HC Deb 15 February 1883 vol 276 cc65-6

Before I call to the Table any Members who may be waiting to take the Oath required by law, I think it will be convenient that I should read a letter which I have received from Mr. Bradlaugh, one of the Members for Northampton. It is as follows:—

To the Right Honorable

The Speaker of the House of Commons.


On the 2nd March last I was, for the third time, duly elected one of the burgesses for the borough of Northampton to serve in the present Parliament, and have ever since been ready and willing to do all things by law required to entitle me to sit and vote. The House on the 6th March last, without hearing me, thought fit to prohibit me from fulfilling the obligations imposed by statute. My constituents petitioned to be heard at the Bar of the Rouse in support of their right to my vote and speech as one of their lawful representatives, and I, through you, Sir, applied for leave to state to the House the grounds of law upon which I claimed to be entitled to obey the laic and take my seat. The House did not express its pleasure, either on the petition of my constituents or on my application.

In two suits I have endeavoured to obtain a judgment of the High Court of Justice; 1st, on the legality of the administering of the Oath by me on February 21st last; and, 2nd, on the laufulncss of the act of the House in preventing me from complying with the statute. On the first point the Court refused to give judgment on demurrer on the ground that the pleadings [which followed precisely the recitals in the Journals of the House) were so drawn as to necessitate judgment in my favour; and also refused to allow the issues of fact to be tried on the ground that such action was friendly, and therefore collusive. On the 2nd point the Court said that it refused to suppose that the House of Commons would do "an act which in itself was flagrantly wrong" and further the Court refused to permit the exact facts to be ascertained by a jury on the ground that the order of the House must be taken to imply an adjudication for contempt.

I beg, Sir, under these circumstances, to respectfully slate that, accompanied by my introducers, I shall according to statute, and to the law and custom of Parliament, present myself at the opening of the Session to be called by yon to the Table, in order that I may do all things which may be lawfully required of me to enable me to sit and vote pursuant to the unimpeached return of my constituents.

I have the honor to be,


Your most obedient Servant,



said, that as Mr. Bradlaugh had always been anxious to act in accordance with the wishes and feelings of the House, so far as was consistent with his duty to his constituents, he (Mr. Labouchere) would venture, with regard to the letter which had been read, to put a question to the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War (the Marquess of Hartington). He wished to ask, Whether it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government during the present Session to bring in any Bill enabling Members to affirm or to take the Oath of Allegiance as they pleased? In the event of that being the intention of Her Majesty's Government, Mr. Bradlaugh had requested him to state that he would not present himself at the Table to take the Oath until the fate of that Bill had been decided.


in reply, said, that he was glad to be in a position very easily to give a satisfactory answer to the question put to him by his hon. Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere). He begged to state that it was the intention of his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General that night to give Notice of Motion for to-morrow to ask for leave to introduce a Bill to amend the Parliamentary Oaths Act. The Bill would be introduced with the object of enabling Members who objected to take the Oath to make a solemn Affirmation in its stead.


I wish to give Notice, Sir, that when that Bill comes to a second reading I shall offer it the strongest opposition in my power.

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