§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [23rd April], "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ And which Amendment was, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Sir R. Assheton Cross.)
§ Question again proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ Debate resumed.
§ SIR H. DRUMMOND WOLFF
said, the discussion in which they were engaged was unusually important, because they were asked not only to pass a Bill which would enfranchise the junior Member for Northampton, but to agree to a measure which would admit into the House a class hitherto unable to take the Oath. They were asked, on the present occasion, not to extend toleration to persons of other creeds than that professed by the majority of hon. Members, but to divorce the House from the very elements of religion. The Attorney General had informed the House that Peers might be summoned to the House 1168 of Lords who were known to hold views not entertained by the Christian community, and that if they chose to take the Oath and their seats they could do so without hindrance. He should like to know upon what basis the hon. and learned Gentleman founded the dictum that the House of Lords could not prevent a Peer taking his place under circumstances similar to those in which Mr. Bradlaugh stood in relation to the House of Commons. For his part, he believed that if a Peer were summoned to the House of Lords, and were to inform the Clerks at the Table that he claimed exemption from the Oath on the ground that he could not admit its binding force, the House of Lords would be quite entitled to refuse to administer the Oath to him; and if he should take his seat without taking the Oath, although he would not expose himself to the penalty of losing his seat, he would render himself liable to the pecuniary penalties which could be recovered in such a case if the Attorney General decided to set the law in motion. That view of the law, he might add, was entertained by high authorities. The Attorney General represented Lord Campbell as laying down that the words "So help me God" formed no part of the Oath; but in the Statute which enacted the Oath the words "So help me God" were included within inverted commas together with the other words of the Oath. The House was discussing an Act passed in 1866; and how Lord Campbell, who died in 1861, could have uttered a dictum by which an Act placed on the Statute Book after his death ought to be interpreted passed his comprehension. If his hon. and learned Friend had referred to the Act itself he would have seen that the words in question did form part of the Oath, for they were distinctly included in the words which Members were required to subscribe on taking their seats. The opinion of the Lord Chancellor was opposed to that of the Attorney General, for the noble and learned Lord recently laid down that—All previous enactments relating to oaths were repealed by the Statute of 1866, which was, therefore, the only law now in force upon this subject. The question was considered in the Court of Appeal without reference to any repealed Statutes, and in the same way as if there had been no prior legislation on the subject.1169 The Attorney General went on to say that the disqualification of a Member in consequence of proceedings connected with the Oath ought to be direct, and that direct notice of it ought to be given to the constituency electing him. But he would point out that there was a great distinction between a man's right to election and his right to take his seat and vote. The truth of that was shown by what took place in 1864. In 1859 a law was passed in connection with the affairs of India for the purpose of limiting the number of Under Secretaries who could take seats in that House. By some oversight the number was exceeded in 1864, and a Committee was appointed to inquire whether the extra Under Secretary lost his seat in consequence or not; and it was decided that though the Under Secretary had been duly elected, and had not forfeited his seat, he could not vote. The disqualification under which Mr. Bradlaugh laboured must have been known to his constituents at the time of his election. Mr. Bradlaugh was a very intelligent man. He knew the law very well, and he must have known that the Common Law of the land did prohibit an Atheist from taking an Oath; and, being a professed Atheist, he must have been aware that unless he concealed the fact of his Atheism when he came to the Table of the House he would not be entitled to take the Oath, however often he might have been elected by the people of Northampton. The Evidence Amendment Act, it should be borne in mind, was not passed for the purpose of relieving Atheists, but for the purpose of furthering the ends of justice by exposing an Atheist who should give false evidence after having affirmed to the penalties imposed for perjury. But it was impossible to affix those penalties to the Oath that had to be taken before this House, which was merely binding on the conscience of the person taking it. Therefore, it was useless to take the Evidence Amendment Act as affording any sort of analogy to the Oath to be taken before the House. The case of the admission of Jews and Roman Catholics was not a parallel one, though often quoted, and no analogy was to be drawn from it to the case of Mr. Bradlaugh, because there it was a question between believers in a common God, while here it was one between believers and unbe- 1170 lievers. Neither Jews nor Catholics asked to be admitted to the House for the purpose of destroying the religion of others; they only asked, as believers, to be placed on the same footing as other believers, although there were some differences in their belief. At the present time the whole of the Atheists in this country were directing the most violent attacks against the dominant religion; and the hon. Member for Northampton was put forward by the school of writers to which he belonged as the champion of Atheism against Christianity and the belief in a God. On the 10th of February The Secular Review wrote that Christianity was about to fight one of the last of its pitched battles, and make one of the last of its struggles for the sanctity of its God, and one of its last efforts to impose its Oath upon the credulity of the ignorant. That was the prologue to the attempt now made by the Government in this Bill to enable Atheists to come into the House of Commons. It was perfectly plain, from the writings of Atheists, that they were not merely asking for equality with other persons, but that it was their desire to make use of their entry into the House to damage or destroy the existing religions of the country. He maintained that no arguments founded on religion, freedom, and toleration were applicable to the case of men who do-sired to enter the House only that they might do injury to religion, and carry on their attacks against religions and beliefs. Theists acknowledged a Supreme Power and a law greater than themselves; but the Affirmation under this Bill gave no security, for it was based on the denial of God, and, therefore, there was no guarantee that it would be carried out. He wished to call attention to the course of conduct which had been pursued by the Lord Chancellor with reference to these transactions. He did so with every respect for the Lord Chancellor's high Office; but the House would see that, by his acts and words, his Office as Minister had been brought into collision with the due administration of justice. In 1866 the noble and learned Earl, then Sir Roundell Palmer, was Attorney General when the Parliamentary Oaths Bill was introduced. It was brought in by the present Prime Minister, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Sir Roundell Palmer defended it against Amendments brought forward by Mr. 1171 Disraeli and Sir Hugh Cairns. Sir Roundell Palmer must have known the effect of a Bill, of which he was one of the authors, being brought in by a Government of which he was the Law Adviser. When the Resolution allowing the Member for Northampton or any other Atheist to make Affirmation, subject to any legal liability that might attach to the Act, was brought in by the Prime Minister in 1880, the right hon. Gentleman said that it was a sense of the stringency of the obligation which had induced him and his Colleagues to take that matter into consideration, and which then induced him to submit that proposal to the House. The question had, therefore, been then fully considered by the Prime Minister and his Colleagues, including the Attorney General of 1866, who had advocated and probably counselled the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister observed, in conclusion—It is well he should he left to be tried by the tribunals of the country, which have full means of conducting the trial, and which will acquit or condemn him according to law.When a question was raised as to Mr. Bradlaugh's liability to be sued in a Court of Law, the Solicitor General made use of language which conveyed to the House the impression that there was a liability, under the Statute, to be sued by a common informer. If the Government had then considered the question, why did they allow the Solicitor General to make that statement? And if they had not considered it, surely the Lord Chancellor was not the proper person to judge between the country and Mr. Bradlaugh. Had the Solicitor General not stated that Mr. Bradlaugh was liable to be prosecuted by an informer, the House would probably not have agreed to the Resolution permitting him to affirm, because the House would not have considered that a Government which advocated the cause of Mr. Bradlaugh would be likely to prosecute him. At all events, Her Majesty's Government had no right to allow the House to remain under the impression, which was uncontradicted at the time, and had not been contradicted till the present time, that the statement of law by the Solicitor General was correct. But the Government had availed themselves of the misleading statement of the Solicitor General, 1172 and it was not the first time that the House had seen the Government sit quiet when misleading statements were made and take advantage of them. They knew what the Government did in the case of the Kilmainham Treaty. On the 30th of March the Bradlaugh case came before the Court of Appeal, which confirmed the judgment of Mr. Justice Mathow that an Affirmation could not be made. There was then no further appeal but to the Lord Chancellor, and he was, at the time, practically seized of the question from the fact that there was no other Court than that in which he sat which could possibly decide it. The Lord Chancellor took that opportunity of writing a letter to a friend, in which he said—I hare never had the slightest difference, or tendency to a difference, with my Colleagues in the Government on any question relating to Parliamentary Oaths or Affirmations, whether connected or not with Mr. Bradlaugh's case.Bearing in mind that the Prime Minister had told them that he and his Colleagues had considered the question, and that the Solicitor General had stated that Mr. Bradlaugh could be prosecuted by a common informer, what were they to conclude when the Lord Chancellor said that he had never differed from his Colleagues on this question? Did he agree with the Prime Minister that the subject had been considered by the Government and by the Solicitor General, and that a common informer could prosecute? But when the case came on for judicial decision on a question in which the Government, of which the Lord Chancellor was a Member, was so vitally concerned, the Lord Chancellor ought, in his opinion, to have withdrawn himself from the trial of the case altogether. He (Sir H. Drummond Wolff) was sorry to say he did not do so; and the noble Earl's example had been followed by another Judge, not Ministerial, whom he would not mention by name, but who had recently taken the opportunity to give utterance to political opinions in the midst of a great judicial judgment. The Lord Chancellor had, it was true, written to the papers to the effect that he would not be responsible for the publication of that letter. That reminded him of the doctrine put forward by Molière in Tartuffe—"Ce n'est pas pécker que pécker en silence." The doc- 1173 trine that a fault committed in silence was no fault at all might be suitable for Tartuffe; but it was scarcely worthy the adoption of the Keeper of the Queen's Conscience. One argument for the Bill was based on the fact that Affirmations were permitted to Quakers. Their Affirmation was accepted, because it was known that their consciences were governed by the same laws as governed the minds of others; but there was no security for the observance of Mr. Bradlaugh's Affirmation, because it was based on the denial of a God. The only security they had that the Affirmation would be carried out thus depended upon the arbitrary will of the person who made it. When this question first came before the House he ventured to oppose the entry of the hon. Member for Northampton on grounds very similar to those which he had now stated. The opposition then given to the introduction of Mr. Bradlaugh had now received the approbation of the vast majority of the people of the country—of the clergy as well as the laity. The Petitions which had been presented were certainly five against the Bill for every one in favour of it. They knew that the Wesleyan ministers and people were both, in a large majority, opposed to the Bill. ["No!"] He could not quite take the hon. Member's denial upon this point, because he himself spoke from statistics about which there could be no doubt, whereas the hon. Member spoke from personal feeling. In the same way, the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho) had truly expressed the feeling of Scotland by instancing the opinions of the religious bodies, when he stated that Scotland was opposed to the Bill; whereas the hon. Member for Aberdeen (Mr. Webster) had asserted that his country was in favour of the measure, not because of his own knowledge, but because he was in its favour himself. He had no hesitation in asserting that public opinion was generally against this Bill; and it was because he believed that public opinion was against the measure, and because he believed that it shocked the feeling of the greater portion of the population of this country, and certainly was contrary to the views and principles that had been inculcated in that House since it was a House, that he should give the Bill his most strenuous opposition.
Sir, strictly speaking, it is no part of my duty to do more than to follow, as well as I can, the arguments which have been used against this Bill. It appears to me, however, that while the real issue to be dealt with is not a very wide one, the debate has been extraordinarily prolonged by the introduction into it of extraneous matter. The debate has, undoubtedly, been an animated one. On the other side of the House all that sarcasm and invective could do, all the interest which could be supplied by assaults on the Government and by lengthened details of its iniquitous proceedings, has been called into requisition, I will not say with the purpose, but undoubtedly with the effect, of very greatly widening the field of contention, without, I think, the compensating effect of clearing the judgment of hon. Members. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has made a most temperate speech, and in consequence he cannot have failed to perceive that the portion of the discussion which was occupied with his speech was less animated than most of the debate during which Gentlemen on his side of the House were speaking. I may say, however, that I do not defend my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor against his invective. I leave him subject to the whole weight of the censure which has been pronounced by the hon. Member, although, being an argumentative censure, it might, perhaps, have not been difficult to defend the noble and learned Lord. The hon. Member has said but two things that really bear upon the question at issue, or which could possibly be held to be in the nature of an argument against the Bill. One is that the voice of the country, as shown by Petitions, is against the Bill, and the other is that by the law at this moment an Atheist cannot sit in the House. [Lord RANDOLPH CHURCHILL: An avowed Atheist.] Of course, I do not speak of persons whose opinions are concealed. My contention is exactly the reverse of the hon. Member's. I will not say what is the intention of the law, because with that I have nothing to do; but I say that there is no legislative power whatever that can prevent Atheists duly elected from sitting in this House; and I think, moreover, that the hon. Member himself will meet me so far as to say that it was an acci- 1175 dent—for it is an accident relatively to this argument—that led to the disclosure of Mr. Bradlaugh's opinions, and 'which enabled the steps to be taken which excluded Mr. Bradlaugh from this House. But an Atheist, however notorious, who has published in the columns of the newspapers of the very morning that he comes to the Table of this House to take the Oath the fullest declaration of his Atheism, is not a person whom the hon. Gentleman, or this House, has any power whatever to exclude. If he—whether well-advised or ill-advised is not the question—chooses to take the Oath, there is no power whatever to prevent him. As I have said, there are many collateral matters which have been introduced into this debate, and some of them it is my duty to notice. The debate has proceeded so far that it has become perfectly practicable to understand, after the lucid statement of my hon. and learned Friend near mo (the Attorney General), what is the tone and what are the objections of those who are against the Bill. In the first place, it has been said that this Bill ought to have been mentioned in the Queen's Speech, and the Government have been complained of for not having given it a place in that Speech. In our view, however, this was a Bill which ought not to have been mentioned in the Queen's Speech. It is the duty of the Government, before they advise Her Majesty as to Her Speech, to make choice, according to the legislative requirements of the country, of certain topics which they think it is within the power of the House of Commons and most for the interest of the country to deal with; and they should make their choice upon grounds of broad and general interest. This, Sir, is a question in quite a different category. My noble Friend the Secretary of State for War signified—and, I think, with perfect truth—that this was not a question to which, on general grounds of legislative urgency, it would be our duty to give precedence over the multitude of general subjects now standing in arrear. This measure is of a totally different character; it is a question upon which it was our duty to consider what was the position of the House of Commons, just as last year it was our duty to consider the position of the House with regard to the question of procedure, and to invite the House 1176 to deal with it even to the prejudice of the legislation of the year. We thought it did appertain, both to the dignity of the House of Commons and to the interest of the country, that this painful controversy which has subsisted so long should be brought to a close, and that there should be no longer the temptation which has existed in this House to deal with matters strictly judicial in a temper and with indications not always presenting the best features of the judicial character. We thought, Sir, that such scenes as have been witnessed here, when the dignity of the House and directions of the House have had to be supported by physical force, ought not to be repeated—and ought not to be repeated especially when we had reason to believe that increased pain and increased scandal might attend ^their repetition. It was, therefore, on grounds special to the position of the House of Commons in this matter that we thought this question entitled to take precedence of some others, and to be a primary one in regard to the procedure of this House, although it was a secondary one in its dignity so far as the order of legislation was concerned. And, Sir, I may just remind the House that a precisely similar occasion, except that it was, I admit, far less pressing, occurred in the year 1854. In that year Lord John Russell, as Leader in this House, on the part of the Government of Lord Aberdeen, introduced a Bill for the purpose of altering the Parliamentary Oaths Act, with a view to the further relief of Roman Catholics, and to the general simplification of the Oath. That, certainly, was a Bill of much wider scope than the present, for it went to re-cast the law with regard to the duties of Members generally; and it corresponded in substance with the Bill afterwards introduced and passed, and now forming the fundamental Statute on the subject—the Act of 1866. And yet that Bill of 1854 was never mentioned in the Speech from the Throne. Well, Sir, I am afraid that, after what we have heard from some Gentlemen opposite, and, most of all, from the right hon. Gentleman the late Home Secretary (Sir R. Assheton Cross), I shall make a very dull, unexciting, and uninteresting speech; for, unlike him, I do not mean to accuse anybody of anything. Nor shall I travel in detail over the numerous 1177 points of the vehement attack of the right hon. Gentleman. I will, however, refer to a single point. The right hon. Gentleman said that we had deprived our Bill of retrospective action; that the Bill introduced in 1880 included retrospective action, and that this change was, on our part, in the moderate language that the right hon. Gentleman thought fit to adopt, "a most despicable trick." Let me explain this "despicable trick." In the year 1880 the law had never been determined on the optional right of a Member to affirm. Consequently, Mr. Bradlaugh, who sought to affirm, had been returned by his constituents without any knowledge on their part that he was precluded from taking his seat by affirming. That being so, when we thought it expedient to ask the House to change the existing law, we thought it right also that that change should be made retrospective, so that his constituents, who have committed no offence against the known law of the land, might not suffer. But the case now is fundamentally changed. I am not finding fault with the constituency—it is no part of my duty to do so—but the case now is this—that the Courts of Justice have declared that Mr. Bradlaugh is not entitled to affirm. The constituency returned Mr. Bradlaugh a second time, with the full knowledge that that declaration of the law had been made; and we therefore considered that we should not ask the House to make the present Bill retrospective in its action. The constituency before was unwarned; the constituency now is forewarned. We deal in one way with the constituency unwarned. We deal in another way with the constituency forewarned; and that is what the right hon. Gentleman, in his moderation of language, thinks fit to characterize as a "most despicable trick."
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
I was referring to the Bill as brought in this year. I said after the constituency had learnt that Mr. Bradlaugh could not take his seat they elected him again, and that to bring in the Bill of this year, after that, was a despicable trick.
It seems to me that it is an extraordinary doctrine to hold, that if a Government, upon full and further consideration of the particulars bearing upon a point of this kind, sees cause to come to a certain 1178 conclusion, that that is a "despicable trick." The question is—Is the conclusion a right one or a wrong one? If the conclusion is a right one, I want to know what title the right hon. Gentleman has to characterize it, in his moderate language, as a "despicable trick?" The ground upon which we make, or propose to make, an alteration in the Bill is the ground I have stated. Now, it is said—"You ought not to alter the law for the sake of one person." But it so happens that these laws are commonly altered for the sake of one person. It is in the case of some one person that a principle is raised and a matter brought to an issue. Was not the case of Mr. O'Connell a case in point? ["No!" from some Irish Members.] I say, upon the Parliamentary history of the question, there is nothing more clear or better known than this—that it was the election of Mr. O'Connell for the county of Clare that brought the Roman Catholic question to an issue; and now the allegation is not that Mr. Bradlaugh has nobody behind him, but that his is the sole case presented. Certainly, I must say that this is a curious objection to proceed from the Party opposite, because it has had to deal with the question of removing religious disabilities. After having most stoutly opposed the admission of Jews to Parliament, upon principles quite as high, and with motives quite as conscientious, as those on which they are now acting, when they came into Office they introduced a Bill for their admission. And how did that Bill run? It ran in this precise form. It makes provision for altering the law and Rules of the Houses of Parliament upon the presentation of one person. I will not read the whole of the clause; but it runs thus—"When it shall appear that a person"—a person—[Cries of "Temporary."] It was nothing of the kind. If the hon. and learned Member opposite will have the kindness to wait a moment he will see from the following part that it is an act to be done once for all, and not an act to he done from time to time, and, consequently, an act to be done when the case should arise as to one person. The clause provides that—When it shall appear to either House of Parliament that a person is prevented from taking his seat," by the then condition of the law, "such House may resolve that henceforth any person1179 may come and take his seat upon the conditions therein provided. So that the law was fixed by each House; and it was deliberately arranged by the action of a Government representing the views of Gentlemen opposite that when a Jew was found to be excluded by the state of the law, it was thenceforward open to each House, if it thought fit, to admit, once for all, that Jew, and every other Jew after him, who should apply to he admitted. Now, we are asked, what is to done about Peers? What is to be done about aliens and about felons? I am not sure the objection did not proceed from some legal authority, that if we pass this Bill, we should he in a difficult position with regard to the present disqualification of aliens, felons, or Peers. [Lord RANDOLPH CHURCHILL: The clergy.] No; I beg pardon. The case of clergymen I put upon an entirely different footing altogether. I gather from the interruption of the noble Lord that he thinks it is a matter of high and sacred duty to rigid Constitutional principles to exclude clergymen from this House. I hold it, on the contrary, to he a matter exceedingly open to discussion, and merely a policy of expediency, involving no Constitutional principle whatever. But with regard to aliens, Peers, and felons—though I am sorry to place the Peers in such company—their disqualification rests upon the ancient and well-understood principles of the Common Law of England. The disqualification of the unbeliever rests upon nothing of the sort. I think my hon. and learned Friend the other night distinctly demonstrated that by the Common Law of England there is no disqualification of this character. I know it is said that Christianity is part of the Common Law; but am I to be told that, if it is so, every man who is not a Christian is an offender against the Common Law? If so, it is an extraordinary mode of interpreting the law. But it has been shown that no Oath or religious test of any kind was ever used by this House as a condition precedent to entrance into it until the Reign of Elizabeth; and that, when an Oath was then introduced, it was not introduced in the slightest degree as a religious test. [Mr. NEWDEGATE signified dissent.] I will show my hon. Friend—if he will allow me to call him so, and I think, after having sat opposite to him for 40 years, I am 1180 entitled to use that term—I will show my hon. Friend that it is so. I will give a proof of that, and it is that the religious test was then applied to Commoners only and not to Peers, and the Act of Parliament declared the reason why it was applied to Commoners and not to Peers. "Because"—so ran the Act—"we are otherwise persuaded, by sufficient means, of the loyalty of the Peers." Therefore, it was a simple mode of ascertaining loyalty to the institutions of the country, and not of imposing religious disability. I venture to say, as a matter of history, that that was the principle of our law down to the year 1828. If that be so, I think it will be very difficult to maintain that there is any disqualification of the unbeliever by the Common Law of England. You may tell me that it was not then merely a question of the admission of Atheists to this House, but a question of permitting them to live. That was perfectly time, I think, at least down to the year 1614, for as late as that year the ancestors of those of us who are of English blood burnt a certain person for deficiencies in respect of belief. He was not, however, an Atheist; he was an Arian—so that people had better look out if this doctrine comes again into vogue. The fact is, that the State gradually adopted the principles of toleration, but, where it tolerated, it did not interpose barriers against access to this House. That is the historical principle which, I think, it will be found difficult to shake. In 1828 it appears to have been the view of the Legislature that no one should come into the House—however loyal, however competent—without being bound to profess the faith of a Christian; but it is a totally different matter for us to deal with a statutory disability created in 1828, or another statutory disability created a century before in the case of the clergy, and to deal with disqualifications like those of aliens and felons, which are founded on reason, and which are established by the ancient Common Law of the land. Well, some Gentlemen say there are a great many Petitions against this Bill, and that they are far more numerous than any Petitions in its favour. I think there may have been some exaggeration in this matter; but the late Home Secretary said—I presume by mistake—that the President of the Wesleyan Conference had signed a Petition on behalf of that Body against the 1181 Bill. That has been decidedly disclaimed by the rev. gentleman himself.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, he was glad to have an opportunity of explaining that the Petition sent to him was signed on behalf of the Committee of the Conference, of which the President was Chairman; but the words were those of the Secretary, who sent it.
I understand it was a mistake. The impression has gone abroad that the head of the Wesleyan Body has signed a Petition against the Bill; but this gentleman himself has disclaimed having done so. I have received a letter myself, signed by Dr. Kennedy, hon. Secretary of the three denominations of Protestant Dissenting ministers, in which he says—I have the honour of forwarding for presentation a Petition from the general body of the three denominations of Protestant Dissenting ministers in and around the City of London and Westminster in favour of the Bill.But I think it is only just to this gentleman and those on whose behalf he writes to read out some additional words. He says—The personal associations which are at present connected with the objects contemplated in this Bill are so painful and offensive to the body which I represent, that nothing but a strong sense of duty would induce them to send this Petition to the House.These words have a very deep meaning. Do you suppose that we do not feel pain? Do you suppose that we are unaware how difficult—how all but impracticable—it has become to do what we believe to be strict justice in the face of such associations? If you do not know this, you ought to know it; and if you do know it, you ought not, from your place in this House, to deride us, and sarcastically to advise us to inscribe upon our banner "Bradlaugh and Blasphemy." Sir, I believe that every one of us intending to vote for this Bill feels that it is indeed difficult to do justice under such circumstances. But the difficulty is the measure of the duty and the honour; and just as if we were in the jury-box, and a person stood before us under a criminal charge, we will put a strong hand of self-restraint upon ourselves, and we will take care that full justice—nothing more and nothing less—shall be awarded to every citizen of England. In these considerations, as I believe and am persuaded, is to be found 1182 the reason why so many who feel it a duty to support this Bill have, notwithstanding, shrunk from exposing themselves to the odium so very freely cast on its supporters by those who oppose it. But I am bound to say a little more than that. The people who have subscribed Petitions against this Bill are very numerous. I think they may be four times the number of those who have subscribed in favour of it. I speak of their motives with the most unfeigned respect. I am persuaded that they have acted under the influence of what are called, and justly called, religious instincts. In my opinion, upon broad questions of principle, which stand out disentangled from the surrounding facts, the immediate instincts and sense of the people are very generally right. [Opposition cheers.] I am heartily glad to find that there is an echo to that sentiment from the quarter from which these sounds have just proceeded. But I cannot say that this is a uniform and unbending rule. It does, unfortunately, sometimes happen that, when broad principles are disguised by the incidents of the case, the momentary opinion, guided by the instincts of the populace—though I do not admit that it is at all proved that it is the vast mass of the population which has petitioned in the present case—is not a safe guide. If I were to make an exception to the general rule as to the justice of the instincts of the people—and it is an exception not dishonourable to them—I should trust them far more upon questions where their own interests are concerned than on questions where the prepossessions of religion are concerned. The latter is a class of questions on which we must be careful against taking momentary indications of public feeling for our guide. They express the feelings, as opposed, in many instances, to the judgment, of the people. This is no assumption of mine; and I would ask those who have studied the history of the year 1829, when the great Act of Roman Catholic Emancipation was passed—do they believe that that Act of Emancipation at the moment represented the feelings of the majority of the people of Great Britain? No, Sir; it was distinctly against them. It was a combination of the guides of the people, who took upon them the duty of instructing the people. It was the Leaders, 1183 not on one side, but on both sides, who, superior to the temptation of gathering momentary profit from an appeal to religious prejudice, took upon themselves the responsibility, in their capacity as legislators, of doing that which they believed and knew to be right, trusting to the people to do them justice and to recognize their motives. Am I to go back further into history? I might quote cases of popular risings under the influence of not untrue, though misguided religious instincts, which have disgraced the annals of this country. I will give an instance which I think a very fair one. It will be remembered that, about 130 years ago, this House and the Legislature passed an Act for the purpose of naturalizing the Jews. A great popular movement immediately took place against it. Are you to look back upon that movement, and say—"Poor, ignorant wretches, what compassion we feel for you?" No, Sir; these men, according to the knowledge and feelings of their day, were acting under the same impulses and upon the same principles as the Petitioners of to-day. They thought that to admit the professor of another religion, founded upon or absolutely involving the denial of Him who is the Alpha and Omega of our religion—they thought, or at least their instincts told them, that there was something in that Act which tended to impair the Christianity of the country; and there is precisely the same feeling now, only allowing for the difference that has since been made in the political education of the country, that is conveyed in these Petitions. It often happens that a private person is called upon to rule and overrule his impulses and feelings. So it must be in the State; and what the sovereign reason ought to do in the individual, the Leaders of Parties ought to do in the State. It is nothing but a combination of the Loaders of Parties that can direct aright questions of this kind, where religious prepossessions are involved, where the facts are but very partially known out-of-doors, and where the people have no means of sounding the difficult legal questions and complicated arguments that puzzle even many Members of this House. If these Leaders of Parties do not see their way to the performance of that duty, or think their duty lies in the opposite direction, then I, for my part, cannot be surprised that 1184 large numbers of the people should, under the influence of sentiments which I regard with the highest respect and honour, take a direction which I believe to be wrong, and which I am convinced is unjust. The right hon. Gentleman the late Home Secretary the other night spent more than half an hour by that clock in detailing the guilty conduct of the Government in regard to Mr. Bradlaugh. [Opposition cheers.] I did not require the assurance that hon. Gentlemen opposite were pleased. They showed me on Monday night that they were extremely pleased. They would have been pleased if, instead of half an hour, he had taken an hour and a-half upon topics so inviting and racy in their character. But the question I humbly put to these hon. Gentlemen is, what in the world has that conduct to do with the matter? Supposing it were all true—supposing it were not half adequate, as a description of what they think the true guilt of the Government—it has nothing whatever to do with the question before us. If the Bill were the best Bill upon earth, it ought to pass if the conduct of the Government were over so bad; but if the Bill be a bad Bill, it ought not to be passed, though the conduct of the Government may have been ever so good.
But I shall very briefly, and I hope in not more than one-tenth part of the time used by the right hon. Gentleman, reply that I do not resent the words that have been used, and I do it the more freely because it is the pleasure of hon. Members opposite to ascribe to mea peculiar sympathetic enthusiasm in this cause—to imagine that, by some latent affinity, or on some other inscrutable ground, I am possessed with a missionary zeal in driving forward with all my might the admission of Atheists to the House of Commons. What I wish to point out is this—we have rendered no assistance whatever to Mr. Bradlaugh. Did the House of Lords assist Mr. Bradlaugh last week? Did Lord Coleridge assist Mr. Bradlaugh last week? ["Yes!" and "Oh, oh!"] If you mean that the effect of what we have done has been in the direction of admitting Mr. Bradlaugh to this House, that I do not deny; but the House of Lords and Lord Coleridge have no more assisted Mr. Bradlaugh than the two Courts which declared one after the other that he had no title 1185 to affirm in this House have opposed him. Our contention has been all along that, from the first to the last, with much less perfect and available means of judgment than Judges in Courts of Justice, we have been under precisely the same obligations. We have endeavoured to keep the proceedings of this House within the bounds of law and of Constitutional order; and it is no secret to you that in our opinion they have not been kept within those bounds, owing to the voice of a majority which requires from us a respectful obedience, but which requires and is entitled to nothing more. The right hon. Gentleman opposite says that three times I abdicated the position of Leader of this House. Sir, if the words are to be used at all, it is not a case of abdication, but of deposition. But I am astonished at the doctrine of the right hon. Gentleman. He knows our ground. He knows that we were insisting upon what we thought our judicial duty; and yet he affirms that when a view of judicial duty opposite to ours has been taken, we, who had been acting in the name of judicial duty, were to become instruments to devise the means of giving effect to the judgment of our opponents. I repel and repudiate, with all my soul, that servile proposition. I am willing to part with the seat and with the place I hold; but I am not willing for one moment to give in to such a doctrine. We have endeavoured to support to the best of our power the Executive authority of the House. [Opposition cries of "No, no!"] That cry of "No!" only shows that the facts have not been carefully watched; but to ask us to take upon ourselves the responsibility of applying votes of this House which we believe to involve radical injustice, and which, I believe, speaking for myself, without hesitation or scruple, to be such as, in the case of a minor authority, would be termed illegal—to ask me to make myself an instrument of devising means for carrying such votes into elfect—that, Sir, is a demand which I utterly reject, and which I hold to be totally unsupported by any fact that has occurred in the best ages of our Parliamentary tradition. I must say I think it is very strange that these accusations should be brought. It may be that hon. Gentlemen opposite have something to bias them towards a particular 1186 course, which brings political profit. I am making no accusation. I say it may be that they have something to bias them in that direction. But what could we have to bias us in the direction we have taken? Do you suppose that we are ignorant that, in every contested election that has happened since the case of Mr. Bradlaugh came up, you have gained votes and we have lost them? You are perfectly aware of it. We are no less aware of it. But, if you are perfectly aware of it, is not some credit to be given to us who are giving you the same under circumstances rather more difficult—is not some credit to be given to us for presumptive integrity and purity of motive? Sir, the Liberal Party has suffered, and is suffering, on this account. It is not the first time in its history. It is the old story over again. In every controversy that has arisen about the extension of religious toleration, and about the abatement and removal of disqualifications, in every controversy relating to religious toleration and religious disabilities, the Liberal Party has suffered before, and it is now, perhaps, suffering again; and yet it has not been a Party which, upon the whole, has had, during the last half century, the smallest or the feeblest hold upon the affections and approval of the people. Who suffered from the Protestantism of the country? It was that Party—with valuable aid from individuals, but only individuals, who forfeited their popularity on that account—it was that Party who fought the battle of freedom in the case of the great Roman Catholic controversy, when the name of Protestantism was invoked with quite as great effect as the name of Theism is now, and the Petitions poured in quite as freely then as at present. Protestantism stood the shock of the Act of 1829. Then came on the battle of Christianity, and the Christianity of the country was said to be sacrificed by the Liberal Party. There are Gentlemen on the other side of the House who seem to have forgotten all that has occurred, and who are pluming themselves on the admission of Jews into Parliament, as if they had not resisted it with perfect honesty—I make no charge against their honour, and impute no unworthy motive—as if they had not resisted it with quite as much resolution as they are exhibiting on the present occasion. Sir, what I hope is 1187 this—that the Liberal Party will not be deterred, by fear or favour, from working steadily onward in the path which it believes to be the path of equity and justice. There is no greater honour to a man than to suffer for what he thinks to be righteous; and there is no greater honour to a Party than to suffer in the endeavour to give effect to the principles which they believe to be just.
Up to this time I have detained the House on what I take to be extraneous and collateral matter, but matter which has been largely introduced into the speeches we have heard in the course of this debate. Now, let us try to get at the heart of the argument, which, after all, is not a very complex, although I must say it is historically, and from every point of view, an extremely interesting matter. The business of every man in controversy is to try to find out what is the main and governing contention of his adversary. Sir, I have laboured to find that out, and I think I have probably found it: I hope so. As I read it, the governing contention is this—that the main question for the State is not what religion a man professes, but whether he professes some religion or none. I was in hopes of receiving some confirmatory testimony from the other side. I might dispense with proofs, but I will give them. The right hon. Gentleman who led the opposition to this Bill said that this was not a question of difference of religion, but that it was a question between religion and irreligion—between religion and the absence of all religion—and clearly the basis of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was that we were to tolerate any belief, but that we were not to tolerate no belief. I mean by tolerating to admit, to recognize, to legislate for the purpose of permitting entrance into the House of Commons. My hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury (Mr. W. M. Torrens), in an able speech, still more clearly expressed similar views. He referred to the ancient controversies as all very well; they touched, he said, excrescences, and not the vital substance. Now, Sir, I want to examine what is the vital substance, and what are the excrescences. He went further than this, and used a most apt, appropriate, expressive, and still more significant phrase. He said—"Yes; it is true you admit religions some of which may go rear the precipice; but now you ask us to 1188 go over it." Gentlemen opposite cheered loudly when that was said by the hon. Gentleman behind me. They will not give me a single cheer now. They suspect I am quoting this with some evil intent. The question is, am I quoting them fairly? or is it the fact that some Gentlemen have not sufficiently and fairly considered their relation to the present Bill, except that they mean to oppose whatever proceeds from the Government? But my hon. Friend has considered very well what he said when he used the remarkable simile about the precipice. I wish to see what is the value of this main and principal contention—this doctrine of the precipice—this question between religion and irreligion, between some belief which is to be tolerated, and no belief which cannot be tolerated—that is to say, so far as it relates to admission into this House. The lion, and learned Gentleman the Member for Launceston (Sir Hardinge Giffard) held exactly the same language. He adopted a phrase which had fallen from the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Drummond Wolff), which he thought had been unfairly applied; and he said he wished that there should be some form of belief, and some recognition of belief—something of what is called in philosophical discussion the recognition of the supernatural. That, I believe, is a phrase which goes as near to what hon. Gentlemen opposite mean as anything can. It is the recognition of the existence, at any rate, of the supernatural that is wanted. That is the main contention of the Party opposite; and what I want to know is, whether that contention—that proposition—offers us a good solid standing-ground for legislation. Whatever test is applied—tho test of the Constitution, the test of civil and political freedom, or, above all, the test of religion, and of reverence for religious conviction, I do not hesitate to say that, confidently as I support this Bill, there is no one ground upon which I support it with so much confidence, as because of what I think is the utter hollowness and falseness of the argument that is expressed in the words I have just cited, and in the idea that is at the bottom of those words, and the danger of making them the basis of Constitutional action. Sir, what does this contention do? In the first place, it evi- 1189 dently violates civil freedom to this extent—that, in the words of Lord Lyndhurst—which are as wide as anything that any Gentleman on this side could desire—there is to be a total divorce between the question of religious differences and the question of civil privilege and power; that there is to be no test whatever applied to a man with respect to the exercise of civil functions, except the test of civil capacity, and a fulfilment of civil conditions. Those were the words of Lord Lyndhurst—those are the words on which we stand. It is now proposed to depart from this position, and to say that a certain class of persons, perhaps a very narrow class—I do not argue that now—because it is said to have no religion is to be excepted, and alone excepted, from the operation of that great and broad principle. In my opinion, it is in the highest degree irrational to lay down a broad principle of that kind, and after granting 99-lOOths of all, it means, to stop short, in order to make an invidious exclusion of the exceedingly limited number of persons who may possibly be affected by, and concerned in, its application. Hon. Gentlemen will, perhaps, be startled when I make my next objection to the contention of the opponents of the Bill. It is, that it is highly disparaging to Christianity. They invite us to do that which, as a Legislature, we ought never to do—namely, to travel over theological ground, and, having taken us upon that ground, what is it that they tell us? They tell us that you may go any length you please in the denial of religion, provided only you do not reject the name of the Deity. They tear religion—if I may say so—in shreds, and they set aside one particular shred of it, with which nothing will ever induce them to part. They divide religion into the dispensable and the indispensable—I am not speaking now of the cases of those who declare, or who are admitted under special laws, and I am not speaking of Jews or any of those who make declarations—I am speaking of those for whom no provision is made, except the provision of the Oath, let that be clearly understood—they divide, I say, religion into what can be dispensed with and what cannot be dispensed with, and then they find that Christianity can be dispensed with. I am not willing, Sir, that Christianity, if an appeal is made to us as a Christian 1190 Legislature, should stand in any rank lower than that which is indispensable. Let me illustrate what I mean. Supposing a commander has to despatch a small body of men for the purpose of some difficult and important undertaking. They are to go without baggage and without appliances. Everything they take they must carry on their backs. They have to dispense with all luxuries and ail comforts, and to take with them only that which is essential That is precisely the same course which you ask us to take in drawing us upon theological ground. You require us to distinguish between superfluities and necessaries, and you say in regard to Christianity—"Oh, that is one of the superfluities—that is one of the excrescences, that has nothing to do with the vital substanco—the great and solemn name of the Deity—which is indispensable." The adoption of such a proposition as that—and it is at the very root of your contention—seems to me to be in the highest degree disparaging to the Christian faith. I pass to another point. The hon. Member for Finsbury made a reference to Mr. O'Connell, whom he stated that he knew well. I will not say, Sir, that I had as much personal knowledge of Mr. O'Connell as my hon. Friend may have had, though I did know something of him personally, as well as politically; but, when I was a very young man, in the second year of my sitting in Parliament—in the old House which was burned down half-a-century ago—I heard a speech from Mr. O'Connell, which, although at that time I was bound by Party allegiance to receive with misgiving and distrust anything he said, made a deep impression upon me, and by which I think I have ever since been guided. It is to be found, not in Hansard, but in the record which, for a few years, was more copious even than Hansard, and which went under the name of The Mirror of Parliament. On the 18th February, 1834, Mr. O'Connell used these words in a speech on the Law of Libel; and I echo every word my hon. Friend said with regard to the deep religious convictions and the religious consistency of that remarkable man,—he used, Sir, these words—When I see in this country the law allowing men to dispute the doctrine of the Trinity, and the Divinity of the Redeemer, I really think, if I had no other reason, I should be 1191 justified in saying that there is nothing beyond that which should he considered worth quarrelling for, or which ought to he made the subject of penal restrictions.I am convinced that upon every religious, as well as upon every political ground, the true and the wise course is not to deal out religious liberty by halves, by quarters, and by fractions; but to deal it out entire, and to leave no distinction between man and man on the ground of religious differences from one end of the land to the other. But, Sir, I go a little further in endeavouring to test and to probe this great religious contention of the "precipice," which has been put forward, amidst fervent cheers from hon. Gentlemen opposite, by my hon. Friend behind me (Mr. W. M. Torrens); and I want to know, is your religious distinction a real distinction at all? I will, for the sake of argument, and for no other purpose whatever, go with you on this dangerous ground of splitting religion into slices, and I ask you—"Where will you draw the line?" You draw it at the point where the abstract denial of God is severed from abstract admission of the Deity. My proposition is, that your line is worthless. There is much on your side of the line which is just as objectionable as the Atheism on the other side. If you call on us to draw these distinctions, let them be rational distinctions. I do not say let them be Christian distinctions; but let them be rational distinctions. I can understand one rational distinction, that you should frame the Oath in such a way that its terms should recognize, not merely the acknowledgment of the existence of the Deity, but the providence of the Deity, and man's responsibility to the Deity, and in such a way as to indicate the knowledge in a man's own mind that he must answer to the Deity for what he does, and is able to do. But is that your present rule? No, Sir. You know well that from ancient times there have been sects and schools that have admitted in the abstract, just as freely as the Christian admits, the existence of a Deity, but who have held that, though Deity exists, yet of practical relations between Him and man there can be none. Many Members of this House will recollect, perhaps, the noble and majestic lines—or such they are—of the Latin poet— 1192Omnis enim per se divôm natura necesse est,Immortali ævo summa cum pace fruatur;Sejuncta a nostris rebus, semotaque longe.Nam privata dolore omni, privata periclis,Ipsa suis pollens opihus, nihil indiga nostri,Nee bene promeritis capitur nec tangitur ira."Divinity exists"—as these, I must say, magnificent words set forth—"in remote, inaccessible recesses of which we know nothing; but with us it has no dealing, with us it has no relation." Sir, I have purposely gone back to ancient times, because the discussion is less invidious than the discussion of modern schools of opinion. But, Sir, I do not hesitate to say that the specific evil, the specific form of irreligion, with which in educated society in this country you have to contend, and with respect to which you ought to be on your guard, is not blank Atheism. That is a rare form of opinion, and it is seldom met with. But what is frequently met with are those various forms of opinion which teach us that whatever there be beyond the visible scene, whatever there be beyond this short span of life, you know and can know nothing of it, and that it is a visionary and a bootless undertaking to endeavour to establish relations with it. That is the specific mischief of the age; but that mischief you do not attempt to touch. Nay, more; you glory in the state of the law that now prevails. All differences of religion you wish to tolerate. You wish to allow everybody to enter your Chamber who admits the existence of Deity. You would seek to admit Voltaire. That is a specimen of your toleration. But Voltaire was not a taciturn foe of Christianity. He was the author of that painful and awful phrase that goes to the heart of every Christian—and goes, I believe, to the heart of many a man professing religion who is not a Christian—écrasez l'infâme. Voltaire was a believer in God; he would not have had the slightest difficulty in taking the Oath; and you are working up the country to something like a crusade on this question; endeavouring to strengthen in the minds of the people the false notion that you have got a real test, a real safeguard; that Christianity is still generally safe, with certain unavoidable exceptions, under the protecting agis of the Oath within the walls of this Chamber. And it is for that you are entering on a great religious war! I hold, then, that this contention of our opponents is disparaging to religion; it 1193 is idle; and it is also highly irrational. For if you are to have a religious test at all of the kind that you contemplate—the test of Theism, which the hon. Member for Portsmouth frankly said he wished to adopt—it ought to be a test of a well-ascertained Theism; not a mere abstract idea dwelling in the air, and in the clouds; but a practical recognition of a Divine Governing Power, which will some day call all of us to account for every thought we conceive, and for every word we utter.
I fear I have detained the House for a long time. But after all that has been said, and after the flood of accusation and invective that has been poured out, I have thought it right at great length and very seriously to show that, at all events, whether we be beaten or not, we do not decline the battle, and that we are not going to allow it to be said that the interests of religion are put in peril, and that they are to find their defenders only On the opposite side of the House. That sincere and conscientious defenders of those interests are to be found there I do not question at this moment; but I do contend with my whole heart and soul that the interests of religion, as well as the interests of civil liberty, are concerned in the passage of this measure. My reasons, Sir, for the passing of the Bill may be summed up in a few words. If I were asked to put a construction on this Oath as it stands, I probably should give it a higher meaning than most Gentlemen opposite. It is my opinion, as far as I can presume to form one, that the Oath has in it a very large flavour of Christianity. I am well aware that the doctrine of my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General is, that there are other forms of positive attestation, recognized by other systems of religion, which may enable the Oath to be taken by the removal of the words "So help me God," and the substitution of some other words, or some symbolical act, involving the idea of Deity, and responsibility to the Deity. But I think we ought to estimate the real character of this Oath according to the intention of the Legislature. The Oath does not consist of spoken words alone. The spoken words are accompanied by the corroborative act of kissing the Book. What is the meaning of that? According to the intention 1194 of the Legislature, I certainly should say that that act is an import of the acceptance of the Divine revelation. There have been other forms in other countries. I believe in Scotland the form is still maintained of holding up the right hand instead of kissing the Book. In Spain the form is, I believe, that of kissing the Cross. In Italy, I think, at one time, the form was that of laying the hand on the Gospel. All these different forms meant, according to the original intention, an acceptance of Christianity. But you do not yourselves venture to say that the law could be applied in that sense. A law of this kind is like a coin spick-and-span brand-new from the Mint carrying upon it its edges in all their sharpness and freshness; but it wears down in passing from hand to hand, and, though there is a residuum, yet the distinctive features disappear. Whatever my opinion may be as to the original vitality of the Oath, I think there is very little difference of opinion as to what it has now become. It has become, as my hon. Friend says, a Theistic test. It is taken as no more than a Theistic test. It does, as I think, involve a reference to Christianity. But while this is my personal opinion, it is not recognized by authority, and, at any rate, does not prevail in practice; for some Gentlemen in the other House of Parliament, if not in this also, have written works against the Christian religion, and yet have taken the Oath. But, undoubtedly, it is not good for any of us to force this test so flavoured, or even if not so flavoured, upon men who cannot take it with a full and a cordial acceptance. It is bad—it is demoralizing to do so. It is all very well to say—"Oh, yes; but it is their responsibility." That is not, in my view, a satisfactory answer. A seat in this House is to the ordinary Englishman in early life, or, perhaps, in middle and mature life, when he has reached a position of distinction in his career, the highest prize of his ambition. But if you place between him and that prize not only the necessity of conforming to certain civil conditions, but the adoption of certain religious words, and if these words are not justly measured to the condition of his conscience and of his convictions, you give him an inducement—nay, I do not go too far when I say you offer him a bribe to tamper with those convictions—to do 1195 violence to his conscience in order that lie may not be stigmatized by being shut out from what is held to be the noblest privilege of the English citizen—that of representing his fellow-citizens in Parliament. And, therefore, I say that, besides our duty to vindicate the principle of civil and religious liberty, which totally detaches religious controversy from the enjoyment of civil rights, it is most important that the House should consider the moral effect of this test. It is, as the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Drummond Wolff) is neither more nor loss than right in saying, a purely Theistic test. Viewed as a Theistic test, it embraces no acknowledgment of Providence, of Divine Government, of responsibility, or of retribution. It involves nothing but a bare and abstract admission—a form void of all practical meaning and concern. This is not a wholesome, but an unwholesome lesson. Yet more. I own that although I am now, perhaps, going to injure myself by bringing the name of Mr. Brad-laugh into this controversy, I am strongly of opinion that the present controversy should come to a close. I have no fear of Atheism in this House. Truth is the expression of the Divine mind; and however little our feeble vision may be able to discern the means by which God will provide for its preservation, we may leave the matter in His hands, and we may be quite sure that a firm and courageous application of every principle of justice and of equity is the best method we can adopt for the preservation and influence of truth. I must painfully record my opinion that grave injury has been done to religion in many minds—not in instructed minds, but in those which are ill-instructed or partially instructed, which have a large claim on our consideration—in consequence of steps which have, unhappily, been taken. Great mischief has been done in many minds through the resistance offered to the man elected by the constituency of Northampton, which a portion of the community believe to be unjust. When they see the profession of religion and the interests of religion ostensibly associated with what they are deeply convinced is injustice, they are led to questions about religion itself, which they see to be associated with injustice. Unbelief attracts a sympathy which it would not otherwise enjoy; and the 1196 upshot is to impair those convictions and that religious faith, the loss of which I believe to be the most inexpressible calamity which can fall either upon a man or upon a nation.
§ MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON
complimented the right hon. Gentleman on the pulpit character of the oration he had just delivered; but whether it was of the character which qualified the right hon. Gentleman for the pulpit of the Hall of Science, of the Tabernacle, or of the Abbey, he would not at that moment inquire. The reasons which actuated the supporters of the Bill were of two kinds. Some wore avowed and some were concealed, and the former were false and hollow, and the latter only were true. The chief argument for the Bill was that a constituency had a right to elect whom it chose. That was an untrue argument; a constituency had not the right to elect anyone whom it might choose, inasmuch as many people were undoubtedly disqualified from sitting in that House by the law as it stood. Among those whom the law of Parliament disqualified were Atheists; their disqualification was made patent on their coining to the Table, and saying that they could not acknowledge the binding force of the Oath. When hon. Members opposite said that every constituency had a right to elect whom it chose, they really meant that a constituency ought to have the right to elect whom it chose, which was a very different thing. The question of the abolition of all tests was one well worthy of reconsideration. At the proper time, he would be perfectly willing to discuss the whole issue. But that was not the issue before the House. They must not overlook the fact that, in the very Affirmation which they proposed to substitute for the Oath, tests were retained. The Affirmation was, in the first place, a test of whether a Member was literate or not, for he must subscribe it. In the second place, it was a test in the sense that it implied that the person who subscribed it possessed a conscience; and, thirdly, it was a test of allegiance. Why should hon. Members opposite, who were anxious to abolish the test of Theism, be willing to retain those three other tests? The arguments carried their supporters too far. The last motive for the Bill of those which were avowed was a pretended desire to save the Oath from profanation. They might as well 1197 abolish stealing by abolishing the rights of property, But all those reasons were founded in insincerity. The true motive and real reason for this Bill wore these. There was a Convention of Northampton as well as a Treaty of Kilmainham, and it was in order to carry out the agreement of the Northampton Convention that the House was asked to pass this Bill. Mr. Bradlaugh had in effect, at the last General Election, said—"I will manage Northampton for you, if you, the Government, will manage the House of Commons for me." Whether the agreement was reduced to writing, he was not able to say; but he felt sure that there were at least nods and winks between the Government and Mr. Bradlaugh. There was, moreover, a material as well as a moral consideration for the Bill; and it lay in this—that the right hon. Gentleman and his Party had been assisted at the General Election to a degree not generally recognized by the votes of the disciples of Mr. Bradlaugh, who were scattered throughout the constituencies of England; and it was the necessity of self-preservation, not the spirit of self-sacrifice, that had compelled the Government to bring forward this Bill. The Bill was nothing more nor less than an electioneering job of the lowest and basest sort. It would have been at least honest if the Government had brought in a pure and simple Bradlaugh Relief Bill. The Bill might have had a Preamble like this—Whereas Mr. Charles Bradlaugh, Poet, Philosopher, Economist, Patriot, Arc, has been duly elected for the town of Northampton, and would add weight, dignity, and respectability to this House of Commons; and whereas the said Mr. Charles Bradlaugh is prevented from taking his seat by certain Rules and Orders of the House; therefore, it is hereby enacted that these Rules and Orders shall be suspended.He should be very glad to support such a Bill if he could be assured that such a description could be truly made regarding Mr. Bradlaugh. He knew nothing of Mr. Bradlaugh personally; he had not, like the Prime Minister, learnt his poetry by heart in order to quote it to Greenwich audiences. He thought it rather unfair that even while they were asking the House to pass the present Bill, hon. Gentlemen opposite seemed to cold-shoulder Mr. Bradlaugh as if there were something repulsive about him. He thought the country had a right to complain that the Government had not treated this 1198 question in an honest and straightforward manner. The Prime Minister reminded him of Mr. Facing-both-Ways of The Pilgrim's Progress. Mr. Facing-both-Ways walked down the street arm-in-arm with Mr. Bradlaugh and a Baptist minister. To the one he said, "The backbone of Liberalism is Nonconformity;" to the other, "But Atheism is one of its vertebra."
I wish, Sir, to make an explanation. I stated an inaccuracy to the House in a matter which I am anxious to set right. I was under the impression that the Bill introduced by my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General had been introduced before the re-election of Mr. Bradlaugh. I find it was introduced after his reelection; consequently, the only explanation I have to give in lieu of what I gave before of our wish not to make the Bill retrospective is that, on the whole consideration of the rights of the case, we think it ought not to be retrospective, especially as the precedent of Mr. O'Connell and the principles applicable to the case point to the duty of submitting it as a non-retrospective measure.
§ MR. DALY
said, he wished to make some observations upon this question, because it was one which was regarded with very grave and prominent interest by the constituency he had the honour to represent. He had listened with the greatest attention to the eloquent speech of the Premier, but had failed to glean from it one single reason for the promotion of this Bill. The Premier had referred to the Bill introduced in 1854 by Lord Russell, to the emancipation of the Catholics in 1829, and later on to the modification as regarded the entrance of Jews into the House. But he (Mr. Daly) had failed to see the relevancy of all those instances. The object of the Bill was to enable any person at option to make an Affirmation instead of taking the Oath, and the necessity for that was essentially based on the admission of Mr. Bradlaugh, or of persons who thought with him. The question of the modification of the Oath did not apply to this matter at all. The earliest instance of the non-necessity for persons to take the Oath was that of the Society of Friends; but in the Affirmation they had to take there was a distinct announcement that they made the declaration in the presence of Almighty God. It was true those words 1199 were expunged later on, but that arose from the dislike on the part of the members of that Society to have the name of God introduced. Neither was the modification made in favour of the Jews a case in point, because, if the Jews denied the Messiah, they agreed in the existence of a Divine Being. The Premier had also referred to the case of 0'Connell; but there was no earthly parity between his case and that of Mr. Bradlaugh. Could it be said that Mr. Bradlaugh represented millions of Atheists? O'Connell was a Catholic, a great and good Catholic, and would the Premier attempt to say that Mr. O'Connell did not more represent millions of Catholics in Ireland than did Mr. Bradlaugh Atheists in the United Kingdom? The present question was not in any sense a question of religious liberty. The Bill was plainly introduced to facilitate the entrance into Parliament of persons who did not believe in a God at all, and he thought that such a sentiment as that would be most dangerous to faith and morals. He did not wish to make any personal allusion as regarded Mr. Bradlaugh, but he must consider him as not fit to be in Parliament. This Bill, if passed, he could assure the House, would be more dangerous to faith than to morals. He could understand the abolition of the Parliamentary Oath altogether. He could understand Parliament saying to persons elected by constituencies—"We, having confidence in your loyalty and religion, take your seats." But there was so large an element of unbelief in this country that provision should be made for persons who, like Mr. Bradlaugh, declared that the Oath was an unmeaning form of words. Mr. Bradlaugh had vaunted his Atheism before the public, and never lost an opportunity of doing so; and if this Bill were passed it would be regarded by the mass of the people as the triumph of Atheism and the triumph of Bradlaugh. Was it, then, prudent of the Government to give such a stimulant and encouragement to such a person? He (Mr. Daly) represented the views of a very large number of persons, not only in his own constituency, on this subject; and one of his principal reasons for objecting to the Bill was that, rightly or wrongly, he considered that all legislation should be based upon religion. He had no desire to apply a religious 1200 test to any man coming to the Table, nor to penetrate into the recesses of his mind if he made any profession; but he held that a great wrong and a great injustice would be inflicted upon the community if the House decided by solemn vote that room should be made for Mr. Bradlaugh and his apostles. He would ask the House why he had never seen a Speech from the Throne prepared by Cabinet Ministers that did not contain a reference to the Divine Power? If, therefore, they implored the Divine Power to guide them, why did they admit Mr. Bradlaugh, who denied the existence of that Divine Power? The name of religious liberty had been invoked and introduced into the subject, but such an introduction was a prostitution of the name. Here they had an indignant community protesting against the introduction into an Assembly which made the laws and guided the morals of the people of a man who denied the existence of a God. The effects and consequences of the Bill would be most dangerous, and his own conviction was that had it not been for mob terrorism and the physical discomfort of the presence of mobs in Trafalgar Square they would never have heard of it. It was impossible to conceal the fact that the movement had been fomented by the lowest and worst of the working classes in the United Kingdom, and should it pass it would be regarded as the triumph of Atheism over religion and law.
§ MR. COURTAULD
said, that although he had voted against Mr. Bradlaugh being allowed to take the Oath, he had, nevertheless, no hesitation in supporting the Bill that was now before the House.
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members wore not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ MR. COURTAULD,
resuming, said, a great deal had been said in the course of the discussion about the claims of religious liberty. He had always been a staunch friend of religious liberty, although he sometimes feared that the idea of religious liberty was in danger of being, so to speak, vulgarized, by its being thrust forward into places where there was no legitimate room for it. Endeavours had been made by some of his hon. Friends upon that side of the House, and by a portion of the public 1201 Press that was patronized, and he believed in some eases inspired, by them, to show that those who wished to prevent Mr. Bradlaugh from taking the Oath were enemies of religious liberty. That was their idea, but it was not his. After all, it was not very easy to get a clearly-cut definition of religious liberty which all must accept. It must be, to a great extent, a matter of opinion what did, and did not, constitute religious liberty. In the case to which he had alluded, the question before the House was, not whether Mr. Bradlaugh should be refused admittance because of his religious or irreligious opinions, but whether, being an avowed Atheist, he ought to enter the House by way of the Oath. He (Mr. Courtauld) held very strongly that the Oath was not the way by which he ought to enter; and that for any man to take the Oath, ending, as it did, with words solemn and sacred, while avowing, at the same time, that those words were to him idle nonsense, would be nothing more nor less than what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon had pronounced it to be—a profanation of the Oath. But the question now before the House was a very different one; and, with respect to that question, the principle of religious liberty came, in his judgment, prominently and distinctly to the front. The ground of opposition to the Bill, cleared of technical matters of no importance to the principle of it, was that Atheists, because they are Atheists, should not be allowed to sit in that House. Now, he held that to keep any duly-elected Member out of the House because of his religious or irreligious opinions, whether those opinions ran to Infidelity on the one hand, or to superstition on the other, was an undoubted breach of the principle of religious liberty. It could not be pretended that any danger was likely to accrue to the State from the introduction of an Atheist into that House. While regarding Atheistic views as most deplorable, yet he saw no reason why an Atheist might not be, in spite of his Atheism, a loyal subject and a good citizen.
§ LORD ALGERNON PERCY
said, that no one who had watched the course of the debate could have failed to be struck by the want of argument displayed by those who supported this measure. They dealt little, if at all, with the principles 1202 that were involved, and certainly the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General was no exception to this. The hon. and learned Gentleman had given the House a most interesting history of successive Parliamentary Oaths; but the history of Parliamentary Oaths had little to do with the question before the House. This Bill differed entirely from its predecessors, for their object was to remove the religious disabilities of those who had conscientious objections to taking the Oath; but this Bill would make a similar change for those who had no religion at all, and could not have a religious objection to taking an Oath. He was surprised to hear the Prime Minister place Jews and Quakers in the same category as Atheists. That was an insult to the faith of both the Jew and the Quaker. The Affirmation was described as "solemn," and that implied that it was something more than a mere Affirmation; it involved the acknowledgment of a Supreme Being, who was able to punish in the event of the Affirmation being made falsely. The Quaker, believing that God was displeased with an Oath, reverently affirmed; and his fear of the Almighty was, to use a legal expression, the sanction of his Affirmation, just as it was in the case of the man who took the Oath. The Quaker's Affirmation was really an Oath in another form; but that could not be the case with the Atheist, who believed in no Supreme Being, nothing superior to himself, and therefore could not fear his displeasure. He might affirm deliberately, he might promise, but he could not solemnly affirm, and therefore his Affirmation was not a substitute for an Oath. The Affirmation which Mr. Bradlaugh was prepared to make was that he would bear "true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Victoria, Her heirs and successors, according to law;" but he (Lord Algernon Percy) found that Mr. Bradlaugh, in one of his speeches, had some time ago said—We hope the Prince of Wales may have fair play: if he does, he will never be King of England.And in some poetry written with his approval these lines appeared—We are sworn to put Tyranny down,We strike at the Throne and the Crown;To arms, Republicans!He (Lord Algernon Percy) would leave 1203 the House to reconcile these two facts. It was said by the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Firth) that the existence of Mr. Bradlaugh was an accident, and no doubt it was an unfortunate accident for the Government; but, as it existed, it could not be overlooked. So long as the union of Church and State existed it was absurd to deny that the government of the country rested on religious foundations. Lord Eldon said that that union was meant, not to make the Church political, but to make the State religious. The religious character of the State was attested by many things—by the motto of the Royal Arms, by the words "Dei Gratia" on our coins, by the Oath, and the Bible on the Table of the House, and by the Prayers with which the proceedings of the House were opened. All showed that we acknowledged the supremacy of the Almighty. This Bill was for removing an obstacle which no one felt but an avowed Atheist, and one who had been foremost in his attacks on the Christian religion and the religious feeling of the country. It was said that tests wore inoperative; but the very attack made upon this test proved the contrary. At present, if Atheists obtained a seat in the House of Commons, they did so by making an outward acknowledgment of the Supreme Authority upon which all our governing institutions were based, and the responsibility of so doing rested with them and not with the House. But this was a Bill to admit Atheists as Atheists to have a seat in the House; and, if the Bill passed, the responsibility would be removed from them and thrown on the House of Commons, and through them on the country. There could be no doubt that the Bill was simply an Atheists' Relief Bill, and that it had been forced on the House by Mr. Bradlaugh and the mob which, came down to the House with him at the opening of Parliament; and, twist and turn as the Government might, or raise any number of clouds they pleased, in that light the Bill would be regarded by the opponents of the measure and by the people of the country. If this measure should pass, there would be no logical argument against abolishing the Coronation Oath or the "Prayer for the High Court of Parliament." The hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Firth) was honest enough to say so, for he had welcomed this measure as a step towards 1204 the abolition of the unnecessary invocation of the Supreme Being from all our public acts, and especially the proceedings of this House, remarks which met with signs of approval from the Members of Her Majesty's Government. The word "unnecessary" was capable of very wide interpretation. It was not long ago that the cry "A bas Dieu!" was heard in the streets of Paris. That cry was raised by an ignorant and revolutionary mob; but the spirit of that cry was contained in the Bill which had now been brought forward by what had been called the best Government that ever occupied the Treasury Bench. When elected in 1880 this question did not enter into their programme; they dared not now appeal to the country upon it, because, if they did so, they knew that they would have a very large majority against them, as in pressing forward this measure they represented, not the best feelings of the nation, but the interests of Atheists and Socialists.
said, that the noble Lord had adduced no argument that had not been repeated ad nauseam. His own purpose in rising was to meet the statement made by several Members as to what were the indications of public opinion in this country in the matter, and especially as reference had been made to the public opinion of Scotland. It was a very curious phenomenon to see Scottish Tory Members referring to public opinion in Scotland, as their defence for the action they were taking against the Bill. Those hon. Gentlemen were not often guided by public opinion in Scotland. They were, in nine cases out of ten, distinctly opposed to the public opinion there. There was no such thing as a public opinion in Scotland against this Bill. The public opinion of Scotland was unmistakably for the Bill. There had certainly been more Petitions against the Bill than for it; but they must look, not only at the number of these Petitions, but to the nature of the Petitions. He ventured to say that the Petitions which came from Scotland did not at all express the public opinion of Scotland. There were many of them, certainly, from Churches, but certainly not from all Churches, and the Churches which were most advanced in intelligence had not sent a single Petition against the Bill. From the United Presbyterian Church, which was the 1205 most advanced and intelligent in the country, not one Petition had come against the Bill, but one had been presented in favour of it. There were Petitions from the Church of Scotland, which was the proper ally of the Tory Party, and the rest of the Petitions were almost entirely either from Orange Lodges, which were the most insignificant bodies in Scotland, or, curiously enough, from the county of Banff, which seemed to be behind the rest of Scotland in intelligence, for it had sent up 27 Petitions against the Bill. The true test of the opinion of Scotland was the opinion of her Representatives. In every division on this question, from 1880 to the present time, the vast majority of Scottish Members had been found voting for the provisions which gave access to the House, not to Mr. Bradlaugh, but to all men, whatever their religious opinions might be. There could be no worse index to the opinion of any country than the opinions of the Churches. On religious matters they could be looked to as guides, but on political questions they were very unsafe guides indeed. The right hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter) the other night spoke of the opinion of Scotland as being for this Bill, and spoke of even "bigoted Scotland" appearing in that attitude. If bigotry consisted in strict adherence to religious principles, Scotland was bigoted; but if it consisted in intolerance towards others, Scotland was not a bigoted country. He had heard more bigotry from the other side of the House than he had heard in Scotland in his whole life. Scotsmen said in this case that the rights of citizenship should not be made to any extent to depend on religious opinions. If the holding of religious opinions was necessary to a Beat in the House, he did not see why it should not be necessary in the case of those who voted in sending Members to the House. The great majority of the Scottish people, notwithstanding these Petitions, agreed with the Prime Minister that the retention of the Oath, as now understood, was dishonouring to Christianity itself as well as irrational. He could assure the Government that whatever support they might get from other parts of the Kingdom, they would get from Scotland not only a unanimous support, but the support of the vast majority of the coun- 1206 try in passing this Bill. In conclusion, he had to thank the Prime Minister for several statements of principle made in his speech which would not be forgotten by Nonconformists. Amongst others, that in which he had laid down in the most emphatic way at the end of his speech that in the eye of the law, whatever religious opinions a man might hold, it should make no difference with him.
§ VISCOUNT LEWISHAM
said, that, however anxious they might be to keep Mr. Bradlaugh out of the controversy, it was unfortunate that in whatever way they looked at the measure he was the principal figure before them. He would like to ask the Prime Minister why, if this measure was of such importance, and Mr. Bradlaugh had had nothing to do with it, he had taken no steps to introduce it before? If, on the other hand, the measure were not of such importance as to require to be brought in earlier, why were other measures, admittedly of great importance, and which were mentioned in the Speech from the Throne, now set on one side for it? He wished to say that the impression conveyed to the mind of the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Schreiber) by the words of the noble Lord the Secretary for War was the same as that conveyed to his own mind, and that impression was confirmed by what appeared in the report of The Times. The noble Lord was understood to state that the reason why this Bill was not alluded to in the Royal Speech was because it was not usual to include any measures in the Queen's Speech which were not considered of the greatest importance. Very scant courtesy was shown to hon. Members on that side of the House on the first introduction of this Bill, by its being brought in without a word of explanation. But after listening to the speech of the Attorney General on the second reading of the measure, it was easy to understand why the Government said so little. Their arguments were so flimsy that they were anxious to postpone explanations as long as possible, and he had no doubt that if Mr. Bradlaugh had not forced the hand of the Government the Bill would never have been introduced at all. The demonstration of Mr. Bradlaugh passed off quietly when it was notified to two meetings at which Ministers were present that some measure was to be introduced. 1207 Could it be doubted that the introduction of the Bill, following immediately after that demonstration, would be most likely to give the notion that it was in consequence of that demonstration that the Bill had been brought in, seeing that it was not mentioned in the Queen's Speech? In this matter, as in many other matters, the Government had followed the fatal policy of concession to mob agitation. The Conservative Party had been accused of putting a false issue before the country. He did not say that false issues had not been raised; but they had not been raised by the Conservatives. One false issue was put before the country, when it was said that the Tories were fighting against religious freedom. Why, not only the Tories, but many more Liberals throughout the country than the right hon. Gentleman imagined, were fighting against the tyranny of irreligion which the Government was endeavouring to force upon them. It had been said that all who took the Oath without believing in a Supreme Being violated it; that was most regrettable; but the weak part of the present measure was the support given to the denial of a Supreme Being. The alterations which had been made permitting persons of various religious beliefs to affirm seemed to him no precedent for passing a Bill to admit Atheists who believed in nothing but themselves. If the Prime Minister had no doubt of the feeling of the country on this subject, why did he not give the country an opportunity of showing it? Hitherto the feeling of the country had only been shown by the Petitions sent in. Large as the Liberal programme was at the last Election, it was not large enough to admit an Affirmation Bill; and, therefore, before the Bill passed, the country should have an opportunity of declaring its opinion. They had been told—he believed it was by the Home Secretary—that the Conservative Government came in on beer, and went out on water, and that was to a certain extent true; but let hon. Members on the other side take care that as they had came in on brag, they did not go out on Bradlaugh. He should do his best to oppose the Bill whenever and wherever it was brought under his notice.
§ MR. INDERWICK
said, hon. Gentlemen opposite had described this Bill as a Bradlaugh Relief Bill. Well, he 1208 admitted it did partake in a great measure of that character, because Mr. Bradlaugh was probably the first person who would have the benefit of it. But it mattered not whom it benefited, if it was right and proper that we should remove every restriction on the right of those who had been selected by the constituencies to take their seat in that House. It would, he thought, have been better if the Government had seen their way to introducing a Bill substituting for the Oath a simple Declaration of Allegiance by every Member. The incidents connected with Mr. Bradlaugh's personal character had been unfairly imported into this debate. Although he could not sympathize with Mr. Bradlaugh on many points, he did not think that the incidents to which he had referred ought to affect the question before the House. At any rate, under the present law, Mr. Bradlaugh, who had denounced all that most of the hon. Members of that House deemed sacred, was at perfect liberty to come up to the Table of that House and take the Oath. It was said that the Oath of Allegiance had not been intended to be a religious test; but it operated as such. On this question we had lagged behind every other country in Europe. This country prided itself on being the land of civil and religious liberty; but the fact was that in respect of the subject with which the Bill dealt it was behind almost every other State in the civilized world. In Belgium a Member of the Legislature held up his hand and said, "I swear to preserve the Constitution," there being no allusion to the Deity. In Italy the Members swore also, without naming the Deity, to be faithful to the King and Constitution. In the Netherlands and Switzerland the Oath or Affirmation was taken at option, as also was the case in the United States of America. In Austria no Oath was taken, but each Member made an Affirmation of loyalty to the Sovereign; while in France, Germany, and Sweden no Oath of any kind was required as the condition precedent to a Member taking his seat. Within the last 10 or 20 years we had abolished a vast number of promissory oaths which used to be enforced on the holders of almost every responsible position. The hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. W. M. Torrens) had asked what guarantee we should have for the safety of the 1209 Throne and the Constitution if the Bill were passed. The Throne and Constitution must indeed be in a bad way if the Parliamentary Oath was all which lay between them and destruction, and that Oath would certainly not prolong their existence. He thought a general impression existed in the country that there was a great deal too much of the taking of Oaths in Parliament, and in our civil and judicial systems. He supported the Bill, though it did not go so far as he was inclined to go, as being, at any rate, a step in the right direction.
§ MR. GIBSON
I think there is no one in this House who will rise to take part in this debate without some degree of anxiety. It is impossible not to approach the consideration of the topics involved in a spirit both serious and painful. It must have been obvious to everyone who listened to the speech of the Prime Minister that that was the conviction of the right hon. Gentleman; and all who had an opportunity of listening to his elaborate and carefully reasoned arguments must have been conscious that the Prime Minister realized to himself the great difficulty of his task and the obvious perils which beset this Bill. The arguments of the right hon. Gentleman, powerful, vigorous, and effective, as they were, were arguments more against the Bill than for it, because they went infinitely too far. They were against all Oaths everywhere, and involved in that condemnation the utility of all Affirmations. The method adopted by the Prime Minister in his speech, however, is a contradictory one. At one time the question is treated as so small and so bereft of general importance that it was not worthy of being mentioned in the Speech from the Throne. But it was indicated, both to-night in the speech of the Prime Minister, and in replies to Questions previously put from both sides of the House, that the question was considered so large and urgent as to take precedence of every single measure that was mentioned in the Queen's Speech. Sir, what has caused this change of plan on the part of the Government; this immense and supreme change? The cause and object and whole motive power of the Bill is to be found, not on the Treasury Bench, or even in the genius of the Prime Minister, but in Mr. Bradlaugh. I ask anyone who listened to the speech 1210 of the Attorney General, also an able and closely reasoned speech, whether, from beginning to end, he mentioned the name of Mr. Bradlaugh? In the long speech of the Prime Minister, which lasted an hour and a-half, there was certainly not much of Mr. Bradlaugh as contrasted with other topics, yet it is as plain as a proposition of Euclid could be that Mr. Bradlaugh is the cause, not only of this Bill, but of its now being pressed upon Parliament and the country. Does any man believe that this Bill would have been put forward, even when it was introduced, but for the fact that Mr. Bradlaugh had organized a mob of considerable dimensions in Trafalgar Square? And then the noble Lord the Secretary of State for War, having announced, considerably under that pressure, that this Bill would be introduced, and when it was introduced and apparently meant to lie in the Order Book without any great urgency, what is it that suddenly brings it from its repose in the Order Book to its present urgency? On Sunday week Mr. Bradlaugh made a speech, in which he said that if this Bill were not expedited he would take steps to come here and take the Oath. The very next day the Prime Minister announced that this Bill would be taken with all the prominence that was given to it on Monday last; and when the Prime Minister was asked what chance the Tenants' Compensation Bill, the Municipal Government of London Bill, and other measures promised in the Queen's Speech had of being brought forward, the answer was that they would not be proceeded with until this Bill had been passed into law, and the House was told that that answer applied to all Government measures of importance. Let it be known that the motive power of this Bill is not abstract justice, nor a consideration of Constitutional reform, but the incidence and pressure of Mr. Bradlaugh on the floor of this House. This plain and simple object is sought to be obscured by the interesting but misleading historical narrative of the Attorney General; nor was the long, interesting, and elaborate speech of the Prime Minister calculated to bring into prominence the obvious fact to which I have referred. The nation, with that unerring instinct which the Prime Minister recognizes as being in the main correct on most subjects, have seen 1211 clearly what is the grave issue involved; and whatever abstract logic may say, the nation recognizes that both in respect of time and occasion this Bill does violence to many of their most cherished and hallowed feelings, and outrages some of the sentiments which are most deeply established in our nature. They feel that to please Mr. Bradlaugh and to buy off his terrorism every effort has been made during the past three years to profane the Oath; and that now, when that has failed, in consequence of the opposition of the House, a further attempt to appease Mr. Bradlaugh is made by repealing, destroying, and removing from our forms that Oath which heretofore he has in vain sought to profane. Such a Bill might be excused by an ingenious Minister upon two broad arguments. It might be put as a calm effort of thoughtful statesmanship, not suggested by an occasion like the present, and it might also be put that it was supported by the general opinion and the general conscience of the nation. But I would ask any Member of this House whether he believes, from his own experience of the feeling of the nation, that the public opinion of the country, and the public conscience of our people, approve this Bill? I venture to say that there is not a single Member of this House who will bring himself to vote for the Bill that is not conscious in his heart that he is opposing the deliberate convictions of millions of his fellow-countrymen. Petitions are not matters on which I am in the habit of placing any great stress, but the significance of the Petitions in the present case is obvious and most suggestive. The Prime Minister did not exaggerate, but rather minimized, the number on our side, when he said they were four to one. If a Dissolution wore to be taken upon this question, does any hon. Member believe in his heart that the Members returned would not hurl out this Affirmation Bill by a vast majority? We have heard much in these discussions of the analogy of the present case with the Roman Catholic Relief Act and the Act for the Relief of the Jews. But where is the analogy in the matter of public opinion? The Roman Catholic Question was only decided by Parliament after it had been brought before previous Parliaments, and after the constituencies had been thoroughly familiarized with the topic; 1212 whereas any man who has watched the progress of events must be almost startled to find that the feeling in ! the present case, after the lapse of three years, instead of getting stale, I is fresher, stronger, and more vigorous. You refer to the analogy of the Jews' Question. That, again, was a question on which the constituencies had an opportunity of expressing their opinions; but what opportunity has been given to them in this case? They have been put aside by the Prime Minister on this occasion on the ground that they were wrong, being four to one against the Affirmation Bill. I was surprised to hear the Prime Minister allude to the case of Mr. O'Connell, who would surely turn in his grave if he hoard a comparison instituted between himself and Mr. Bradlaugh. Mr. O'Connell came at the end of the Catholic movement which had been agitating the country for many a long day before he was elected for his constituency in Ireland. He was the termination of the Catholic agitation; but Mr. Bradlaugh is the object of this agitation and of this Bill. I ask, is the Bill supported in any part of the country? Is it supported by a majority of Scotch Members? [Cheers.] Well, I hoard a sickly attempt to cheer. Is it supported by the Members from Ireland? There are 103 Irish Members, and I affirm, as a piece of political prophecy, that there will not be found three Irish Members to go into the Government Lobby. Even of that chosen band, the Ulster Liberal Members, on whose consciences, I am informed, great pressure is being brought to bear, I do not think any will be found in the Government Lobby. My proposition is not an extreme one. Of the 103 Irish Members, although some may be induced—shall I say cajoled, I will not say bullied—into abstaining from voting, I repeat there are not three who will be actually brought to the Government Lobby. The Prime Minister in his long speech failed to use one short sentence for which all of us were on the look out. The Government were asked more than once in the progress of these discussions what was to be the position of the House of Commons and of the Government Benches in reference to this question. To-night we have heard very great phrases about civil and religious liberty, and many suggestions have been made to our con- 1213 sciences. But is this a question which is going to be left to the consciences of individual Members? Is it to be an "open question" for the House to exercise its own independent judgment upon? Is it to be left to the conscience of each individual Member, or rather to be influenced by the conscientious pressure of the high-minded Gentlemen who wield the Government conscience, the Government Whips? The Prime Minister was not prepared to avoid hinting, or suggesting, or stating that considerations of political profit might possibly bias to an extent some hon. Members who sit on this side of the House. That, if not a charge, is certainly a suggestion. I pass it by with the criticism that it seems to have been framed almost verbally on a sentence in Lord Coleridge's Charge in the recent Freethinking case against Foote, when he said he did not make any reflection whatever upon the prosecutor. Now, Sir, is it wise to outrage, to ignore, or even to outrun the general opinion of our people on a question which so deeply stirs all their strongest feelings? The Prime Minister has substantially acknowledged that the feelings of the majority of the people are against him, and, therefore, that he is ignoring them. Is it wise, on a question of this kind, for the sole sake of Mr. Bradlaugh, to ignore the conscientious and religious convictions of the majority of the people? If there be abstract reasons which satisfy the Prime Minister of the soundness of his views, which I do not dispute for a moment, is it wise, statesmanlike, and judicious to outrun and go far ahead of the judgment and instinct—the usually safe instinct—of the people, on a question on which they must be powerfully swayed by instinct? The Prime Minister said that instinct was usually a safe guide; and therefore, being a safe guide, it required grave arguments to show that upon this question, where instinct and intuition must have powerful sway, it should be treated in an exceptional way. The Prime Minister guarded himself by saying that instinct was usually safe unless the question were disguised, as it might be in a case involving difficult legal arguments and Constitutional considerations. Hardly any man of ordinary understanding could be misled by that statement. What have we heard to-night of difficult legal arguments and Constitutional considerations? 1214 I admit that the Attorney General used difficult legal arguments in order to obscure the question. The Prime Minister entered upon elaborate, complicated, Constitutional questions so as to keep the real question out of view. The question involved is clearly shown by the clauses of the Bill. It requires no lawyer and no experienced politician to understand the words of the Bill; but it does require a learned lawyer and an experienced politician to prevent people understanding it. The Prime Minister said that people might be led by their feelings more than by their judgment; but feelings are not a bad thing to go along with the judgment. On some points you have to reach the understanding through the heart; and this may be one of them. The Bill works a vast change. It omits words, few, simple, and solemn, sanctified by the reverence of mankind, and enshrined by tradition in the heart of the whole nation. The structure of the Oath is simple, clear, intelligible. Divested of all needless words, it embodies the Apostolic precept to "fear God and honour the King." Can any man doubt that if, at the bidding of Mr. Bradlaugh, you get the fear out of the Oath, the honour will not be in long? What is the meaning which the Prime Minister attaches to the word "solemnly" in the mouth of an Atheist? Is that intended also to mislead and deceive the people, who, on this occasion, are led by their feelings as well as by their judgment? Will it not be keeping up a delusion to say that in the lips of Mr. Bradlaugh and others the Affirmation is to be pronounced solemnly? The Prime Minister said this was simply a residue of a once large question. A master of words, he kept gradually minimizing the question, until you looked in the air for what was left. It was a "narrow ledge," a "shred," a "slice" —everything to indicate smallness. It is all very well for the Prime Minister to treat the Oath as being practically nothing; but, in the popular mind, does it not make all the difference between a recognition and a denial of the Supreme Being? In this part of his speech, which was most misleading, the Prime Minister said that the opponents of the Bill were seeking to throw over Christianity. Could any statement be more absolutely removed from even a vestige of connection with this question? We 1215 deal with the Oath as it is, and as it has been for years on our Statute Book, where it has long been with the sanction of the Prime Minister. It contains a clear recognition of the Deity. We take our stand on the recognition of God; and it is proposed to throw over that, and take our stand upon nothing. How will this question be regarded, not by the professors, the logicians, and the philosophers, but by the great majority of the people, with their quick feelings, ready instincts, and rapid intuition as to what is right and wrong? Will they not believe in too many places that the passing of this Bill is very like driving out of the English House of Commons the name of the Supreme Being in order to let in Mr. Bradlaugh? Will not the common people feel that the House of Commons regard the presence here of Mr. Bradlaugh as being more important than the recognition of the Supreme Being? Again, how will this Bill be regarded by Atheists? Will it not be regarded by them as an unmixed triumph? They will be blind not to see that at the bidding of Mr. Bradlaugh you are opening the door of the House to all avowed Atheists. By a rhetorical device, the Prime Minister suggested that the opponents of the Bill were seeking an illogical change in our laws; but it is not we who are proposing any innovation. It may be there is some sentiment and feeling about this question; but how few questions are decided by pure logic. I am thankful there are many that are not. If the world were ruled by logicians, it would be a most unlivable world. In legislation, as in the ordinary transactions of life, you must give some effect to the feelings, sentiments, and even the prejudices of the bulk of mankind. I oppose the Bill not only on account of the shock which it must give to the religious opinion of the country, and the outrage it must inflict on many of the most sacred feelings of the human mind, but also because it is contrary to the traditions, the practices, and the methods of our whole English public life. The Sovereign on Her Throne, every one of the Ministers on the opposite Bench, every Judge in a Court of Justice, every juryman who goes into the box, every soldier and sailor who serves his Queen and country, enters upon his duties under the most solemn sanctions. What are the 1216 objections to this principle? It is said that Courts of Justice allow an Atheist to make an Affirmation; and, undoubtedly, so they do; but why? Because it is necessary in the interests of justice that no evidence shall be lost. Still, an Atheist is compelled, before making an Affirmation, to declare that an Oath is not binding upon his conscience. The present Bill contains not only a form of Affirmation, but a form with an alternative, so that an avowed Atheist, without saying whether an Oath is binding on his conscience or not, may either take the Oath or make an Affirmation as he pleases. We are told that there may be Atheists and Agnostics already in the House, and that Voltaire, if he were alive now, might also be here. But surely that is not an argument; and I think that everyone must have noticed how the Prime Minister laboured in that part of his speech to derive arguments from that which scarcely bore to be presented seriously. We are asked now that the whole nation shall assume the national responsibility of opening the door of the House to every avowed Atheist. That is the point at issue, and it is far removed from the argument of the Prime Minister. I will not combat the argument used by the right hon. Gentleman and the Attorney General, that you have admitted Roman Catholics and Jews, and why stop there? It is an insult both to Roman Catholics and Jews to place them for a moment in the same category as Atheists; and I think that before using this argument the Prime Minister should somewhat have considered the feelings of those who must have been hurt, if not outraged, by his suggestion. Then, again, it is no question of civil and religious liberty; that is merely a grand phrase for the groundlings. Every man in this country is free to believe what he pleases he can exercise his right of private judgment, and upon him rests the dreadful responsibility. Nor is it a question of the rights of constituencies. No one denies that a constituency in this country may elect anyone who comes under the legal definition of fitness; but a constituency, after full notice—and in this case there was notice after notice, the notice of notoriety—should not elect one who cannot be admitted like other Members. However, I do not rest my case on this narrow ground; I do not 1217 call in question the rights of constituencies. They exist; but we, the Representatives of the entire nation, cannot but consider what is best for the national interests, even though they may run counter to the prejudices of one isolated constituency. Both in this debate and in 1880 some words of the Prime Minister's were quoted, which I must quote again, as they were very simple and very eloquent. The whole gist and effect of the Prime Minister's speech this evening was that the Oath was not now of very much avail, though it may once have been valuable; that it had served its purpose, and that it was not desirable now to take one's stand upon it. But what were the words of the Prime Minister; what was the way in which he put it? He said that there was no advantage in retaining any Oath at all. [Mr. GLADSTONE: I did not say that] I am very glad to hear that disclaimer; but I am bound to say that any one who heard the Prime Minister's speech would have come to the conclusion that he had very little to say in favour of the Oath for any purpose whatever. However, I desire to quote the words of the Prime Minister in 1854, when he occupied a position of great responsibility in the House. They are words that should sink deep into the heart of every Member—I Know that there are some hon. Gentlemen hero who think we should come to the discharge of our duties without any oath. I do not happen to he one of that opinion. I revere the principle of the oath. Our oaths ought to he brief—ought to be simple …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 in a temper which befits men doing a solemn act."—(3 Hansard,  900.)Those are eloquent, simple, and touching words. They should govern the course of this debate. Our Oaths now are brief and simple, and are divested of all needless words. The nation, guided by its feelings, desires no further change, and I refuse to vote for the second reading of a Bill which treats the recognition of God as needless, as inconvenient, and therefore to be got rid of; and I will give no countenance or support to a measure proposed in deference to the claims of Atheistic clamour—contrary, as I believe, to the public opinion of the country, and' hurtful as I know it to be, 1218 to the consciences of millions of our people.
§ THE JUDGE ADVOCATE GENERAL (Mr. OSBORNE MORGAN)
Sir, the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Gibson) who has just sat down, in his eloquent speech—more remarkable for pure rhetoric, than for that "pure logic" of which he has expressed such a horror—has challenged any hon. Member, who is unfortunate enough to follow him, to point to a single portion of the Kingdom, the inhabitants of which are not almost unanimously opposed to this Bill. I rise to answer that challenge. I have no mandate to speak for Ireland, or for Scotland; though I suspect that, as regards the latter country, the Division List, when it appears, will tell a different tale. But I have a right to speak for another part of the country—for a country as religious as Scotland, a country in which the Sunday schools are always full, and in which the places of Divine worship are always crowded—I mean the Principality of Wales. I do not believe that there are two Atheists in the whole of my constituency. If, therefore, the majority of my constituents are in favour of this Bill, it is not because they hate Atheism the less, but because they dislike tests the more. Now, I assert that the great majority of the Welsh people are in favour, not certainly of Mr. Bradlaugh, but of this Bill; and as a proof I say that, looking around me, I can only see one Welsh Member—the noble Lord whom I hope I may, without offence, call the accidental Member for Carmarthenshire (Viscount Emlyn)— who will be found voting against this Bill. And now I come to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir R. Assheton Cross) who moved the rejection of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman began his speech by saying that he would deal with this question as a question of principle, and not as a question of persons. But he had hardly uttered half-a-dozen words, when he proceeded to drag in Mr. Bradlaugh by the head and shoulders at every sentence; and I am bound to say that every speaker on the other side has followed his example, and we have had nothing but "Bradlaugh, Bradlaugh, Bradlaugh." Now, I do not intend to follow in the footsteps of the right hon. Gentleman, and, therefore, I will only say one thing about Mr. 1219 Bradlaugh—and then I will pass from that, to me, not very inviting subject—and it is this. The speeches of hon. Gentlemen opposite have been the best advertisement for Mr. Bradlaugh that he could have desired. Just contrast his position now with what it was three years ago. Then he was an obscure individual who bad figured in a police court. Now he is the renowned champion of freedom of election—the man who has beaten Sir Hardinge Giffard all along the line. It is you who have put him on the pedestal, who have enabled him to pose as a martyr and a hero; and, if he is a fourth time reelected for Northampton, it is you whom he will have to thank for the result. Now, Sir, I have been asking myself during this whole debate, "What is it we are really fighting about?" Hon. Gentlemen opposite will say, "We are fighting for that religion which is part of the law of the land;" and my hon. and learned Friend (Sir Hardinge Giffard) has told us, in solemn tones, that Christianity is part of the Common Law of the country. My hon, and learned Friend's law has been somewhat knocked about of late, and, therefore, I am extremely glad to be able cordially to agree with him upon this one point. But if by that he means that, by the Common Law, Christianity is a condition precedent to a man's taking his seat in this House, then say that that contention has been entirely disposed of by the opening speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, which is a complete answer to that contention. But if, for argument's sake, we admit its truth, have there been no statutory inroads made into that maxim of the Common Law? Why, the presence of the hon. Member behind him (Baron Henry de Worms) is a living contradiction to the assertion of my hon. and learned Friend. That hon. Gentleman, in his speech the other night, re-produced the exact arguments by which hon. Gentlemen sitting by his side strove for years to keep his co-religionists out of this House. Happily those arguments were unsuccessful, or we should not now have had the pleasure of listening to the speech of the hon. Gentleman. And exactly the same thing may be said of the Roman Catholic Members of this House, and of the arguments against Catholic Emancipation. Well, it only shows how easy it 1220 is for the victims of persecution to become persecutors themselves. As we used to see at school, it is the boy who has been bullied himself, who is apt to turn the greatest bully when he gets a chance. But, says the right hon. Gentleman, "What I object to is not any particular form of belief—it is the negation of all belief; in other words, a man may believe anything, provided he believes something — provided he believes in some Divinity or other." Now, lot me test the value of that proposition by asking the House this question—Whom would this Oath as it stands exclude? It would not have excluded Voltaire; it would not have excluded Robespierre; it did not exclude Gibbon; and, I believe, it would not have excluded Hume. It would certainly not exclude a Mahomedan or a Brahmin; I am not sure about a Bhuddist; it would most assuredly admit a Fire Worshipper; and, I think, it would admit a Devil Worshipper—"devils believe and tremble" —to say nothing of a whole army of hypocrites and humbugs. For the whole gist of your objection to the proposed change is, that it would only admit an Atheist who is honest enough to avow himself as such. If you must have a lock, at least have a good one, and not one which can be picked by the first comer. Now, I believe I have taken as many of these oaths as most men. When I was at Oxford, we lived in a perfect atmosphere of tests. A man could not get a twopenny half-penny exhibition without having to go on his knees to call down all sorts of imprecations upon the head of the poor Pope and the unfortunate descendants of James III., the last of whom died exactly 95 years ago. Did that make Oxford more religious? Why, these oaths were the subject of the most profane and irreverent jests. I well remember an old Fellow, of Brazenose, who used to go about boasting that he would like to see the oath he would not take to keep £600 a-year. Is the spectacle which this House presents at the opening of Parliament a more edifying one? I have seen hon. Members come up in gangs of 30 at a time to the Table, and the Holy Book tossed from band to hand with an irreverence which was perfectly shocking, until I have felt inclined to cry out with. Coleridge— 1221Oh, blasphemy! The Book of Life is madeA superstitious instrument, on whichWe gabble out the oaths we mean to break,For all must swear, all— and in every place,Merchant and lawyer, senator and priest,Until faith reels. The very name of GodSounds like a juggler's charm.And now one word about Scotland. I, this morning, read a most able and temperate article from the pen of one of the most religious Scotchmen in the Kingdom—the Royal Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Scotch Church (the Earl of Aberdeen)—from which I will read one extract—If we turn from the question of the efficiency of indirect as compared with direct methods, and glance at the general effects of the whole system of religious tests, what do we find is the teaching of history regarding the general utility of such provisions? With respect to England during the past three centuries, it would hardly be too much to say that the religious life of any particular creed appears to have been in an inverse ratio to the rigour with which that creed was artificially protected.Do not these words apply with peculiar force to the past and present condition of the Church of England? Will anyone say that that Church possessed a greater hold over the lives and consciences of men, in the days of drowsy sermons and sleepy congregations, when she was hedged in on every side by oaths and tests? Why, what a puny thing must our religion be, if it requires to be propped up by such a miserable crutch as this! I should be ashamed of my Christianity if I thought that it needed to be galvanized into life by such a process as that which you are now defending. For my part, I have the most perfect faith in the vitality of our national belief. I believe that this wave of infidelity, of which we hear so much, is but the breaker dashing itself upon the rock. But I have also faith in the common sense and common justice of my countrymen. I have heard that this Bill is a perfect godsend to the Opposition. Well, they must be thankful for small mercies, if it is. I believe, however, that a reaction is not far distant, and that hon. Gentlemen opposite would do well to remember Goldsmith's lines about the dog which went mad and bit the man, and everyone thought the man would die—But soon a wonder came to light,Which showed the rogues they lied!The man recovered from the bite:The dog it was that died.1222 For depend upon it the day is not far distant when some such Bill will be passed, and when men will reflect with amazement, that a Member of this House, as duly elected by his constituents as you Mr. Speaker — ["Oh, oh!"]—or any hon. Gentleman opposite who jeers at me, should be debarred from doing his duty to that constituency —not because he held, but because he avowed, religious opinions which were disliked, or even which were detested, by the immense majority of his Colleagues and his countrymen.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
said, he hoped the Government would consent to adjourn the debate at an earlier hour than usual, so as to give time for the discussion of the subject to be brought forward by the hon. Member for Preston. After the remarkable speeches of the Prime Minister and the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson), he thought the House ought to be given time for reflection. Judging from certain manifestations of levity during the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down, the House appeared to be hardly in a condition to discuss with adequate propriety a subject of such great importance as the Bill before them. He begged to move the adjournment of the debate.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned." —(Lord Randolph Churchill.)
said, he could not accede to the Motion without expressing great regret that it should be found necessary to prolong the debate. It was part of the new habits and views that had taken possession of the House that it should be thought necessary to occupy, in debates on Motions for second readings, twice or three times as much time as was once thought sufficient. He regretted they were not able to follow the practice of a former period— namely, of 1854—when a comparatively short time was devoted to the discussion of a Bill to amend the Parliamentary Oaths Act. As, however, he knew there was a strong desire to continue this debate for at least another night, he would offer no resistance to the Motion.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, he could not allow the observations of 1223 the Prime Minister to pass without saying that in former times there were much longer debates than the present on questions of less importance. The importance of the present question could hardly have been exaggerated, even before the speech of the right hon. Gentleman; but since that speech its importance had increased. As an example of a longer debate on a less important matter, he might refer to the debate on the Repeal of the Corn Laws, which lasted for 13 or 14 days. Surely a change in the commercial policy of the country was not of so much importance as the question, whether they were to retain in their proceedings the recognition of a God.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, he desired to take the present opportunity of saying that the Bill, in his opinion, was not the climax of toleration which the country expected; and that in view of what was usual in all cases in which religious matters were dealt with by the House, the request for an adjournment was one which the Prime Minister could hardly with decency refuse.
§ MR. O'DONNELL
remarked, that whatever might be the small importance which the Prime Minister attached to it, the whole Irish nation, without distinction of political Party, was unanimous in recognizing the vast importance of the proposal to abolish the religious character of the constitution of this Assembly. Among the 103 Members who represented Ireland in the House, he did not believe that three would be found to support the proposal of the Prime Minister.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Debate further adjourned till Monday next.