HC Deb 21 February 1884 vol 284 cc1563-86

acquainted the House that he had received the following Letter from Mr. Bradlaugh, one of the Members for the Borough of Northampton:—

21 February.

To the Right Honourable the Speaker of the House of Commons.


Having been informed to-day that the Crown is taking proceedings to test the legality of the course taken by myself on Monday 11th February, lam willing, having the consent of my constituents, not to present myself at the Table until judgment be given in such proceedings; and I beg, Sir, most respectfully to undertake not to present myself, under my new return, for the purpose of taking my seat, until after the hearing and judgment in such suit.

I have the honour to be,


Your me obedt. servt,



In all these proceedings with respect to Mr. Bradlaugh the House has always, I take it, been governed by two considerations. The main consideration has been this—that seeing in Mr. Bradlaugh a person who does not attach the meaning to the words of the Oath which it was the intention of those who prescribed the Oath should be attached to them, the House has considered it would be improper that Mr. Bradlaugh should be allowed to go through the form of repeating those words, and that the repeating of those words by him would not be tantamount to taking the Oath. This House has, therefore, protected itself against the Oath being taken, or the form of taking the Oath being gone through, by repeated Resolutions on every occasion when Mr. Bradlaugh presented himself to go through the form of taking the Oath. In addition to the desire of the House to prevent the form of the Oath from being taken in that way, there has also been a desire—and a very natural desire—on the part of the House to guard against the interruption of its proceedings at uncertain times and without Notice, or even with Notice, by Mr. Bradlaugh frequently attempting to enter the House. And, therefore, on each occasion that the question has arisen, the House has passed two Resolutions—one, that he be not permitted to go through the form of taking the Oath; and the other, according to the necessities of the case, that he be not permitted to come within the House, or, in some cases, within the precincts of the House. On the 11th of this month—10 days ago—Mr. Brad-laugh presented himself, and without waiting to be called to the Table, in a manner decidedly and entirely irregular, he came to the Table and went through the form of taking the Oath. The House had no real cognizance of what was actually done; but that appeared to be the real nature of the proceeding. The House thereupon proceeded to pass the old Resolution, that he should not be permitted to go through the form of taking the Oath, and also passed another Resolution excluding him from the precincts of the House until he should undertake not to disturb the proceedings. Within a few days of this, a new Writ was moved for by the Colleague of Mr. Bradlaugh, the senior Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), on the ground that Mr. Brad-laugh had vacated his seat by accepting the Chiltern Hundreds. This was a Motion which was made rather unexpectedly, and many Members of the House did not desire to pronounce a decision upon it immediately; but the majority were for going on, so that that there was no alternative, and the Writ was issued. That being so—the Writ having been issued, and a fresh election having taken place—we are thrown back upon the position in which we were before the Resolutions of the 11th of February were passed; and it becomes a question, whether, under these circumstances, the House ought not to do that which it did on a former occasion when it ascertained that Mr. Bradlaugh was re-elected—that is to say, as soon as it obtained information and knowledge that Mr. Bradlaugh had been again returned, it re-affirmed the Resolution which had been made before and adopted by the House. That is a course which I think it would be entirely in conformity with the precedent and reason of our proceedings that we should now take. A letter has been addressed to you, Mr. Speaker, by Mr. Bradlaugh; and a question might be raised whether, after that letter, this course ought to be taken. I would remark upon that letter, in the first place, that I do not understand the course the Government are pursuing in this matter. They are now proposing to proceed against Mr. Bradlaugh for something he did before his last re-election—and no doubt proceedings have actually been commenced, in order to test whether what he did was of such a character as to bear the legal interpretation of taking the Oath, and to empower him to sit and vote in this House. Now, if that course had been taken before the new Writ was moved for, and while Mr. Bradlaugh was still claiming to be a Member of the House—if that step had been taken then, I could understand the meaning and object of it. It would have been a mode of testing whether he did or did not vacate his seat; and if the decision were against him there would have been a vacancy on that ground, and further proceedings would have to be taken. But now, whatever decision the Court of Law may pronounce, the act belongs to his previous connection with the House, and not to his present connection with it. It would in no way affect his present connection with the House, whether the Court pronounced that his going through that form was a good method of taking the Oath or not. Therefore, I do not see why we should want the decision of the Court upon the question: although as an historical fact it might be an important feature as bearing upon other questions; but it does not bear upon Mr. Bradlaugh's present position. If the decision is that the course taken was wrong, it does not make void the election which has taken place since that time. That being so, I think, and the House will also feel, that whatever might be the decision of the Court of Law as to the legality of what was done—if the decision were in favour of the legality of what was done—it would not in the slightest degree touch the objection which the House has always entertained. It is not a question whether Mr. Bradlaugh takes the Oath at the hands of the Clerk at the Table or at his own hands. That is not the question. What the House objects to is the substance of the matter—namely, the going through a form which the House considers ought not to be gone through in its presence. Therefore, it does not appear that we should be in any better position to deal with the question after the Courts have dealt with it than we are at the present moment; and I think, under those circumstances, the House would do wisely and rightly to adopt the same course that it adopted on the occasion of his former election, and at once proceed, on hearing that he has been re-elected, to re-affirm the Resolutions passed on the 11th of February. I have not the slightest doubt that Mr. Bradlaugh's engagement would entirely protect the House from any inconvenience until the decision to which he refers could be given; but it does not appear that that has anything to do with the matter. Whether the decision were one way or the other, the House would still remain unprotected in a matter in which it would require protection. I think hon. Members must themselves be sufficiently conscious of the extreme inconvenience it would be for Members of the House that they should be in the position of never knowing from day to day whether the question was to be raised or not. Therefore, I will place in your hands the following Resolution— That this House, having ascertained that Mr. Bradlaugh has been re-elected for the Borough of Northampton, doth re-affirm the two Resolutions made on the 11th February, directing that Mr. Bradlaugh be not permitted I to go through the form of taking the Oath prescribed by the Statutes, 29 Vic. c. 19, and 81 and 32 Vic. 0. 72; and directing the Serjeant-at-Arms to exclude Mr. Bradlaugh from the precincts of the House, unless he shall engage not to disturb the proceedings of the House.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House, having ascertained that Mr. Bradlaugh has been re-elected for the Borough of Northampton, doth re-affirm the two Resolutions made on the 11th February, directing that Mr. Bradlaugh be not permitted to go through the form of taking the Oath prescribed by the Statutes, 29 Vic. c. 19, and 31 and 32 Vic. c. 72; and directing the Serjeant-at-Arms to exclude Mr. Bradlaugh from the precincts of the House until he shall engage not to disturb the proceedings of the House."—[Sir Stafford Northcote.)


I quite agree, Sir, with one of the right hon. Gentleman's conclusions, that it is extremely desirable to relieve the House from uncertainty as to the particular moment that any further step may be contemplated by Mr. Bradlaugh. Certainly, it is not desirable that anything should take place in a grave matter of this kind except with full Notice to the House, and in order that this House might have the deliberate judgment of an abundant number of its Members. I am very glad, indeed, to agree to any course that is taken which obviates a repetition of the disagreeable and painful scenes which have been witnessed, from time to time, in this House; and I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has elected to proceed preventively, instead of waiting for the action of Mr. Bradlaugh. Beyond that I am not able to accompany the right hon. Gentleman. In my opinion there is a great change in the circumstances since we last heard of this matter. At that time I endeavoured to persuade the senior Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) not to divide the House, but to be content with recording the repeated attempts of Mr. Bradlaugh to establish himself as a Member of the House—these repeated attempts being simply repetitions made against the known Order and will of the House, and repetitions which I thought it was quite competent for the majority to repress and prevent, I think, without any opposition on the part of the minority. But we have now, it appears to me, arrived at circumstances entirely new; and I think that it is very desirable indeed—not for the sake of Mr. Bradlaugh, and not even exclusively or mainly for the sake of the constituency of Northampton, but for the sake of the House itself—to consider accurately, and ascertain clearly, the position in which we stand. We have the choice of two courses before us. The right hon. Gentleman says he thinks the circumstances would have been materially varied had my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General determined upon taking steps to prosecute Mr. Bradlaugh before the recent election. I am quite at a loss to understand what practical bearing the postponement of the prosecution of Mr. Bradlaugh has upon the present question. To me it appears that the matter stands thus—the House has decided that Mr. Bradlaugh's operation at this Table was not the taking of the Oath; but the House, while claiming its own privileges and powers, will, I apprehend, be always ready, in the exercise of those privileges and powers, to have every possible light and assistance that it can derive from any quarter. My proposition is this—that the judgment of the Court of Law upon this subject, which it is the intention of my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General to obtain with all possible despatch—a judgment for which I do not assert any authority against the House—will be or may be—it is enough if I say—and I think the House generally will agree that I am moderate—if I say that it may be a material aid to the House in arriving at a right, and final, and conclusive judgment upon this question. The proposition I am laying down is this—that before we can approach the question of the exclusion of Mr. Bradlaugh—unless there is some practical objection—we ought to wait until we obtain that judgment. I go no further. I do not proceed now on the principle that you were wrong in excluding Mr. Bradlaugh—I do not question the propriety of the judgment of the House at this moment, whatever I may think of that judgment—but I say that that is a judgment which will be more satisfactorily and more authoritatively given, and carry greater weight with the country, if it is given under circumstances that show a disposition to obtain every possible light that can be thrown upon it. Is there anyone who will deny that a calm decision on this question in a Court of Law, entirely apart from every religious emotion and excitement, and every action and organization of political Party, with the most acute minds addressed to it, to raise all points of law that can be raised in relation to it—is it not likely to add very materially to our stock of information for coming to a true judgment in the matter? If that proposition cannot be contested—and I doubt whether it can be contested—what reason is there now for our proceeding to reiterate our judgment with less and inferior light, instead of waiting until we have greater and superior light? It would be no answer to say that on any day Mr. Bradlaugh might present himself at the Table and again disturb the proceedings of the House, which must be painful to him and painful to us all. Mr. Brad-laugh's engagement entirely relieves us from that. What is the difference between that which is tendered and that which the right hon. Gentleman demands? I address myself to the right hon. Gentleman himself, because I frankly own that I regard him as having the greatest responsibility in this matter, and as being mainly, if not exclusively, responsible for the present position. Let me for a moment explain. When I say that, I do not beg the question in favour of ourselves—I merely draw a distinction between the right hon. Gentleman and those who act with him and follow him. But let us look at the difference between that which is tendered to the right hon. Gentleman, or, if you like it, to hon. Gentlemen opposite, and that which they demand. They demand an engagement, without limit of time, that Mr. Bradlaugh shall not disturb the proceedings of the House, while Mr. Bradlaugh tenders an engagement not to disturb the House until a given event occurs. And what is that given event? It is the judgment of a Court of Law, which, as we say, will materially improve the position of this House in arriving at a final decision. So far from dissuading the senior Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) from taking the judgment of the House on this Motion of the right hon. Gentleman, I shall feel it my duty to say "No" to that Motion. It is not necessary, and it is not my intention, to go over the ground so often trodden. In my opinion, the pith of the argument in favour of the course which the Government has pursued on this matter was never better or more concisely or fairly stated than by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. Forster) the other night, when he said that no greater disservice could be rendered to religion, no greater blow could be inflicted on religion, than to be brought into conflict with those principles of civil right and justice which commend themselves to the minds of all men. I will not enter into that argument; but I will remind the House that it is engaged in a serious contest. There have been times when this House has been in conflict with the constituencies of the country, and those conflicts have always ended in the defeat and retreat of the House. It is perfectly certain that the retirement of the House from this contest must come at some time or other. ["No!"] The question is how and when? I do not say that the House is to retire now. I do not ask that of the right hon. Gentleman and of the majority. What I ask is simply and solely this—that having the engagement of Mr. Bradlaugh, which secures the peace and dignity of the House, you will consent to wait after the new election has taken place for the judgment of the Courts in this case, which, if it affirms your view, will immensely strengthen your position—["No!"]—and if it does not, will yet increase your means of investigating and deciding upon the question. It is for that postponement that I feel it my duty to ask, and on that ground to give a negative to the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman.


The Prime Minister has stated that the contest in which the House is now engaged is a serious contest, and with that observation I think everyone will concur. It is not only a serious contest, but in some sense it may be regarded as an alarming contest. I do not think, however, that hon. Members on this side of the House will be inclined to recede because the contest is either serious or alarming. Whenever the right hon. Gentleman opposite is in power hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House always have to face alarming contests. They are accustomed to that kind of struggle. But the right hon. Gentleman stated in his speech that the House ought to wait—and I ask the attention of the House to this—before considering this matter further, until a decision has been come to in a Court of Law. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to explain why he did not take that view of the subject when the Writ for Northampton was moved? The Chancellor of the Exchequer made himself an accomplice to precipitation in this matter, either on his own responsibility, or, at any rate, on the responsibility of himself and his Colleagues, by allowing the Chiltern Hundreds to be conferred on Mr. Bradlaugh when it was in their power to withhold it, for the Chiltern Hundreds are absolutely in the discretion of the Government. Under the circumstances of the case, and with the information which they possessed that the Attorney General was going to take proceedings against Mr. Bradlaugh, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have acted more wisely if he had acted less precipitately, and had declined to bring about a fresh contest in Northampton. But the right hon. Gentleman would not wait a moment. The Writ must be issued. And why? Because the Government wished to intimidate the House of Commons. Mr. Bradlaugh was to be allowed once more to appeal to the mob, in order that not only the House of Commons, but the Court of Law should be biassed by the demonstration in his favour.


I rise to Order. I gather from the noble Lord that he referred to my constituents as a "mob." I would ask you, Sir, whether that was a proper and decorous word to use towards any constituency in this country?


I am not prepared to say that the observations of the noble Lord were out of Order.


I will merely say, in extenuation of the description I gave, that I did not apply the term "mob" exclusively to the electors of Northampton. [Cries of "Birmingham!" I did not apply the expression to the Northampton electors; but I meant by the expression to combine the whole army of Mr. Bradlaugh's supporters. In extenuation of the expression, which, no doubt, the hon. Gentleman very naturally objects to, I may say that I have been informed by a gentleman who was present during the whole of the Northampton contest that the election was seriously influenced by the extreme fear which pervaded a considerable portion of the constituency, that if Mr. Bradlaugh was not returned the town would be wrecked by the mob. I would not have mentioned that if the hon. Member had not interrupted me. I wish now to ask the Prime Minister a question on another point—a point of procedure. The Prime Minister stated that the Attorney General would take proceedings to test the legality of what the right hon. Gentleman guardedly called "the operation" Mr. Bradlaugh went through the other day; and added that the Attorney General would pursue those proceedings with all possible despatch in the Court of Law. Now, I believe it is the case—and I shall be corrected if I am wrong—that the Attorney General possesses certain privileges, and has special facilities, which enable him to obtain decisions from the Courts with greater rapidity than an ordinary suitor. I should be glad to know, therefore, the Attorney General's opinion as to when this case is likely to come before a Court of Law; and further—and this is a most important point—I want to know whether the Crown, or the Representatives of the Crown, are going to be satisfied with the decision of a Court of Law, or whether they intend to take this great legal and Constitutional question, if necessary, right up through all the Courts of Law to the highest Court in the Realm—the House of Lords? A great deal may turn upon this point. We have not, Sir, such exclusive confidence in Her Majesty's Government at the present moment, in this matter, that we can afford to leave the House in doubt on this point, especially as the whole proceedings are, I imagine, going to be in the nature of friendly proceedings. That is what those who wish to see the question honestly decided are most anxious to guard against. Therefore, when the Prime Minister states that with all possible despatch the Attorney General will obtain the opinion, not of the Courts of Law, but of a Court of Law, that is a matter which might certainly be settled very rapidly indeed; and the House might be brought face to face with the decision before, or certainly very soon after, Easter. If the Crown was satisfied with the decision of a Court of Law, look at the position in which the House would be placed if it did not adopt the Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote). Take it that the decision is given in May. Well, Mr. Bradlaugh might come down to this House the very next day, perhaps on a Wednesday morning, fortified with a decision in his favour—and I am inclined to think that if it only went before a Court of Law it might be in his favour. Well, fortified with that decision, Mr. Bradlaugh comes down, without any notice having been given to hon. Members, or any preparation having been made for the presence of that competent and abundant number of Members which the Prime Minister spoke of; and he might go through the form of taking the Oath at the Table. The Government having got what they wanted, which was, no doubt, a decision in a Court of Law in favour of Mr. Bradlaugh—["No!"]—would afford every facility to Mr. Bradlaugh to take the Oath; and would, no doubt, at once bring before the House the question whether it could any longer deliberately refuse its consent. Such a course as that would not meet the justice of the case, which requires that the matter should be presented properly to the Courts of Law; and that, if the decision of those Courts should be in favour of Mr. Bradlaugh, due notice of any further steps should be given to the House before Mr. Bradlaugh attempted to come to the Table to go through the form of taking the Oath; and that thus the proceedings of the House should be insured against being disturbed by what can only be stigmatized as a vulgar brawl. That is exactly what this Motion is designed to insure; and it is also intended to give the House some sort of control over the proceedings of the Attorney General, so that if the House, or a majority of the House, are of opinion that the case has not been adequately placed before a Court of Law, or adequately decided, the House may take steps to direct that the matter should be taken before a higher tribunal. In these circumstances, I think the House would only be acting with due regard to its own dignity if it agreed to this Motion.


The noble Lord, I think, has thrown a great deal of light upon the position in which the House stands in relation to the constituencies of the country, because we now learn that the battle is being fought, not against a particular man, but against the constituency of Northampton. [Lord RANDOLPH CHURCHILL: No.] I use the word "constituency" advisedly, because I do not think it decent to describe the constituencies of this country as "mobs;" and, therefore, I shall not follow the example of the noble Lord in referring to them by that name.


No; I never said that—I did not refer to the constituencies as "mobs." I applied that term to those who sought to intimidate this House into allowing Mr. Bradlaugh to profane the Oath.


The noble Lord is good enough to say that he dilutes the phrase by extending it not only to the constituency of Northampton, but to the constituencies of those who support the hon. Member for Northampton. ["No!"] I am glad to hear that the mass of hon. Members opposite repudiate the noble Lord's language and doctrine on that point. But the noble Lord has made another statement which is very important, and which also throws a great deal of light upon this question. I do not know whether the noble Lord is acting as spokesman of hon. Members opposite—that is a matter which is sometimes left in doubt—but, at all events, speaking for himself, he wishes us to take this course, because in his opinion—for my part, I offer no opinion as to what the decision of the Courts of Law will be; but we all know that the noble Lord is a high legal authority—the Court of Law will determine that Mr. Bradlaugh properly and legally took the Oath.


I said that it might do so.


Let the House consider the result of that opinion, because, if the Courts should so decide, then the position of the Party opposite, so far as they are represented by the noble Lord, will be this—that the House of Commons has deliberately excluded, and is excluding from his seat in this House, a man, who, they believe, has legally taken the Oath. [Lord RANDOLPH CHURCHILL: No.] We now, therefore, see upon what principles this battle is being fought. The battle is being fought against a "mob" of constituencies, who are represented by a man who has legally taken the Oath. I think that that sums up the position very well. In these circumstances we and the "mobs" we represent shall continue to come to you and protest, as we have all along protested, against a proceeding which the noble Lord admits he believes to be illegal.


The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary seems to imagine that the majority of this House misrepresents the feelings and opinion of the country in this matter. I am convinced that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is totally mistaken; his view is supported by no evidence whatever. Last year Her Majesty's Ministers introduced the Affirmation Bill in order to legalize the attainment of Mr. Bradlaugh's object, admission to a seat in this House; the number of Petitions and Petitioners was five to one against the attainment of Mr. Bradlaugh's object. The right hon. and learned Gentleman can produce no evidence to contravene that test, which proves that the majority of this House, in its opposition to Mr. Bradlaugh's pretensions, are in thorough accordance with the opinions of the country. I must enter my protest against this attempt to force the majority of this House to act against their convictions. I rejoice, Sir, that the Attorney General has intimated his intention of proceeding to recover the penalties, which Mr. Bradlaugh has presumptuously incurred by three times voting, whilst unqualified to sit in this House. The Chancellor of the Exchequer appeared, however, to have little confidence a few days since that the Attorney General would proceed as he has now announced; for the right hon. Gentleman granted the Chiltern Hundreds to Mr. Bradlaugh, apparently ignoring the fact that if the Attorney General proceeds to sue Mr. Bradlaugh under the Oaths Act of 1866, and recovers even one penalty; that if the judgment of the Court be thus adverse to Mr. Bradlaugh, that decision must not only entail the payment of the penalty, but the voidance of the seat, which Mr. Bradlaugh at present half occupies. The whole case of Mr. Bradlaugh has been tested, not only in one Court, but throughout the Courts, until it finally reached the House of Lords. It may be asked, why was not the penalty, when sued for, recovered by the plaintiff? The answer is simple enough; the Lord Chancellor, as the organ of the House of Lords, decided, not that the penalty then incurred by Mr. Bradlaugh for voting when disqualified was not due or was not annulled, but simply said that the penalty could not be recovered by the suitor; because, under his Lordship's novel interpretation of the Oaths Act of 1866, the ancient right of Action Popular had been annulled, and the then suitor was incapable, since no one but a Representative of the Crown had a right to proceed; the penalty, therefore, is not annulled, but simply suspended, until the Attorney General shall sue for its recovery. I cannot adequately express my regret that the present Prime Minister should have been the person to introduce the Oaths Bill of 18 66, which, as enacted and now finally interpreted by the Lord Chancellor as the organ of the House of Lords, effects the annulment of the ancient right of Action Popular—the right of any English subject to recover the penalty for the abusive usurpation of the functions of a Member of this House by an unqualified person. Anything more inconsistent with the antecedents of the right hon. Gentleman than his being a party to annulling this ancient popular right—the right of the people of this country to secure by law their rightful representation—I cannot conceive. I say that to have substituted for this popular right the direct intervention of the Officers of the Crown in matters relating to the election and qualification of Members of this House was an action totally inconsistent with the right hon. Gentleman's antecedents. The right hon. Gentleman seems to imagine that more light could be thrown upon this subject by its being again referred to the Courts of Law. I have had very expensive experience in this matter; it has cost me enough; and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the whole bearings of the case have been submitted to the Courts of Law, and that no further light can be obtained by referring it back again to the Courts. I am confident—and I speak from experience—that if the Attorney General be in earnest in his suit, he cannot fail to recover the penalties which Mr. Brad-laugh has incurred. I well remember the debates in 1866 upon the Bill of which the present Oaths Statute is the product. I little dreamt then—the House of that day little dreamt—that the effect of that Bill would be to substitute the action of the Crown for the ancient right of Action Popular. The House should be aware that Mr. Brad-laugh's intrusions are not the effect merely of the ascendancy he has obtained over the majority of the constituency of Northampton. These operations of Mr. Bradlaugh are not stimulated and supported by the Freethinkers and Atheists of this country only—they are the results of a conspiracy not limited to this country. "With the permission of the House I will read part of an account of an International Congress of Freethinkers in 1881— Mr. Bradlaugh, M.P., as Chairman of the Council of Freethinkers, and President of the National Secular Society, took the chair, pending the election of its officers by the Conference. The number of delegates present was between 70 and 80; and among them, besides those from various parts of the United Kingdom, were representatives from the United States, Austria, Belgium, Germany, France, and Hungary. Of the leading foreigners may be named, Professor Dr. Beuchner, Darmstadt; Dr. Schlaeger, Berlin; M. Von Canbergh, Brussels; Mrs. Foote, New York; M. Gerritson, Dr. Hartog Heys Van Zouteveen, and others, Holland; M. E. Cointepas, and others, France; M. Le Lubez, who resides in London, represented The Union Anti-Clericale of Paris, of which Senator Schælcher is President. The portions of the floor not assigned to delegates were filled with the most influential members of the National Secular Society, and in the galleries were a large number of spectators. I take this from a report in The Times; but a similar account of that Conference was given in a newspaper under the title of The National Reformer, of which Mr. Bradlaugh is the avowed owner. It appears that Mr. Bradlaugh declined to take the chair at this Conference, but that he nominated the Chairman. After what has occurred, I do not think that this House ought to remain even for an interval with no security against Mr. Bradlaugh's interruption of its Business but his bare promise not to intrude himself. I see nothing in Mr. Bradlaugh's re-election to justify the House in failing to re-adopt the securities which were contained in the Resolutions of the 11th of this month. The House had then sufficient light and sufficient information to justify its action. I see nothing in the subsequent circumstances that can justify the House in failing to re-inforce those securities. I shall, therefore, certainly vote for the Resolutions now proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon.


I was not surprised at the cries of "Shame" which proceeded from this side of the House when the Resolution moved by the Leader of the Opposition was brought forward. Still less was I surprised at the Leader of the Opposition moving the Resolution which he now asks the House to pass, because I have found that when men enter upon a course of illegality the tendency is to go on from bad to worse, until they end by ignoring law and justice altogether. Nor was I surprised at the remarks which fell from the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill). I was under the impression for the moment that the noble Lord called my constituents a "mob." I am not surprised at that, because, if I remember rightly, the noble Lord on a previous occasion spoke of my constituents as "scum."


No; I did not. I never applied the word the hon. Member has mentioned to his constituents.


Well, the remark has frequently been quoted, and I am glad to hear the disclaimer, and to find that the noble Lord entirely withdraws it. Now, what strikes me as being the leading characteristic of the noble Lord is that he is perpetually finding mares' nests, and coming down to the House of Commons to announce the fact. Look at what has happened to-day. An election took place at Northampton the day before yesterday. The noble Lord was not there; but as he was coming down to the House he happened to meet with some gentleman—some mysterious stranger. We do not know who that gentleman was, because his name was not mentioned by the noble Lord; but this mysterious stranger informed the noble Lord that the Conservatives on the day of the Northampton Election were in dread of their lives from some "mob" which was roaming about the streets, and was put in such deadly peril that they did not dare to vote. Now, allow me to tell the noble Lord, from my own knowledge, that the Conservative vote in Northampton was a perfectly full vote. All the Conservatives voted; and I do protest against the noble Lord calling the Conservatives among my constituents such abject cowards that they are absolutely afraid to vote. There was no attempt in Northampton to intimidate any man. I was down there myself, and I am able to say that the election was a perfectly fair and honest election on both sides—both in regard to the Conservatives and Liberals. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Northamptonshire (Mr. P. Phipps) is in his place; but I think he will bear witness that, as is always the case in Northampton, there was no intimidation, or bribery, or unfairness either on the one side or the other. I think one of the Members who represent Northampton in this House ought to know the constituency better than the noble Lord, or this mysterious stranger who has confided in him. The noble Lord has not paid a high compliment to the Courts of Justice. He implies that the Chief Justice and the other Judges would, under any circumstances, decide against the views of hon. Members opposite, and would say that the oath Mr. Bradlaugh has administered to himself was a legal oath. In point of fact, the noble Lord knows it must be so. He knows that it is the law—he has not been able to answer Mr. Bradlaugh's claim; but, having been pointed out what the law is, he now applies for time. He humbly appeals to the Attorney General, in order, if necessary, that there should be an extended period in which he and his friends may go about bragging and swaggering of their knowledge of the law, concerning which they absolutely know nothing. The noble Lord and his friends seem to know everything, and they have not the courage to admit that they have made a mistake, and to apologize to Mr. Brad-laugh, the elected Member for the constituency of Northampton, and say they will now allow him to take his seat without further hindrance. I venture to point out to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon that his proposition is hardly a fair one, if I may be allowed to say so, because he prejudges the question. As the Prime Minister has pointed out, we have certainly some new grounds to go upon if a Court of Law should decide in favour of Mr. Bradlaugh. I do not say whether the decision of the Court would be right or wrong; but there can be no question that it would throw new and additional light upon the case as to whether the oath which Mr. Bradlaugh administered to himself was or was not valid. The House would then be able, with its own knowledge, to do justice to Mr. Bradlaugh, and to decide by its vote whether the judgment of the Court that Mr. Bradlaugh had taken the Oath should be acted upon or not. I cannot imagine that the House would still be determined to set up its own judgment against what is laid down by the Courts of Law as the law of England. That is why I should have wished the House to have been content to accept the assurance of Mr. Bradlaugh; and I can only say that, although it is possible that Mr. Bradlaugh may be defeated again in this House, he is ready to return again to Northampton and take the voice of his constituents. You may send Mr. Bradlaugh 50 times to Northampton, but he will be elected again and again; and, what is more, when the next General Election comes, Mr. Bradlaugh will be able to take his seat, because no House of Commons can prevent him doing so if he presents himself for that purpose among the first 40 Members to ask to be sworn at the Table.


It is quite possible that the Courts of Law will decide in favour of Mr. Bradlaugh; but I wish to have an assurance that the Attorney General will submit to the Court not merely the dry question of whether Mr. Bradlaugh had or had not the right to administer the Oath to himself, but also all the surrounding circumstances connected with the administering of the Oath and the manner of it, and the question of whether the usages and customs of the House are not essential points to be decided.


I have never been able to vote in favour of Mr. Brad-laugh being allowed to take the Oath at the Table. I may be wrong, but I came to that conclusion after carefully reading Mr. Bradlaugh's evidence before the Select Committee; but it seems to me to-night that we are in a position somewhat different from that in which we have been previously placed. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon asks us now to come to a Resolution that Mr. Bradlaugh shall not take the Oath at the Table. At the same time, we have from Mr. Bradlaugh a declaration that he is prepared to give his word to this House that he will not come to that Table until certain legal proceedings, which, I understand, are already instituted, shall have been decided. Under those circumstances, it seems to me that the House will do well to take the advice of the Prime Minister and pause before it passes that Resolution. For my own part, I should like to see the judgment of a Court of Law upon the matter. I am one of those who entered this House by making an Affirmation, and I believe it would be wise to give the same privilege to every man. I am certainly unwilling to come to a decision upon the question until the legal proceedings which have been taken are brought to an end; and I therefore beg to move, as an Amendment to the Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, the Previous Question.

Previous Question proposed, "That that Question be now put."—(Sir Joseph Pease.)


The Prime Minister has accepted the wisdom and utility of the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote) pending the proceedings which may be instituted and the verdict which may be obtained in a Court of Law. The only objec- tion I can see to that limitation is that the verdict of the Court, whatever it may be, would be perfectly unavailing as affecting the Motion, and for this reason—if it declares that black is black it leaves the House in its present state of mind; and if it says that black is white, we should disbelieve the decision, and pursue the course which we originally took upon entering into this contest. [A laugh.] The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary laughs at my declaration; but I will give him a satisfactory and responsible authority for what I said. I am going to quote the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister himself. The House must recollect that the question at issue is whether a person who denies the existence of God can take the Oath and pronounce the name of God in the sense of one who believes in the existence of God? The right hon. Gentleman said, as distinctly as possible, during the discussion on this subject in 1880—"Taking the Oath with the declaration that the words were of no avail was not taking the Oath at all." That is the evidence of the Prime Minister. What is the evidence of the Attorney General? In the same discussion the Attorney General said he had taken great pains to ascertain what were the legal rights of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh), and he concluded by saying that the conviction he had arrived at was that the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) could not take the Oath. I think, therefore, I have proved, by the evidence of the Prime Minister and of the Attorney General, that the farce perpetrated in the House the other day was not the taking of the Oath. The House must recollect that the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) is incapable of taking the Oath; and no form he can go through, either by stratagem or otherwise, can put him in a position to do so, seeing that the highest authorities have declared him incapable. No Court of Law can alter the plain facts of the case. Here is a man who is declared incapable of doing certain things, and we are going to ask a Court of Law whether a man can do a thing which he has been declared incapable of doing. The Prime Minister has repeated with emphasis words which I heard with extreme pain and surprise as falling from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. Forster). The right hon. Gentleman, whose honesty and integrity are above suspicion, accused hon. Members on this side of the House of acting in a sense that is hostile to religion. I deliberately repel that charge, and affirm that our course has been guided by our religious instincts. [Murmurs.] I understand those murmurs to mean that what we call religion you deem superstition. ["Oh!"] If that is not so, why do hon. Members murmur at it? If they admit the religious feeling, why do they murmur at the assertion of it? I believe that hon. Members of this House, as Christian Gentlemen, and as Jewish Gentlemen, are all deeply interested in the assertion of religious instincts in the interests of the House itself. The Government, while admitting that Mr. Bradlaugh is incompetent to take the Oath in its true sense, contend that there is no precedent for the intervention of the House. That is true, for the offence is itself unprecedented; and the House, called to provide a remedy for a new offence, decides that it will not, by acquiescing in a procedure which it can prevent, become accomplices in the attempted blasphemy.

Previous Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 226; Noes 173: Majority 53.

Alexander, Major-Gen. Carden, Sir R. W.
Allsopp, C. Cecil, Lord E. H. B. G.
Amherst, W. A. T. Chaine, J.
Ashmead-Bartlett, E. Christie, W. L.
Bailey, Sir J. E. Clarke, E.
Barry, J. Clive, Col. hon. G. W.
Barttelot, Sir W. B. Coddington, W.
Bateson, Sir T. Colthurst, Colonel
Beach, right hon. Sir Compton, E.
M. E. Hicks- Coope, O. E.
Beach, W. W. B. Corbet, W. J.
Bentinck, rt. hn. G. C. Corry, J. P.
Beresford, G. De la P. Cotton, W. J. R.
Biggar, J. G. Cross, rt. hon. Sir R. A.
Birkbeck, E. Cubitt, right hon. G.
Blackburne, Col. J. I. Curzon, Major hon. M.
Boord, T. W. Dalrymple, C.
Broadley, W. H. H. Davenport, H. T.
Brodrick, hon. W. St. J. P. Dawnay, Col. hon. L. P.
Dawnay, hon. G. C.
Brooks, M. Dawson, C.
Brooks, W. C. De Worms, Baron H.
Brace, Sir H. H. Digby, Colonel hon. E.
Bruce, hon. T. C. Dixon-Hartland, F. D.
Brymer, W. E. Douglas, A. Akers-
Bulwer, J. R. Dyke, rt. hn. Sir W. H.
Burghley, Lord Eaton, H. W.
Buxton, Sir B. J. Ecroyd, W. F.
Campbell, J. A. Egerton, hon. A. de T.
Egerton, hon. A. F. Lyons, R. D.
Elliot, Sir G. Macartney, J. W. E.
Elton, C. I. Macfarlane, D. H.
Emlyn, Viscount Mac Iver, D.
Ennis, Sir J. Mackintosh, C. F.
Ewart, W. Macnaghten, E.
Ewing, A. O. M'Carthy, J.
Feilden, Lieut.-General R. J. M'Garel-Hogg, Sir J. M'Mahon, E.
Fellowes, W. H. Makins, Colonel W. T.
Finch, G. H. Manners, rt. hon. Lord J. J. R.
Fitzwilliam, hn. C. W.
Fletcher, Sir H. March, Earl of
Floyer, J. Martin, P.
Folkestone, Viscount Marum, E. M.
Forester, C. T. W. Master, T. W. C.
Foster, W. H. Maxwell, Sir H. E.
Fowler, R. N. Mayne, T.
Fremantle, hon. T. F. Meldon, C. H.
Freshfield, C. K. Miles, C. W.
Gardner, R. Richardson Mills, Sir C. H.
Garnier, J. C. Milner, Sir F.
Gibson, right hon. E. Molloy, B. C.
Giffard, Sir H. S. Moore, A.
Giles, A. Morgan, hon. F.
Goldney, Sir G. Moss, R.
Gore-Langton, W. S. Mowbray, rt. hon. Sir J.R.
Grantham, W.
Gray, E. D. Newdegate, C. N.
Greer, T. Newport, Viscount
Gregory, G. B. Nicholson, W.
Halsey, T. F. Nicholson, W. N.
Hamilton, right hon. North, Colonel J. S.
Lord G. Northcote, rt. hon. Sir S. H.
Hamilton, Lord C. J.
Hamilton, I. T. Northcote, H. S.
Harrington, T. O'Brien, Sir P.
Harvey, Sir R. B. O'Brien, W.
Hay, rt. hon. Admiral O'Connor, A.
Sir J. C. D. O'Connor, T. P.
Hicks, E. O'Donoghue, The
Hildyard, T. B. T. Onslow, D. R.
Hill, Lord A. W. O'Sullivan, W. H.
Hill, A. S. Paget, R. H.
Holland, Sir H. T. Parker, C. S.
Home, Lt.-Col. D. M. Parnell, C. S.
Hope, right hon. A. J. B. B. Pell, A.
Pemberton, E. L.
Houldsworth, W. H. Percy, rt. hon. Earl
Hubbard, rt. hon. J. G. Percy, Lord A.
Jackson, W. L. Phipps, P.
Kennard, Col. E. H. Plunket, rt. hon. D. R.
Kennard, C. J. Power, R.
Kennaway, Sir J. H. Price, Captain G. E.
Kenny, M. J. Puleston, J. H.
Knight, F. W. Raikes, rt. hon. H. C.
Knightley, Sir R. Rendlesham, Lord
Lawrance, J. C. Repton, G. W.
Lawrence, Sir T. Ridley, Sir M. W.
Leahy, J. Ritchie, C. T.
Leamy, E. Rolls, J. A.
Lechmere, Sir E. A. H. Ross, A. H.
Legh, W. J. Ross, C. C.
Leigh, R. Round, J.
Leighton, Sir B. St. Aubyn, W. M.
Leighton, S. Salt, T.
Lever, J. O. Sclater-Booth, rt. hn. G.
Lovett, T. J. Scott, Lord H.
Lewis, C. E. Scott, M. D.
Lewisham, Viscount Selwin - Ibbetson, Sir H.J.
Lowther, rt. hon. J.
Lowther, hon. W. Severne, J. E.
Lowther, J. W. Sexton, T.
Sheil, E. Tomlinson, W. E. M.
Small, J. F. Torrens, W. T. M.
Smith, rt. hon. W. H. Tottenham, A. L.
Smith, A. Tyler, Sir H. W.
Smithwick, J. F. Walrond, Col. W. H.
Stanhope, hon. E. Warburton, P. E.
Stanley, rt. hon. Col. F. Warton, C. N.
Stanley, E. J. Watney, J.
Strutt, hon. C. H. Whitley, E.
Stuart, H. V. Wilmot, Sir H.
Sullivan, T. D. Wolff, Sir H. D.
Sykes, C. Wortley, C. B. S.
Synan, E. J. Wroughton, P.
Talbot, J. G. Yorke, J. R.
Thomson, H.
Thornhill, T. TELLERS.
Tollemache, hon.W. F. Crichton, Viscount
Tollemache, H. J. Winn, R.
Acland, Sir T. D. Davey, H.
Acland, C. T. D. Davies, D.
Agnew, W. Davies, W.
Ainsworth, D. Dilke, rt. hn. Sir C. W.
Anderson, G. Dillwyn, L. L.
Armitage, B. Dodson, rt. hon. J. G.
Armitstead, G. Duff, E. W.
Arnold, A. Dundas, hon. J. C.
Ashley, hon. E. M. Edwards, P.
Balfour, Sir Gr. Egerton, Adm. hon. F.
Balfour, rt. hon. J. B. Elliot, hon. A. R. D.
Barclay, J. W. Farquharson, Dr. R.
Barran, J. Fawcett, rt. hon. H.
Bass, Sir A. Fay, C. J.
Baxter, rt. hon. W. E. Ferguson, R.
Beaumont, W. B. Firth, J. F. B.
Biddulph, M. Fitzmaurice, Lord E.
Bolton, J. C. Forster, Sir C.
Brand, H. R. Forster, rt. hn. W. E.
Brassey, Sir T. Fowler, W.
Brett, R. B. Fry, L.
Briggs, W. E. Fry, T.
Bright, right hon. J. Gladstone, rt. hn. W.E.
Bright, J. Gladstone, H J.
Broadhurst, H. Gower, hon. E. F. L.
Brogden, A. Grant, A.
Brown, A. H. Grey, A. H. G.
Bryce, J. Grosvenor, right hon.
Burt, T. Lord R.
Buxton, S. C. Gurdon, R. T.
Caine, W. S. Hamilton, J. G. C.
Campbell, Lord C. Harcourt, rt. hn. Sir W.
Campbell, Sir G. G. V. V.
Campbell, B. F. F. Hartington, Marq. of
Campbell - Bannerman, H. Hastings, G. W.
Hayter, Sir A. D.
Carbutt, E. H. Henderson, F.
Causton, R. K. Herschell, Sir F.
Chamberlain, rt. hn. J. Hibbert, J. T.
Cheetham, J. F. Hill, T. R.
Childers, rt. hn. H.C.E. Holden, I.
Clark, S. Hollond, J. R.
Clarke, J. C. Holms, J.
Clifford, C. C. Hopwood, C. H.
Collings, J. Howard, E. S.
Cotes, C. C. James, Sir H.
Courtney, L. H. James, W. H.
Cowen, J. Jenkins, Sir J. J.
Craig, W. Y. Johnson, E.
Creyke, R. Kensington, rt. hn. Lord
Cropper, J. Labouchere, H.
Cross, J. K. Lawson, Sir W.
Leake, R. Roundell, C. S.
Leatham, E. A. Russell, Lord A.
Leo, H. Russell, G. W. E.
Lefevre, rt. hn. G. J. S. Rylands, P.
Lubbock, Sir J. Seely, C. (Nottingham)
Lusk, Sir A. Sellar, A. C.
Lymington, Viscount Shaw, T.
Mackie, R. B. Shield, H.
Macliver, P. S. Simon, Serjeant J.
M'Arthur, Sir W. Slagg, J.
M'Arthur, A. Smith, Lieut-Col. G.
Magniac, C. Smith, S.
Marjoribanks, E. Spencer, hon. C. R.
Maskelyne, M. N. H. Stansfeld, rt. hon. J.
Story- Stanton, W. J.
Mellor, J. W. Summers, W.
Monk, C. J. Tennant, C.
Morgan, rt. hon. G. O. Thomasson, J. P.
Morley, A. Thompson, T. C.
Mundella, rt. hn. A. J. Tillett, J. H.
Muntz, P. H. Trevelyan, rt. hn. G.O.
Paget, T. T. Villiers, rt. hon. C. P.
Palmer, C. M. Vivian, Sir H. H.
Palmer, G. Waddy, S. D.
Palmer, J. H. Waterlow, Sir S.
Peddie, J. D. Waugh, E.
Ponder, J. Webster, J.
Pennington, F. West, H. W.
Potter, T. B. Whitbread, S.
Powell, W. R. H. Willis, W.
Price, Sir R. G. Willyams, E. W. B.
Pulley, J. Wilson, Sir M.
Ralli, P. Wodehouse, E. R.
Rathbone, W. Woodall, W.
Richard, H.
Roberts, J. TELLERS.
Roe, T. Fairbairn, Sir A.
Rogers, J. E. T. Pease, Sir J.

Original Question put, and agreed to. Resolved, That this House, having ascertained that Mr. Bradlaugh has been re-elected for the Borough of Northampton, doth re-affirm the two Resolutions made on the 11th February, directing that Mr. Bradlaugh be not permitted to go through the form of taking the Oath prescribed by the Statutes, 29 Vic. c. 19, and 31 and 32 Vic. c. 72; and directing the Serjeant-at-Arms to exclude Mr. Bradlaugh from the precincts of the House until he shall engage not to disturb the proceedings of the House.


After the vote just given by the House, I must call upon Mr. Bradlaugh to withdraw.


who had been seated under the Gallery, but was now standing at the Bar of the House, said: I obey your directions, Sir, respectfully protesting against a persecution which has degenerated into illegality—and then withdrew.

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