ask why there should be any restriction or curtailment of those rights, when a constituency was called upon to select a Member to represent them in the Commons House of Parliament? He asked the House to consider carefully what good had resulted from the course which had already been taken upon this question? Could it be said that Christianity had been benefited by the discussions which had taken place? Reference had been made to the personal opinions of Mr. Bradlaugh. He had nothing whatever to do with those personal opinions. It was enough for him that Mr. Bradlaugh was legitimately elected a Member for the constituency of Northampton. That would be an impediment to him, and ought to be so to all other hon. Gentlemen, in raising an objection to his individual opinions, just as it would be to raising any question as to the religious views of any other hon. Member. But a certain book had been referred to, with which the name of Mr. Bradlaugh was very intimately associated. He was told, on what he believed to be good authority, although it did not come directly from the hon. Member himself, that the circulation of that book, since the action taken by the House of Commons, had been increased a hundred fold. What was before obscure, and not known to one Member of that House, or to 50 persons in the country, was now read by hundreds of thousands, and the book was circulated by many hundreds of thousands. Whatever influence in the future Atheism might have, that influence would have been brought about by the bigotry of the House of Commons, or of a section of that House. But for the action taken by the House of Commons it would have been impossible for persons professing the views of Atheists to have exercised influence and political power in this country. He deeply regretted to see that the Clergy of the Established Church had lent themselves to petitioning, and not only to petitioning, but to moving the people they could influence so largely on this question. For the sake of the Christianity which they and he professed in common, he deeply deplored it. Had they had the true interests of Christianity at heart, he believed their wisest course would have been to have abstained from magnifying this incident of the election of an Atheist to the House of Commons, but to have pressed upon all whom they could influence the propriety of Con- ceding what were undoubtedly the rights of the electors of Northampton, and to have permitted Mr. Bradlaugh to take j his seat within that House. He believed Mr. Bradlaugh would not have obtruded his religion or his non-religion. It was only because that course had been forced upon him and his adherents outside by the injustice shown to him that his influence had been increased. Within the walls of that House, he believed that Mr. Bradlaugh would act in a manner that would commend him to the goodwill of Parliament. Further than that, he was convinced that, as far as Mr. Bradlaugh's feelings towards Christians were concerned, he was infinitely more likely to respect Christianity on seeing a disposition displayed to act justly towards him, rather than by finding a spirit of injustice, intolerance, and bigotry such as had been manifested in the House that night. He (Mr. Illing-worth) did not hesitate to say that it was to the Dissenters and the great Nonconforming Bodies of the country in the past that they owed the removal of all the religious tests which had gone by the board; and it was to the Nonconformists of the country, to their staunchness and fidelity to principles that they had a security that would not fail in the hour of need and difficulty to carry this question, and establish absolute religious liberty in regard to the rights of all classes in that Assembly. It was impossible to say what might be the course of the debate, and what the results of this Bill might be. [Laughter.] It was quite allowable to hon. Members on the other side, who were in a constant minority in the House, to indulge in anticipation as to what the majority would be; but, whether the second reading of the Bill was carried on that occasion or not, the House might rest assured that its effect in history would be precisely similar to that of the great conflicts which had taken place on Catholic Emancipation and the introduction of Jews into that House. He could only express his deep regret that there were recreant Members of the Jewish community. [Cries of "Oh!"]


I rise to Order. I wish to know whether the term "recreant Members" ought to be applied by one Member of the House towards another?


I hope the hon. Member for Bradford will see that the expression is out of Order.


said, he did not use the expression in any offensive sense. [Cries of "Withdraw!"] If it was understood in that sense, he withdrew it unequivocally. He had only used it in order to say that he did not understand why hon. Members of that faith who had enjoyed the privileges won for them by those who alone had understood in the past the true principles of religious liberty, and who fought for them on that ground, should be so forgetful, so ungracious, and so ungrateful, as to be found, upon an occasion like this, among the adherents of that historical Party who fought far more tenaciously for their exclusion from the House of Commons than they would be able to do for the exclusion of Mr. Bradlaugh.

Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned,"—(Sir H. Drummond Wolff,)—put, and agreed to.

Debate adjourned till Thursday.