§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
I wish to put a Question to the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister with re- 802 ference to a letter which appears in several newspapers this morning purporting to be addressed by Mr. Brad-laugh to the right hon. Gentleman, in which Mr. Bradlaugh informs him that it is his intention at an early day "to take my seat for the borough of Northampton," and goes on to say—In doing this I shall disregard the Orders of the House made this Session as being in the teeth of the law, and therefore null and. void.I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has received such a letter, and, if he has, what course he proposes to take in the matter?
Sir, I received on Friday a letter from Mr. Bradlaugh, which I see has been printed in the papers. It runs as follows:—Sir,—In accordance with the requirements of my constituents, I beg respectfully to inform you that I shall, in compliance with the law, at an early date take my seat for the borough of Northampton. In doing this I shall claim to disregard the Order of the House made this Session, as being, to use the words of George Grenville, in the teeth of the law, and therefore null and void. I am confirmed in this view by the judgment of Mr. Justice Field in the suit brought by myself against Mr. Erskine, when, in answer to my hypothesis that the House of Commons had passed a Resolution forbidding me to take the oath, his Lordship said that he could not assume that the House would do an act which in itself would be flagrantly wrong. As the Parliamentary Oaths Act, 1866, and the Standing Orders of the House make no other provision than that the oath shall be taken and subscribed in manner therein prescribed, I beg to inform you that I shall so take and subscribe the oath in the manner binding upon my conscience. When I so took and subscribed the oath on the 21st of February, 1882, I sought to obtain the opinion of the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court of Justice on the legality of the oath so taken by me, but the Court refused to allow a friendly action to be argued or tried. If any legal decision could be obtained, or if the House would discharge me from the services it by force prevents me performing, so that a new writ would be issued, I should be relieved from the painful necessity of finding myself once more in collision with the House; but I cannot and must not passively permit my constituents to be robbed of the voice and vote to which they have a constitutional right.—I have the honour to be, &c., C. BRADLAUGH.I am glad, Sir, the Question of the right hon. Gentleman has given me the opportunity of placing the House in possession of this information. Her Majesty's Government have, in more than one form, suggested to the House the different modes in which they have thought that an escape would be found from the many difficulties attending the 803 subject; but our recommendations have not received, in any case, the approval of the House, and therefore, of course, it will rest with those who have advised the House, and whose advice has been accepted by the House, to act upon the information I have given. I am glad of this opportunity of placing the matter before the House.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
Sir, the concluding observations of the right hon Gentleman render it necessary for me to call the attention of the House very shortly to the position in which we stand. Of course, I do not ask the House to reopen the question as to the propriety of Mr. Bradlaugh being allowed to go through the form of taking the Oath. That is a point on which the House has decided, and recently decided, by a very considerable majority. But I shall call attention to the fact that from this letter we are led to infer that it is Mr. Brad-laugh's intention, at such time as he may select, to come before the House and endeavour to override that decision to which the House came some weeks ago by some action on his part. In fact, we may pretty clearly understand from the language of the letter that Mr. Bradlaugh's intention is to come before the House as he did two years ago and administer the Oath to himself as he did on that occasion. I need not remind the House that his proceedings on that occasion met with the censure of the House; and, unquestionably, if the House has already determined that it will not allow Mr. Bradlaugh to go through the form of taking the Oath, it cannot sit by and allow such a taking of the Oath as that to which I have alluded. That being so, I apprehend from the notice we have received that we may expect our proceedings will be interrupted at some uncertain period, and therefore we are called upon to act in order to prevent a scandal in the proceedings of this House. I do not think that is a position in which the House ought to be placed. I have by circumstances been obliged to take a part on several occasions which I would much rather had been taken by the Leader of the House for the protection of Order and, as I think, the dignity of the House, and I regret to find myself again obliged to take a similar course on the present occasion. I have always endeavoured, when I have had to propose anything 804 with regard to Mr. Bradlaugh, to confine myself to what seemed to me to be absolutely necessary. When on the last occasion of his presenting himself and tendering himself to take the Oath, the House decided that he should not be permitted to do so, I thought it unnecessary to make any further Motion, because I assumed that Mr. Bradlaugh, whatever his opinions might be, would bow to the decision of the House, and not put us to any further inconvenience as long as that Order was in force. It appears that that is not his intention, and therefore it is necessary to take some steps for the protection of the Order of the House. It is quite impossible that we can expect the great bulk of Members of the House to be here at all times and at all hours when Mr. Bradlaugh might present himself, and, therefore, I can see no course open but to make a Motion similar to that made by me two years ago which prevented Mr. Bradlaugh's intrusion on the proceedings, until he gives an assurance that he will not disturb them. Therefore, I make this Motion entirely in what I may call a spirit of self-defence, and for the preservation of that Order which I think is threatened to be disturbed, in the same terms as my former one. It is—That the Serjeant-at-Arms do exclude Mr. Bradlaugh from the House until he shall en-gage not further to disturb the proceedings of the House.The words are the same as in the former Resolution. It will be recollected that some question arose about the phrase "precincts of the House;" but when the former Resolution was proposed in the same terms as this the House maintained that Mr. Speaker and the Officers were justified in putting on that Resolution the interpretation which it was intended to bear, and excluding Mr. Bradlaugh from the precincts. On the former occasion the words were proposed when Mr. Bradlaugh was present; but I shall now move this Resolution as he is not present. If you, Sir, think it more proper that I should mention" precincts," of course I will make the Motion in that form; but I understand from the decision come to on the former occasion that it is unnecessary.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Serjeant-at-Arms do exclude Mr. Bradlaugh from the House until he shall en-
gage not further to disturb the proceedings of the House."—(Sir Stafford Northcote.)
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
I wish to ask, Sir, whether the right hon. Gentleman is in Order in making this Motion without Notice?
§ MR. SPEAKER
I understand that the right hon. Gentleman makes the Motion on the ground that it is a question of Privilege. The hon. Member for Northampton declares his intention to disregard the Orders of the House, and it therefore becomes a question of urgency on the part of the House to decide what is to be done. That being so, the right hon. Gentleman is quite justified in the course he has taken.
§ MR. SPEAKER
On a former occasion when a similar Motion was passed by the House Mr. Bradlaugh attempted to force himself within the doors of the House. Having regard to the Resolution passed by the House, I directed the Serjeant-at-Arms to exclude Mr. Brad-laugh by force, and the House approved of that course. Therefore, I presume the House will support me in taking, if necessary, the same course again.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
I am one of those, Sir, who, rightly or wrongly, believe that a Member elected by a constituency derives his right from the constituency to go through all the Forms at the Table necessary for him to take his seat in the House. I merely state that to let the House know that I shall be obliged to challenge a decision of the House on the Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman. I am not going into this matter at any length; there are only two points on which I would call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman. The first is, that I understand that the Whips of the Party of which the right hon. Gentleman is the Head have issued a Notice to their followers to come to the House this evening; and I would put it to the right hon. Gentleman whether it is quite in accordance with fair play to bring forward this Resolution without any Notice, having brought together all those who are in favour of it to vote for it, while those who might be opposed to it were not aware that it would be brought forward? The other point is, that Mr. Bradlaugh has asked the House to void 806 the election. He finds himself in an exceedingly difficult position. He has no wish to put himself in antagonism with the House, but he desires that his constituents should be fully represented here; and if the right hon. Gentleman would only move for a new Writ for the borough of Northampton, or support me were I to move for it, I should not complain of the course taken by the House. But I think it is somewhat hard to say that Mr. Bradlaugh is not to take his seat, having been duly elected, and that owing to this action the constituency is to be punished by not being represented by the number of Members the Constitution gives to it. I shall not detain the House, but I feel it my duty to divide on the Question.
Sir, I think it is but natural on the part of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, on an occasion of this kind, to propose to the House the measure which he thinks necessary to give effect to the decision of the majority. It would not be my province, or that of the minority, to make any such proposal. But I own I do feel it within my province to make an appeal to the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), and to express an hope that he will not divide the House, because it is part of my duty, on the one hand, to ask the House to make great sacrifices of its time, and on the other, to endeavour to avoid, as far as possible, unnecessary sacrifices. It appears to me that we who are the minority have had ample opportunity of arguing the case in every form in which it has been brought forward. The majority of the House have courteously consented more than once to hear Mr. Bradlaugh at the Bar. We cannot say that we have not been fully and fairly heard. I deeply regret the decision of the majority, and all that I felt on former occasions I still feel; but I think that respect to the majority, and regard to the time of the House, and to the extreme urgency of the position in which we stand with reference to Public Business, ought to prevent us from interposing any obstacle to a Motion if that Motion be reasonable in itself. The question is, is it reasonable? Certainly not, from my point of view. But the unreasonableness of it lies in the unreasonableness of the original decision of the House. From the point of view 807 of the right hon. Gentleman it is a strictly reasonable Motion. It is strictly consequent on the Resolution of the House. He declares it to be a Motion of self-defence, and undoubtedly, being a Motion to defend the House against the consequences of the course formerly taken by the House, it is quite natural that the House should adopt this course. Under those circumstances the matter is a very simple one, and it is unnecessary to go over the ground we have gone over before. This Motion is a necessary corollary of the steps taken by the House on a former occasion; and although I am not an approving party to any portion of the procedure, I would deprecate exceedingly the offering of any further opposition to the course taken by the right hon. Gentleman. I will not encroach any further upon that valuable commodity of the House—time, and I will appeal to the hon. Member to adopt a similar course in respect to this Motion.
§ SIR WILFRID LAWSON
I am not going to detain the House. I only wish to say that several hon. Members below the Gangway here are as anxious to avoid any waste of time as the right hon. Gentleman; but this is a matter on which we must divide, because we feel that upon every opportunity when steps are taken which we consider to be illegal or unconstitutional we are bound to resist them to the best of our power. On these grounds some of us will feel bound to divide the House.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 232; Noes 65: Majority 167.—(Div. List, No. 183.)
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
I wish to make a suggestion to the right hon. Baronet the Leader of the Opposition. [Cries of "Order!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must point out to the hon. Member that there is no Question before the House, and if the hon. Member wishes to put a Question to the right hon. Baronet, it should be confined to any Bill or Motion before the House.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
I am very anxious to confine myself to the Question, and am most unwilling to intrude unnecessarily upon the House with reference to a subject which is still before it. ["No, no!" and cries of "Order!"] the House has just taken a very necessary precaution, and I wish to ask the 808 right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon—[Cries of "Order!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must repeat to the hon. Member that he is out of Order. When the House was engaged with Questions the right hon. Gentleman interposed with a Question which has been disposed of. The House is still engaged with Questions put to Ministers of the Crown, and if any hon. Member has a Question to put to any Minister he will be in Order; but the hon. Member is not in Order in the course he now takes.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
I apologize, Sir. I did not intend to go beyond your ruling. I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon who has moved the Resolution now adopted, which has been found necessary to correct and enforce a former decision of the House, whether he will move that this Resolution be made a Standing Order of the House?
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
I wish, Sir, in the first instance, to put the question to you as to whether it is competent for me to make that Motion?
§ MR. SPEAKER
the question is one of great importance. It is not for me to restrain the power of this House; but as this question affects the political rights of a Member of this House, it would not, I think, be competent for the right hon. Gentleman to move that the Resolution be made a Standing Order.