HC Deb 19 June 1885 vol 298 cc1600-3

I think it is my duty to acquaint the House that I have received a letter from Mr. Bradlaugh, the Member for the borough of Northampton, which, I think, I ought at once to communicate to the House. It is as follows:—

"20, Circus Road.

"St. John's Wood, London, N. W.

"15 June, 1885.


"When I was for the fourth time re-elected to the present Parliament for Northampton in February 1884, I offered through your predecessor in the Chair an undertaking to the House to make no attempt to take my seat until judgment had been given in the proceedings taken by the Crown with reference to my self-administration of the Oath of Allegiance on the 11th February 1884. The House did not accept the undertaking which was formally communicated to it, but by Sessional Resolution excluded me from the precincts of the House. Prior to the re-assembling of the House for the Second Session of 1884, I wrote you, Sir, respectfully offering a similar undertaking. Tins Letter you did not communicate to the House; but the House did not renew its Resolution, and I have during the winter of 1881, and the adjourned Session of 18S5, repeatedly attended its sittings, remaining during its Divisions as an unsworn Member. In consequence of the change of Government, and of the blocking of the Second Reading of the Oaths Bill, brought in by Mr. Hopwood, I desire to be in a position to assert the rights of my Constituents by presenting myself at the Table to comply with the Law under my perfectly unimpeached Return; and I beg, therefore, most respectfully to notify you that I withdraw and cancel the Letter to yourself which has not been accepted by the House. As I do not wish to take any steps unfair to the House, I shall not present myself for the purpose of taking my Seat until the new Ministry has been formed, and the re-elections hare all taken place.

"I have the honour to be, Sir,

"Your most obedient Servant,


I ought here to state with regard to the reference made by Mr. Bradlaugh, in his letter to me, to a prior communication made at the commencement of the Autumn Session of last year, and which he says, and says truly, I did not communicate to the House, that that letter was simply an announcement from Mr. Bradlaugh that, as proceedings by information had been taken by the Attorney General on behalf of the Crown to test the legality of the course taken by himself on February 11, and as such proceedings were still pending in the High Court of Justice, and no judgment had yet been delivered, he (Mr. Bradlaugh) undertook, with the consent of his constituents, not to present himself at the Table for the purpose of taking his seat until the lapse of one week after judgment had been delivered in such suit. To the letter, which I have just read, the following letter in reply, by my direction, has been written: -—

"House of Commons,

"June 16th.


"I am directed by the Speaker to acknowledge the receipt of your Letter of the 15th of this month, and to say in reply that, as you note propose to take definite action, he will think it his duly to take the earliest opportunity of communicating your Letter to the House.

"I am, Sir,

"Your Obedient Servant,


I have thought it right, without delay, to communicate the letter I have received, and I respectfully solicit the direction of the House thereupon.


Mr. Speaker, having understood from you that it was your intention to communicate this letter from Mr. Bradlaugh to the House, I gave Notice to the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Gladstone) that I should propose to ask him, having regard to that letter and to the judgment of the Court of Appeal on the question of Mr. Bradlaugh's power to take the Oath, what course he recommends the House to pursue?


I think, Sir, that the House will have appreciated the judgment with which you have taken the first opportunity of communicating Mr. Bradlaugh's letter to the House, and likewise the full sufficiency of the reason which led you to conclude, upon the receipt of a prior communication from him, that٭there was no occasion for bringing it under the immediate notice of the House. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir Stafford Northcote) has put to me a question analogous to that which he has put to me on some former occasions, when I have stated, more than once, that, as I had not the good fortune to represent the sense of the majority of the House in relation to the admission of Mr. Bradlaugh—having, in fact, strongly dissented from the course taken by the House—I did not intend to take upon myself the office of adviser of the House in the matter. Cer- tainly, Sir, that answer would apply to the circumstances to-day, which are the same. But I own that, exercising my private judgment on the letter which we have just heard, I should go one step further, and say that, as far as I am able to form a judgment, no case appears yet to have arisen for submitting any Motion to the House, or taking any step in relation to the letter, because it refers to a contingency not yet completely realized; and until that contingency is completely realized, as I hope may shortly be the case, there is nothing for the House to take into view, and no action of Mr. Bradlaugh's positively impending in relation to the interruption of our proceedings. That, Sir, is the mere giving of an opinion to the House which may or may not be right; but it appears to me the course to take under the circumstances.

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