§ MR. SPEAKER
, again rising, said: Before hon. Members come to the Table to take the Oaths it is my duty to inform the House that I have received a letter from the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) in respect to the proceeding as affecting the hon. Gentleman the junior Member for Northampton (Mr. Brad-laugh). I have thought it my duty, under the very exceptional circumstances of the moment, and inasmuch as by the nature of the case there can be no de- 22 bate, to put the House in possession of the main facts of this letter; and also of another notice or letter which I have received from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Raikes), signed by himself and by another hon. Member of this House, the hon. Member for the Honiton Division of the County of Devon (Sir John Kennaway). The letter of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) contains an historical retrospect of the case which I do not propose to road to the House. It is, as far as I know, a statement of mere facts, and it is not necessary for me to put the House in possession of these facts. The letter concludes by putting an important question, which it is my duty, I think, to read in the very words the right hon. Gentleman has used. It is as follows:—It will thus be seen that the House of Commons consistently, and notwithstanding new writs and fresh elections of Air. Bradlaugh, has refused to permit him to repeat words which in his case would he simply an act of profanation. The Court of Appeal has decided, by a judgment which the House of Commons could not but recognize, that Mr. Bradlaugh was incapable of taking an Oath. [Cries of "No!"] No one doubts his identity; and I am advised that, as a matter of law, a state of facts once established is presumed to exist until the contrary is proved. [Cries of "No!"] Until the House of Commons is fully constituted, any action by the House is difficult, if not impossible. I therefore respectfully submit for your consideration, in view of the facts to which I have deemed it my duty to direct your attention, that Mr. Bradlaugh should not be permitted to go through the form of taking the Oath without an opportunity being afforded to the House of expressing its opinion upon a proceeding which I believe, if fully constituted, it would decline to sanction.
§ I have the honour to remain,
§ Your obedient servant,
§ M. E. HICKS-BEACH."
§ The other notice to which I have referred as proceeding from the right hon. Member for Cambridge University and the hon. Member for the Honiton Division of the County of Devon, containing also an historical retrospect of the case, and differs very slightly indeed from the letter which I have just read, except in calling my attention to the fact of the appearance of a newspaper styled The National Reformer of January 10, 1886. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Raikes) and his Colleague conclude with a pro- 23 test, and ask my opinion upon a point of Order. I have said that I deemed it my duty, under exceptional and extraordinary circumstances, to place these letters before the House; and I think it may be for the convenience of the House that I should, before the House is constituted and before hon. Members come to the Table to take their Oaths, state ray view—a view arrived at after full consideration—of what ought to be my conduct in the course of these proceedings. It will be observed that the statements made by the Right honourable Gentlemen to whom I have referred allude to proceedings in a former Parliament, and that in no case cited does the Speaker take original and independent authority upon himself. It is always by the action of the House, in consequence of something that has occurred during that Parliament. We are assembled in a new Parliament. I know nothing of the Resolutions of the past. They have lapsed, they are void, they are of no effect in reference to this case. It is the right, the legal statutable obligation, of Members when returned to this House, to come to this Table, and take the Oath prescribed by Statute. I have no authority, I have no right, original or delegated, to interfere between an honourable Member and his taking of the Oath. I have been further asked whether, when the House is completed, and after a quorum has been constituted, it would be competent for a Motion to be made intervening between the honourable Member for Northampton and his taking of the Oath? I have come clearly, and without hesitation, to the conclusion that it would neither be my duty to prohibit the honourable Gentleman from coming nor to permit a Motion to be made standing between him and his taking of the Oath. The honourable Member takes that Oath under whatever risks may attach to him in a Court of Law. But it is not for me, I respectfully say it is not for the House, to enter into any inquisition as to what may be the opinions of a Member when he comes to the Table to take the Oath. I am bound, and the House is bound, by the forms of this House, and by the legal obligation and rights of Members. If a Member comes to this Table and offers to take the Oath, I know of no right whatever to intervene between him and the performance of a legal and statutable duty.24
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH)
I ask, by the indulgence of the House, to be permitted to make one observation—[Cries of "Order!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must remind the right hon. Gentleman that, if he has any objection to my decision, a debate cannot now be initiated. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman rises to a point of Order.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH)
I understand, Sir, your answer to the question which I have ventured to put to you to be that you will neither intervene yourself in the matter, nor will you permit the intervention of any other hon. Member of this House with a Motion. However much I, Sir, or any other Member of this House—[Cries of "Order!!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must remind the right hon. Gentleman of the distinction I wish to draw between calling my attention to a point of Order and making a speech. The right hon. Gentleman would not be in Order in making a speech, seeing that he has not yet, himself, taken the Oath.
§ The following is the Entry in Votes of the Letters referred to by the Speaker:—
§ January 12th 1886.
§ I beg respectfully to place before you the following statement with regard to Mr. Charles Bradlaugh, one of the Burgesses elected to serve in Parliament for the Borough of Northampton.
§ On the 3rd of May 1880, Mr. Bradlaugh, having then been elected as Member for the same Borough, claimed to be allowed to affirm instead of taking the Oath, by virtue of an Act which gives that power to witnesses who have no religious belief. The question was referred to a Committee of the House of Commons: who reported, that the power claimed by Mr. Bradlaugh does not exist in respect of the Parliamentary Oath. On the 21st May, Mr. Bradlaugh claimed to take and subscribe the Oath, and was in the act of doing so, when Sir Henry Drummond Wolff interposed with a Motion that Mr. Bradlaugh should not be allowed to take the Oath. To this Motion an Amendment was moved and carried that it be referred to a Select Committee to inquire into the facts and circumstances, and as to the right of the House to refuse to allow the Oath to be administered to 25 Mr. Bradlaugh. On the 16th of Juno the Committee reported as to the right and jurisdiction of the House to refuse to allow the form of the Oath prescribed to be taken by duly elected Members to be taken by them, that there is and must be an inherent power in the House to require that the Law by which the Proceedings of the House and its Members in reference to the taking of the Parliamentary Oath is regulated, be duly observed; that, by making the claim to affirm, Mr. Bradlaugh voluntarily brought to the notice of the House that on several occasions he had been permitted to affirm in a Court of Justice, under the Evidence Act Amendment Act, 1869–70; in order to enable him to do which, a Judge of the Court must have been satisfied that an Oath was not binding upon Mr. Bradlaugh'a conscience. The Committee further reported that, under the circumstances, the compliance by Mr. Bradlaugh would not be the taking of an Oath within the true meaning of the Statutes, 29 Vict. sect. 19, and 31 and 32 Vict. cap. 72, and that therefore the House can, and in the opinion of the Committee ought to, prevent Mr. Bradlaugh going through this form. On the 21st Juno it was moved by Mr. Labouchere that Mr. Bradlaugh be admitted to make an affirmation or declaration instead of the Oath. To this an Amendment was moved by Sir H. Giffard, which was carried, that Mr. Bradlaugh be not permitted to take the Oath or make the declaration. On the 31st March 1881, judgment was delivered by the Court of Appeal that Mr. Bradlaugh was a person who, by want of religious belief, was not entitled by the Parliamentary Oaths Act or the Promissory Oaths Act to make or subscribe an Affirmation. On the 26th April 1881, Mr. Bradlaugh again claimed to take and subscribe the Oath; and the House resolved that Mr. Bradlaugh be not permitted to go through the form of repeating the words of the Oath. On the 7th Feb. 1882, Mr. Bradlaugh came to the Table to take and subscribe the Oath: the House again resolved that he be not permitted. On the 21st Feb. 1882 Mr. Bradlaugh advanced to the Table and read from a paper the words of the Oath, and having kissed a copy of the New Testamant signed the paper. On the 22nd Feb. the House resolved that Mr. Bradlaugh having disobeyed the Orders of the House and having in contempt of the authority of the House irregularly and contumaciously pretended to take and subscribe the Oath, be expelled the House; and a new Writ was ordered to be issued for the Borough of Northampton. On the 6th of March the House reaffirmed the Resolution of the 7th February, and directed that Mr. Bradlaugh bo not per- 26 mitted to go through the form of taking the Oath. On the 4th May 1883, the House resolved that Mr. Bradlaugh be not permitted to go through the form of repeating the words of the Oath. On the 11th February 1S84, Mr. Bradlaugh advanced to the Table, proceeded to read from a paper the words of the Oath, and having kissed a book, signed the paper and left the same on the Table. The House resolved that Mr. Bradlaugh be not permitted to go through the form of taking the Oath. On the 21st February the same Resolution was reaffirmed. In the month of June 1884, the case Att.-Gl. v. Bradlaugh was tried at Bar, before Lord Coleridge C.J., Grove J., Huddleston B., and a Special Jury. The Jury find among other things that on the 11th February 1884, Mr. Bradlaugh had no belief in a Supreme Being, and was a person upon whoso conscience an Oath, as an Oath, had no binding force; and that the House of Commons had full cognizance and notice of these matters, in consequence of the avowal of Mr. Bradlaugh. In December 1884, an application for a new trial, upon the ground that the verdict was against the evidence was refused, both in the Queen's Bench Division and in the Court of Appeal. In Jan. 1885 an appeal was heard, and judgment was given for the Attorney-Genl. on the merits, on the ground that a Member of Parliament who does not believe in the existence of a Supreme Being, and upon whom an Oath, as an Oath, has no binding effect, is, owing to his want of religious belief, incapable by Law of making and subscribing the Oath of Allegiance appointed by the Parliamentary Oaths Act as amended by the Promissory Oaths Act.
§ It will thus be seen that the House of Commons consistently, and notwithstanding new writs and fresh elections of Mr. Bradlaugh, has refused to permit him to repeat words which in his case would be simply an act of profanation. The Court of Appeal has decided, by a judgment which the House of Commons could not but recognize, that Mr. Bradlaugh was incapable of taking an Oath. No one doubts his identity; and I am advised that, as a matter of law, a state of facts once established is presumed to exist until the contrary is proved. Until the House of Commons is fully constituted, any action by the House is difficult, if not impossible. I therefore respectfully submit for your consideration, in view of the facts to which I have deemed it my duty to direct your attention, that Mr. Bradlaugh should not be permitted to go through the form of taking the Oath without an opportunity being afforded to the House of expressing its opinion upon a 27 proceeding which I believe, if fully constituted, it would decline to sanction.
§ I have the honour to remain,
§ Your obedient servant,
§ M. E. HICKS-BEACH.
§ The Right Honble.
§ The Speaker of
§ The House of Commons.
§ To the Speaker Elect.
§ House of Commons,
§ Jan. 12, 1886.
§ We, the undersigned, being Members of the present House of Commons, direct your attention to the facts and circumstances following:—That Charles Bradlaugh, of 20, Circus Road, St. John's Wood, London, has been returned by the Borough of Northampton as one of the Members to represent the said Borough in the present Parliament.
§ That the said Charles Bradlaugh is the same person who was elected to serve in Parliament by the same constituency in the late Parliament.
§ That the said Charles Bradlaugh was then, and is now, avowedly an Atheist, and is thereby disqualified from taking the Oath of Allegiance, or making an Affirmation, in the form set forth in "The Parliamentary Oaths Act, 1866."
§ That, since the last General Election, and under date January 10th of this year, 1886, the said Charles Bradlaugh has caused to be printed and published in a Newspaper "printed and published by Charles Bradlaugh, of 20, Circus Road, London, N.W., and by Annie Besant, of 19, Avenue Road, London, N.W., at 69, Fleet Street, E.C., the following notice:—"The full legal responsibility for everything which appears in these columns rests on Mr. Bradlaugh and Mrs. Besant as Editors and Publishers of the paper. For the opinions expressed in all signed articles the writers are morally responsible. The editorial policy of the paper is Republican, Atheistic, and Malthusian, but all opinions are freely admitted, provided only that they be expressed reasonably and in proper language." This notice appeared in "The National Reformer," January 10th, 1886. A copy of the Newspaper containing the notice above written is herewith enclosed.
§ We now state, for your information, that the late House of Commons repeatedly refused to allow the said Charles Bradlaugh to sit and vote therein, in consequence of his incapacity to take the Parliamentary Oath of Allegiance, or make an Affirmation. The Journals of this 28 House show that the said Charles Bradlaugh was not allowed to sit and vote in the House on the following dates: June 22, 1880; April 9, 1881; April 26, 1881; May 10, 1881; August 3, 1881; February 7, 1882; February 22, 1882; March 6, 1882; June 22, 1882; May 4, 1883; February 11,1884; February 21,1884; July 6, 1885. In the year 1884 the Attorney General filed an information under the Crown Suits Acts to recover penalties from Charles Bradlaugh for having sat and voted in the House of Commons without first having made and subscribed the Oath under the Parliamentary Oaths Act. After a trial by a jury, judgment was given against the Defendant. On appeal, a Divisional Court gave judgment against the Defendant. Subsequently, on the 28th of January 1885, the Court of Appeal, consisting of the Master of the Rolls and Lords Justices Cotton and Lindley after argument decided that the Defendant, Charles Bradlaugh, was liable to pay the said penalties. In giving judgment, the Master of the Rolls said, "that the Law on this point had been clearly settled for years, and it had been decided that any person whose mind was in that state could not be a witness in any case or under any circumstances because he could not take an Oath. Whatever words, or whatever forms a man might use or go through, if his conscience was not bound by them he was incapable by the Law of England of taking an Oath. In his opinion, the question of the belief of the Defendant was an issue of fact which must be decided by the Jury in precisely the same way as they decided other issues of fact, and any evidence relevant to that issue was admissible.
§ "It was said that the House of Commons must have a knowledge of the state of mind of the person pretending to take the Oath at the time he took it; but, in his opinion, if the House of Commons had no knowledge whatever that the person pretending to take the Oath had no belief in the existence of a Supreme Being, or that his conscience was not bound by the Oath, if it should subsequently come to the knowledge of the Attorney General that the Member having gone through the form of taking the Oath did not regard himself as bound by it, it would be his duty to commence proceedings against him under this statute.
§ "He hoped it would be thoroughly understood from the Judgment of that Court, that it was impossible by an artifice, by any subterfuge, by any daring, or by any force, for any Member of the House of Commons to avoid or evade the penal consequences of this statute, and that any such Member who should take 29 his seat without taking the Oath within the moaning of the Act would he liable to the penalties imposed by the statute, even if the House of Commons itself were not only to refuse him leave to he sworn but were actually to pass a Resolution permitting him to he sworn. As long as the Defendant remained in his present state of mind, he would be incapable of taking the Oath within the meaning of the Act; and, if he took his seat without taking the Oath, he would be liable to the penalties imposed." Against this decision the Defendant has appealed, and that Appeal is now pending in the House of Lords.
§ In the event of Charles Bradlaugh presenting himself to take the Oath of Allegiance, or to make an Affirmation, as prescribed by the Parliamentary Oaths Act, 1866, we submit that he is not entitled to take the said Oath or to Affirm; that he is disqualified because of the facts and circumstances hereinbefore stated and which, as Members of the House of Commons, we now formally bring under your notice a9 Speaker thereof: and we protest against the said Oath being administered to the said Charles Bradlaugh, or his being allowed to make an Affirmation, pending judgment on his Appeal by the House of Lords, or until this House shall have had an opportunity of deliberating and resolving on the question raised herein.
§ HENRY CECIL RAIKES,
§ Member for Cambridge University.
§ JOHN H. KENNAWAY,
§ Member for the Honiton Division of the County of Devon.
§ Then several other Members took and subscribed the Oath; and several other Members made and subscribed the Affirmation required by Law.
§ House adjourned at half after Five o'clock till Two o'clock To-morrow.