HC Deb 12 February 1884 vol 284 cc659-65

Motion made, and Question proposed, That Mr. Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a New Writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the Borough of Northampton, in the room of Charles Brad-laugh, esquire, who since his election for the said Borough has accepted the office of Steward or Bailiff of Her Majesty's Three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough, and Bonenham, in the County of Buckingham."—(Mr. Labouchere.)


I venture with great respect to suggest to the House that they would do well not to adopt the somewhat precipitate course recommended by the hon. Member for Northampton. The House is well aware that, so far, there has been no authoritative statement from the Leader of the House or the Law Officers of the Crown; but there is a general knowledge that the proceedings of yesterday afternoon will form the subject of inquiry before a Court of Law, and I think there can be also no doubt that Her Majesty's Attorney General will be instructed by the Government, and perhaps by Parliament, to commence a more or less friendly and collusive suit against Mr. Bradlaugh for what he did yesterday afternoon. All these proceedings will require careful consideration; and the House will have to consider at its leisure and in a dignified manner what course it should take to protect its proceedings from disorder and further assaults by Mr. Bradlaugh. It seems to me that if we agree to this Motion Mr. Bradlaugh may be re-elected for Northampton, and the Motion of the Leader of the Opposition, which was agreed to yesterday, will become a dead letter, leading to a repetition of the extremely unpleasant and unbecoming scenes which I am sure everybody in this House regrets. Legal proceedings of the highest importance are going to be taken against Mr. Bradlaugh, and the House must be protected against a repetition of disorderly scones. In order to give time for due consideration, I move the debate be now adjourned.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Lord Randolph Churchill.)


urged that under the decision of the House of Lords the duty was incumbent upon the Law Officers of the Crown to take proceedings to recover the penalties that had been incurred by Mr. Bradlaugh in voting without having taken the Oath or its equivalent Affirmation in a manner satisfactory to the House. There was no option as to whether the Attorney General should proceed or not——


I must remind the hon. Member that the noble Lord has moved the adjournment of the debate. It is not competent for the hon. Member, therefore, to discuss the Main Question.


I beg your pardon. I have known, under other circumstances, that the subject-matter that led to the Motion for Adjournment has been debated; but I bow to your decision. I apologise, Mr. Speaker.


I think, before we vote on the question which has been raised by my noble Friend, it would be not altogether unreasonable to expect some explanation of the circumstance which has led to this Writ being moved. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is the only person who has the power of granting the Stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds. I believe that a discretion is exercised in the case of a Member against whom a Petition is pending, or against whom any corrupt practices are alleged. That is not the case in this instance; but I think that in the case of one whose status as a Member has been a matter of discussion in this House, and who has broken the regulations of this House, it would be well that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should state to the House the reasons which led him to give Mr. Bradlaugh the opportunity of evading the Rosolution passed by the House yesterday.


I really am very much surprised at the course taken by hon. Gentlemen opposite. Mr. Bradlaugh has ceased to be a Member of this House, and Northampton, which has a right to send two Members to Parliament, at the present time has only one. When a constituency is not charged with any species of corruption or wrongdoing, a Writ is always issued without question under such circumstances. Hon. Gentlemen opposite do not even know whether Mr. Bradlaugh will stand again or not. But I may point out this difficulty. If they contend that a new Writ ought not to be issued, they ought not to allow a new Writ for any single constituency to be moved. What is to prevent Mr. Bradlaugh from going to County Heath or the City of Cork as a candidate?


I would ask you, Sir, whether the hon. Member is not now speaking to the Main Question?


The hon. Member is certainly arguing the Main Question, and is out of Order. In fact, the Main Question cannot now be discussed.


On the point of Order, Sir, I would ask you whether the hon. Member for Northampton is not perfectly in Order in showing reasons why the debate should not be adjourned? If he keeps to that subject—["Order! Oh, oh!"]——


I have already decided that the hon. Member is not in Order.


Of course, I bow to your decision, Sir. Really, I have nothing more to say.


I have been appealed to on a subject which clearly appertains to the Main Question. I am not going to put myself out of Order in referring to it now, when the question of adjournment only is before us.


I do not feel at all sure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is right in saying that the question put to him entirely relates to the Main Question. The Question before the House is, whether the House shall forthwith proceed to issue a new Writ for Northampton; or whether it shall take time to consider what has taken place. Under ordinary circumstances, when new Writs are moved——

MR. HEALY (loudly and continuously)

"Order, order! Question!" [Cries of "Name, name!"]


The conduct of the hon. Member for Monaghan is quite disorderly.


I apprehend, Sir, you will stop me if I say anything irregular. As a matter of custom, new Writs are issued immediately the Motion is made; but there are cases in which more time is taken by the House, and we have now to decide not whether the Writ should be issued or not, but whether at this moment we should adjourn the question. Before deciding it, we wish to know what course the Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken, and on what grounds that action has been taken? That is a very material question, and, I think, is material for our consideration at this moment.


said, it was perfectly plain that the Government intended to shirk out of that discussion, as they had done out of others. It was perfectly plain that their silence was owing to collusion with Mr. Brad-laugh. His reason for believing that the debate should be adjourned was that he did not think the wording of the Motion was in consonance with the law of the country. He thought, before they proceeded to discuss the Main Question, they should know whether it was a legal one, to be put or not. On that subject he thought they ought to be enlightened by the Attorney General. Mr. Bradlaugh had probably vacated his seat by reason of his sitting and voting in the House without being properly sworn.


The hon. Member is not addressing himself to the Question before the House.


said, he bowed to the decision of the Chair. It appeared to him that the form of the Motion was not one that they could accept without an opinion from the Law Officers of the Crown. He, therefore, wished the debate to be adjourned, in order to enable the House to have a distinct opinion from the Law Officers of the Crown as to the real bearing of the Motion made. He thought, therefore, subject to the ruling of the Chair, and without infringing the Rule laid down by the Speaker, the House was entitled to ask the Law Officers of the Crown to give an opinion as to the legality of the form in which the Motion was made.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 145; Noes 203: Majority 58.—(Div. List, No. 12.)

Original Question again proposed.


On the Main Question I should like to call the attention of the House to the position in which the action of Her Majesty's Government have placed the House. Last night Mr. Bradlaugh voted, and in one view of the case—I am not at all assuming it to be the right view, but it is held by a very large number of Members—Mr. Bradlaugh thereby, and ipso facto, vacated his seat. I shall hope to hear whether the Attorney General intends to take proceedings against Mr. Bradlaugh for having voted in the Division Lobby? The inducement for the issue of this Writ is, that Mr. Bradlaugh, having accepted the Chiltern Hundreds, has vacated his seat; and the House will at once perceive that the action of Her Majesty's Government has induced a vote of this House, which, in terms, decides the question against the contention of the majority; because, if the seat were already ipso facto vacated, Mr. Bradlaugh could not have vacated his seat by accepting to-day the Chiltern Hundreds. It is desirable that it should be understood what inducements have led Her Majesty's Government to take this action, which, in terms, sets at naught the decision of the majority of the House.


With the evident approval of the majority of the House, I declined to violate the Standing Orders in order to answer the question of the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Raikes), a few minutes ago; but I will answer the question now. Mr. Bradlaugh applied to me this morning for the Chiltern Hundreds. I am not aware of any instance in which the Chiltern Hundreds have been refused, except in the case of corruption being, under certain circumstances, charged against an hon. Member. As, therefore, it was in my power to grant the Chiltern Hundreds, and as it was not my duty to solve the question to which the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Sir Hardinge Giffard) has just referred, I conceived I was using a wise discretion in granting the application.


said, he was informed that, under the recent decision of the House of Lords, which abrogated the action of the public in the case of any man who failed to take the Oath, and thereby incurred penalties, the Law Officer of the Crown had no option but to proceed against any such man? He wished to know from the Attorney General whether this was the case?


asked the House to consider the aspect of this question on the Motion for a new Writ for Northampton, and to observe upon how entirely different a footing they stood from that of the discussion which they had had with respect to the personality of Mr. Bradlaugh. They had now to discuss, not the rights or the duties of Mr. Bradlaugh, but the right of the constituency of Northampton. The hon. and learned Member for Launceston (Sir Hardinge Giffard) had said that, from the point of view of Gentlemen opposite, the seat had been vacated by the conduct of Mr. Bradlaugh in voting without having taken the Oath. That was contended last night by the Leader of the Opposition, and someone from this side said—"Will you move the Writ, then?" and the right hon. Gentleman said—"No; I will not move the Writ." Well, the people who contended that Mr. Bradlaugh did what was illegal and vacated his seat would not take the course which, from their point of view, would have given Northampton the right to elect a new Member. They could, by another course, give Northampton the right to elect a Member, and that was by giving Mr. Bradlaugh the Chiltern Hundreds. Could any man in the House, no matter on what side he sat, desire to deprive Northampton of one of its Members, putting Mr. Bradlaugh out of the question altogether? That was the course that hon. Gentlemen did take, if they refused to issue a new Writ. They took advantage of a doubtful question to hang up, not Mr. Bradlaugh, but the constituency. It might be that Northampton would choose another Member, not Mr. Bradlaugh, and why should it not have the right to do so? The question being undoubtedly a difficult and complicated one, here was a course which was quite clear of the personality of Mr. Bradlaugh. It did not in the least affect the penalties. If Mr. Bradlaugh had incurred the penalties, his taking the Chiltern Hundreds would not affect them at all. Therefore, that question was not before the House. There was only one single question—whether they would give Northampton the right which, he would venture to say, belonged to it by the Constitution of this country, to say whether it would elect another Member or not? However warmly they had differed on other points, this was a point on which they could all agree, and he hoped, therefore, the House would grant the Writ.


I can agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that there is no answer to the application of the hon. Gentleman who desires that a Writ shall be issued to enable Northampton to elect a new Member. I think, however, it would have been reasonable under the circumstances that we should have had time to consider the matter, and that we should have been favoured with the view of Her Majesty's Government after the peculiar proceedings of yesterday, which had, I think, more to do with the vacating of the seat than the granting of the Chiltern Hundreds. It would have been more reasonable and decorous that we should have had a special intimation from the Government in regard to the matter before we came to a decision. But the House has decided that the Writ shall issue at once, and I think there is no reason for refusing to accede to the issue of the Writ.


observed, that the Motion appeared to imply that Mr. Bradlaugh had only forfeited his seat by accepting office; whereas the majority of the House considered that he had forfeited his seat before he applied for office. Unless, therefore, words were inserted in the Motion, or other notice taken, making it clear that one side of the House maintained that the seat was already forfeited, a Court of Law might be misled as to the true sense of the House on the subject.

Original Question put. Ordered, That Mr. Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a New Writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the Borough of Northampton, in the room of Charles Brad-laugh, esquire, who, since his election for the said Borough, hath accepted the office of Steward or Bailiff of Her Majesty's Three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough, and Bonenham, in the County of Buckingham.

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