§ [THIRD NIGHT.]
§ 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.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
said, the question before the House was one which appeared to him on examination to be so great that he was quite of opinion that he was wrong not to have left the matter in the hands of those who might have had long and large experience of what was good and what was bad for the government of men. He was bound to say that the difficulty of the debate had been increased rather than diminished by the speech of the Prime Minister. He quite admitted that when he joined with those who, in 1880, began to show resistance to Mr. Bradlaugh, he did not expect that the conflict then begun would ever reach the proportions which they witnessed at the present time. But now they had all gone too far to recede from the respective positions which they had taken up. The widest and most vital issues were involved in the question before them, and he did not imagine that any hon. Gentleman on his side of the House could afford to give way. He listened, as he supposed everyone would in the House, with the deepest interest to the wonderful oration of the Prime Minister on Thursday last; but he must confess, in all shame and humiliation, that there was much of that speech which was far above his feeble comprehension, and which, after an attentive and careful study of it in print, still remained quite 1440 beyond his grasp. He thought at times while he was listening to that speech that he had been carried back to the Middle Ages, and was hearing a discourse from one of the fathers or schoolmen of that time. Of this he felt sure, that if Augustine, or Origen, or the Venerable Bede, or Jerome were to revisit this earth for the purpose of propounding some now and strange theological problem, the Prime Minister would meet and confront him and send him back in confusion and dismay. If he might venture on a criticism of that great speech, he would say that he was of opinion that to a considerable extent it was above the question, and that some of the right hon. Gentleman's arguments were of too abstract a nature. One feature of the speech struck him very much. The right hon. Gentleman did not dwell upon the rights of Northampton, or of Mr. Brad-laugh. He did not even mention them, for he knew that in connection with such matters as the House was now considering, Parliament recognized no rights but its own. It had never treated these claims for electoral or representative concessions as rights; it had always regarded them as high and valuable privileges which it was in its power to withhold or bestow, and it had never been guided by any other principle than expediency and policy. The constituencies might elect whomsoever they pleased, and Parliament might admit or reject those who were chosen. When he read of Mr. Bradlaugh going about from place to place, and announcing in the loudest language that he intended to take his seat in that House, Bill or no Bill, law or no law, whether the House of Commons liked it or whether it did not, he simply laughed. Parliament would do just what it thought best, and Mr. Bradlaugh would find that Parliament was a good deal stronger than he. He only thought that when he held out these menaces, and when he summoned mass meetings in the vicinity of Westminster, he was injuring his cause, and only strengthened the determination of the the House to proceed in this matter as deliberately as if no such threats were uttered or meetings held. He did deplore that the Attorney General, the chief Law Adviser of the Crown, should get into such a panic, and with bated breath and artificial solemnity should 1441 have warned the House of the peril it was incurring, of the abyss into which it was walking, by resisting a man who defied the law and those who made the law. The Prime Minister did not titter any such warning. He knew that the House of Commons ran no danger whatever from Mr. Bradlaugh. They were not afraid of noisy agitators. "Demagogues," said Mr. Lowe, during the discussions on the Reform Bill, when similar terrors were held up—Demagogues are the commonplace of history…Their names float lightly on the stream of time; they are in some way handed down to us, but then they are as little regarded as is the foam which rides on the crest of the stormy wave, and bespatters the rock which it cannot shake."—(3 Hansard,  2117.)So they might leave the Attorney General isolated in his terror, and discuss this matter with the most perfect calmness. He had said that the question was one of policy; and, in deciding it, the House could not act unwisely if it were, to some extent, guided by the light of the past. Was it expedient to alter the laws of England for the benefit of one man, and that one man not like Mr. O'Connell, Mr. Pease, or Alderman Salomons, representing a large, influential, and respectable class in the community, but representing, as far as they knew, only himself? You could not separate, do what you would, this measure from the person who would be the first to take advantage of it—it was purely and simply a "privilegium." They did not know for certain that there was a single other person in the country besides Mr. Bradlaugh who would be benefited by it; but this they did know for certain, that if there were such persons, their number was comparatively small; and this they knew further, that the number of persons who would be shocked by it, and morally injured by it, was inconceivably vast, so that the measure was, on the first blush of it, a "privilegium" of the most dangerous character. If they could erase from their minds all that had occurred in this House in connection with Mr. Bradlaugh, if none of those events had taken place, and if the Government of this country, acting on the representations of large classes of persons, and on a considerable amount of public opinion, had proposed to abolish all promissory Oaths, from the Oath of the Sovereign on the Throne, to the Oath of the magistrate on the 1442 Bench, that would have been a measure of a wide and comprehensive character not altogether out of keeping with the general principles of the Liberal Party; and though it might have encountered some opposition in this House, it would have received from the House a consideration widely different from that which was being given to the present proposal of the Government. The Promissory Oaths Act of 1868 was based on the grounds he had indicated; the object of that measure was not to admit notorious Atheists into the Army and Navy, or into any public offices and positions, but was to reduce the enormous number of promissory Oaths which were at that time incumbent, which were necessary for the performance of the most trifling matters; and it was also, by substituting declarations for Oaths in many cases, intended to meet the conscientious objections of many who, while on great and solemn occasions ready and willing to take an oath, were, nevertheless, of opinion that the indiscriminate multiplication of Oaths was, on many obvious grounds, objectionable, tended, to profanity, and detracted from the solemnity of Oaths which were considered to be of value. And that Bill was agreed to almost unanimously by Parliament. It was for the benefit of the whole nation; it was considered and passed deliberately, and in the absence of any religious or political pressure. The circumstances which had led to the introduction of the present Bill were in every detail diametrically contrary; it was not for the benefit of the whole nation, it was for the benefit of one man, and it was brought in in deference to clamour and violence. Let them consider for a moment who were the classes outside who were opposed to the Representative of Atheism. They were the religious, the moral, the law-abiding, and the industrious. Who were the personal supporters of Atheism outside this House? For the most part, they were the residuum, the rabble, and the scum of the population; the bulk of them were persons to whom all restraint, religious, moral, or legal, was odious and intolerable. Why were they so anxious to give these latter a victory and a triumph over the former? What good object could they possibly expect to gain by such a course? Further, the design of the Government had been carried out in the most unfortunate manner that 1443 could have been selected. The Bill proposed that Members of Parliament should swear or affirm at their pleasure. What would be the result of this? The Oath and the Affirmation would become Party battle-cries. The House would divide into jurors and non-jurors. The Radical Party, remembering the origin of the Bill, would, of course, for the future, affirm; and the idea would rapidly spread that the Affirmation, undoubtedly less solemn than the Oath, would more conveniently cover and allow of Republican and revolutionary enterprizes. On the other hand, the Tory Party, faithful to the Constitution, would, of course, adhere to the Oath, always willing to testify, in the most solemn manner, their loyalty to the Throne and to the institutions of their country. Was it wise or politic to make new Party distinctions in this country, based on such a difference as that? The whole speech of the Prime Minister, if it meant anything, was directed against all promissory Oaths. He said the Parliamentary Oath now had become merely a Theistic test, and, as such, was unsuited to its purpose. But he forgot that he was responsible for the present form of Oath; if it was a Theistic test, it was his fault. The Parliamentary Oaths Act of 1866 was the work of the right hon. Gentleman; he did not object to a Theistic test then; but, if he objected to it now, why did he not do away with it altogether? Why did he adopt a particular form of Bill which might have the effect of connecting an Affirmation with Atheistic opinions, and of denoting to the House and the public the individual who held such opinions? They wore told that the Oath was useless, because any Atheist could take it. He maintained that no Atheist who acted in the manner adopted by Mr. Bradlangh could take the Oath. By the law and Constitution of England an avowed Atheist could not take an Oath. Let the House remember what occurred in 1880. Mr. Bradlaugh came to the Table, and stated that he claimed to affirm as one of those who, by virtue of the Evidence Law Amendment Act, was entitled to affirm. That was the only knowledge which the House had, or could have, of his being an Atheist; because it was only Atheists who, on those grounds, under that Act could affirm. They had nothing to do with 1444 his writings; they had only to consider his acts. What did this action of his mean? It did not mean that Mr. Brad-laugh had the slightest conscientious objection to taking an Oath—they knew that he was quite willing to take the Oath afterwards, and had no repugnance to it. The only moaning his action could have was that by it he meant to inform the House of Commons, in the plainest way he could, that the House of Commons was entirely given over to superstition, that their most solemn forms were ridiculous and obsolete, and that he would be no party to them. Mr. Bradlaugh's action in claiming to affirm was a deliberate and premeditated avowal of Atheism to the assembled House of Commons, and a declaration of war against Christianity; and the first attack upon the fortress was the repudiation of the Oath of the House of Commons. For his part, he made no complaint. If Mr. Bradlangh liked to run a tilt against Christianity, let him do so in the name of whatever master he might serve. But he asked hon. Gentlemen opposite and the Prime Minister, if they could wonder that tho glove thus rudely thrown down was promptly taken up; that an army in defence of Christianity at once sprang into life; and could they wonder that they were not prepared to give way now, when a Bill was brought in which was to give a complete victory to Mr. Bradlaugh? It was said that Mr. Bradlangh could take the Oath in the next Parliament. That he (Lord Randolph Churchill) denied entirely, unless the law was altered. Parliament was seized of the fact that Mr. Brad-laugh was an avowed Atheist, and therefore could not take the Oath; the fact was stated in the Records of Parliament and every Successor of Mr. Speaker would be bound to follow the valuable ruling which he laid down when Mr. Bradlangh first presented himself at the Table and claimed to make an Affirmation. By that ruling Mr. Bradlaugh's right to take the Oath might be called in question at any time, and the Speaker would be bound to remit the claim and the objection to the consideration and judgment of the House of Commons. Now the Government asked Parliament to do for Mr. Bradlaugli—who, for all they knew, stood to all intents and purposes absolutely alone in the country—what Parliament did not do either 1445 for the Roman Catholics or for the Jews; and, more than that, Parliament was to do it immediately, and in obedience to the first demand. Did Parliament abolish the Oath for the Catholics or the Jews when they refused to take the Oath? Not at all. It altered the Oath, but it refused to part with it. Catholic Emancipation was the necessary consequence of the Union; we could not continue to withhold from 8,000,000 or more of our people Constitutional privileges; but the Catholics waited 29 years before their difficulties were removed, so fearful was Parliament of tampering with the Oath. But, at any rate, when Catholic Emancipation was granted there was no question of endangering the Christian character of the Constitution. The Catholics were as faithful and as loyal guardians of that as the Protestants; all the tenets of their religion were on the side of a Christian law; and it was, without doubt, those considerations which finally induced both Parties in the State to grant them the same privileges as the Protestants. Well, of course they were told, over and over again, that when they admitted Jews into Parliament they destroyed the Christian character of the Constitution. He absolutely and totally denied that assertion. The moral sanctions which controlled both Jews and Christians were in many respects similar. The belief in a Supreme Being and in a future state of rewards and punishments was devoutly held by both, and the Ten Commandments were equally to Jew and Christian the rule of life. There was nothing in the Jewish creed or character which could in the slightest degree detract from any pledge which they might give, or unfit them for public confidence, or deprive them of general respect. He would examine that a little more closely, because, to a superficial observer, it might appear that Jewish Emancipation was the weak point in the case of the opponents of the Bill, whereas it was the strongest. The God of the Christians and the God of the Jews was one and the same. The difference of opinion arose as to the nature and the form; but there was no difference as to the essence or the attributes. Judaism was only separated from Arianism by a degree, or, rather, he should say that Arianism was an improvement, and an advance on Judaism. [A laugh.] He 1446 did not know why hon. Members should laugh; he was endeavouring to discuss the subject seriously and with gravity. An impartial student of the life and times of Athanasius would have no difficulty in coming to the conclusion that, as far as it was possible and lawful to pry into the causes which regulate the progress of religious thought, it was owing to an accident, or what they called an accident, as much as to anything else that the whole of Europe at the present moment was not Arian. The acceptance of the settlement of that great religious schism, which divided the world at one time into two bitterly hostile camps, depended entirely upon the caprices of a despotic Emperor, the intrigues of an Oriental Court, and upon the hairbreadth escapes of an adventurous Bishop. He had only stated that as an argument that it was not wonderful that in the 19th century, when these facts were known and acknowledged, the State should have been extremely tolerant, when Jewish Emancipation was under discussion, of all forms of Arianism. Now, though nothing could be more distasteful to him than to bring questions of abstract theology into debates in the House of Commons, he could not refrain from reminding the Prime Minister, whom he was sorry not to see in his place, and who dwelt so much on the question of Jewish Emancipation, and drew such large and such unjustifiable inferences from it, that the true Christian not only believed in, but looked forward to, a time when the Jewish nation should recognize the doctrine of the Trinity, and when the scattered exiles from Palestine should be exalted far above all the other Gentile races of the earth. There was, then, nothing extraordinary in the fact that the Christian inhabitants of a Christian country should admit people with such a future to equal privileges with themselvos. The claims of the Jews for admission to Parliament were so forcibly put by Mr. Disraeli, and contrasted so remarkably with the claims of Mr. Bradlaugh, that he could not resist quoting them to the House. Mr. Disraeli, in doing so, said—I have always, Sir, upheld that opinion because I believed that the Jewish race was that one to which the human family in general has been under the greatest obligation, and when I am told…that by admitting Jews into 1447 Parliament we are endangering the Christian character of…the community, I must say it does appear to me that it is because we are a…Christian community that the claim of the Jews to enjoy all civil and political privileges is irresistible. Sir, when I remember for how much we are indebted to that people, of what ineffable blessings they have been the human agents—when I remember that by their history, their poetry, their laws, our lives are instructed, solaced, and regulated—when I recall other considerations and memories more solemn and reverential, I confess that I cannot as a Christian oppose the claims of those to whom Christianity is under so great an obligation."—(3 Hansard,  961.)and, in concluding what must have been one of the most powerful speeches he ever made to the House of Commons, he said—I cannot help remembering that the Jews have outlived Assyrian Kings, Egyptian Pharaohs, Roman Cæsars, and Arabian Caliphs, and…it is my conviction.…that the time will come when the Jews.… will receive in this country full and complete emancipation.…I have faith in that Almighty Being who had never deserted them."—(Ibid., 904–9–70.)Could Mr. Bradlaugh or any of his crew support their claims for admission to that House by arguments so weighty and so solemn as those? He ventured to say that if any Member of that House advocated the claims of Mr. Bradlaugh by comparing them with the claims of the Jews, he inflicted upon that ancient people a fouler insult and a crueler wrong than was ever devised by mediæval fanaticism. Yet the Jews had to wait many years before the door was opened, so deliberate and so hesitating, but so sure, had been the progress of our Constitution; and finally Parliament did not abolish the Oath for them, it did not allow them to affirm, though that course might have appeared the most natural and the most easy. To admit the Jews into Parliament, an irreproachable race having an immense stake in the fortunes of this country, after nine years of weary waiting, seven words were omitted from the Oath. For one sect only had Parliament made a greater effort and abolished the Oath, substituting an Affirmation— an essentially Christian sect, whose pure lives, peaceful doctrines, and high morality constituted an argument which could not be resisted that the admission into the House of Members of that sect, rather than endanger the Constitution, would adorn the Senate. But here, again, it was long before Parliament took the stop of abolishing the Oath, even under such circumstances of abso- 1448 lute security—nay, more, of positive advantage; and he thought it was only in 1858 that the Parliamentary Affirmation of the Quakers became part of the Statute Law. Yet the Quakers did not refuse to take an Oath because they did not believe in the solemnity of it; it was because of their sense of its excessive solemnity that they objected to combining it with matters purely human, and in their adhesion to that objection they were prepared to sacrifice all hope and prospect of distinction or advancement among their fellow men. Contrast this with Mr. Bradlaugh's position, who said—"Rather than be debarred from the advantages of a Parliamentary position I will take your Oath, or any number of oaths, or any kind of them; whether it be on the Testament of the Christian or on the broken saucer of the Chinese, it is all one to me." And this was the man whom the Government proposed to place on a better ground than the Catholics or the Jews, and on the same ground as the members of the Society of Friends. It was well to recall those historical facts in the face of the speech of the Attorney General the other night, who informed them that he introduced this Bill in order to remove the conscientious objection of those who could not tolerate the profanation of the Oath. A more audacious proposition was never before put forward by a lawyer. He took this Bill of the Government, and he stripped it of all those flimsy disguises with which the Prime Minister so ingeniously but so uselessly clothed it, and he placed it naked before the Parliament and before the country—a Bill for the admission of avowed Atheists into the House of Commons— and he said that that was a fundamental change in the Constitution of such vital and momentous importance that the people of this country would not hastily ratify it, and that the opinion of the country must be ascertained before the Parliament could assent to it. The peculiarity of the English Constitution was that it was founded upon, and incorporated with, the Christian morality. It was a characteristic which was possessed by no other nation; however free, or however great; and did it not occur to them that the extraordinary prosperity and duration and apparent future of our Empire was not, perhaps, unconnected with this famous characteristic, and was it not 1449 certain that the great statesmen who were concerned in opposing Catholic Emancipation, the admission of the Jews, and the Affirmation of Quakers, were possessed of this idea, and were fearful of this characteristic being endangered or lost sight of? They were not necessarily, as some hon. Members opposite might think, fools, and idiots, and bigots; and yet their steps were extraordinarily cautious. From the days of King Alfred to the days of Queen Victoria, by the Common Law of England, open and notorious Atheists were absolutely incapable of discharging any public duty, or filling any public position of confidence and trust. He was more surprised than he could say to hear this statement contested by the Attorney General and the Prime Minister. It had never been denied till the present day. He knew it was denied by Lord Coleridge the other day; but Lord Coleridge was obtaining an unfortunate celebrity for allowing his political opinions to be incidentally set forth from the Judicial Bench; and though Lord Coleridge might be a distinguished Judge, no one had ever yet claimed for him that he was a great lawyer. His law might be dismissed without further notice. Against Lord Coleridge he would set the far higher authority of Lord Erskine, who, in his great speech on The Age of Reason, said—The Christian religion is the very foundation of the law of the land; to profess the Christian religion is the sanction of all our public duties, and the only pledge of our submission to the system which constitutes the State.In the case of "Cowan v. Milbourne," in 1864, long after the removal of Jewish disabilities, where a man had contracted to let some rooms and refused to carry out the contract when he ascertained that they were to be used for the purpose of delivering Atheistical lectures, Baron Kelly said—There is abundant authority for saying that Christianity is part and parcel of the law of the land; and, therefore, to support and maintain publicly the proposition that one who has contracted to let rooms for a purpose stated in general terms, and who afterwards discovers that they are to he used for the delivery of lectures that our Saviour is defective and his teaching misleading, hut is, nevertheless, hound to permit his room to he used for that purpose, such a proposition is a violation of the principles of law, and cannot he done without blasphemy.1450 Baron Martin concurred in that judgment. Baron Bramwell said—I think that the plaintiff was about to use the rooms for an unlawful purpose, because he was about to use them for the purpose of teaching or advised speaking denying the Christian religion to be true, or the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to he of Divine authority. That being so, his purpose was unlawful, and the plaintiff could not enforce the contract.But the proposition he had laid down as to the civil disabilities of open and notorious Atheists was incorporated in the Statute 9 Will. III., c. 35, "An Act for the more effectual suppressing of Blasphemy and Profaneness," which enacted that a person convicted of—Blasphemous and impious opinions, contrary to the doctrines and principles of the Christian religion, greatly tending to the dishonour of Almighty God, and destructive to the peace and welfare of this Kingdom,should, for the first offence—Be adjudged incapable and disabled in law to all intents and purposes whatsoever to have or enjoy any office, or official employment, or employment ecclesiastical, civil, or military, or any part in them, or any profit or advantage appertaining to them or any of them; and if any person or persons so convicted shall, at the time of his or their conviction, enjoy or possess any office, place, or employment, such office, place, or employment shall he void, and is hereby declared void.That Act was amended in favour of the Unitarians in 1813, but, otherwise, was then in force; so that, in fact, it had, to all intents and purposes, been confirmed within the last 70 years; and the above Statute was in Volume 2 of the Revised Statutes, issued by authority in 1871. If the Government wished to get Mr. Bradlaugh into Parliament — if they wished to qualify Mr. Bradlaugh for holding high Office in their Administration, the}r ought to repeal that Statute. Dared they do it? He challenged them to put down an Amendment repealing that Statute; but, as a matter of fact, this Bill, in the most insidious manner, without mentioning either Common Law or Statute Law, flew in the face of both. [Mr. NEWDEGATE: Common Law in particular.] He might be told, of course, that these laws he had quoted were obsolete and never enforced, and that many Atheists had sat, perhaps were now sitting, in Parliament, in spite of those laws; and then they had Mr. Gibbon and Lord Bolingbroke thrown at their heads. But, as far as their knowledge of Mr. Gibbon's opinions 1451 went, they were not known until he published the 15th and 16th chapters of is History, which did not appear until after he sat in Parliament; and as to Lord Bolingbroke, there were not any of his contemporaries who knew of his Atheistic opinions. The whole was derived from his works, which were posthumous; so that he did not think Bolingbroke and Gibbon did them much good. But, anyhow, he would ask—was evasion of a law a conclusive reason for repealing or not enforcing it? It might just as well be said that, because there was smuggling or illicit distilling, therefore our Customsand Excise Revenue ought to be abolished. Secret or semi-concealed evasion of a law was undoubtedly criminal; but open defiance of a law was not only equally criminal, but far more dangerous; and to say that people who concealed or, at any rate, did not advertise their Atheistical opinions had sat in Parliament was no reason whatever for altering the law in order to admit among the Governing Body of the country persons who boasted of, and lost no opportunity of disseminating, Atheistical and unlawful doctrines. But they must not only think of the relief of Mr. Bradlaugh, or of the relief of that House from a slight difficulty; they must think what would be the effect on the people of this State of a recognition of unlawful doctrines, and of giving a place in the immediate Governing Body to one who professed and who preached that the Christian religion, on which our law was founded, was false, its morality defective, and its promises illusory. Were they not giving to those doctrines a tremendous impetus by altering the Constitution of this country in order that they might be officially represented in our councils and might influence our decisions? Could they contemplate without alarm the revulsion that such an Act might occasion among those masses of the people who, with some hope of a happier state hereafter, were toiling their weary way through the world, content to tolerate, for a time, their less fortunate lot — the revulsion that would occur should they infer from the action of the Legislature that it was even possible that their faith was false? Surely the horrors of the French Revolution should give some idea of the effect on the masses of the State recognition of Atheism. It was from awful disasters such as those 1452 that we had boon very probably preserved by the Christian characteristics of the community; or, to quote again the words of Lord Erskine—The religious and moral sense of the people of Great Britain is the great anchor which alone can hold the vessel of State amidst the storms that agitate the world.They were invited to destroy and abolish the Christian character of our Constitution in the name of religious liberty. Religious liberty had nothing to do with this question; if he thought that religious liberty was in danger, he would join the ranks of hon. Gentlemen opposite; but let him ask them to look at it in this way, and if they told him that his argument was an argumentum, ad hominem, he replied that their legislation was legislation ad hominem. Would any Member of that House receive a man holding and boasting, and living by the preaching, of such opinions as Mr. Bradlaugh's into his family by ties of relationship? Would any Member confide to him the training up his sons or daughters, or of anyone connected with him? How, then, could they propose to alter the law of the State in order to give to such a man a higher and far more important post— namely, a share in the providing for the welfare of millions of human beings? If the profession of Christianity were the surest guarantee for the faithful discharge of private and social duties, much more must it be the best or the only known guarantee for those high and important functions on which the character and happiness of our people depended. Mr. Burke, in his writings on the French Revolution, said—All persons possessing any portion of power ought to be strongly and awfully impressed with an idea that they act in trust, and that they are to account for their conduct in that trust to the one great Master, Author, and Founder of society.This was no question of religious liberty; it was a question of common prudence and common sense. Good Heavens! to think that this banner of religious liberty, which had waved over causes most noble and most pure, which had been carried triumphantly to victory on battle fields, where were elicited all the loftiest emotions of which the intelligence of man was capable, that that banner should now be taken down from its shrine of almost universal adoration in order to attract supporters to the cause of a man 1453 to whom religious liberty was nothing more than superstitious licence, and to whom religion itself was but as a mania, as a disease, almost as a crime, to be combatted, scoffed at, insulted, and profaned on every convenient or conceivable opportunity; and that that monstrosity should be perpetrated by the Party who, of all others in those conflicts to which he had alluded, had won for themselves undying fame. He was, however, glad that the Government did not bring up the people of England, or of Scotland, or of Ireland as supporting them in this matter; that they did not try to make them their accomplices in that dark design. The people of those countries were absolutely guiltless of any complicity with the Government. The diminished number of supporters of the Government in that House, the striking results of the various elections at Northampton and in the country, the enormous number of Petitions, confirmed what he said. The Prime Minister told them that they were, on this occasion, to disregard the feelings of the people. He was surprised at such a command from him. What a torrent of denunciation would they have had from him if Mr. Disraeli had ever uttered such a sentiment as that He firmly believed that it was because the people were certain that from the right hon. Gentleman no changes of this kind were to be expected that they had continually reposed in him such an amount of confidence; and if that Bill were to pass into law, owing to his powerful advocacy, the Christian Constitution of Great Britain might have received a mortal stab from the hands of the man whom the people had armed in its defence and had promoted to its highest honours. He desired now to clear up a little controversy which had arisen between the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross) with reference to the feelings of the Wesleyan community, also with regard to the signature of the Rev. Mr. Garratt. Mr. George H. Chubb, an eminent lay member of the Wesleyan body, had addressed to his hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Drummond Wolff) a letter, in which he said—I am glad to have this opportunity of stating a fact which may be of interest to you. Mr. Gladstone last night said that the President of the Wesleyan Conference had written to say that 1454 he was in favour of the Bill; if that is so, it must be in his private capacity, because I have before me a copy of a Petition against the Bill adopted by an official sub-committee only a few days ago, and signed by Charles Garratt, President of the Wesleyan Methodist Conference. This Petition was, however, never presented to the House, chiefly through the action of two Wesleyan Liberal Members of Parliament; and I, therefore, with the concurrence of leading ministers and laymen, sent out a Circular asking for signatures from Members of the Conference and its committees; in a week I have received nearly 1,000 signatures, and others are daily coining in, together with letters from all parts of the country, and from all classes of Wes-leyans, which show that the Government Bill 'is opposed to the judgment of mankind.' I may add that almost the whole of these signatures have been received since the Government announced that the Bill was to be non-retrospective.He might also take this opportunity of stating that up till Friday last 4,854 Petitions had been presented against the Bill, signed by 597,353 people; while the number of Petitions in favour of the Bill was only 1,362, signed by 153,290 people. Thus the proportion was about four to one against the Bill. He was grateful to the House for having allowed him to make these remarks. He was convinced, as strongly as he could be convinced of anything, that, under all the circumstances of that most difficult controversy, it was the bounden duty of the Tory Party fearlessly to have resisted at the very outset these calamitous proceedings, to oppose that man on every occasion, to contest that legislation stage by stage, and to arouse the alarm of the nation. It was, of course, possible— he trusted it was not probable—that in this matter the Opposition might be ultimately defeated; but should that be so, and should the time arrive, as in that case it most certainly would, when The Fruits of Philosophy should become the Bible of the people, and when the age of so-called "Reason" should have supplanted the age of Christian morality, at any rate it should then be recognized by a suffering posterity that their great principles were not sacrified, and that their great cause was not lost, except after the bitterest conflict which could be recorded in the annals of a Parliament or in the history of a people. The present Government proudly claimed the task of carrying the cause of religious liberty to its furthest imaginable limits; but be it theirs on this side of the House —nor was it less noble—to endeavour to restrain such aspirations within the 1455 bounds of reason and of policy, so that the men. of the future, when studying the story of the struggle, would exclaim of the Conservative Party of to-day— "Well, they did their duty."
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, he could not help thinking, while the noble Lord was speaking— "How long is this debate likely to last?" The main object of the noble Lord seemed to be to show that the mantle of Elijah had descended upon him, for his speech consisted of a defence of the admission of the Jews into Parliament entirely because it had been supported by Mr. Disraeli. The noble Lord was frequently cheered by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), but perhaps not when he referred to the Jews; because, in opposing their admission, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire said he did not think it advisable that they should have sitting in that House individuals who regarded Our Redeemer as an impostor, a view which was not precisely that of the noble Lord. The noble Lord had said that the Prime Minister's speech was entirely above his feeble comprehension; it would seem, therefore, that when a grand and exhaustive speech like that had been made on the part of the Government, any Member of the other side had only to say that it was above his feeble comprehension, and then proceed to repeat all the allegations and misrepresentations which were current before the speech was made. The noble Lord's views on law and Church history were as much beyond his (Mr. Labouchere's) comprehension as the Prime Minister's speech was above the comprehension of the noble Lord. No one disputed that Atheists had been disqualified for occupying positions of trust, and if the noble Lord had gone back to the time of Elizabeth he might have found Judges laying down that Infidels wore the allies of the Devil; but the late Mr. Justice Willes said that the Judges who laid down such law were allies of the Devil. He (Mr. Labouchere) was, however, willing to admit that the speech of the noble Lord was the ablest which had been delivered from his side of the House, for more wretched debating than was exhibited in the speeches of the Opposition he had never heard in his life. He had been accustomed to regard the right hon. and learned Gentle- 1456 man the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) as one of the ablest Members of his Party; but a worse speech than that of the right hon. and learned Gentleman he had never heard. Then a Member of the Hebrew faith came forward to lecture them on their duties as Christians, and to tell them that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government was bearing aloft a banner with Blasphemy and Bradlaugh inscribed upon it. Another Member had told them that the motto on the Royal Arms stuck in his throat, and so he could not vote for the Bill. A Gentleman on the Front Opposition Bench actually told them that if Atheists were allowed to affirm in Parliament they would be allowed to affirm in a Court of Justice, and did not seem to know that Atheists were allowed to affirm in Courts of Justice. The hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Stanley Leighton) got up to answer the speech of the Prime Minister, and said that this Bill was the lowest and basest form of fraud. Had they not now a right to hope that this very orgy of rampant verbosity would at some time cease Conservatives had been, he admitted, thoroughly consistent, for they had always opposed every attempt to remove disabilities which stood in the way of all citizens equally exercising civil rights. He did not say that they were not actuated by conscientious motives; but he was inclined to think that most of them were actuated rather by Party motives. ["No!"] They wanted to persuade the public that they had a monopoly of regard for religion. But the head of the Party was actuated entirely by Party motives. ["No!"] Well, he would prove his assertion. The right hon. Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross) had defended his Leader from the allegation that he advised that legislation should take place on the part of the Government on this question, and how did he defend him? By saying that it was true he did say that, but that his object was to oppose the Bill. If hon. Gentlemen were satisfied with that statement, he did not wish to disturb their equanimity. The noble Lord (Lord Randolph Churchill) was in many ways invaluable to the Liberal Party. He not only made speeches and wrote articles in reviews, but he wrote letters. Not long ago he wrote a letter 1457 which attracted a considerable amount of attention, in which he said—When Sir Drummond Wolff and Lord Percy originally raised the question of Mr. Brad-laugh's claim to take the Oath of Allegiance Sir Stafford Northcote supported the views of Her Majesty's Government; and it was not until Lord Beaconsfield had been referred to, and had expressed a strong opinion that the contention of the Members for Portsmouth and North Northumberland was in accordance with the practice of the Constitution, that Sir Stafford Northcote refrained from supporting the Government against his own followers,It was well that these facts should be recalled when the Leader of the Opposition was gaining great renown as the Defender of the Faith. Further, a speech had been made by one of the most trusted and cautious Members on the Front Opposition Bench—the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Lincolnshire (Mr. J. Lowther), who said that the noble Lord and the Members of the Fourth Party were to be congratulated on having brought this subject before the House, and that if they had not interfered it never would have been brought before the House. He (Mr. Labouchere) had now proved his statement. It was clear that the Leader of the Opposition wished to support the Government when they discountenanced interference with Mr. Bradlaugh taking the Oath; and it was only when an appeal was made by some of the Tory Party to Lord Beaconsfield that the right hon. Gentleman, in defiance of his better judgment, assumed the part he had since taken in resistance to Mr. Bradlaugh. He did not complain of this; he only wished the Leader of the Opposition would more often act on his own sensible views, and not be dragged through the mire by the silly gentlemen who supported him. The staple of the debate on the Opposition side of the House had been invention and invective, and the object of the speakers had been to obscure the issues, and to ignore the most palpable facts. It had been stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross) that Mr. Bradlaugh had been in intimate relations with the Government for a very long time. Mr. Bradlaugh had written to him (Mr. Labouchere) as follows:—I should be obliged if you would state to the House that there is not and never has been the slightest foundation for the statement made by Sir R. Gross that the late Mr. Adam pro- 1458 moted my candidature at Northampton. In 1868 I stood in opposition to the sitting Member, Lord Henley, and in that election I complained that I owed my defeat to a letter written against me by the present Prime Minister. I never held, directly or indirectly, the smallest friendly communication with the late Mr. Adam before my return, and I always considered that in my election the whole weight of the moderate Liberals had boon used against me.As for the letter written by Mr. Adam respecting the Northampton Election, the facts were very simple. He was himself standing for Northampton at the time, and being in London on electioneering business he chanced to pass by Mr. Adam's office, and thought he might as well look in and ask how the elections were going. Mr. Adam showed his statistics, and expressed his confidence as to a Liberal victory, if but the Party would work together in a united manner. He then remarked to Mr. Adam that the electors of Northampton would not improbably let in a Conservative candidate by the unwise habit of plumping and not splitting their votes, and suggested that Mr. Adam should write him a letter advising them not to do so. This Mr. Adam good-naturedly did; and his letter, written in these circumstances, was the only foundation, if such it could be called, for the statements of hon. Gentlemen opposite. It was a mistake to suppose that that was written after consultation with the Liberal Party. As to the Prime Minister having inspired it, he was in Mid Lothian at the time; and he (Mr. Labouchere) took it that neither he nor his Colleagues were aware that the letter had been written. [Cries of "Morley!"] That had nothing to do with the question. Now, a great deal had been said as to the feeling of the country towards the Bill, to which it was said to be altogether hostile. He must say he was surprised that the Opposition should think Liberal Members were actuated by such high and lofty motives that, knowing their constituents were thoroughly against them and would turn them out, they insisted on voting for the Bill. He could believe a great of the Liberal Party, and did not doubt that many of its Members would rather lose their seats than vote against their consciences; but when he found all the Liberal Members, with but few exceptions, intending to vote for the Bill, he could not believe that they were all going to offend their constituents. 1459 Only one Welsh Member was opposed to the Bill, and only eight Scotch Members, a fact which had been controverted in a somewhat illogical manner by the assertion of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) that only three Irish Members would vote for it. Again, the House had been told repeatedly that the large majority of the very numerous Petitions that had been presented were against the Bill; but the manner in which they had been obtained was not pointed out. It was an undeniable fact that there had been a regular system of paid organization to get them up. Was not the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Torrens) a member of an association by which money was expended to get up Petitions? Were not notices sent all over the country, with stamped envelopes for reply? Mr. Chubb, who had been alluded to, belonged to another organization which sent stamped circulars all over the country to Wesleyans; the other organization sent circulars to members of the Church of England. Was it surprising that, under these circumstances, a very large number of signatures had been obtained? He was surprised that when signatures were so solicited, and when gross misstatements about the Bill had been made all over the country, and people had been told that it was an attack on religion, that its object was to introduce Atheism toParliament—he was surprised, considering all this, and considering the strong religious feeling of the country, that the signatures should still be counted by thousands and not by millions. With reference to the collection of signatures by paid canvassers, he might add that at Dumfries one of the canvassers had only lately left prison, boys and girls had signed the Petitions; in a village near Halifax a clergyman of the Church of England collected the whole of the signatures of the little children in the schools; at Cambridge, persons were invited to sign more than once; and at a place near Bury St. Edmund's, those signing were requested to sign also the names of their relatives. He did not doubt that many of the signatures were honest; but he complained that Petitions had been promoted by a system of organization, that they did not represent the opinion of the country, and that, in many cases, they were signed by babes and sucklings. His Colleague had asked 1460 him to say that he was prepared to prove before a Select Committee that three-fourths of the signatures to the Petitions against the Bill had been collected by paid agents, and among the signatures were several thousands of children under 12; and that the Petition from Northampton bearing more than 6,000 signatures included the names of several babies less than six months old. This was the way in which public opinion was manufactured against what was alleged to be a "Bradlaugh Relief Bill." The opponents of the measure misrepresented not only public opinion, but the Bill also. Mr. Bradlaugh needed no Relief Bill at all, but simply stood aside, not wishing to give the House any further trouble. At the same time Mr. Bradlaugh asserted that he had an absolute right to go to the Table and take the Oath of Allegiance. He was prevented by the House, but he was prevented in defiance of the law. The Lord Chancellor had said that it was his duty to go to the Table and swear. How could it be supposed that Mr. Bradlaugh wanted a Relief Bill? The people who wanted a Relief Bill were the House of Commons. They had committed, and guiltily insisted on committing, a series of illegalities, and they wanted some species of relief. The Bill was not retrospective, and therefore excluded Mr. Bradlaugh from its operation. He might observe in passing that the Attorney General had stated erroneously that the non-retrospective character of the Bill was according to precedent. The Attorney General had followed the precedent of the Roman Catholic Relief Bill, but had forgotten the Relief Bill in the case of the Jews, which was so far retrospective that it did not make it necessary for Baron Rothschild or Mr. Salomons to be re-elected. However, he absolutely denied that this was a Bradlaugh Relief Bill. He absolutely denied that the Bill affected Mr. Bradlaugh more than any other hon. Member. They had been told that this was a Bill to admit Atheists into Parliament. How often must that statement be denied? At the present moment, according to the ruling of the Speaker, Atheists could sit in that House provided simply they held their tongue when they came to take the Oath; and he really was surprised how the noble Lord could possibly entertain the idea that if Mr. Bradlaugh were elected in a subsequent Parliament, and pro- 1461 vided he adopted this course, he could be prevented by some new Speaker from taking the Oath of Allegiance. The right hon. Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross) started an exceedingly curious doctrine. He said—"It is perfectly true that there are Atheists in the House; and that provided they do not say they are Atheists at the Table and took the Oath we have no objection; we will look through our fingers." [Sir R. ASSHETON CROSS: Provided we had no knowledge.] That was, practically, the same thing. ["No, no!"] Supposing the right hon. Gentleman had taken the trouble to read the works of some of these men, and did know that they were Atheists, he would have no official knowledge; and, therefore, he would not object. That seemed to him (Mr. Labouchere) to be pretty much the doctrine of the marine storedealer, who, when someone came to sell something, looked through his fingers; he knew that the goods were stolen, but he took care not to ask, and profited by the occasion. The right hon. Gentleman distinguished between Atheists and avowed, notorious, and active Atheists; but he would point out to him that the law drew no such distinction. All would be allowed to sit if they took the Oath, and all would be allowed to sit if the Bill passed by affirming instead of swearing. If the right hon. Gentleman objected to Atheists sitting in the House, and if he agreed with the right hon. Baronet (Sir Stafford Northcote) that this case was a more important question than the repeal of the Corn Laws, why not bring in a Bill or move a clause to prevent Atheists doing what they might do now— namely, sit in the House. That would be far more reasonable than to persist in misstating and misunderstanding the purpose of the present Bill. Had the right hon. Gentleman considered what was involved in the religion which he advocated? In this religion, which they were called upon to admire, and to square their legislation to, every human being, provided that he recognized, or said he recognized, something which he called a divinity, was to be included. He might be the most abject and most despicable savage that ever worshipped a block of stone; his god might be a reptile or an obscene image; his god might delight in human sacrifices, or he might 1462 be the very Fiend himself; and yet, no matter how debasing and degrading this superstition was, hon. Gentlemen would receive that man into their arms as a spiritual brother. Never was there anything so absurd and so repugnant to the very elementary principles of religion as that which hon. Gentlemen opposite dubbed with the name of religion. He did not wish to say anything to offend hon. Gentlemen opposite; but he could not help thinking that hon. Gentlemen who accused the Prime Minister of having "Bradlaugh and Blasphemy" on his banner, these Defenders of the Faith who told them this Bill was a mean and base fraud—these were the self-righteous Pharisees who, thanking God that they were not as he and others were, denounced them because they dared to say that this had never been, and never would be, the religion of Englishmen. He confessed he did not know what they were talking about when they spoke of their test. Hon. Gentlemen did not seem to understand that there was a difference between a Theist and a Deist. There were plenty of persons who believed in the existence of God, but did not believe in a controlling Providence or in a future state. He would recommend hon. Gentlemen to learn the elements of the case before they discussed it. He was sorry that the Prime Minister, instead of taking the course he had done, had not proposed to do away altogether with any promissory Oath and substitute an Affirmation, for the tendency of modern legislation was, it seemed to him, in that direction. He wished that some of those well-intentioned, but misguided persons, who had signed Petitions, were present when a new Parliament was elected, and when Members were taking the Oath. He himself had been much struck by the thorough profanity of what went on. He need not describe what took place; but there were two matters to which he would call attention. The Prime Minister had pointed out that the kissing of the Book was an essential part of the Oath. Now, he ventured to assert, without fear of contradiction, that a very large proportion of Members never kissed the Book. A batch of, perhaps, 40 Gentlemen came up to the Table, the Clerk read the Oath, and many of them merely pointed to the Testament with their fingers and walked up and signed 1463 the Roll. That was not all. There were Gentlemen in that House who had never either taken the Oath or made the Affirmation. [An hon. Member: They must.] He was speaking of what he knew. They had themselves told him so. ["Name!"] He was not going to give names. The common informer might bring an action against them. But how it happened was this—they were new Members, who did not exactly know what the course of procedure was, and they signed the Roll, being under the impression that they were to take the Oath afterwards; and when they asked what they had better do they were told that they had better say nothing about it. Those Gentlemen had made excellent Members, although they took no Oath at all. He really must protest against the attacks made upon Mr. Bradlaugh. Of his speculative opinions on religious matters he said nothing. He disagreed as much as anyone could do with those dreary and forlorn negations which Mr. Bradlaugh put forward; but when it was said that he was a person to be publicly shunned on account of his immoral qualities he (Mr. Labouchere) thought he had a right to protest. The Judge Advocate General had said that the only thing he knew of Mr. Bradlaugh before this storm bad been raised was that he had appeared in a police court. Anybody reading that would have supposed that Mr. Bradlaugh had picked a pocket or something of that sort. These sort of allusions were not fair to Mr. Bradlaugh. He appealed to hon. Gentlemen whether Mr. Bradlaugh had not conducted himself as well in that House as anyone else, and better than some hon. Members. He bad been his Colleague, and he had found him a perfectly honourable and straightforward man; and he did think it was unfair on the part of hon. Gentlemen opposite to assume that Mr. Bradlaugh was a thoroughly immoral, base man, because they chose to disagree with him upon his speculative opinions as to religion. He therefore protested against the imputations upon Mr. Bradlaugh's character. He could not understand how the Bill could be called a Bradlaugh Belief Bill. The principle of the measure was that Affirmation should be allowed. Had it not been for Mr. Bradlaugh, the introduction of the Bill this Session would, he admitted, have been improbable; but that ought not to in- 1464 duce them to refuse to recognize what was a good and sound principle. Whenever a proposal to remove disabilities was made, hon. Members belonging to the Opposition lost all their pretensions to common sense; and, therefore, it was useless to argue with them. There were, however, some hon. Gentlemen on the Benches opposite to whom he would appeal. The Irish Members, in the course which they proposed to take, were playing with edged tools. Would they, he asked, have been present in that House if the religious disabilities of former times were still in existence? The present Bill was based, they should remember, on the same principle as that to which they were indebted for the removal of those disabilities—namely, that opinions upon matters of religion ought not to act as a barrier to the enjoyment of civil rights. If the House were now to decide that Mr. Bradlaugh could not be allowed to take the Oath because hon. Members did not approve his religious opinions, might it not at some future time be argued that an Irish Gentleman just released from incarceration for violating the Constitution could not be believed, no matter how many the gods by whom he might swear. He thought, from their point of view, Irish Members never made a greater mistake than in opposing this Bill. This Bill contained several issues. The first was, that Members who were elected by constituencies, and wore not disqualified by law, had a right to sit in the House of Commons; and, secondly, that an Affirmation was as valid and as binding as an Oath. They could not have two measures of truth; and if they believed the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright), who made an Affirmation, they could, not more believe any other Member who took the Oath. Hon. Gentlemen opposite said that the country was opposed to the Bill. He agreed that that was so until they knew the exact state of the matter; but the Prime Minister had put the matter in so clear a light that he hoped his speech would be distributed through the length and breadth of the land; and he could not believe that anyone, after reading that speech, would not see clearly and distinctly that the supporters of this Bill were the friends of religion, while hon. Gentlemen opposite were acting as its enemies.
§ MR. J. G. HUBBARD
said, that, although he admired the power and eloquence of the speech delivered by the Prime Minister, and had listened with much pleasure to that of the Attorney General, he had failed to find in either any argument which could shake his confidence in the rectitude of the course which was taken by the opponents of the Bill. He agreed with some of the principles laid down by the Attorney General. The principles which he approved were that—every constituency had a right to elect any person not legally disqualified, and that any disqualification attributed by the House to a Member after his election should be made known to the constituency; that there existed no law disqualifying any elected Member on the score of his religious belief; that Parliamentary Oaths were not religious tests; that they had been proposed for political objects, and as tests of loyalty; and that there was no power in that House to interrogate a Member proposing to take the Oath upon his religious belief. The argument of the Prime Minister that an Oath which had passed through so many changes as this had must, as a religious test, be absolutely valueless or altogether mischievous fell to the ground in the face of his declaration, as well as that of the Attorney General, that the Oath was not a religious test. It had been changed successively to admit Nonconformists, Quakers, Roman Catholics, and lastly Jews. No doubt, the Liberal Party would take the credit for those changes. The Oath, as it now existed, was simply a pledge of loyalty, fortified he an appeal to the high sanction of a Supreme Being. There was no such ambiguity in the words of the Oath appealing to a higher power as the Prime Minister argued. Christians of all sects and Hebrews alike recognized one God; and he looked upon this central point of union as an element of great strength and the essence and foundation of civilization. With respect to the Bill itself, the first point that struck him was that the action of the Bill was dependent upon the volition of those to whom it applied. There was no precedent for making an enactment entirely dependent for its action on those it benefited. The practical effect of making the Oath optional in that manner was to abrogate it altogether. "Thinks 1466 fit!" What words to form an introduction to that most important Act— making laws for the whole country! This was not the first time they had had these optional declarations. A Resolution was adopted by the House in July, 1880, enabling a Member, saying that he was what he was not, to assume the privilege of Affirmation exceptionally provided. This Bill pursued the same perverted policy, by seeking to enable any Member—neither being nor having been a Quaker, Moravian, or Separatist —to enter Parliament through the form provided for those Societies. An Atheist could no more make a solemn Affirmation than he could take an Oath, for there was nothing solemn which had not a reference to the Supreme Being. It had been said that Atheists had sat and did sit in the House of Commons, and that the law requiring them to pronounce a sacred name which to them conveyed no meaning was an infraction of their independence of religious convictions. He rejected that allegation. A seat in that House might be an honourable ambition to any man; but it could only be honourable so long as it was obtained by honourable means, and he believed—he was bound to believe— that that House was composed of Gentlemen who would scorn to equivocate or play a false and deceptive part in order to secure a seat there. And now he would say a word upon the true reasons for this miserable Bill. He had felt the sincerest sympathy for the noble Marquess when he was persuaded by political exigencies to take part in the little comedy performed by himself and the sitting Member for Northampton. Cause and effect were then visibly connected. To avert a disorderly scene in the House, and gratify their Secularist supporters, the Government engaged to bring in an Affirmation Bill. They had done so; they had fulfilled their engagement. They promised to bring in a Bill; they did not undertake to pass it. He did not believe they really wished that a Bill like this, fraught with such consequences to the peace, the order, the morality, and the credit of the country, should pass. The Prime Minister pleaded that he promoted this Bill in the interests of justice. Justice towards whom? Northampton and its elect were in his argument; but might they not claim justice for that House 1467 and for all the constituencies of the country? It was true that no legal disqualification attached to Mr. Brad-laugh when first elected. It was true again that there was no precedent for the course taken by the House in refusing to allow him to take his seat; hut it was true, also, that the circumstances under which the House intervened wore equally unprecedented. Never in the history of this country had such an event as the Bradlaugh incident occurred. A person returned to Parliament claimed to affirm upon the plea that the Oath; had no binding effect upon his conscience, and when his claim to affirm was negatived he demanded to take the Oath, which he had previously declared to be an unmeaning form. He first denied God, and then offered to invoke Him. The House, in the absence of precedent, resolved that it would not permit a profanity of which it was sought to be made an accomplice. The voice of the country had declared, and at a General Election would declare, that the House, acting within its legal rights, had exercised its authority, be as to entitle it to the gratitude of all loyal I and religious subjects of the Queen. No law prescribed the dress in which a Member should appear to take the Oath; but if he presented himself at the Table in the undress of a pugilist, the indignation of the House would speedily expel him, and yet the personal indecency would be a less flagrant offence than the moral indecency of a man coming with blasphemy on his lips. The pretence that the Bill was the only means of escaping from mob law in Trafalgar Square, and of averting violent disturbances within the House was contradicted by past experience. The efficient police under the orders of the Speaker and the authority of the Homo Secretary would easily quell any disturbance and maintain order in its vicinity. If this Bill was to be pressed, the voice of the country ought to be ascertained upon it. The Bill virtually abrogated the Oath and solemn Affirmation hitherto in use for if the Oath was rendered optional no one would feel bound to take it at all. The Oath was taken as a duty owed to the State and to the Crown; but if it was rendered optional, surely there would be no reason for taking it at all. To an Atheist the words of a "solemn Affirmation" lost their sense. A distinction had been rightly drawn between 1468 an attempt to exclude Atheists, which must be a failure, and the exclusion of an avowed Atheist, which had been proved to be practicable. With an Atheist the House could not deal at all, for it could not ascertain his secret thoughts. The Atheist they could not exclude, although, as an Atheist, they regarded him as unfit to be a legislator; but an "avowed Atheist"—a man who, within the House, declared his disbelief in a Supreme Being, to whom he would hereafter be responsible—declared, at the same time, his incapacity to give any reliable assurance of his truthfulness, and declared himself unfit for a civilized community, which must be based on mutual confidence and trust. Should the requirement of Oaths be altogether abolished? Oaths were interwoven with man's history from the very earliest ages; and in our own country they had been interwoven with the Constitution, with the administration of the law, and with the function of legislation. If Oaths were no longer required from the legislator, would they be required from ecclesiastical dignitaries, from Judges, and from State officials? If they were no longer requisite as from the subject to the Crown, could they be required to bind the Crown towards the subject? The trust reposed in a legislator was one of the most important; and he thought the Prime Minister, when he charged those who opposed the Bill with being indifferent to religious liberty, and said they would admit such as Voltaire, entirely misjudged those who resisted the measure. The law as it stood he held it was their duty to uphold, because he was certain that the abrogation of it in present circumstances, and with the transparent evidence of the motive for which it was done, would have a most serious effect upon the public morality of the country. If the Government were determined to press this Bill upon the House, they were bound, first of all, to appeal to the country; without doing so, they had no right to make a change in the law of such immense magnitude. If the Government did appeal to the country, he was not in the least degree doubtful as to what the verdict of the country would be. The English were essentially a God-fearing people; they read and reverenced their Bible; they would recollect that it was written in that Book that "the fool hath said in his heart, There is no God;" and they would 1469 unmistakably declare—"We will not allow fools to make the laws of England."
§ MR. W. H. LEATHAM
Sir, I fear I cannot fairly criticize the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Hubbard), because I did not hear the whole of it. After the luminous and exhaustive speech of the Premier on Thursday last it may seem unnecessary for me to say a word; but as I have constituents who have, in my humble opinion, entirely misunderstood this Bill, I seem obliged to make some statement, because I do not wish to be misinterpreted in the vote I am about to give in favour of the Bill. If I thought, Sir, that I was passing a slight on the Divine Being, whom we all revere, nothing could induce me to support the Bill; but I am unable to see how this can be the case, for the Oath remains for those who took it before, and the Affirmation remains for those who do not wish to take the Oath; but some hon. Members are pleased to say that the Affirmation was conceded to the Quakers, Moravians, and Separatists, as religious bodies, who dislike the Oath, but, being religious persons, will respect the Affirmation. I ask, why should not an Atheist respect the Affirmation? Differing as I do from the Atheist in my own opinions, I cannot see any law by which he can be legally deprived of his rights as a citizen; neither do I see why he should be expected to tell a lie because he is an Atheist. I know that the clergy and a large number of the Wesleyan ministers, 950 out of 1,300, have taken up an opinion that, because a man is an Atheist, he is not to be admitted into this House. This is simply making a new law for Parliament. A good deal, Sir, has been said about Petitions, as if they were spontaneous productions, showing the minds of the people. I happen to know how the only small Petition I have presented against this Bill, out of a large constituency, was prepared and got up. It came from the village where I reside —in Yorkshire It emanated from the rectory. It was sedulously carried about by one of the rector's sons. It was brought to my house, and was signed by my wife, by my son and daughter, and by some of my servants, whilst I was in London. It contained rather over 400 names, and amongst these I counted 110 persons who had made 1470 crosses, being unable to write their names. Now, I do not wish to say a word against the young man who carried it round, nor do I know what arguments he used to induce people to sign it, for I believe he thought he was doing God service; but I entirely doubt that this multitude of Petitions is a spontaneous growth of the English mind, but the result of mistaken zeal on the part of the clergy and others. I think, after that magnificent speech of the Premier on Thursday night, some of these parsons must feel a little ashamed of having roused up the minds of their flocks by arguments which will not hold water, and which, to say the least of the case, were not reconcilable with justice or the rights of citizenship. But, much as we may dislike the opinions of Mr. Bradlaugh, we must see that even-handed justice is done, both as regards himself and the constituency he has been duly elected to represent; and for that reason I shall vote for the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. WHITLEY
Sir, if I could give a silent vote on this Bill, I should much desire to do so; but, representing, as I do, a large constituency which opposes this Bill, I feel that it would be inconsistent to the duty I owe to them if I were not to express, as strongly and ably as I can, the great objections which I entertain towards this Bill. I have listened very attentively to those debates; but I will only refer to two speeches which deal with the matter—the speeches of the Premier and the Attorney General. The eloquent tones of the Premier seemed to carry us away; but when we come to read the speech over and consider the burden of it, I think we must all be convinced of this—that the Premier was speaking against his own convictions, and against the principles he has so long, so often, and so eloquently maintained. A few years ago in this House he said that religion was interwoven with the life of this country, and that he would never be a party to anything that would take it away—that the very foundations of the country were based on religion, and if they were interfered with, they would, by an easy transition, be overturned. Those were the words the Premier used at the time. We were told of a change, and we asked ourselves what is the cause of the change, in the Premier's views, and we 1471 paused for a reply. No reason has been given for a change of view, no arguments have been adduced which would weigh with any Member of this House if they were calmly reviewed. What had the arguments been? The argument of the Attorney General and of the Premier was this—that we at this time were contending for Theism, that religion such as we have known, such as we believe it has been in the House of Commons and of the country, was not involved in the question, but that it was a mere matter of Deism. I confess I was struck—and I believe a great many Members were also struck—to see the ingenuity with which the Prime Minister diverted the views he entertained on this question. He told the House that these Oaths were not a religious test, and he went to ancient history to prove it. But I think he must have proved conclusively to the satisfaction of this House that they have been held as religious tests. What was the meaning of the debates on the Catholic Emancipation Bill, or on the Bill for the admission of Jews to Parliament, if those Oaths were not looked upon as religious tests? The Premier went on to say that those grounds had become defective; and ho ventured to tell us that we were contending for a mere rag and remnant of bigotry. I am not conscious of any feeling of bigotry; but there is such a thing as duty—a duty which we owe to our constituents, a duty which we acknowledge when we take the Oath. It is to that duty we address ourselves in endeavouring to maintain the sacred-ness of the Oath by which Members were admitted to this House. And I would ask what has been the cause of the change, or what has been the cause of the introduction of this measure? Will anyone tell me, or attempt to say, that there has been an expression of feeling in the country to cause it? How different to the days of Catholic Emancipation, when meetings were held all over the country! But with regard to this measure, there have been no meetings in favour of it, and no expressions of feeling throughout the country. But what expressions of feeling there have been, what meetings there have been, have been expressive of the horror of the country with regard to the introduction of this Bill. In the great constituency which I have the honour to 1472 represent, there was a largo meeting, many of the attendants being of all shades of politics, presided over by a man who had been a strong Liberal all his life, and he was surrounded by men of every religious view; and that meeting, by an unanimous vote, sent up a Petition to this House against the Bill, with a letter from the Chairman to me, saying—I have been a Liberal all my life, yet, when the religious institutions of ray own country are attacked, I could no longer support the Government.Such, I believe, are the feelings and opinions of the people throughout the United Kingdom. I do not doubt for a moment that this is a view taken by the constituencies at large; and I do say that in a question of this kind, which so materially affects the future of our country, it is not right that a Government should force through this House a measure that would be ruinous to the future of this country. It is all very well for the Government to tell us that this should have no material bearing on the question; but we are told that there is no virtue in the Oath. If there is to be no Oath in the two Estates of the Realm, what is to become of the Oath taken by the governing Sovereign? Has that question ever been argued? The Prime Minister evaded it, the Attorney General evaded it; and I venture to say that if the Oaths with regard to the two Houses of Parliament are interfered with, there is no security that any Oath administered to the Sovereign would be maintained. Say what you will, this Bill is looked upon throughout the country as a departure from those religious principles which have ever been maintained in this country. Never, in my experience, has the heart of the country been so stirred. We ask you to give us an opportunity of appealing to the country. It is a vital question, for constituencies feel that we are tampering, against their knowledge and against their wishes, with the most sacred condition of a great religious country, who feel that those bulwarks which have so supported and strengthened the country will be removed. The other day the Judge Advocate General taunted us with the remark that we must regard our religion as a very puny thing, if we think it needs the protection of the Oath. We are fully aware that 1473 the cause of religion cannot be injured; but the safety of the State may be endangered; and it is because we believe the safety of the State will be endangered—because we say—"You are taking a leap in the dark, the end of which it is impossible to foresee—that you would permit the Government to thrust this Bill through an unwilling House of Commons, that we say let them make it an open question, and we cannot have a doubt then what would be the result of the vote about to be given." But I must say this—that I hesitate to believe that any of the Representatives of the people of England will have the boldness to go against the known wishes of their constituents. I do not believe the constituencies of England, Scotland, Ireland, or Wales will support you in favour of this Bill. The illegality is not the illegality of the House of Commons; but it is the illegality of the electors of Northampton. I venture to say that in spite of all the arguments of the Prime Minister—arguments which I am sorry to hear him use, and supplemented as they were by the remarks of the Judge Advocate General, who said in that most extraordinary, that most inconclusive speech, that there was nothing to prevent a Fire-worshipper or a Devil-worshipper from coming to that Table to take the Oath—I confess that I heard such statements with horror. It is the inherent right of the House of Commons to protect itself; and if a Fire-worshipper or a Devil-worshipper presents himself at that Table, it is quite right for the House of Commons to do as it did in the case of Mr. Bradlaugh—prevent him from swearing at that Table. It is idle to bring up such cases as these. It is only to deceive the House of Commons and the country. But Englishmen, when cool and collected, will not be led away by such illustrations as these. They know—and everyone knows at the present time—that call this Bill what you may, it is simply a Bill to admit Mr. Bradlaugh into the House of Commons. Speaking for thousands—nay, millions— of the working classes of this country— speaking on behalf of many happy homes, which thrive under the religious institutions of this country, who believe that those institutions are safe in the custody of the Representatives in this House—I do ask the House to throw out a Bill which would be dangerous to 1474 the interests of the country. Let us not be afraid to give expression to our views. Let us endeavour to free the matter from the influences of Party. It can never be made a Party question. Let us maintain the Oaths which the Premier said a few years ago were interwoven with our public life, which he never would surrender. I have heard that we on this side of the House do not falter in our earnest convictions. We have no personal antipathy to Mr. Bradlaugh; but we hate and detest the doctrines which he advocates. We say they are dangerous to this House of Commons, and that it ought not to encourage them, and we ought to show our view of the miserable Bill by saying "No." And I ask you to appeal to the constituencies of this country; and I venture to say, if you do, they will return to this House men whose Oath this Bill seeks to destroy.
MR. LYULPH STANLEY
said, that in regard to the constituency he represented he had never, during three years, heard but one expression of opinion, and that was in favourof sustaining the rights of the electors of Northampton. He did not take the view of the Bill which many hon. Members on the opposite side of the House had done. Because a largo majority of the House of Commons, or the large majority of the people of this country, disliked and shrank with abhorrence from the views of the Member for Northampton, that was not a reason why they should deny to that Member, or any elected Member, his rights. There had been Members of the House, of the highest position and respectability, who had been perfectly well known in society to hold opinions of an extremely negative character. If, however, they once laid down such a doctrine they might not stop there. It had been indicated by the senior Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) that the time might come when other opinions, even political opinions, might be brought in review. But ho wished to say that though they quite understood how generally all people in this country disliked the views which had been expressed by Mr. Bradlaugh, he thought quite as many men had been affected by his political and social views. But it had been admitted almost on every side of the House that the House neither had the power, or ought it to have the will, 1475 to exclude an Atheist. Everyone admitted that this Parliament, for the time of its duration, was able, contrary to law, by an arbitrary act, to prevent Mr. Bradlaugh from coming to the Table and taking the Oath. But it was generally admitted that if Mr. Bradlaugh, with all his notoriety, were to be reelected in a now Parliament, and were to come to the Table, there was no power in the House that could prevent him taking the Oath. It was not, therefore, as had been contended, a Bill of relief for an individual, except to the extent of the two or three years during which the present Parliament might have to run. Therefore, the Bill was a relief for the majority of the House, and not for an individual Member. He agreed, however, that he should have preferred some other legislation than this. He would have a Member come into the House as he came into a Town Council or any other elective body. Bet his election be authenticated, and let him take his seat. The whole tendency of modern legislation had been to sot aside these Oaths and to substitute an Affirmation; and he could not help thinking that, if there must be any declaration, it would be far better to have a statutory declaration. What was the value and meaning of the Oath to which so much importance was attached? Tie would point out that the whole history of these Oaths came down from barbarous times. He felt sure that nine-tenths of the Members of the House, if they were asked whether they considered the obligation of allegiance to law and the Crown were enhanced because they had taken the Oath at the Table, would say that it was not. It was said that the object of the Oath was as a guarantee of allegiance; but what in practice could be attached to the Oath as binding on the allegiance of hon. Members? They had seen a Convention meeting in Philadelphia to consider whether they should advocate a simple revolution, or whether they should add dynamite to their mode of proceeding; and they had received from England, from a Member of the House who had taken the Oath of Allegiance, letters and telegrams which, although couched in guarded language, were expressive of sympathy and approval. What, then, was the value of the Oath of Allegiance? Some of the 1476 most earnest men held a position towards received modes of thought which made them shrink from formulating their religious views. Carlyle was certainly opposed to materialism; yet he shrank from giving formal expression to his religious thought. Tennyson, in a well-known passage in his In Memoriam, summed up the varying views of this subject with the expression "behind the veil;" and he had understood that even the Member for Northampton rejected the doctrine of Atheism in its popular sense, his position being rather that he was unable to apprehend the meaning of the word God as ordinarily understood. [Mr. BRADLAUGH dissented.] Whether that was so or not, he had been informed by a Roman Catholic Member of the House that St. Thomas Aquinas felt that difficulty. ["Oh, oh!"] At any rate, was it wise to raise this storm in the country, and to alarm a great many ignorant consciences, and to begin a warfare which would result, sooner or later, in the establishment of the same religious freedom both for the Atheist and the Freethinker? It must be remembered that religious freedom did not mean merely freedom for religious people. Religious freedom must be freedom to form whatever conclusion on this subject the thinker pleased, whether positive or negative; and the present controversy was educating the people of the country to identify the cause of political justice with the cause of extreme religious free thought, and on that ground he disapproved of the present agitation against the measure.
§ MR. M'COAN
said, he had listened with great satisfaction to the able speech of the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Lyulph Stanley); but he desired to correct the erroneous impression it was likely to convey as to the real character and tendency of the opinions and teachings of the hon. Member for Northampton. That Gentleman had stigmatized Christianity as a system at once intolerant, bigoted, and false. On another occasion he had said—Christianity has been a corroding, eating cancer, poisoning our life-blood, the enemy of progress, and the foe of science. What is Christianity? A blasphemy against humanity, a mockery of humanity, which has crushed our efforts and cursed our hopes.He would only quote one other extract, which related to the character of Christ— 1477The plan of salvation by an atoning sacrifice is repulsive in its details and immoral in its tendency, Christ's mission was a sham. In his agony ho proved himself a coward, and on the Cross his language proved that he himself had been deluded, and that he believed that he had deluded others.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
I rise to ask the hon. Gentleman whether he will be good enough to state from what source ho is quoting, and what is his authority?
§ MR. M'COAN
I perfectly understand the object of the inquiry, and, out of courtesy, I shall willingly answer it. I am quoting from a publication the accuracy of which has never been questioned, containing extracts from Mr. Bradlaugh's works, as published in a newspaper he edits, and other authentic documents. If anyone questions the accuracy—
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
The hon. Gentleman, perhaps, has not seen the contradiction; but they have been denied by Mr. Bradlaugh over and over again.
§ MR. M'COAN
The statements I have quoted appear to have been made on various occasions. One of them is taken from page 12 of the report of Mr. Bradlaugh's discussion with the Rev. Mr. Robertson, the authenticity of which, I believe, has never been questioned. Another is from the discussion with Mr. Holyoake, a Secularist, but a man of a very different kind from the Member for Northampton. Both these discussions were public, and the reports of both were published. The third quotation is from the Newcastle discussion. None of these, to my knowledge, have ever been questioned.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
I rise, Sir, to Order. I wish to ask you if the hon. Member has a right to state that these extracts are taken from the works of Mr. Bradlaugh, when Mr. Bradlaugh has absolutely denied that they are to be 1478 found in any published work of his, and when he has denied these statements?
§ THE DEPUTY SPEAKER (Sir ARTHUR OTWAY)
That is a question for discussion, not a point of Order. If the hon. Member has made a statement which cannot be substantiated, it can be contradicted in discussion.
§ MR. M'COAN
said, that Mr. Bradlaugh was also a part proprietor of The National Reformer. He held in his hand a bundle of similar quotations from that publication; but he would not trouble the House with them. He would now approach the simple issue before the House, which was, What did the present Bill propose to do, and for whom did it propose to do it? As he read the Bill, fence it as they might, its effect would be to dethrone the Supreme Being in that House, and to wipe out the name of God from the records of Parliament. At present, if Parliament were no longer unsectarian, it was, at all events, a Theistic Body, a Body believing in God. But this Bill would do away with the name of God altogether from the House. The Attorney General, in his speech, told at length the history of Parliamentary Oaths. But there was one great defect in that speech. He had concealed or overlooked the fact that, although such Oaths might have been primarily imposed for political purposes, and not as a theological test, yet they derived their whole force and value from the religious sanction which was inherent in them. The hon. and learned Gentleman had also concealed the fact that in the case of Quakers, and other persons allowed to affirm, their Affirmation was intended to be, and was, as religious as the Oath. If the Oath was now to be replaced by an Affirmation which retained the religious element and implied a sense of responsibility to God, in whose Name they made laws, he would not be much disposed to quarrel with such a change. But they were now asked to have an Affirmation which implied no sense of religious responsibility whatever. This might, perhaps, suit the tender conscience of Mr. Bradlaugh; but were they who knew his opinions and his teachings—which were alike odious and abominable—to regard his Affirmation as of equal moral value to that, say, of the late Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster? Could the two be placed on the same level? It had been held by the Courts of 1479 Law that Mr. Bradlaugh could not affirm. With all deference to the; opinion of the Attorney General, he believed also that Mr. Bradlaugh could not legally take the Oath. The fact was that, in bringing in this Bill, the Government had yielded to Radical pressure. No one who had spoken in favour of the measure had attempted to show that since 1868 any necessity had arisen for legislation on that subject, except in the solitary case of Mr. Bradlaugh; and it was trifling with the intelligence of the House, and with truth itself, to seek to deny that the object of the Bill was simply and solely to relieve him. So obvious was this that it was at first proposed to make the Bill retrospective; but that was more than some Gentlemen on the Ministerial side would swallow, and accordingly it was made prospective. That, however, was a change in form rather than in substance, because, if the Bill passed, Mr. Brad-laugh would go through the farce of another election and again present himself at the Table; so that no real concession would be made to the general feeling and conscience of the House. Another fallacy which pervaded the reasoning of the advocates of the Bill was the pretence that it was only another link in the chain of religious liberty, and that, as they had first admitted the Roman Catholics, and then the Jews, they should now logically go further and admit Atheists. It was, however, an insult to the intelligence of the House, as well as to the whole Roman Catholic body, to draw any parallel between them and Bradlaugh. [Mr. LABOUCHERE: Mr. Bradlaugh.] He begged pardon; Mr. Bradlaugh. Again, there were Jews who were religiously as good as any Roman Catholic or Protestant. Equally, therefore, was there no analogy between the concession made to them, and this attempt to force avowed Atheists upon the House. The endeavour to establish such an analogy, indeed, only showed the logical straits to which the supporters of the Bill were reduced. Of hon. Members below the Ministerial Gangway he had no hope on this question; but he had faith of the constituencies behind them. He believed that nine-tenths of the constituencies of the Kingdom, if they were balloted to-morrow, would pronounce against the Bill. All Ireland, from Capo Clear to the 1480 Giant's Causeway, was against it; but he was sorry to learn that the hon. Members for Ulster had not the courage of their convictions, and, regardless of what they know to be the unanimous feeling of their constituents, had resolved not to vote. This was a pusillanimity which he could neither understand or respect. If the division on the Bill were to be taken by ballot, he believed that the majority in its favour would be a very small one—if there were, indeed, a majority at all. While a Judge and a jury had sent Messrs. Foote and Ramsey, two of Mr. Bradlaugh's fellow-blasphemers, to Holloway Gaol, a Liberal Government sought to bring Mr. Bradlaugh himself into that House—and, if Mr. Bradlaugh, dozens or scores perhaps like him a year or two hence. If it were, therefore, the last vote ho should ever give in the House, and if the fate of the Government were at stake, he would record it against this Bill.
§ MR. E. A. LEATHAM
Sir, the hon. Member who has last addressed the House (Mr. M'Coan) concluded his remarks with an inconsistency which was quite Hibernian. He told us that if this Bill should pass, 500 Bradlaughs would be returned to this House; but a little while before he had informed us that the Bill was so unpopular in the country that those of us who ventured to support it would all lose our seats. The hon. Gentleman furnished us with a convenient synopsis of the fallacies by which this Bill is being opposed. He said that it was not desirable that avowed Atheists should be returned to Parliament, and therefore he opposed the Bill. Now, the answer to this objection is not far to seek. It is that the Oath does not exclude them. Even Mr. Bradlaugh has expressed his willingness to take it. But beyond this—and here is the very kernel of our contention — even if it wore possible to exclude them by an Oath, it would not be just to do so; because, in a country in which men of all creeds and of no creed are freely admitted to the rights of citizenship, and where the right of voting implies the right of being voted for, the Constitution suffers violence when a man not legally disqualified is returned to this House, but is prevented from voting and speaking as the Representative of those who have the right to send him here. The hon. Member opposes the 1481 Bill, also, because it is a Bradlaugh Relief Bill; and he seeks to prejudice the Bill by quotations, or what purport to be quotations, from Mr. Bradlaugh's writings and speeches. I have the authority of Mr. Bradlaugh, who is unable to open his lips in this House, for saying that those quotations are garbled and misleading. They are taken not from printed reports of Mr. Bradlaugh's speeches, but from a pamphlet by a Mr. Varley, which was published in 1880. When Mr. Bradlaugh saw that pamphlet, he wrote to the right hon. Member for North Devonshire (Sir Stafford Northcote), contradicting Mr. Varley's quotations, and offering to submit the truth of these to arbitration; but this Mr. Varley refused. Sir, I think we can afford to be fair, even to an Atheist. Now, I am not here as an apologist for Mr. Bradlaugh. It may very well be that he has written and said many things of which I do not approve. It may very well be that he has said and done some things in the prosecution of this very claim in which he sinned grievously against good taste. But, if what he demands be just, what have sins against good taste, what have any sins to do with our refusal of that? This is not a Court of Manners, or a Court of Morals, but a Court of Justice; and it is altogether unworthy of the judicial reputation of Parliament to deny any man justice, whatever his manners, and whatever his morals may be. Nor is it fair to call this Bill a Bradlaugh Relief Bill. We have passed other Bills for the relief of other classes of Her Majesty's subjects. They are not known as the O'Connell Relief Bill, or the Pease Relief Bill, or the Rothschild Relief Bill. And so it will be with this. It will be known as an instance of the fearless justice of Parliament long after the name of Mr. Bradlaugh in any other connection is forgotten. It will be known as an instance in which Parliament, in its anxiety to do justice, triumphed over pique, triumphed over resentment, triumphed over indignation, triumphed even over those respectable and inveterate prejudices which Mr. Hare thinks are the stopgaps in the hedge of truth, and, like other stopgaps, are often more difficult to get through than the hedge itself. And what, Sir, is the measure of relief which this Bill affords Mr. 1482 Bradlaugh? If the Bill were retrospective I could understand the hon. Gentleman's argument. But since it is not retrospective surely the relief is infinitesimal. Where is the hon. Member who, after being compelled to face his constituents twice already in the same Parliament, would find much relief in the fact that when the Parliament was on the wane, and when he knows that on the last occasion he was only returned by the barest majority, he had to face them a third time? But the hon. Member tells us that this Bill will dethrone the Supreme Being in this House. That such an argument should be used at all in an Assembly which day by day opens its proceedings by solemn and Christian prayer only shows how far hon. Gentlemen permit their judgments and their declarations to be warped by prejudice and passion. The real test and proof of our devotion to Christian principle is to be found in the completeness with which we impress it upon the legislation and the policy of this House. And so long as this remains, what does it signify if once in five or six years we omit the dubious spectacle of hon. Members scrambling for places round that Table, swearing by platoons, and kissing the Book in a volley? I do not accuse the House of intentional irreverence; but if this perfunctory performance be all that marks our recognition of the Deity, the Sceptic and Agnostic may go on their ways rejoicing. Now, this Oath is not a religious but a political precaution, and in times in which there is no dispute as to the Succession, it has lost most of its significance even as that. There are some religionists, as the noble Lord who spoke early in the evening (Lord Randolph Churchill) pointed out, who regard an Oath as absolutely forbidden in the Scriptures. Whether we go so far as that or not, we shall all admit that an unnecessary Oath is condemned; and just in proportion as an Oath loses its necessary character does it acquire the character which is condemned. I will go further; I think our whole system of Oaths-taking pernicious; but it becomes not only pernicious, it becomes positively impious, when we compel those to swear who deny the sanction of the Oath; and in that impiety we who compel them to swear, although we do not intend it, make ourselves accomplices. It has 1483 been feebly contended that we do not force Atheists to swear, because we do not force them to be returned to this House. That childish argument is of a piece with what used to be said when you forced Dissenters to be married in church. It was said that there was no compulsion, because no one compelled them to be married at all. All imposition of disability is the use of force; and, in conclusion, I would ask hon. Members who are attached to this Oath, and I have no doubt, conscientiously attached to it, where in the Book which they kiss they can find a single scrap of authority for the promotion or maintenance of religion by force? Sir, for these reasons I heartily support the Bill.
§ MR. HARRINGTON
said, that, as the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) had rather pointed his observations at the Irish Members, he would trouble the House with a few observations. Although it was true that Petitions had not come in so freely against the Bill from Ireland as from different parts of Great Britain, it would be a mistake to assume that Irish public feeling was indifferent to the question before the House. Irish public opinion had been too often and too systematically ignored by that House; and it was only on questions in which very narrow class or personal interests were concerned that the Irish people ever troubled the House with a Petition. For his part, he did not regret this; on the contrary, he was very proud of the self-respect which had inspired such a determination on the part of his fellow-countrymen.. The attitude of the people of Ireland towards the Bill was not one of indifference; it was rather one of disgust; and the hon. Member for Northampton would find that upon this question there was more unanimity among Members representing Irish constituencies than upon any question which for a long time past had come before the House. On the opening night of the debate he had listened very carefully to the speech of the Attorney General, being anxious to know what arguments he had to advance in support of a measure which seemed to him to aim at the very foundation of religion and morality; but he confessed that he was disappointed. It was, perhaps, very ingenious as a piece of special pleading; but it certainly failed to carry conviction to hon. Members, 1484 and least of all to the hon. Gentleman himself, for he seemed to be labouring under an uncomfortable consciousness that every argument he advanced told against the principle which he sought to establish. The hon. and learned Attorney General indulged in an historical retrospect; but the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government was clearly not satisfied with the retrospect of the hon. and learned Gentleman, and had pursued a different line. The Prime Minister quoted one instance where the House had imposed a test which appeared to be religious, but which the right hon. Gentleman admitted was in reality political — namely, the form of Oath in the Reign of Elizabeth. It seemed to him that this was an unfortunate illustration, which did not support the Prime Minister's position. If there were any analogy between that instance and the measure now before the House it must consist in this—that the right hon. Gentleman and his supporters were convinced of the loyalty of Atheism, and required no test of allegiance and no solemn Oath; while they cast suspicion on the loyalty of the Catholic, the Protestant, the Jew, and the Quaker by requiring them to asseverate their loyalty. The Prime Minister remarked that in the time of Elizabeth the Oath referred to was only required from Members of the House of Commons, the Crown, he said, being satisfied by other means of the loyalty of the Peers. Was the right hon. Gentleman, who would not require Mr. Bradlaugh to take the Oath, "satisfied by other means" of the loyalty of the elect of Northampton? It was an insult to the religious convictions of the Christian and the Jew to say the Crown was so satisfied of the loyalty of Mr. Bradlaugh—of Atheism—that they would only require him to take an Affirmation, while they required the Christian and the Jew to guarantee their loyalty by a solemn Oath. The position of those hon. Gentlemen who supported the Prime Minister would be logical if they proposed to abolish the Oath altogether; otherwise he could see no consistency in the Bill. Was there anything in the Bill before the House to prevent Mr. Bradlaugh coming to the Table after it had passed and again scandalizing the Christian religion by taking the Oath? The Bill proposed to leave it optional with him whether he 1485 would take the Oath or an Affirmation. Was there any guarantee that Mr. Brad-laugh would not, when he came to the Table, demand the Oath instead of the Affirmation, and thereby again offend Christiam decency? Perhaps the Attorney General, who called upon the House to observe how respectably Mr. Bradlaugh had conducted himself since his election, would now assure them that Mr. Bradlaugh would not come forward under this Bill and outrage morality by taking the Oath instead of the Affirmation. But there was a broader question involved in this measure than the mere admission of Mr. Bradlaugh; and it appeared to him that the Members of the Government and their supporters who had joined in this discussion deliberately endeavoured to conceal the real issue. They accused the opponents of the Bill of trying to enforce on the hon. Member for Northampton a religious test. He denied that anyone on that side of the House desired to impose such a test. Those who maintained that they did were leading the House and the public astray from the real issue. What Members on that side objected to was that the moral foundation upon which the Oath and the Affirmation had been built should be swept a way for the accommodation of the elect of Northampton. If the Bill passed they would have no guarantee that the Atheism for which the Government was now legislating would be satisfied with the concession that had been made to it. Had they any guarantee that the civil institutions of the country would be safe from the further encroachments of Atheism? If the institutions of that House were altered in order to admit Mr. Bradlaugh, had they any guarantee that he would not soon set to work to extend to the man who blasphemed or profaned in the streets the same consideration that had been shown to himself? The senior Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), in the course of his speech, had warned the Irish Members that they were playing with edged tools in opposing this Bill, and some of the hon. Member's remarks seemed to have a particular reference to his (Mr. Harrington's) own case. The hon. Gentleman hinted at the possibility of the question being raised whether an Irish Member who had been in prison was qualified to take his seat. If the remark came from 1486 a person less friendly to the Irish Members he would have regarded it as a sneer at himself; but he would now only state that he was much prouder of the position he occupied as a prisoner for justice in Ireland than of his present position as a Member of that House, and if he were to appeal to his fellow-countrymen for their confidence he should rely most hopefully upon the fact of his having been imprisoned. References had been made to the admission of Catholics, Jews, and Quakers; but he denied that there was any analogy between their case and the present. The Oath was altered for Catholics, because the House knew that the amended Oath would be binding upon their consciences. In the same manner, Jews were admitted under an altered Oath, because the House knew that in its new form they would be morally bound to observe it. The same was the case with the Quakers. But did the House imagine that in the ease of Mr. Bradlaugh, who acknowledged no superhuman power, an Affirmation or an Oath would rest upon any moral obligation or bring with it any moral responsibility? His Affirmation would be no more binding than his verbal promise in any of the ordinary affairs of life. Why should this exception be made in his case? It seemed to suggest that the loyalty of others was more questionable, because in their case it had to be affirmed with a solemnity which in Mr. Bradlaugh'a case would be wanting. The Prime Minister said he did not fear Atheism; and that part of his speech simply amounted to an appeal to the House to abolish God and trust in Providence. The right hon. Gentleman also dwelt with great force upon the fact that all the measures the House had as yet passed for the relief of conscience originated in the grievance of some particular man, and he instanced the cases of O'Connell and others; but he would ask him if he thought this measure recommended itself to the House or to the public opinion of the country, because it was associated with the name of Mr. Bradlaugh. To him and to his political Friends it was the strongest reason for voting against it.
§ MR. SERJEANT SIMON
said, he could not but regret that the hon. Member for Greenwich (Baron Henry de Worms), 1487 who, like himself, was identified with those whom Parliament had relieved from disabilities, should have referred to the Prime Minister as carrying a banner on which should be inscribed—"Bradlaugh and Blasphemy." He believed that in his calmer judgment his hon. Friend would regret those expressions. The hon. Member seemed to have thought that because it had been alleged that the admission of Jews into Parliament would endanger the religion of the country, therefore it was incumbent on him, as one of that body, to do what he could to protect the religious feeling of the country. This ground he (Mr Serjeant Simon) altogether repudiated. He had watched the whole struggle for Jewish Emancipation from its commencement. He remembered the first debate in Parliament upon it, and he recollected that the ground taken by those who advocated the removal of Jewish disabilities was, from first to last, that it was the right of every citizen to enjoy the privileges of the State while he bore its obligations, and that no man should be under disability because of religious belief. That was the broad issue upon which the battle was fought, and it was the same issue now. It was true the objections were raised by the Party opposite, who said that it would imperil the Christian character of the country; but those objections were given up when it was found that public opinion could be no longer resisted. He had no reason, as the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. Illingworlh) seemed to think, to feel grateful to Parliament for having given him that which was his birthright; but he did feel grateful to the great Party on his (Mr. Serjeant Simon's) side of the House, and to the eminent men who took the lead in advocating the cause, and who laboured through long years and under circumstances of great discouragement, until they achieved success. He felt it his duty, therefore, to obtain for others the same rights which he and his community had acquired. Indeed, he thought that the principle of religious liberty had been accepted by the Party opposite, and he was surprised to hear a repetition of the arguments that had been used against Nonconformists, against Catholics, and against Jews; for they were the self-same arguments. He should be the last to offend any man's religious feelings; but when the hon. 1488 Member for Greenwich talked about the religious feeling of the country, it should be remembered that religious feeling was a very elastic term, and that it had covered much that the progress of human thought now condemned. So-called religious feeling had stirred the worst passions and instigated the most heinous crimes. Religious feeling established the Inquisition; religious feeling lighted the fires of Smithfield and sent thousands to the stake. Calvin burnt Servetus, no doubt, from religious feeling. Religious feeling enacted the Penal Laws, and proscribed Roman Catholics, Nonconformists, and Jews. It should be remembered, then, that when religious feeling was evoked, it was a dangerous element, and not always entitled to implicit trust. In these days of toleration every phase of religious opinion was represented in the House, all the Members meeting on the common ground of man's inalienable right to think for himself in matters of religion —a right which surely could not be denied to the Atheist. To profess to allow a man to think for himself, and then to annex disabilities to his opinions, was to destroy religious liberty altogether. To limit the right of a man to think and to form, his own judgment was to deny freedom of conscience. He (Mr. Serjeant Simon) could not accept such a position. He acknowledged no power on earth that had the right to stand between a man and his conscience, and to coerce, or control it. Par from shrinking from the Atheist, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South- West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross) said he did, he would try to win him over by gentleness and charity. Now, what was the position of Mr. Bradlaugh? He and his claim to enter Parliament might have been the occasion of the measure; but it was no more a Relief Bill for Mr. Bradlaugh, as it had been said, than the measure which permitted Baron Rothschild to take his seat was a Relief Bill for Baron Rothschild. It was simply intended to carry the principle of religious liberty to its logical conclusion, and he repudiated the notion of its being a Bradlaugh Relief Bill. Indeed, it would relieve the House rather than Mr. Bradlaugh; it would extricate the House from the difficulties in which it had placed itself by its erroneous interpretation of the law. As for Mr. 1489 Bradlaugh, if there were a General Election to-morrow he would be able to take the Oath without question; for a new House would not, as the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph I Churchill) had said, be charged with the knowledge of what he had done in a previous one. The House would have no power in the matter. The House was, and it would be the witness, and the witness only, to the act of taking the Oath. Reference had been made to the Evidence Act, under which Mr. Bradlaugh and others of his views were permitted to give evidence in Courts of Justice; and hon. Members who opposed the Bill had made very light of the matter, as if evidence in a Court of Justice was a more trifle. But had they considered what were the issues arising in Courts of Justice? They concerned not only property, but reputation, the happiness and well-being of families, perhaps of generations, and even life itself. The evidence of an Atheist might determine any one of these issues. He (Mr. Serjeant Simon) could not conceive a position of greater importance and responsibility; and yet the same man was not to be trusted to make a promise of Allegiance. His right hon. and learned Friend the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) had referred to the words of the Affirmation proposed in the Bill, and he had taunted the Prime Minister with them. He said that the words "solemnly declare" could not be uttered by Mr. Bradlaugh, because the word "solemnly" implied or included a religious sentiment. "How, therefore," he asked, "could Mr. Bradlaugh profess 'solemnly' to affirm, when he disclaimed all religious belief?" But the same word occurred in the affirmation made by Atheists in Courts of Justice. The witness, as an Atheist, and because he was an Atheist, was empowered and required by law "solemnly" to "declare" and "affirm" that he "will true evidence give." Thus, then, Mr. Bradlaugh, or any Atheist, could in a Court of Justice "solemnly declare" away property, and every right of the subject, even human life itself; but he must not come to the Table of the House and "solemnly"make a promise. Surely such a position was untenable. In its practical effect, what was the importance of the promise in comparison with the enormous importance and consequences of the other? The 1490 noble Lord (Lord Randolph Churchill) had accused Lord Coleridge of introducing political opinions into his judgment. No defence was necessary for a judgment such as that to which the noble Lord referred. If Lord Coleridge had not been already a distinguished man, it would at once have made his reputation as the author of a most masterly and luminous exposition of the law, and have placed him among the foremost of the judicial hierarchy. It was a judgment that stood in striking contrast with that of another Judge delivered not long ago, which displayed all the narrow prejudices of a shallow mind. Besides, all who knew Lord Coleridge knew that there was not a more earnest Christian. He hoped that the Bill would pass. He hoped so in order that there might be an end to unseemly controversies such as they had had for the last three years. It was time that these discussions about men's religious opinions should cease. It was not the function of the House of Commons to pass judgment upon such matters; and he took leave to say that it was not qualified to do so. He hoped it would pass, because it was the necessary and logical climax of the great principles of civil and religious liberty, and because it was the Constitutional right of constituencies to choose for themselves those whom they desired to represent them.
§ SIR WILLIAM HART DYKE
said, that his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Serjeant Simon) had stated that he did not identify this measure in any respect with Mr. Bradlaugh. His hon. and learned Friend could neither have read nor heard the speech of the Prime Minister when he made that statement. The hon. Member for Northampton had tried to show that the Petitions presented to the House did not express the honest sentiments of the country. But he must say that during the 18 years he had the honour of a seat in the House he had never known—not even in 1868, at the time of the Disestablishment of the Irish Church—such a spontaneous exhibition of feeling on any subject. He had been inundated by letters, pressing him to give the strongest opposition to the Bill. On Thursday next there was an idea that a division would be taken on the measure. On that day three years it was that this miserable controversy 1491 commenced; and from that time to this they had been disturbed by incidents, many of them most unpleasant, and some most deplorable. It was not the Opposition that were responsible for those unfortunate events. On April 26, 1881, a Resolution was moved by his right hon. Friend (Sir Stafford North-cote), to the effect that Mr. Bradlaugh, on being re-elected,should not be allowed to take his seat. The Government was defeated, and that was the fons et oriqo of all those great difficulties and unfortunate incidents. The Prime Minister told the House that he would take no steps in consequence of that defeat, because there were judicial difficulties. But the right hon. Gentleman had in his day got over much greater difficulties, and if he had made the effort ho might have got over those. The Government of the day were then placed in this anomalous position — they handed over the rule of the House into the hands of the Opposition. They said that, upon all other matters except this, they would attempt to govern. At last, after many divisions, after numerous proceedings in the Law Courts, after a series of agitations and threats, they wore brought face to face with a mob at Westminster at the meeting of Parliament, and a demand made by Mr. Bradlaugh, backed by that mob, that he should be admitted to the House. That was a lamentable state of things. They were told by the Prime Minister that if they accepted this Bill it would be to the advantage of religion and Christianity. Why, 99 men and women out of 100 in this country, if they were not blinded by political or Party prejudice, considered that if the House gave way at this moment they would give a signal triumph to the cause of Atheism. Nor was it a triumph of the cause of Atheism alone; those who had read the history of other countries must know that the cause of Republicanism and Socialism was allied to the cause of Atheism. The Opposition were told that in resisting this Bill they were pursuing the ancient traditions of their Party. He ventured to assort that this Bill was not connected with the question of civil and religious liberty. It was not a question of toleration, or intolerance. What had the Prime Minister said on the 21st of May in the debate on the Resolution of the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Drummond Wolff) 1492 to prevent Mr. Bradlaugh from taking the Oath? He said—The case raised is one of the utmost novelty and nicety. I believe it is a case absolutely new. There have been cases when Members of this House have themselves raised the difficulty. Members of this House belonging to the Society of Friends have in other days declined to take the Oath prescribed by law, and demanded the substitution of an Affirmation; but there is no parallel between their predicament and that of the hon. Member for Northampton."—(3 Hansard,  195.)These words expressed the whole of the contention of the Opposition. It was a case of extreme novelty, and when they wore taunted with having opposed the admission of members of the Society of Friends, Jews, and Roman Catholics, the words of the Prime Minister were against such an assumption. The members of those Bodies represented large sections of the community, who believed in a Divine Being. The Prime Minister had told their that they tore religion in shreds, and only desired to retain this one shred. Their claim, however, was to retain that part which, in their opinion, was the be-all and end-all of their religion. If the Prime Minister was right, why was it they retained that form of prayer in which the High Court of Parliament was specially mentioned? Why did they not do away with prayers altogether in connection with the proceedings of the House? He must again repudiate all idea that they raised this question in any spirit of intolerance, still less that it was a mere Party move. So far as he was personally concerned, the movement had come to him from his constituents, and not to his constituents from him. But, supposing it was a political move, he did not quite know whether such an accusation came altogether well from hon. Members opposite. When the Liberal Party were in Opposition, there was nothing—a Slave Circular or anything —that they did not make a matter of Party move. There had been a good many political moves on the other side during the last week or two; one extraordinary movement almost seemed to suggest to them that there was some political crisis coming. It was the obvious desire of Her Majesty's Government to sweep all the fads and crotchets into one bag, and there was very great uncertainty and much danger as to what the result might be when they were formulated in legislation. In 1493 his experience—and he had seen a great deal of the working of Governments—it was not the important questions which decided their fate, but small questions which grew like this one. It was obvious, from the speech of the Prime Minister, that this was a question which he did not like, and ho gave the right hon. Gentleman credit for this—that when first the difficulty arose his first impulse was not to touch it. But they were now brought face to face with it; and, as far as his own efforts were concerned, he would give to this measure an uncompromising resistance to the bitter end, for he believed it to be fraught with nothing but mischief.
§ MR. MARRIOTT
Sir, in the majority of the speeches made the speakers have objected rather to the circumstances in which the Bill has been introduced than to the principle of it. Of the many arguments now against the Bill, the first is that it is very unpopular in the country; and the second is that the circumstances under which it is brought in are humiliating. Well, Sir, these are somewhat contradictory arguments. The first charge brought against the Government, after these other charges, is that they are yielding to popular clamour—[Mr. WARTON: The mob.]— and, at the same time, we are told that the Bill is against popular opinion; and the Government can interpret what is popular opinion far better than the rest of us; and, if popular opinion is against them, it cannot be said that they are yielding to popular opinion. But, Sir, it seems to me that hon. Members opposite are yielding to it. ["No, no!"] Hon. Members say "No, no!" that they are not yielding to popular opinion; and yet they say it is on their side, and they point, in proof of this, to the enormous number of Petitions against this Bill, and to the few that have been presented in its favour. The number of the Petitions against the Bill and in its favour have been given by hon. Members opposite, and they have gone further, and have collected the number of signatures both for and against the Bill. The noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill), in his singularly able and masterly speech, has told us that the number of signatures against the Bill are four times more than those in favour. [An 1494 hon. MEMBER: Fives times.] Well, it is hard to say how far these Petitions are or are not a guide to public opinion. A debate has been referred to that took place in 1854, on Lord John Russell's Bill for the relief of the Jews. At that time only three Petitions, with 166 signatures, were presented to this House in favour of the Bill; and the Petitions against the relief of the Jews were 481, with 60,171 signatures. Therefore, the Petitions, so far from being four times, wore 400 times against that Relief Bill; and what happened after that manifestation of public opinion? Notwithstanding, and in spite of that enormous feeling against the Bill, four years after the debate referred to, the Jews were admitted to seats in this House under the Government of the late Lord Derby. Therefore, notwithstanding the number of Petitions presented against this Bill, we may prophesy that they will not have the effect of defeating the Bill now before the House. Hon. Members have taunted the Members of the Government with a want of sympathy with Mr. Bradlaugh; while the right hon. Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Gross) has stated that, before and since his election for Northampton, the Government have done their best that Mr. Bradlaugh should retain his seat in this House. ["Hear, hear!"] "Hear, hear!" says an hon. Member; but I think that the attitude of this House and the Government has been one of antipathy rather than of sympathy with Mr. Bradlaugh, whose appearances here have had much the same effect as of a ghost appearing among women and children, and they have tried to avoid him altogether. I think it would have been far better if the Government had, two years ago, dealt with the question. If they had grasped the nettle and met all the difficulties of the position and brought in their Bill—if they had been true to their principles then and brought in their Bill, it would now have been passed and become law. But whether the Government were right or wrong then has nothing to do with the principle of the Bill, whether it is right or not. We have not heard much against the principle of the Bill, which is simply the extension of the principle of toleration. ["No, no!"] Hon. Members may say "No!" but, surely, when the Bill was brought in which enabled the Quakers, Separa- 1495 tists, and other religious people to take the Oath, it was on the great ground of toleration, and the great principle that opinion shall be no bar to civil rights. [An hon. MEMBER: Religious opinions.] All opinions. I say true toleration allows a man to hold what opinions he may, and says that they shall be no bar to his civil rights. Well, hon. Gentlemen opposite say that they will have toleration for a man's religious opinion, and not accord it to his scientific opinion. Well, if that is so, I think it is a new interpretation of toleration of opinion that will not find support in this country. I admit that hon. Members have not spoken much with regard to the principle of this Bill. They have rather dilated on what might happen if this Bill passes. If hon. Members go back, and read the debates which took place in 1854, they will find that those who opposed the admission of Jews indulged in similar prophecies, every one of which has proved untrue. In those debates, an hon. Member spoke who held very much the same position as the hon. and learned Member for Launceston (Sir Hardinge Giffard) now holds. That was Sir Frederick Thesiger, afterwards Lord Chelmsford, who prophesied that if the Bill was passed it would be an attack on the Established Church, and it would weaken the Protestant religion and destroy the Christian character of the House. I would wish to ask if the Church of England is weaker now than it was in 1854? ["Yes!"] Well, then, all I can say is that if the noble Lord (Lord Randolph Churchill) thinks so, he disagrees with every Bishop in the country, as well as with the new Archbishop. They say the Church is stronger than it was 29 or 30 years ago. Is Protestantism weaker, or is the Christian character of the House destroyed? If Protestantism and the Christian character of this House depend on the utterance of certain words, and the performance of a certain ceremony in this House, then they are really destroyed. If the Christian character of the House depended, as all thinking men would say, on what it does, then he hoped that this Christian character was rather promoted than retarded. Hon. Members came forward and said they wished to maintain not the Christian, but the religious character of the House. He did not know if they thought that a particular form of words would have the 1496 effect of maintaining the Christian character of the House. In 1866 there was a debate on the Parliamentary Oaths Bill in this House; and a right hon. Gentleman, whose words had been received with attention, made these remarks, he said—For my part, I have ever boon of opinion that the Established Church in this country does not depend upon oaths. I think the Church of England in all its branches is too strong, too deeply rooted in the affections of the people and traditions of the country, to depend for its maintenance upon any form of words of that character."—(3 Hansard,  1713.)Do hon. Members opposite agree with that sentiment? Those were the words used by Mr. Disraeli. A word was dropped by the right lion, and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson), and also by the hon. Member for Oxford University (Mr. J. G. Talbot) with regard to the word "solemn," and the argument was that the word appealed to a higher power. I perfectly admit that in the old days the Latin words had that meaning; but the words now used depend not on the ceremony, but on the thing engaged. The noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) has quoted the ancient Fathers, and, if I may so, with full deference to him, he mixed up the periods in which they lived; he makes a statement, which shows that the drift and all his thoughts was in connection with matters of opinion. He referred to the Arian heresy, and told us that the want of success of Arianism depended upon the will of a despot who lived at the time. That seems to me the whole value he placed on opinion. He does not think that things will prevail or not succeed because they are right or wrong, but that they depend upon the arm of the civil power. I say the whole history of the world shows that persecution, so far from retarding them, increased their spread. [Lord RANDOLPH CHURCHILL: What about Arianism?] I believe it exists at the present day. If the noble Lord wishes to go into the theological question, he will find that Arianism still influences Trinitarians, Socinians, and Quakers. Every religious theory has either succeeded or failed according to the amount of truth contained in it. We know that the result of the Edict of Nantes was to expel the Protestants from France, but the other result was to sow the seeds of revolution; and, at the present time, you may trace the great 1497 animosity towards the priests in that country to the persecution which had its origin in the application of the Edict of Nantes. I feel convinced that had it not been for the action of this House the opinions of Mr. Bradlaugh, to which I myself have the greatest possible dislike, would not have so far triumphed. Thousands of persons in the country have been stirred up to see what those opinions are. If an opinion gets abroad that a man is losing his civil rights, Sympathy arises with him in spite of the worse opinions he may hold; and now Mr. Bradlaugh is a more popular man than he was three years ago when he entered this House. I do not wish this Bill to be passed for Mr. Bradlaugh. He is the first instance—and it is for Mr. Bradlaugh in many respects—to whom the Bill would apply. But the question is, is the Bill right or wrong? [Several Conservative Members: Wrong!] I do not think it is wrong, but right, and that is why I shall give it my hearty support.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, that those who had listened to the debate, and especially to the able speech of his noble Friend near him (Lord Randolph Churchill), must have felt that hon. Members who had addressed the House from the opposite side had hardly appreciated the importance of the subject involved in the Bill. Some hon. Members had addressed themselves to the task of attacking the Conservative Party now in consequence of the attitude they assumed on this measure; and some, like his hon. Friend who had just sat down, were in a difficulty because, at one time or other, they had voted in favour of the admission of Mr. Bradlaugh into Parliament. But if those who attributed to the Conservatives that they were actuated by Party motives in their opposition to the Bill would take the trouble to analyze the speeches delivered in favour of the Bill that night, they would hardly find that a single new argument had been addressed in support of the measure. And yet it was a Bill of very great importance. Nobody who had listened to the speech of the Prime Minister the other night could doubt that they were discussing a question of the utmost possible gravity, which, however grave it might be at this particular moment, was very likely to be of still greater importance before 1498 any very long period elapsed. For himself, he confessed that it was the gravest question he had had to approach in the whole course of his political life; and he did not desire to approach it in the spirit in which it had been approached by many hon. Members who had taken part in the debate. He had no wish to depreciate the motives of his opponents. He had no doubt that hon. Gentlemen who sat opposite to him, and who supported the Bill, were actuated by as honourable motives as he might claim for himself; but, at the same time, he said that they took a considerable amount of responsibility upon themselves when they ventured to assert that it was the Conservatives who were actuated by Party motives, when, in point of fact, they were opposing a measure which they conscientiously believed to be wrong. It was a satisfaction to them at last to grapple with the specific proposal by which the Government desired to settle the question, and as to which, apparently, they were unanimous. It was quite true that in order to arrive at an unanimous settlement the Government had considerably changed the view they first took; and, what was more remarkable, the change they proposed was one which cut away from under their feet the only logical ground upon which they had rested the Bill. The only ground on which the Bill was originally founded was the inherent right of a constituency to return to Parliament any Representative it might select. If, in other respects, the change was remarkable, it was most remarkable on account of the defence of the change in the Bill which had been made by the Prime Minister. None of them could forget the language used by the right hon. Gentleman the other night. The right hon. Gentleman told them first that the Bill was no longer to be retrospective in its character, because the constituency had had notice of the intention of Parliament to exclude Mr. Bradlaugh; but at last the right hon. Gentleman had to abandon that defence, and to fall back upon the allegation that the change in the Bill was founded upon the precedent of Roman Catholic Emancipation. This change was remarkable also because, as far as he was able to form an opinion, it was the very first time that Her Majesty's Government had taken one single step in the course of the three years' proceedings in oppo- 1499 sition to Mr. Bradlaugh. That might be a proposition which the other side of the House would hardly accept; but he ventured to say that whenever the question before the House was how Mr. Brad-laugh was to be admitted the Government supported him, and whenever it was a question of how Mr. Bradlaugh was to be kept out of the House, the Government went against the Conservative Party, and took no steps to exclude him. The Government now placed before the House a Bill which they alleged to be the true remedy for the situation in which the House was placed. Let him point out in one sentence what the situation was. An avowed Atheist came to the Table and claimed to take his seat. All legal means having failed, and Mr. Bradlaugh had attempted every one of them, ho next endeavoured to succeed by means of threats of violence; and the Government, who had refused to persevere in any measure for his relief until ho used those threats of violence, immediately they were brought forward came down to the House and introduced the Bill now before it. And they justified the Bill by alleging that it was based upon principles that were the very foundation of the existence of the Liberal Party; and they urged the House to pass it at once, because it was based upon principles which they said were immutable, and which ought to be applied to the present case. They had been told often, in the course of the debate, that they were making a great mistake when they alleged that the Bill was brought forward solely in the interests of Mr. Bradlaugh. He should like the House to apply this one single test. Putting Mr. Bradlaugh aside for the moment, would they have ever heard of this Bill? Would the Bill have been persevered with now? Would it have been brought forward now? Would any hon. Member in that House say that it would have been brought forward to the exclusion of all other Business if it were not for Mr. Bradlaugh? Then it was said very often that their objection to the Bill was on account of their objection to the man. Well, he did not altogether deny that. He shared the opinions that were felt on the opposite side of the House, and he was sure he was expressing the opinion of many men sitting on that side of the House when he said that this man had offended their feelings of religion almost 1500 as much as he had shocked their feelings of decency. He could not understand the remarkable parallel which had been drawn by the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Lyulph Stanley), when he attempted to draw a parallel between the early Christians and modern Atheists, inasmuch as their attempts to obtain recognition were equally characterized by bad taste. They were told that there were Atheists in the House already. Of course, they were sorry to hear that; but they had been so often told so that he supposed there could be little doubt of the fact. But was it any reason, because a man had slipped in without anything being known of him, and without publicly avowing his opinion on the subject—was that a reason why they were on that account to admit a man who came to that Table and openly avowed that his objection to take the Oath was because he did not believe in the existence of a Supreme Being? He believed, unfortunately, that they had Republicans in that House; he believed they were not absent even from the Treasury Bench. But those hon. and right hon. Gentlemen had judiciously veiled their opinions; and could anybody say that because they had been able to enter the House by concealing their opinions, that a man was to be entitled to come to the Table and say—"I refuse to take the Oath of Allegiance;" and thereupon the Government were to introduce a Bill to enable him and all future Members of the same way of thinking to dispense with the obligation of taking the Oath? But now they were face to face with this Bill; and, looking at it fairly and impartially, he believed he might say with truth that the hatred of the Bill was not confined to that side of the House. The majority of the House on the one side and on the other hated the Bill. The Prime Minister had told them quite frankly that he detested it. The religious feeling of the country was, undoubtedly, opposed to it. They had heard that night how the Wesleyans regarded it. They had it upon incontestible authority that the Wesleyan Body was, by an enormous majority, utterly opposed to the passing of the Bill. If his hon. Friend who spoke early in the evening had chosen to prolong his observations so that he could have produced a Petition signed 1501 by a vast number of past Presidents and very prominent members of the Wesley an Connection, he would have found upon it the name of a man who almost commanded as much respect from those who differed from him in religion as those who agreed with him—the Rev. Dr. Rigg. Not only was this a respected name, but the names of most of the leaders of the Wesleyan Connection were attached to the Petition against the Bill, despite what had been said by one or two hon. Members as to the opinion of the Wesleyan Body. So also was it in regard to the Church of England. By an enormous majority the opinion of the Church was entirely opposed to the principles of the Bill. He believed also that the opinion of an enormous majority of the people of the country was opposed to it. It was perfectly true, as the Prime Minister told them the other day, that, after all, Atheism was not the main evil they had to contend with. There were some subtle forms of unbelief and Agnosticism that were eating like a cankerworm into the religious life of the country. That was a dangerous thing for them to contemplate and deal with; but the right hon. Gentleman went on to tell them that the public opinion now opposed to the Bill was only a momentary public opinion, and that it was a thoroughly unsafe guide to rely upon in determining the course they should adopt on a question such as that before them. But was Her Majesty's Government a safe guide in this matter? He should like to ask that question. They were generally wrong in their law, and they had always, he thought, misinterpreted the feelings of the House and of the country. On the Opposition side of the House, however wrong they might have been, they might, at least, claim credit for having been consistent from the first step to the last in opposing the admission of Atheists into Parliament. But if public opinion was so clear—if it was so absolutely clear that the Prime Minister admitted, it—ought not that public opinion to be followed? It was not a new phase of public opinion, because the country had had three years to reflect on the subject; and, as far as he could form any judgment upon it, the opinion against the Bill had strengthened from year to year. It was not as if the subject before them was a difficult one. The facts were perfectly plain. The 1502 question at issue before the House was a very simple one that everybody could understand; and he ventured to say that, having had this question before it for the last two and a-half years, the country had absolutely and finally decided upon it. It hated the Bill, and it hated the Bill first and foremost, he frankly confessed, because of its association with. Mr. Bradlaugh; and, in the second place, because it desired to maintain the religious character of the House, and because it wished to associate the religious element with all its proceedings from the beginning to the end. It was unnecessary for him to enter into the history of former precedents which had been brought forward in respect to the matter. He did not think that any one of them really touched the point they were now dealing with. His noble Friend the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) had pointed out, in the most conclusive manner, the way in which the present proposal differed from the proposal to which Parliament consented for the admission to that House of Jews and Quakers. He would prefer to direct the attention of the House to the consideration of the main argument which, as far as he had been able to gather in the course of the debate, had been urged in favour of the Bill. It was alleged that they, on that side of the House, desired to establish a test which was of no real utility, but which involved a denial of justice to Mr. Bradlaugh. Now, let them consider the question of justice. They were told that justice to Mr. Bradlaugh was of so urgent a character, that it was a matter which required to be dealt with so urgently, that they ought to put aside all other Business, of whatever importance, in order to press forward the Bill. He should like to ask, if that were so, and if it was so urgent that they should do justice to Mr. Bradlaugh, why was not this Bill brought forward long ago? Why was it not brought forward in 1881 or 1882? Why was it reserved for a time when it was open to the opponents of the Bill to say that it was no longer due to a sense of justice, but that it was extorted from their fears? Justice! To whom was it justice? Justice to Mr. Bradlaugh? Well, he did not think anybody on that side of the House would for a moment say that Mr. Bradlaugh did not deserve the fullest measure of justice; but so 1503 did the religious feeling of the people of this country. And if they assumed for a moment that justice was involved in this matter at all, then he said that the great mass of the religious feeling of the country, which was of opinion that great injustice was being done by this Bill being brought forward, was at least as much entitled to notice as the demands of Mr. Bradlaugh himself. But it was not a question of the denial of justice It was not a question of justice at all. What right had Mr. Bradlaugh to come forward to that Table and refuse to comply with a condition which they had imposed upon admission to the House? What right had he to call upon them entirely to abrogate the traditions to which they attached, perhaps an undue, but, at any rate, a conscientious importance? That was not justice; it was not common sense; and they were at least entitled to respect the feelings of the country as much as the violence of Mr. Bradlaugh and his party. In the second place, they were told that the condition which they desired to impose upon the admission of Members to that House formed a very narrow ledge upon which to rest the religious feelings of the country, and that it afforded a very poor safeguard. He might answer that in the words of his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson), who had pointed out that even if this were an insufficient safeguard it was better than no safeguard at all. He (Mr. E. Stanhope) desired, also, to support that safeguard on a stronger ground. He supported it because it appeared to him to afford a common ground on which men of all religion, taking religion in its broadest and widest sense, wore able to combine for the purpose of declaring war against all forms of irreligion. It was quite true that Atheism was not the main evil. They had to deal with more subtle forms of evil; but what they contended for in the strongest manner was that they should close the doors of Parliament against men who professed open and avowed Atheism. If it were true that this afforded a common ground on which they could all meet and all oppose the common enemy, then it was a ground which they ought not hastily to abandon. They must not allow the enemy to attack them in detail. Let them endeavour, all of them who professed a 1504 religious opinion, whether they belonged to one sect or another, and upon whatever ground they founded their objection, to combine on a common platform in endeavouring to repel the common enemy. Upon this point he could not do better than venture to quote the opinion of one who, it would be admitted, was a great authority on the subject. Edmund Burke, in his Reflections on the French Revolution, speaking of those who tolerated in the true spirit of toleration, went on to say—They would reverently and affectionately protect all religions, because they love and venerate the great principles upon which they all agree, and the great object to which they are all directed. They begin more and more to discern that we have all a common cause, as against a common enemy.Then they were told that it was absolutely necessary to settle this question. That was an argument that came home to everyone with very great force. He quite agreed that it was most desirable to settle, if they could, this most irritating question, which had now reached a point which, he ventured to think, it never would have reached, if it had only been grappled with and dealt with properly at the outset. But, admitting all that, it was quite impossible to deny that there were modes of settlement which were oven more dangerous and objectionable than leaving the question unsettled. The point before them was not only how the religious people of this country would regard this settlement, but also, even more, how would the irreligious people of the country regard it? They would regard it as a victory and a complete triumph; they would hold that they had stormed the stronghold of the enemy. They would say that they had achieved a triumph of violence and had introduced Atheism, in high places. He would venture to read an extract from a letter which he had read that day, and which recently appeared in The Newcastle Chronicle, from "An Avowed Atheist." Any hon. Member who had not read that letter ought to read it, in order to ascertain how an avowed Atheist understood the Bill, and he believed that a great deal of information was to be gained from it. He would read one single passage from this letter of an avowed Atheist. [Cries of "Name!"] "Name?" The writer did not give his name. If 1505 he would give his name he should know how to deal with him. [An hon. Member: Does he sign his name as "An avowed Atheist?"] The letter was signed "An avowed Atheist," and this was what the writer said—The Atheist objects to an oath chiefly because it identifies civil obligations with religious duties—because it is a leading sign among all civilized communities of an omnipresent and omnipotent Sovereign; of an Almighty God— the fear and knowledge of whom they say is the master-spring of every principle which can permanently secure the stability of a people With the aid of Christian Liberals, whose cause he has served so well, we Secularists believe that Mr. Bradlaugh is about to add to his other achievements by destroying the degrading symbol referred to. And the Parliamentary Oath once abolished, why should the Coronation Oath remain?That was the spirit in which they saw an avowed Atheist approaching this matter, and the manner in which he regarded the result of the struggle now before them. Far be it from him to attempt, for a single moment, to minimize the very great mischief that was being produced in the country by the struggle now going on in that House. He was afraid it was producing consequences of a very grave character. But the real cause of the mischief, and the real cause of the existence of the evil now going on in the country, was not the struggle that was being carried on within the walls of that House, but it was the support which was being given to Mr. Bradlaugh, step by step and year by year, by men who were prominent in the political history of the country. Who had given Mr. Bradlaugh his prominence? [Cries of "You and the Opposition!"] He was very glad to hear that expression of opinion from hon. Gentlemen opposite, as it enabled him to tell the House what the very first step was which gave Mr. Bradlaugh his prominence. There could be no doubt of it—it was a matter beyond dispute, and he would like to read to the House what it was. In the year 1871, a right hon. Gentleman went down to Blackheath to make a speech to his constituents, and he took an opportunity of quoting in the course of that speech — which was directed in a Party sense against hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House—he took an opportunity of quoting, and quoting with approbation as full of good sense, some verses which he then read to the meeting, and which there could 1506 be no doubt whatever were written by Mr. Bradlaugh himself. The verses were taken from the Secular Hymns of Mr. Bradlaugh, and published by him in defence of Atheism. They were verses known to everybody who knew the writings of Mr. Bradlaugh to be written by him, and they were written for the purpose of spreading in the country the principles of Atheism against religion. [Cries of "Bead!"] That was the first time that many of them ever looked at the writings of Mr. Bradlaugh. It was the first time he himself ever looked at those writings or over thought of them, except as the writings of an obscure and mischievous agitator. The man who brought them to their notice was the Prime Minister. [Cries of "Read!"] He was not going to pollute the House by reading any of the verses from the Secular Hymns. The particular verse quoted by the Prime Minister was, no doubt, of an innocuous character; but it was one taken from a miscellaneous body of hymns which no man in the House could road without forming an estimate of their true character. The settlement now proposed was one which, at any rate, they could not accept on that side of the House. The settlement meant nothing more nor less than a surrender along the whole line. It meant that they abandoned their outworks and allowed the enemy to come in. It was neither a just nor a reasonable proposal, and they on that side of the House, however much their motives might be misinterpreted, and however much they might be attacked for endeavouring to keep a man out who had been elected by the constituency of Northampton, were not prepared to sacrifice their convictions to any consideration of external violence; and they were not prepared to trample with reckless indifference on the religious feelings or even the prejudices of the people of this country.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned." —(Mr. Walter.)
SIR E. ASSHETON CROSS
said, he would put it to the House whether it was the proper course to adjourn the debate after the intimation they had received from the Government that they proposed to take a private Members' 1507 night to-morrow? He should have thought, naturally, if they were to follow the ordinary custom in regard to prolonged debates, they would at least have an hour in which the debate could go on. It was far too early to adjourn the debate, especially if the Government were so pressed for time that they felt it imperatively necessary to take to-morrow night from private Members.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
said, he would be quite disposed to agree with what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman if there was the slightest possibility of the debate being concluded that night; but that was not possible. If it were, it would not be unreasonable to ask the House to go on in order to accomplish so desirable a result. But as there was no possibility of the debate terminating that night, he thought it was desirable that they should adjourn it now at a time which would render it possible to proceed with some of the Business which remained upon the Paper, and which it was universally admitted ought to be proceeded with as rapidly as possible. He failed to see any connection between the question of adjournment at that particular hour and the proposal of his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to take the debate to-morrow.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, the Government were taking a new and a novel course. They were asked to adjourn the debate soon after midnight, when it was frequently the practice in debates of this nature to carry them on until 2 o'clock in the morning. Hon. Members on that side of the House were constantly being accused of Obstruction; but he would venture to point out that the House could scarcely feel much fatigue after an eight hours' Sitting. The Government had announced their intention of taking the whole of to-morrow night for this debate, but they had an alternative course; they might have taken a Morning Sitting to-morrow, and have left the evening for private Members. Their only advantage in taking the whole of to-morrow was that, by so doing, they would gain another hour or two. Still, why not take those two hours now, and leave the privileges of private Members undisturbed? It appeared to him that those who had Motions on the Paper for to-morrow had good reason to complain of the pressure put upon them, espe- 1508 cially when it was proposed to adjourn the debate at that early hour. He hoped the House would not assent to the Motion.
said, he thought the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. A. J. Balfour) could not have had much experience in the House, or he would have known that that was about the usual hour for adjourning debate. Whether earlier or a few minutes later was no very great matter, but it was the time usually taken for adjournment. There would be nothing at all unusual in adjourning now; whereas, after another speech, they would, perhaps, only have another wrangle for adjournment, and would waste a little more of the time which it was possible to utilize for the progress of other Business.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, he did not fear another wrangle about adjournment, such as was hinted at by the Prime Minister, if the debate were to continue for another hour; but an opportunity would be given to a large number of Members who were not usually in the habit of addressing the House, but who desired to address it on behalf of their constituents on this question, and who had certainly a right to be heard upon such a question. Ho thought a great advantage would be gained by giving to such hon. Members an opportunity of continuing the debate for a short time longer. If his hon. Friend the Member for Berkshire (Mr. Walter) would withdraw the Motion for adjournment, and move it after one or two more speeches had been delivered, the debate would be greatly facilitated.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, he hoped the hon. Member for Berkshire would not be indisposed to accept the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman. It was an unusual thing, on an important question like that now under discussion, for the adjournment to be moved at so early an hour, and it certainly was unusual to hear the Prime Minister arguing in favour of adjournment at such an hour. They constantly found the Prime Minister resisting Motions for adjournment at hours much later than the present. He (Mr. Chaplin) had already intimated his intention, in which he should certainly persevere, of resisting the appropriation of a private Members' night to-morrow, and that intention was much strengthened by the course now being taken. He re- 1509 garded it as a mere device for obtaining an hour or two to-night for other Business at the expense of private Members to-morrow. He did not know how far the Government desired to avoid the question which stood first on the Paper to-morrow—namely the question of the repeal of the Vaccination Act. Personally, he thought it was desirable, in the interests of the country, to have a plain and unmistakable declaration from the Government as to the course they intended to pursue upon that question, and he certainly could not consent to the adjournment of the present debate at that hour.
§ MR. RYLANDS
said, he thought it was very unreasonable on the part of hon. Gentlemen opposite to resist the Motion for adjournment. The House would be aware that many hon. Members had been attending the sitting of Committees since 12 o'clock in the day, and he thought the Government were justified in the course they had taken. He therefore hoped the Government would consent to the adjournment of the debate, in order that they might proceed with the Customs and Inland Revenue Bill.
§ MR. R. N. FOWLER
said, he merely rose to make a suggestion. He agreed with the hon. Gentleman behind him (Mr. Chaplin) that it was a very unusual thing to hear the Prime Minister favouring the adjournment of the debate at that hour. The right hon. Gentleman said it was not unusual, so far as he had a knowledge of the early history of the House. He (Mr. R. N. Fowler) dare say it was not unusual in the happier days in which the right hon. Gentleman had known the House; but as long as he (Mr. R. N. Fowler) had sat in the House it had been a very unusual thing to adjourn a debate at so early an hour. They were told that the object was to enable an important debate concerning the Customs and Inland Revenue Bill to be brought on. Then why not take a Morning Sitting for that purpose, and allow his hon. Friends on that side of the House to continue the debate for another hour or two, when the hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr. Walter) could move the adjournment?
§ MR. MACFARLANE
said, that many hon. Members had risen to take part in the debate, and that a reasonable hour had already passed when they ought to 1510 be called upon to consider another important measure. In the event of the Motion for adjournment being carried to a division, it would be, at least, half-past 12 o'clock before the division would be over, and the Customs and Inland Revenue Bill could be reached. Did the Government propose to proceed with that Bill, because there were some very important questions to be discussed with regard to it? He would ask the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer to state distinctly whether the Government proposed to go on with the Customs and Inland Revenue Bill at so late an hour, because the answer might materially influence the course which hon. Members would take upon the present proposal.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. CHILDERS)
said, that if a division was taken and the debate was adjourned, he should go on with the Customs and Inland Revenue Bill for a certain distance; and he did not think that half-past 12 was an unreasonable hour for discussing the questions raised in that Bill.
said, the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands) had accused Members on that side of the House of having been guilty of unseemly conduct. He (Mr. Macartney) would ask if it was reasonable or unreasonable on the part of hon. Members to wish to continue the debate until the usual hour for adjournment on a subject that was so much disturbing the country and the public mind, and upon which they were all anxious to come to a proper and definite conclusion? There were a number of hon. Members who were not often in the habit of speaking at great length, and who were anxious to express their opinions upon the matter; and he thought the Government had consented to the Motion for adjournment less for the purpose of prosecuting Government Business than for postponing till to-morrow evening the consideration of a very serious and important question which the Government most likely wished to shunt, in order that they might have another week to make up their minds.
§ Question put.
§ [A Division being called for, Strangers withdrew.]
§ Question again put.1511
§ The DEPUTY SPEAKER thereupon left the Chair.
§ Debate further adjourned till To-morrow.