§ THE CHANOELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH)
Sir, the first duty which I have to perform is of so unpleasant a nature in itself that I hope that very fact will, in some measure, add force to the appeal which, in any case, I should have ventured to make for the indulgence and support of the House in the position which I now have the honour to occupy. Sir, I feel sure that that indulgence and that support are never denied where they are deserved; and for myself I will only venture to say that I will, at any rate, do my best to imitate, both on this occasion and always, that spirit of courtesy and consideration for the feelings of opponents, which so pre-eminently and so honourably distinguished Lord Iddesleigh during all the time he 1673 performed the functions of Leader of the House and Leader of the Opposition. Sir, I will endeavour to sustain to the best of my humble power that dignity and those honoured traditions of this House which are dear, I believe, to all its Members. On this occasion I need not detain the House by reiterating arguments that are familiar to us all. On the two last occasions when Mr. Bradlaugh presented himself to this House, in February, 1884, this House, by large majorities, adopted the following Resolution, directing:—That Mr. Bradlaugh he not permitted to go through the form of repeating the words of the Oath proscribed by the Statutes, 29 Vic, c. 19, and 31 & 32 Vic, c 72.And further—That the Serjeant-at-Arms do exclude Mr. Bradlaugh from the precints of the House, until he shall engage not further to disturb the proceedings of the House."—(3 Hansard,  480.)That, Sir, is the Resolution which it will be my duty to move on the present occasion. It was based on principles which have been repeatedly affirmed by the House of Commons in dealing with this subject. In the first place, it was based upon a feeling strongly entertained, and by no means entirely confined to this side of the House, that Mr. Bradlaugh ought not to be permitted to go: through the form which, in the minds of those who entertain that feeling, is not in reality a taking of the Oath at all. Secondly, it was based upon a belief that it was necessary to guard this House against those repeated and unfortunate interruptions which have taken place in the conduct of its Business. As to the second point, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) admitted, in February, 1884, the reasonableness of the contention of my right hon. Friend (Sir Stafford Northeote) who then moved this Resolution. On the first point, the sole argument of the right hon. Gentleman was an argument for delay. He reminded the House that at that time the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Taunton (Sir Henry James), who was then Attorney General, had instituted certain proceedings against Mr. Bradlaugh, which were still pending, and he invited the House to delay the expression of any opinion until the decision of the Courts had been given; 1674 but he admitted, Sir, that if that decision were adverse to Mr. Bradlaugh, that fact would immensely strengthen the position of his opponents. Well, Sir, that decision has now been given—it was given by the Court of Appeal in January last. Notice of appeal against that decision was given by Mr. Bradlaugh; but, so far as I am informed, no steps have been taken to prosecute that appeal, and therefore I may take it that we have before us what is, practically, the final decision of the Courts of Law on the subject. Now, Sir, what is that decision? It is that Mr. Bradlaugh is, by the law of England, a person incapable of taking an Oath; and, therefore, what you, Sir, are asked to do to-day, if you allow the Oath to be administered to Mr. Bradlaugh, is this—you are asked, and this House is asked, to go through what is nothing else than an illegal mockery absolutely without value as conferring upon Mr. Bradlaugh any right to exercise his functions as a Member of this House. What is the reason why Mr. Bradlaugh presents himself on this occasion? I gather that there are two reasons—the first is in consequence of the change of Government. I do not exactly follow his argument in that matter. The second is on account of the blocking of the second reading of the Oaths Bill, brought in by the hon. and learned Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood). That is a reason which I can understand. What it implies is this—it is an attempt by Mr. Bradlaugh, by presenting himself here today, to force the House to proceed with legislation precisely similar in its nature, but wider and more serious in scope, than that which, when supported by the full strength of the late Government, was signally defeated by the House of Commons. I will venture to hope that neither in this matter, nor in the matter of permitting the Oath to be administered to Mr. Bradlaugh, will this House stultify itself by reversing its previous decisions. I do not know whether the hon. and learned Member for Stockport is in his place; but if he is, I should very much like to ask the hon. and learned Member if it is his intention to proceed with the Amendment of which he has given Notice—[Mr. HOPWOOD: Hear, hear!]—and, if so, what is the precise meaning of that Amendment? Is the meaning 1675 of that Amendment similar to the reason given by Mr. Bradlaugh in his letter to the Chair? Is it the intention of the hon. and learned Member to ask the House to express an opinion upon a Bill which is already on the Notice Paper of the House; or is it the fact, Sir, that the intention of the hon. and learned Member has a wider scope? Does he, in accordance with the terms of his Amendment, really ask this House to resolve generally—That the questions raised concerning promissory and other Oaths call for an early settlement, on wider grounds than the interests of a constituency or its Member, and that this House, believing that legislation is necessary for its settlement, resolves that it be proceeded with as soon as possible PIf that is a general assertion of opinion, I would humbly ask the hon. and learned Member, and any of those who may be disposed to support his Amendment, what peculiar value they can attach to such a Resolution? It will not enable them to attain their end;, but, more than that, it is a Resolution which ought not to be proposed in the present condition of the House of Commons, because, Sir, what is the subject with which it deals? It is a subject of the highest importance. The Amendment of the hon. and learned Member is not confined to the right of a Member of either House of Parliament to substitute an Affirmation for an Oath. It raises the general question of the substitution by anyone, and at any time, of an Affirmation for an Oath at his own will. Well, this House will remember, when the question of the substitution of an Affirmation for an Oath by Members of the House of Commons was raised by the late Government, what a feeling that proposal excited throughout the country. I suppose the country has not been so deeply stirred by anything within the last five years as it was stirred by that proposal. That proposal was defeated in this House by a definite majority in a division—perhaps the largest that has taken place in the whole history of the present House of Commons; and, Sir, I would venture to ask is it reasonable, is it right, is it fair that, in the last weeks of an expiring Parliament, such a question as that should be thrown on the Table of this House? I maintain that it is a question of vast importance to this country. I 1676 assert it is a question that should be relegated to the constituencies, and to the new House of Commons which will before long replace us; and I ask the House on this occasion to adhere to its numerous former decisions, and not to reverse them by sanctioning principles against which it has strongly and firmly pronounced. Sir, I beg to move the Resolution which I now place in your hands.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House doth affirm the two Resolutions made upon the 11th of February 1884, directing that Mr. Bradlaugh be not permitted to go through the form of taking the Oath prescribed by the statute 29 Tic. c, 12, 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."—(Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.")
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member for Northampton will now withdraw.
[Mr. BRADLAUGH withdrew below the Bar, where he remained standing.]
§ MR. HEALY
I rise to a point of Order. I wish to call attention to the fact that Mr. Bradlaugh has not left the House. It has always been the custom, as far as the Irish Members have been concerned, when they have been ordered to withdraw, to compel them to withdraw from the House. I beg to call your attention, Sir, to the fact that Mr. Bradlaugh has not withdrawn.
§ MR. SPEAKER
There is no question of compelling the hon. Gentleman to withdraw. I directed the hon. Member to withdraw from the Table, and he has complied with the direction of the Chair. It was only in case of a refusal to withdraw, and a disturbance in the House arose, that a Member was compelled to leave the House.
§ MR. HEALY
Is it not a Rule of this House, when the conduct of a Member has been called in question, and the Member has been ordered to withdraw, that he is bound to leave the House? Do you, Sir, lay it down as a Rule in future that it is only when a Member has been ordered to withdraw, and he refuses to withdraw, or lest a disturbance should be created, that a Member is obliged to leave the House?
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. and learned Member is now referring to cases in which the Question before the House was the suspension, or the alleged misconduct, of certain Members. That 1677 was a very different case. [Cries of "No!"from the Irish Members.]
§ MR. PARNELL
I wish, Sir, to call your attention to a precedent which occurred in 1877, when, on the Motion of the present Lord Iddesleigh, in reference to my conduct at a Sitting of the House, I was directed by the then Speaker to withdraw, just in the same way as you have now directed the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Brad-laugh) to withdraw. On that occasion I was compelled not only to leave the House, but I was not permitted to go into any part of the House, even into any of the Galleries, until the Motion before the House was disposed of.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The case mentioned by the hon. Member is not a parallel case. The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh), by the courtesy of the House, has been permitted to remain in the House below the Bar, although he is not a full Member of the House, not having taken the Oath of the House. Under these circumstances, unless I am otherwise directed by the House, I think it is sufficient for the hon. Member to withdraw below the Bar while the case affecting him and the constituency he represents is being discussed.
§ MR. HOPWOOD,
in rising to move the following Amendment:—To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words * Mr. Bradlaugh, Member for Northampton, having informed Mr. Speaker of his intention to come to the Table to he sworn, this House is of opinion that the questions raised concerning promissory and other Oaths call for an early settlement, on wider grounds than the interests of a constituency or its Member, and, believing that legislation is necessary for its settlement, resolves that it be proceeded with as soon as possible,'said, he must congratulate the House, in the first place, upon the conduct of the person concerned in the Motion before it, that person having chivalrously allowed the Members of the Government, who had vacated their seats on appointment to Office, precedence in coming up to the Table. He thought it right to call attention to an act of courtesy on the part of a man who had himself received but scant courtesy at the hands of the House. The manner in which Mr. Bradlaugh had fulfilled the pledges which he had given to the House in the past proved that the 1678 House could, without hesitation, accept his pledges now. Mr. Bradlaugh bad undertaken, in face of the House and the public, that, if the Amendment should be carried, he would not intrude himself upon the attention of the House until it should have entered upon that course of legislation which, by agreeing to the Amendment, it would affirm its readiness to accept. The right hon. Gentleman opposite the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) had asked him (Mr. Hopwood) to say what his object was. Well, his object was to promote the cause of religious and political freedom—["Oh, oh!"]—he could not congratulate the Leader of the House upon this, the first occasion when he appeared to marshal his forces, the question upon which he led them being one so greatly concerned with bigotry. ["Oh, oh!"] The question for which he (Mr. Hopwood) demanded a legislative settlement was one which might assume serious aspects, which were little thought of by those who had wantonly raised it. He (Mr. Hopwood) had undertaken to carry on this matter to a wider range than the interests of an individual, or the interests of constituencies. An issue was raised which might affect the administration of justice. The object of any legislation undertaken in the future should be, as it was, by the Bill he had brought forward, endeavoured to effect, to substitute the power to affirm in the place of an Oath in every case in which the obligation to take an Oath was imposed upon a man by law. As to the decision of the Court of Appeal, upon which the right hon. Gentleman took his stand, he would advert to some of the consequences that might flow from it. The Master of the Rolls, in delivering his judgment, said, with reference to Mr. Bradlaugh—I must declare my view that if a person were to sit and vote in the House of Commons after having gone through all the formalities, without having described to the House his state of mind, although the House of Commons had no cognizance of his state of mind, yet if afterwards it came to the knowledge of the Attorney General, by proof upon which he thought it right to act, that that person had so sat or voted in Parliament, having gone through all the formalities without having described his state of mind, if a jury should so find, I am of opinion that all these penalties would be incurred. This shows the severity of the Act of Parliament.1679 Now, how would the Act thus interpreted apply? Supposing a Member of the House, in familiar discourse, or under the temptation of a convivial moment, were to express himself in such a manner as to show his religious ideas to be loose, anybody would be entitled to challenge his Oath, and to insist that the Attorney General should be directed to prosecute him. In fact, there could be no limit to inquisitorial investigation on the Motion of persons stirred perhaps by a just conviction, or perhaps by narrow religious bigotry. According to the opinion of the learned Judge, if a juryman, upon whose verdict the life of an accused person depended, should, subsequently to the trial, appear to be wanting in religious belief, the question of the validity of his oath might be raised, and the verdict might be set aside. A question analogous was raised in connection with the disabilities of Quakers in 1833, where a Quaker, having been put on the jury, and as a juryman found a man guilty of a capital offence, the Judges decided that there had been a mistrial, and that the verdict must be set aside. A man who was a profligate, and whose language might shock everybody who came near him, might take the Oath in that House, and nobody could challenge him; but a man of irreproachable and blameless habit of life might come up to the Table in order to take the Oath, and if he had had the frankness to say that he entertained doubts as to the all-presiding Creator of the world, he might be marked out by a spiteful person as unfit to take the Oath. The unworthy might thus take the Oath and swear as much as he pleased, while the worthy might be prevented from doing so. [Laughter] He did not envy Gentlemen opposite who laughed, and thought themselves so very superior to the hon. Member for Northampton. It should be noticed that the effect of the decision of the Judges to which he had referred might extend to courts martial, and that the evidence of soldiers might be invalidated, and the result set aside, on the ground that their religious belief was not such as to justify their taking the Oath. The Judges held that this religious belief must be a belief in a Deity who rewarded or punished. This definition would exclude Agnostics, Positivists, and others, many of whom believed in an all-per- 1680 vading Presence, acting in accordance with general laws, but not interfering with special intervention; but believers in a God, who was really more a devil according to our notions—he alluded to the beliefs held by Natives in some of our dependencies—would be competent to swear, because they believed in the distribution of rewards and punishments by their Deity. In his view, Agnostics and Positivists were men perfectly capable of doing their duty to the State. The Judges had laid down the law, and the result was that a man who professed these opinions could not take the Oath; and if he did so, even with all the sanctions of the House, or even in obedience to a Resolution of the House, it was of no effect. That was the state to which their progress in legislation had reduced them, and he proposed to meet that by fresh legislation. As an example of how men, when they were withdrawn from these matters and considered dispassionately, arrived at the conclusion he was asking the House to arrive at, he would instance the action of the Cathedral Churches Commission, the Members of which, including a Bishop and two Members of the House of Lords, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Beresford Hope) and the hon. Member for Buteshire (Mr. Dalrymple), had signed a recommendation suggesting the substitution of declarations in place of oaths on the assumption of office. Why should they not follow that good precedent? The hon. and learned Member concluded by moving the Amendment of which he had given Notice.
To leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "Mr. Bradlaugh, Member for Northampton, having informed Mr. Speaker of his intention to come to the Table to be sworn, this House is of opinion that the questions raised concerning promissory and other Oaths call for an early settlement, on wider grounds than the interests of a constituency or its Member, and, believing that legislation is necessary for its settlement, resolves that it be proceeded with as soon as possible,"—(Mr. Hopwood,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."1681
Sir, upon former occasions most of those who sit upon this side of the House, and I myself among them, have drawn a very broad distinction between their view of the question of principle involved in the exclusion of Mr. Bradlaugh from this House and the questions of order and policy raised by certain methods adopted by him for the purpose of giving effect to what he conceives to be his rights. We have taken—I myself have taken—the very strongest views of the question of principle, not only going with many who think that the action of the House with regard to Mr. Bradlaugh has been unconstitutional, but also being firmly convinced that it has been illegal. But, retaining that conviction, when that opinion has been distinctly contradicted by a majority of the House, we have had to consider what course we should take, as dutiful and loyal Members of the House, with regard to the proposals which have been made for preserving the order of its proceedings. Well, Sir, that is the nature of the proposal made by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer to-day, and I at once admit that he is entirely justified by the precedent which he has quoted, and his conduct in following that precedent is further sustained, I do not scruple further to admit, by the recent proceedings of a Court of Law. Therefore, Sir, if I were to consider the question proposed by the right hon. Gentleman alone, and apart from the Amendment moved by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood) upon his own responsibility, I do not hesitate to say that I, for one, having originally recorded my opinion of the principle involved in the proceedings, should not offer any opposition to a Motion intended to vindicate the order of the House; but at present I find myself in the position that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stockport has pressed—I may say has forced—upon my attention a proposition which I will describe generally as amounting to this—that our first duty is to deal with this question by legislation, and by legislation to remove the grievance which exists. I give that general description of the Amendment of my hon. and learned Friend, because it is in that souse that I find myself com- 1682 pelled to support his Amendment. I am bound to say, however, that I do not concur in all the terms of the Amendment, inasmuch as my hon. and learned Friend expressly carries the scope of it far beyond what I conceive to be the immediate, pressing, and urgent point; and there it is that I am at issue, as far as phrases are concerned, with my hon. and learned Friend, and as far as substance is concerned, with the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman, availing himself, as I think technically he has every right to do, of the particular terms of this Amendment, has pointed out that its scope as it stands is very wide, and that it is hardly fair to expect the House, in the present condition of affairs, to give itself to considering the settlement of the whole question of promissory and other Oaths. That may be so; at any rate, I am not concerned to dispute that proposition; but what I have before me is this, and upon this point I take the strongest and clearest view—namely, the unsatisfied and Constitutional claim of the constituency of Northampton. Now, Sir, my point—I need not argue at any length, because it does not require that I should trespass long upon the time of the House, not even to the moderate extent to which my hon. and learned Friend has found it necessary to argue the general question—what I contend is this—that all along through the course of the present Parliament a grievous wrong has been done by the action of the House to the constituency of Northampton, and that the first duty of the House in the circumstances, without prejudice to the proposition—considered as a separate proposition of the right hon. Gentleman—the first duty of the House is to exert itself to make provision for the redress of that serious wrong. I may tell my hon. and learned Friend that if it so chanced—which I have no right to expect considering the result of former discussions—if it were so to chance that his Amendment were to become the Main Question, I should—unless some other Member performed that office—propose to narrow the scope of his Amendment by reducing the application of it to the case actually before us, and that would be done in this way. The Amendment proposes to deal with promissory and other Oaths, and I should 1683 propose to substitute for "promissory and other Oaths," "Parliamentary Oaths." My hon. and learned Friend also proposes to affirm that the question calls for settlement, on wider grounds than the interests of a single constituency; but I should propose to omit the words—"upon wider grounds than the interests of a single constituency." My object, in fact, would be to set up what I conceive to be the legitimate antithesis in this case to the determination of the right hon. Gentleman to adhere to and enforce the decision of the House that Mr. Bradlaugh be not permitted to take his seat; because this I find myself compelled to admit—that our prior duty is to meet what I conceive to be the demand of our Constitution for allowing the case to be provided for which excludes a legitimately chosen Representative of the people from taking his seat and performing his duty upon the ground strictly of religious disability as a ground of qualification. I entirely object upon other grounds. I object upon every political and Constitutional ground—I would even, if this were the place to argue it, go further and say—upon every religious ground, I object entirely to drawing distinctions more or less in matters of religious opinion. What we have to decide is the principle of disqualification, and to set right the condition of the law as it is now established and the practice of this House as it has been asserted by the votes of the majority of the House. I propose that we should set aside the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman for the purpose of affirming that this calls for prompt, and, I should say, immediate settlement. I may be told that immediate settlement is easy to talk of, but hard to carry into effect. That is a matter with which at present I have nothing to do. The question now before me is this—whether I am to acquiesce in the continued assertion by new acts of this exclusion, or whether I am to assert, as the Amendment requires me to do, and in opposition to the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman to argue that the defect in the law ought at once to be removed which debars the constituency of Northampton from the exercise of its Constitutional rights, upon principles which I consider we have long ago adopted as the basis of our Parliamentary action. Sir, were the Amendment 1684 to be carried, and were it to become the substantive Question, and were it to be adopted as it now stands, or in an amended form by the House, the right hon. Gentleman would no doubt still have to consider what may be necessary for the order of the House. The right hon. Gentleman might still think it necessary to make a substantive Motion of that character, and I can only say that I should be disposed, in case of a substantive Motion to that effect, to act as I have acted before. I do not believe it would be the intention of any of my Friends to offer renewed opposition to the adoption of any Motion necessary for the order of the House. But what we do feel ourselves obliged to say—at least, what I desire to say for myself—is this: that I distinguish between the general expediency of reforming the whole system of Oaths and the extreme urgency of satisfying the Constitutional claim of a constituency; and I wish to assert, in voting in favour of the Amendment, that the satisfaction of that Constitutional claim is the first of the duties that now lie before us.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Mr. R. WEBSTER)
Sir, I am painfully conscious of my utter want of experience in addressing this House, and therefore I trust that if, in the few observations I have to make, I am unwittingly guilty of some breach of the Rules of the House, I shall obtain not only the indulgence but the forbearance of hon. Members. I feel it especially hard that it becomes my duty, in the responsible position which I, for the first time, now fill, to follow the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone); but still I trust I can put some reasons before the House to induce it to come to the conclusion that the Amendment is not a proper Amendment to pass, even if it be taken in the more narrow sense in which the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian has asked us to take it. After the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, I unhesitatingly say that, in my judgment, this Amendment is nothing less than an attempt to introduce a Bradlaugh Relief Bill, inasmuch as he has said that his chief desire is to remove a wrong which has been done to the constituency of Northampton, and under which they have been suffering for four or five years; therefore, I can regard the proposal now made as nothing else 1685 than a Bradlaugh Belief Bill. It has been stated by the hon. and learned Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood) that the action of the House in regard to Mr. Bradlaugh has been illegal; I have nothing to do with the action of the House, as the House of Commons, I admit to the full that, within these walls, the Members of the House of Commons are perfectly competent to do what they will in regard to allowing a Member to take his seat; and when it is suggested that the action of those who have opposed Mr. Bradlaugh's attempt to take his seat has been illegal, I join issue, both in substance and in f act, with everyone who puts forward that proposition. I am most unwilling to weary the House by going over a story already ten times told; but inasmuch as the hon. and learned Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood) has stated that the House of Lords has reversed the decision of the Court of Appeal, I think it only right that I should respectfully endeavour to inform the House how the matter exactly stands. The House will remember that the first claim made by Mr. Bradlaugh was a claim to affirm, and the House, in its judgment, thought fit to allow him to affirm, in order that he might raise the question whether he could legally do so. He did affirm, and the question was raised in the action of "Clarke v. Bradlaugh." The decision of the Court of Appeal, which was that Mr. Bradlaugh was not a person who was entitled to affirm, having regard to the provisions of the Act of 1866, was in no way reversed by the House of Lords, and the subsequent reversal by the House of Lords of the judgment in this case turned entirely on a technical point—namely, that a common informer was not a person entitled to sue for the penalty in a case such as this. The decision that Mr. Bradlaugh was not a person entitled to affirm was left untouched. I protest, therefore, against the hon. and learned Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood) endeavouring to bolster up his argument by a reference to the proceedings in the House of Lords. Now, Sir, what was the next step. Mr. Bradlaugh then claimed to be sworn. It is not necessary that I should go through the whole of the proceedings during which Mr. Bradlaugh claimed to be sworn; the end of it was that on the 11th of February, 1884, he attempted 1686 to be sworn. The House of Commons might have admitted him to be sworn if it had thought fit to express an opinion to that effect; but the law of the land declares that Mr. Bradlaugh is not a person who can take an Oath, and I ask hon. Members, before they proceed to vote on this Amendment, and before they negative the Resolution of my right hon. Friend, to bear in mind what the finding of a jury of Mr. Brad-laugh's countrymen was—namely, that on the 11th of February, 1884, Mr. Bradlaugh.had no belief in a Supreme Being, and was a person on whose conscience an Oath had no binding effect.Having regard to that finding of the jury, and this having been the law as it stood during the existence of this Parliament, and as it stands now, I would humbly submit that it would be a great disgrace to the House of Commons if it were to allow Mr. Bradlaugh to go through, the form of taking an Oath as long as that decision stands. I read with great interest at the time the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Taunton (Sir Henry James) when he introduced the Affirmation Bill; but I rather think he was mistaken in some of the statements he then made. He seemed to hold the opinion that a person who was not fit to take the Oath could come to the Table and be sworn, and that there were no means afterwards of questioning his right to take the Oath. Fortunately, Sir, for this country that is not the state of the law, for we have it now established, as the law of the land, and it is a very old law, that a person who has no belief in a Supreme Being, and on whose conscience an Oath has no binding effect, cannot, apart from the Statute, take an Oath at all. The House will remember that when the hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Sir Henry James) made his statement, and urged it as the true view of the position, he was at once controverted by one whose legal guidance we now miss on this side of the House, but who is now, I am thankful to say, guardian of the Queen's conscience. The present Lord Chancellor, then the Member for Launceston (Sir Hardinge Giffard), pointed out that whatever the House might do, or was entitled to do, nothing could prevent the Attorney General from taking proceed- 1687 ings against Mr. Bradlaugh if he satin the House and it should turn out that he was not a fit and proper person to take the Oath, owing to his having no belief in a Supreme Being. It certainly does seem to me that on this matter the House of Commons ought not now to change its mind. I should have thought that we had already had enough of vacillation; I should have thought that we had had enough of change of view. Of course, if the House has done anything wrong, or done anything illegal, by all means, even although it is on its deathbed, let it repent; but I ask the House to consider whether any wrong has been done. I maintain that the law of England, as it at present stands, is such that Mr. Bradlaugh is not a person who can take the Oath, or can properly affirm, and it is upon that ground that I say the Bill which the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) recommends the House to pass would be nothing but a Bradlaugh Relief Bill. I have now to say a few words on the case which has been put by the Mover of the Amendment, apart from the question of Mr. Bradlaugh, and I would submit to those who are going to vote for the Amendment that the hon. and learned Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood) has not made out the slightest case for any general amendment of the law. I do not wonder that the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) thought fit to limit the terms of the Amendment, because it is a strange thing that an Amendment should be introduced at this stage of the life of the House of Commons, which goes far beyond the two Bills which have already been rejected—the Affirmation Bill which the Duke of Argyll introduced into the House of Lords in 1882, and the Bill recently introduced by the late Attorney General (Sir Henry James), both of which Bills only applied to Parliamentary Oaths in regard to Members of the House of Commons. I do protest most strongly against the suggestion that there is any ground for any change of the law in the matter of Atheists. The hon. and learned Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood) spoke of this as being a question of religious and political freedom, and I was very sorry to hear the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) also say that it was a matter of religious freedom. It is no- 1688 thing of the kind. Mr. Bradlaugh's demand is not made as a question of religion, and I do not think that Mr. Bradlaugh himself would desire that his claim should be put forward as one in the interests of religion. You may call it a Constitutional question if you like, or a political question if you like; but I protest against it being called a claim in the interests of religion. Let us consider for a moment how the matter stands. Permission has been given to people to affirm in Courts of Law instead of being required to take an oath; but the relief given to witnesses in the matter of Oaths and Affirmations was not in the interests of Atheism but in the interests of justice. As far back as the Common Law Procedure Act, 1854, and since the date of that Act, there have been several Statutes passed which are well known to hon. Gentlemen opposite, which give these privileges; but it was not for the purpose of giving any extra privileges to Atheists, but in the interests of justice, so that evidence which might be given should be forthcoming. That I have accurately stated the motive which led to the passing of these Acts is evidenced by the Preamble attached to most of them; and I may mention that the Evidence Act of 1869 recites that the interests of justice would be promoted by the removal of the existing restrictions, for this reason the restrictions were removed; and, that being so, I submit that that case is wholly inapplicable to the presence of Atheists in the House of Commons for the purpose of legislation. There is no class of persons whom the Amendment would assist, or whom the Amendment as altered by the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) would assist, except Atheists. All persons who have a conscientious objection on religious grounds to taking an oath have ample protection by the present law. ["No!"] I say that if hon. Members will only look through the Acts of Parliament they will find there is sufficient protection at the present time, and protection is only required for those who are willing to affirm because they have a religious objection to the taking of an oath, while those for whom such legislation as is shadowed forth in the Amendment is intended are persons in the position of Mr. Bradlaugh, who do not believe in 1689 any Supreme Being at all. I have only one word more to add. I submit that this is not a question for the House of Commons alone; it is a question for the country at large. I do not deny that Mr. Bradlaugh has behaved well, notwithstanding the manner in which he has been treated; but I have nothing to do with the personal part of the question. For five years the constituency of Northampton has suffered from the disability to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred; and it cannot do that constituency much harm if for three or four months more they are not fully represented in the House of Commons. ["Oh, oh!"] I trust that those who support the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood) on the principles enunciated by him will have the courage to say so fairly and openly to the constituencies, for I do believe that England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland still contain Godfearing people, and that they are in the great majority. I sincerely hope that it will be put forward in the interests of proper legislation in this House that those who support this Amendment desire that Atheists may be introduced, and that persons may be allowed to take their seats in the House who have no religious belief of any sort or kind. I will only say, in conclusion, that whether the Amendment be regarded on the narrow ground which has been put by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone), or on the wider ground put by the hon. and learned Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood), a large majority of this House will negative it, and support the original Resolution moved by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ SIR HENRT JAMES
said, that, if there were no other reason for his occupying the attention of the House for a few moments, a sufficient one would be found in his desire to express the feeling with which, he was sure, the Members of the House welcomed the appearance of the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Webster) as an efficient recruit. While congratulating him on the proof he had given of the experience which he would bring to the Councils of the Empire, there were one or two observations which fell from him, especially in the latter portion of his speech, 1690 which he desired to challenge, as they ought not to be allowed to pass by without notice. The House was not discussing the question whether Mr. Bradlaugh should, or should not, be allowed to take the Oath, or the penalties which would accrue if he should take the Oath; but they had to deal with the proposition which his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Hopwood) had submitted to the House. He was astonished to hear the Attorney General state that this was not a religious question. If it was not a religious question, might he ask what sort of question it was? [Lord RANDOLPH CHURCHILL: An irreligious question.] The noble Lord (Lord Randolph Churchill) said that it was an "irreligious" question. He thought that there must be two sides to every question, and that the irreligious was simply the converse of the religious question. When he recollected the tone in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman the present Lord Chancellor of Ireland denounced the Members of the late Administration personally for their want of religion in attempting to support a Bill which would have allowed a person in the position of Mr. Bradlaugh to take his seat—when, too, he remembered how in every town and in every village the Liberal Party had been attacked for their want of religion in supporting Mr. Bradlaugh, it seemed strange now that the Law Officer of the Crown should tell them the question was not a religious one. He was glad his hon. and learned Friend had broken away from the thralls of the argument which had before been used in dealing with this question. He asked—"What do you want this Motion for?" He said—"You have never legislated in the cause of religion; you have legislated in the cause of justice." But that was the very reason why they wished to support the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Stockport. What caused the Acts to be passed allowing persons to affirm who conscientiously refused to take the Oath? It was not because there should be a particular relief given to a particular person; but it was in the interests of justice—that every suitor's case should be properly stated before a Court of Law. In the same manner, this Amendment was not proposed in the interests of Mr. Bradlaugh; it was brought forward in the interests of the constitu- 1691 encies; and as they legislated in former times so they should legislate now. He contended, therefore, that this legislation was needed in order to remove a disability which prevented persons affirming, and which prevented constituencies being represented by those Members who desired to affirm, rather than take the Oath. He trusted the Amendment would receive a large share of support from those who sat upon the Opposition side of the House.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, he was not surprised at the tone of the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General (Mr. Webster). Although the hon. and. learned Gentleman said this was not a religious question, he subsequently told the House that all the religion was on his own side of the House, and all the anti-religion on the Opposition side. Moreover, he (Mr. Labouchere) remembered reading a short time ago that the present Prime Minister told the people of Wales that "all infidels are Liberals." And that appeared to be the view of hon. Gentlemen opposite. But he was surprised that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General, with his great legal acumen, should have so entirely failed to grasp what was the subject of discussion in the House. The hon. and learned Gentleman did not seem to have understood what was the meaning of the Amendment. A Motion was made by the right hon. Baronet the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but the House was not discussing the Motion—they were discussing the Amendment. They were not suggesting at the present moment that Mr. Bradlaugh should take the Oath. What his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Hopwood) had done was to bring forward a conciliatory proposal; not asking that the Resolution declaring that Mr. Bradlaugh should not be allowed to go to the Table should not be put, but instead that the House should affirm that it was desirable, as soon as possible, that a Bill enabling Mr. Bradlaugh or anyone else to affirm should be passed. Therefore, the question was not one of Mr. Bradlaugh's taking the Oath; but a question of legislation, with the object of enabling Members who wished so to do to affirm. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer alleged that the question of Mr. Bradlaugh's fitness to take the 1692 Oath had been already settled by the Courts of Law; that Mr. Bradlaugh had the right to appeal; but that he had not appealed; and, therefore, that, as he did not mean to appeal, consequently the matter was practically settled. But what were the f acts? Why, Mr. Bradlaugh had the right to take 12 months before appealing; but, instead of doing that, he had already given an undertaking to the Treasury that he would appeal; therefore, he had taken steps to appeal, and the question could not be decided until it had been brought before the highest legal tribunal of the country. He confessed that he hesitated, when his hon. and learned Friend showed him his Amendment, whether to vote for it or not; because it seemed to him to recognize the right of the House of Commons to prevent Mr. Bradlaugh going to the Table and taking the Oath if he so desired. He thought it would be admitted that Mr. Bradlaugh had always acted in a conciliatory manner to the House, and had always sought to put himself in harmony, as it were, with the House. Naturally, from Mr. Bradlaugh's point of view, if he regarded the Oath as hon. Gentlemen opposite said he did, as an unmeaning and unnecessary form, it must be a matter of indifference to him whether he took the Oath or not. But Mr. Bradlaugh always wished not to take the Oath, but to affirm, and he was ready to do so on the present occasion if the House would permit him. Therefore, he (Mr. Labouchere) thought the House ought fairly to meet Mr. Bradlaugh and the constituency of Northampton in a conciliatory spirit on its side and pass this Amendment. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) said that it might, perhaps, be necessary to pass some sort of Resolution after the Amendment had been carried, if it were carried, in the interest of the good order of the House. He (Mr. Labouchere) was authorized to say, on behalf of Mr. Bradlaugh, that that Gentleman was ready to acknowledge that if the Bill referred to in the Amendment of his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Hopwood) was proceeded with, and an attempt made to carry it through during the present Session, or if facilities were given to take a vote upon it, he would not come up to the Table until a deci- 1693 sion had been taken by the House. The right hon. Baronet the Chancellor of the Exchequer had expressed great surprise that Mr. Bradlaugh should trouble the peace of what he called a moribund Parliament; but he (Mr. Labouchere) should like to know who had been troubling the peace of this moribund Parliament? Why was Mr. Bradlaugh, who had been elected four times by the constituency of Northampton to represent them in Parliament, not to be allowed to come to the Table and take the Oath and fulfil his duty to his constituents, when they saw 12 Gentlemen or so, only elected within the last few days, coming up and taking the Oath to fulfil what they were pleased to call their duties to the country? Such a course of treatment on the part of the House was monstrous. He saw opposite the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. A. J. Balfour), who was asleep, he believed. Did he (Mr. Labouchere) oppose him when he came up to the Table to take the Oath? No; and yet he asserted, without fear of contradiction, that the right hon. Gentleman had written the most sceptical book on religion or anti-religion since the time of Hume. He (Mr. Labouchere) read his book with great interest, and he believed himself that in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman the Oath was an unmeaning form. The House, however, allowed him to come to the Table and swear. He (Mr. Labouchere) accepted it, and the House accepted it; and if Mr. Bradlaugh was prepared to go to the Table and swear, the House had no right to step in between him and his constituents and his conscience. If this Amendment were not passed he would certainly divide the House on the Main Question, as he had always asserted that Mr. Bradlaugh had a right to go to the Table, and that neither the House nor Mr. Speaker had the right to prevent him taking his place as a duly elected Member of the House.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
said, before giving his vote, he should like to know how the House stood in this matter. He had always opposed the taking of the Oath by Mr. Bradlaugh on religious grounds, because Mr. Bradlaugh had said he had no belief in a Supreme Being. On the other hand, he (Mr. Mitchell Henry) had always felt that it 1694 was a great hardship that any class of elected Member should be excluded from the House because, while they were willing to affirm, they would not take the Oath. In the legal speeches just made there had been no statement of the law as regarded Parliamentary Oaths. The law by which individuals were prevented from taking their seats was quite distinct from the law which governed proceedings in Courts of Law. Separatists and Quakers were permitted to make Affirmations in the House; but, in order to avail himself of the privilege, a man must declare himself to be a Separatist or a Quaker. All who preferred to affirm ought to have the opportunity of doing so. He had always supported the principle of the Amendment; but many hon. Members were shocked by arguments that had been used in support of it. He was not prepared to hand over the House to those who did not believe in God, for they were not bound by any religious sanction to obey the law in any respect. Therefore, the difficulty which he felt would not be wholly removed by the Amendment. He must protest, if it were for the last time, against the lectures delivered by Mr. Bradlaugh, and the literature with which he was identified, and he would say that such lectures and literature ought to disable a man from sitting in a Christian Assembly. He would vote for the Amendment; but with a firm intention of preventing, as far as he could, Mr. Bradlaugh from presenting himself at the Table of the House and insulting the God in whom they believed, by pretending to take an Oath which he considered was void of religious sanction.
§ MR. STORER
said, that, in his view of the matter, both the Amendment proposed by the hon. and learned Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood) and the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) were neither more nor less than attempts to trail a red herring across the scent. But whatever attempts were made to hoodwink the country, or whatever salves were applied to their own consciences, the fact would still remain, and could not be got over, that a vote given for the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Stockport would have the same effect as a vote in favour of Mr. Bradlaugh taking the Oath and his seat in that House. Hon. Members 1695 who supported it might consider it a sort of salve to their consciences; but the original Motion was, after all, the thing which the country would consider.
§ MR. COURTNEY
said, the judgment of the Court of Appeal made it most desirable that the House should undertake legislation with the view of deciding the matter. The judgment laid down, for the first time, what was certainly not appreciated by the House, that the question of eligibility to take the Oath at the Table did not depend at all upon the formalities required, by the House. That Court decided that no person could validly take an Oath who was not a believer in a Supreme Being in such a way and in such a sense that that Being operated on his mind in taking an Oath as giving sanction to it. If, therefore, Mr. Bradlaugh, or anyone holding his opinions, were allowed to go through the form, or did go through the form of taking the Oath, either in the present or at the commencement of the next Parliament, that would not conclude the matter; for, after all that had been done, the Attorney General, upon information laid before him, might take proceedings, and if he convinced a jury that the hon. Member had no such belief as enabled him to invoke the sanction of the Supreme Being, a penalty would be given against the Member, and he would vacate his seat in the House. It had been said that Mr. Bradlaugh had been too frank in avowing his opinions; but this judgment of the Court of Appeal utterly upset the delusion that this made any difference. Then it was said the question would be solved when a new Parliament assembled, because Mr. Bradlaugh, if returned, as he probably would be, would take the Oath before the House was completed. But the judgment of the Court dissipated the delusion that this would make any difference. By that decision, if information was laid before him, the Attorney General would proceed against the hon. Member in the Court of Law, and might again get a jury to declare that he was incapable of taking the Oath on account of his want of belief in a Supreme Being. The Attorney General would also, by this decision of the jury, recover damages against the hon. Member. This was a question which would 1696 not only affect Mr. Bradlaugh, the same course might be taken against other hon. Members. The borough of Liskeard was once represented by Mr. Gibbon, who would have been subjected to the same disabilities as Mr. Bradlaugh; and, for aught he (Mr. Courtney) knew, there might be other Members of the House in the same position—that is, exposed to the scandal of having the question of their religious belief submitted to a common jury. Was it not, therefore, urgent that this matter should be settled in this Parliament on broad principles of justice, so as to prevent the possibility of the scandal of silent Oaths being taken by Members who did not believe in them, or of investigations before common juries as to personal beliefs? It was said, notwithstanding the judgment of the Court, the decision still rested with Parliament. That was so; but the judgment of the Court was good common sense, and by the action of the law the hon. Member was debarred from taking the Oath. The situation was one which should appeal to serious Members who wished to prevent the repetition of the scandal of public inquiry in the future into the religious opinions of Members who had been returned to that House.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR)
said, he had no intention, when he came down to the House, of intervening in this debate, nor did he mean to do so, except so far as was rendered necessary by personal allusions which some speakers had directed to him. He went further, and said it was not with a view of contradicting in the face of the House the accusation made against him by the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labou-chere) that he now rose. If this House only were made a party to it, he should have treated the accusation with contempt; but he reflected with dismay that, in consequence of what had fallen from the hon. Member, he should be inundated with letters on the subject from every part of the country. Therefore, not merely on his own account, but still more out of pity to his unfortunate private secretary, he felt bound to take the earliest occasion of giving a public contradiction to the more than insinuations that had fallen from the hon. Gentleman. The hon. 1697 Gentleman informed an astonished House that he had read the book to which he alluded. He (Mr. A. J. Balfour) was quite certain that anybody who had ever glanced at the contents of the book would be convinced, firstly, that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Northampton had not read it; and, secondly, that if he had read it, he was perfectly incapable of understanding its contents. In order to clear up the hon. Member's mind on the subject, and to save any hon. Gentleman opposite from the severe and arduous labour of looking through the volume, should their curiosity be excited by what had passed, he might assure them that, in so far as that book dealt with religion at all, it had no other motive whatever in view than to support religion, and not to destroy it. He trusted that this contradiction would be taken not only as conclusive by the House, but as saving others from the trouble of writing to him on the subject; himself, the trouble of receiving such communications; and the Post Office, the trouble and expense that would be incurred in forwarding them to him.
§ MR. WALTER
said, it had been his misfortune, on one or two occasions, to trouble the House on this disagreeable subject; and, as this was certainly the last occasion on which he should have the opportunity of speaking upon the question, he hoped the House would allow him to say a few words, chiefly for the purpose of bringing to the notice of the Constitutional Authorities of the House the opinion of an eminent statesman upon this matter delivered many years ago. He (Mr. Walter) was one of those who had invariably opposed the taking of the Oath by Mr. Bradlaugh; but he had coupled his objection with the declaration that, inasmuch as he conceived him to be an individual unable to take the Oath on account of his religious opinions, he nevertheless felt that, as an elected Member of Parliament, Mr. Bradlaugh ought to be allowed to enter the House by way of Affirmation, unless valid objection could be raised to that mode of testifying his allegiance to the Crown. He considered that the whole object of the Oath of Allegiance was to give a security, more or less valid according to the character of the giver, to the Sovereign of the country; and that, except for that purpose, it was of no use whatever, nor had any right to be im- 1698 posed. He did not think that anybody in that House would contend that the solemn ceremony which a Member performed at the Table in kissing the Testament was intended in any way to define his religious belief, and for this reason—that it was quite clear that the Oath might be taken by a Deist, by a Unitarian, and by an Orthodox Christian. But the point at the bottom of the whole controversy was—is the Oath necessary or not to secure the Crown with regard to the allegiance of the person who takes the Oath? He could give the authority of a very eminent person upon the subject—a statesman whose opinion would be taken as of the very highest order, not only by hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House, by also by hon. Members on the Treasury Bench. He meant Mr. Pox. In a remarkable speech, which Mr. Fox delivered on peace with France in the year 1800, an objection was raised to peace being declared, on the ground that Napoleon Bonaparte had violated the Oath of Allegiance which he had taken to the Constitution. But Mr. Fox said—Sir, I am not one of those who think that any such Oaths ought ever to be exacted. They are seldom or ever of any effect, and I am not for sporting with a thing so sacred as an Oath. I think it would be good to lay aside all such Oaths."—(Parl. Mist.  1386.)Then he went on to explain what he meant by saying that there was no necessity for imposing the sanction of an Oath, where the law without any such Oath was quite sufficient to vindicate itself. Suppose a person went to the Table of the House to take the Oath of Allegiance to the Queen, how would that person be punished if he broke the Oath? Not for perjury, but for treason, which was followed by a very much more severe punishment. He (Mr. Walter) contended, therefore, that they had no reason, on the ground of security to the Crown, for imposing an Oath at all. He might be asked why a person should be required to affirm. He took it that making an Affirmation simply compelled a person to make a statement acknowledging his responsibility to the law of the land; and if that person broke the Affirmation, he would be subject to all the pains and penalties of the law of treason.
§ MR. HICKS
said, he wished to know whether, if the Motion of the right hon. 1699 Baronet the Chancellor of the Exchequer was negatived, it would be in the power of any Member of the House again to raise the question, or whether the power of the House would be gone, and Mr. Bradlaugh be able to come to the Table in defiance of the general opinion of the House?
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, that if the Motion should not be carried, the Amendment would become the substantive Motion, and the hon. Member would be at liberty to move an Amendment to it in any direction he thought might be desirable.
§ MR. HEALY
said, that one of the points raised by the hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney) was worthy of the attention of the Government. As the matter now stood, at present, in the ruck of a General Election, Mr. Brad-laugh might be elected, and might again present himself at the Table to be sworn, and the Clerk at the Table would then have no power to exclude him. It was now declared by the Court of Law that even if Mr. Bradlaugh were permitted by the Clerk to take the Oath, he would be proceeded against by the Attorney General for penalties, and it might be found that he had no testifying capacity. He (Mr. Healy) would submit to the right hon. Baronet the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Resolution might be amended by words of this character—And that the Clerk at the Table he informed that no person who has been by this House, or by law, declared incapable of taking an Oath, and who may present himself to be sworn during the next two years, shall be allowed to take the Oath except by leave of the House.[Cries of "Oh, oh!"] It appeared to him (Mr. Healy) that if the Clerk at the Table at the time were not seized with the fact that the House laid a burthen upon him, he would, of course, not feel himself bound to look into the previous record of any Gentleman who presented himself at the Table, and the position of the Clerk would be a very unenviable one. To the Members of the Liberal Party, who seemed to think that the course he recommended was an objectionable one, it would be, from their point of view, a course of extreme mercy to Mr. Bradlaugh; because, if the present Government had a majority in the next Parliament, as he (Mr. Healy) hoped they would have, the next Go- 1700 vernment would be bound to enforce the law by asking their Attorney General to proceed for penalties against Mr. Bradlaugh; whereas if the Clerk at the Table were made aware that Mr. Bradlaugh was not to be received by him pursuant to the Resolution, of course Mr. Bradlaugh would be saved the trouble of presenting himself, and taking the Oath, and of being proceeded against. If they passed the words he suggested, they would be giving a bold advertisement to the constituency of Northampton that, if it elected Mr. Bradlaugh, it would elect him at its peril, and would have no reason to complain when it knew that. The hon. Gentleman, if elected, would be unable to proceed with his business. If the Clerk said that the Order was merely a Sessional one, the House would know how to deal with the Clerk.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
I hope the House will forgive me if I offer a few words in reply to the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Berkshire (Mr. Walter). I hope the House will forgive one of its oldest Members recalling to its attention the importance of the matter with which we are now dealing. The State of England consists of a Sovereign and of two Houses of Parliament. The Sovereign and each of those Estates is bound by an Oath appropriate to their position. If one of the Estates were to annul or virtually to abrogate its Oath, it would separate itself from the State. Were this House virtually to annul its Oath, it would become a Convention, such as have existed in revolutionary times. I am afraid that some hon. Members, while considering the details of legislation with respect to these Constitutional Oaths, and the various proposals for relaxation of them, may have forgotten the relaxations that have been made, but all made with a view of preserving the existence of the Oath affecting itself, as representing the bond of union which connects this Estate of the Realm with the other two Estates. If you raise the question of abolishing these Oaths, or any of them, you will be plunged into Constitutional questions of the gravest and most intricate nature. As for an Oath being a religious matter in this nation of England and its Sister Nations, you have used Oaths for ages upon ages. The nation of England has used Oaths always as a religious con- 1701 firmation, required from those who profess to speak the truth, not only with respect to matters past and matters present, but with respect to matters future. I therefore lament that there should be any objection to the proposal of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), which re-affirms, in accordance with the antecedents of Parliament and of this House, a direct acknowledgment that these Parliamentary Oaths have always afforded proof that this House constitutes one of the Estates of the Realm, and that it is not a mere Convention.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH),
in reply, said, he would make two observations upon the point raised by the hon. and learned Member for Monaghan (Mr. Healy). The first was this—that throughout the whole course of this matter the House had never proceeded except by Sessional Order; it had dealt with the matter as it arose by an Order lasting the period of the Session, and he was anxious only to ask the House to affirm and adhere to that position. In the second place, although it was a point on which he could express no authoritative opinion, it occurred to him that it would not be possible for any such Resolution passed by this House of Commons to bind a future House of Commons.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 263; Noes 219: Majority 44.—(Div. List, No. 208.) Main Question again proposed.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, it was impossible for him, as one of the Representatives of Northampton, to recognize the right of that House to prevent a Member whom his constituency considered fully qualified from coming to the Table and taking the Oath. He should, therefore, challenge a division upon the Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman opposite.
I rise to say that the case has now arrived which I anticipated when I formerly addressed the House, and that I do not propose to join with anyone in questioning the sense of the House in a second division. It is a completely foregone conclusion, and I must admit that it is, through from, as I think, erroneous premises and antecedents, a legitimate and neces- 1702 sary conclusion, for which there are numerous precedents. I therefore do do not feel justified in taking any part in any further division on the subject, for the same result has been arrived at over and over again.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, that after hearing the views just expressed by the right hon. Gentleman—and as he presumed there would be a very small division—he would not put the House to the trouble of dividing.
§ MR. WILLIS
said, that, whatever course might be taken by the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), whether he continued to support his own view or not he (Mr. Willis) protested against the illegal action of the House—[Laughter, and cries of "Order!"]—in allowing the Chancellor of the Exchequer to interpose between Mr. Brad-laugh and his taking the Oath; and as he regarded that action as a violation of the invariable practice of the House, he should oppose the Motion and go into the Lobby against it, whether few hon. Members or many supported him.
Main Question put, and agreed to.
Resolved, That this House doth affirm the two Resolutions made upon the 11th of February 1884, directing that Mr. Bradlaugh be not permitted to go through the form of taking the Oath prescribed by the statute 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.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH
I am here, Sir, in obedience to the mandate of my constituents. I submit to your direction to withdraw; but I shall appeal from the judgment of the House to the judgment of the constituencies against the injustice done.
§ And the hon. MEMBER then withdrew.