§ (4.10.) MR. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.)
in rising to move—That the Resolution of this House of the 22nd day of June, 1880—'That, having regard to the Reports and Proceedings of two Select Committees appointed by this House, Mr. Bradlaugh be not permitted to take the oath or make the affirmation mentioned in the Statute 29 Vic., c. 19, and the 31 and 32 Vic., c. 72,'— be expunged from the Journals of this House, as being subversive of the rights of the whole body of Electors of this Kingdomsaid: I am sure that in every part of the House there will be one feeling of regret and of sympathy with respect to the unfortunate illness of the hon. junior Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh), which disables him from moving the Resolution which stands in his name. In compliance with what I believe to be the wishes of the hon. Member on a subject that naturally lies near to his heart, I have taken upon myself to move that Resolution. In the few words which I propose to address to the House in explanation of the Motion, I trust that I may avoid a single word that would stir up bitter memories of past controversies, and I shall confine myself to stating briefly the facts on which the Motion is based. It will be in the recollection of those hon. Members who had seats in the House; between the years 1880 and 1885 that a long series of painful controversies took place in regard to the position of the hon. Member for Northampton, and that on June 22, 1880, a Resolution was arrived at by the House declaring that the hon. Member should not be permitted to take the oath or make the affirmation required by statute. There were two views presented to the House at that time of the rights and duty of the House of Commons with respect to Members taking the oath or making the affirmation. On one side it was contended that the rights and duty of the House were of a purely ministerial character; that its sole duty was to see that the forms prescribed by 1159 law were duly observed; that if any controversy were raised as to the legal effect of what was done in any particular case, that should properly be determined in the Courts of Law, where a legal remedy is provided if the oath is improperly taken; and that a long course of experience has shown that this House has seldom been happy when it has trespassed beyond the strict sphere of its legal duty. On the other hand, it was contended that the House had a right to interfere between a Member and his taking his seat. Whatever views may be entertained on that question, the fact remains that in 1886 and 1887, when the hon. Member for Northampton took the oath at the Table, the House abandoned the position it had formerly taken up and did not interfere with his taking the oath. And again, in 1888, mainly by the exertions of the hon. Member for Northampton himself, an Act was passed which for ever puts an end to the cause of the controversy which then existed. In these controversies there was not only a political, but a personal element. I remember the hon. Member for Northampton himself when he spoke at the Bar of the House referring to the language which had been showered upon him, and expressing himself thus:—"How unworthy I am that this controversy should have to be decided in my person." At that time the name of the hon. Member for Northampton was darkened by a great cloud of misconception. I believe it will be universally admitted that of those who from personal motives and considerations at that time were opposed to his admission to the House— sincerely and conscientiously opposed to it—there are now very few who by this time have not entirely changed their opinion. I think all will be agreed that the hon. Member for Northampton has displayed a most devoted attention to his public duties, unwearied industry, conscientiousness, and great ability, and I think I shall have the assent of Members in all parts of the House when I say that there is no Member who exhibits greater courtesy and fairness to his opponents than the hon. Member for Northampton. With regard to the form of the Motion, it has been framed upon the precedent in Wilkes's case. In that case the Motion that was 1160 adopted on May 3, 1782, was that a certain Resolution should be expunged from the Journals "as being subversive of the rights of the whole body of electors of this kingdom," so that the present Motion is framed strictly on precedent; but I believe I am expressing the views of the hon. Member for Northampton in saying that if there is any difficulty about accepting those words the hon. Member would be satisfied with a Motion rescinding the Resolution of 1880. I believe that I shall best consult the wishes of the House by now leaving in its hands the Motion which I beg to move.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Resolution of this House of the 22nd day of June 1880, 'That having regard to the Reports and Proceedings of two Select Committees appointed by this House, Mr. Bradlaugh be not permitted to take the Oath or make the Affirmation mentioned in the Statute 29 Vic. c. 19, and the 31 and 32 Vic. c. 72,' be expunged from the Journals of this House, as being subversive of the rights of the body of Electors of this Kingdom."—(Mr. Hunter.)
§ *(4.17.) THE SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir E. CLARKE, Plymouth)
The hon. Member has moved the Resolution which he has proposed to the House with much moderation, recognising that it is a serious thing which he wishes the House to do—namely, to erase as far as may be from its records an incident which is undoubtedly of a very remarkable and very important character. The hon. Member has not gone into that discussion of precedents which took place when this matter was last debated in this House, in the earlier part of 1889. He may be sure that there is no one in this House who does not feel sympathy and regret as to the causes which prevent Mr. Bradlaugh himself from being in the House to argue his own case. But the suggestion which the hon. Member has made to the House, and which was made about two years ago and was then rejected, is a Resolution of a serious character, and should be justified—if it is justified at all—by reference to some considerations of public expediency or to some precedents in our Parliamentary history. In the Debate which took place two years ago several precedents were stated to 1161 have occurred for the erasure of a Resolution of this kind, but to-night the hon. Member has mentioned only the case of John Wilkes, who in 1769 was declared by a Resolution of this House incapable of sitting in Parliament, but who afterwards sat in Parliament from 1774 to 1782, and who then, after a series of almost annual Motions, succeeded in obtaining the consent of the House to the erasure of that Resolution. That certainly was an interesting and notable incident, but the House must remember what the circumstances were under which the Resolution of rescision was passed; that it had been moved year after year from 1774 to 1782, and in 1782 it was carried in the House of Commons in a very small House, in spite of the protest of Mr. Fox. It was carried by a House so small in its numbers as to make the question of the rescision of that Resolution one of very little importance indeed—[Opposition cries of"Oh!] —of very little importance indeed, because it had only been rescinded by the House when it was weary of the importunity of successive years, and in a House very much smaller than that in which the Resolution was originally carried. I am sure it will be conceded that the authority of a decision of the House of Commons depends very much upon the number of Members present in the House at the time when the decision is taken. If there had been a distinct controversy raised, and a Resolution passed in a large House with many Members in attendance, and it was afterwards rescinded in a very much smaller House than that in which it was passed and without so distinct a challenge having been raised, its rescision would be, I venture to say, of comparatively small importance. We are now asked, in a small House, to deal with a Resolution which, on the 22nd of June, 1880, was passed after a long and important discussion by a House consisting of over 500 Members. Supposing that the Resolution was not such as the House would now accept, is it according to the traditions of the House, and useful, that that Resolution should be expunged from the proceedings of the House? I venture to say that it is not. I venture to say that there is no precedent for it of any 1162 value at all, except the case of Wilkes, and in that case not only was the Motion passed under the circumstances to which I have referred, but the Resolution which it was sought to rescind declared that Wilkes was incapable of sitting in Parliament. But at the time when the Resolution was moved Wilkes was sitting in Parliament, and had been doing so for some years. Therefore it may have appeared to Members that an anomaly existed which they ought to correct, and that they should not leave on the records of the House a Resolution excluding a Member who in fact had been sitting in the House for many years. But these things being remembered in the case of Wilkes, I would ask the House what useful purpose would be gained by the excising of the Resolution passed in 1880? Nothing can do away with the fact that in 1880, after serious challenge and a substantial Debate, the House of Commons came to the Resolution now complained of. No number of Resolutions passed by this House now or hereafter can remove that fact from the Parliamentary history of the country. Whether it was right or wrong, it was a resolution taken and an act done by the House, and I confess that it seems to me childish to strike out from the records of the House an incident which must remain celebrated in the history of this House. But, secondly, supposing that it is desired to contradict the assertions of the Resolution, a more direct way would have been to submit to the House a Resolution raising the real question which was raised in 1880. If that were raised, I should be very glad indeed to meet such a Resolution, and to maintain that the original Resolution was right, and that the act of the House of Commons was not only within its legal and moral competency, but an act which the House was bound, in protection of its own dignity, to do. I would ask the House to note what the Resolution is that was passed in June, 1880, and which it is now sought in some way or another to get rid of. It says that Mr. Bradlaugh should neither be permitted to affirm nor to take oath, and the ground upon which it was arrived at is this:—A Committee of this House reported that Mr. Bradlaugh was not a person, who, as the law then stood, could be allowed to affirm. That was the 1163 first proposition, and that proposition was correct in point of law, and was afterwards upheld by the Court of Appeal of this country, which decided that Mr. Bradlaugh was not at the time of the passing of that Resolution a person who in law was entitled to affirm. The other portion of the Resolution forbade him to take the oath, and it was contended that the House of Commons knew, from Mr. Bradlaugh's own statement, that he was a person who in law was disqualified from taking the oath. On that contention the House acted, and on that contention it passed the Resolution That contention was correct, because Mr. Bradlaugh came to the Table of the House and went through a form of taking the oath, and its validity was examined before a Court of law, and it was decided then that the House of Commons was right in its judgment of the 22nd of June, 1880, that Mr. Bradlaugh was not a person who could take the oath. Therefore both the propositions contained in the Resolution of the 22nd of June, 1880, were carefully examined and deliberately affirmed by the best judicial authority of the country. In these circumstances, what is the proposition that is now laid down? It must be admitted that at the time when the Resolution was passed, Mr. Bradlaugh could not take the oath according to law, and could not affirm according to law. What the House of Commons did on the 22nd of June, 1880, was to protect its own dignity and the regularity of its proceedings, by forbidding the performance before it of a ceremony which in law would neither be the valid taking of the oath nor the valid taking of an affirmation. Although it was contended at the time that he was entitled to take one of the two courses, that contention is no longer possible in the face of the decision given by the Courts of Law. In these circumstances, why is the House asked to rescind this Resolution? Is it because the Resolution is not in its substance and its foundation true? That cannot be, because its truth has been established in the Courts of Law. It must be on the ground that although circumstances then known to the House satisfied its judgment—and satisfied its judgment correctly—that neither process would be lawful, that though the House was right, it has 1164 no title to enforce the law in its own protection, even when fairly and rightly informed both of the law and the facts. I venture to say that that is not a proposition which can be substantially maintained before this House. I may remind the House that it was not upon extraneous information, upon rumour from outside, or upon evidence which the House was not entitled to regard, that it took this step in 1880. It was in a Debate started by the hon. Member for Northampton on behalf of his colleague, when he moved that Mr. Bradlaugh be allowed to make an affirmation. The only possible ground on which the hon. Member could claim to do so was that an oath was not binding on his conscience, and that very claim gave notice to the House that the hon. Member was not a person who could properly be allowed to go through the mere empty form and ceremony of taking the oath at the Table. The House of Commons had already been advised by its Committee that the hon. Member could not legally affirm, and how can it be suggested that the House of Commons was not entitled to protect its own proceedings? I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian proposes to support the Motion in Debate. If he does, I will remind him now of words used by him in Debate in 1880 in regard to the proposed erasure from the Journals of the House of the Resolution of 1769. The right hon. Member said—Mr. Wilkes renewed his Motion from year to year for seven more years, and at last in 1782 he carried it. Not only that, but as a mark of ignominy he induced the House of Commons to expunge the proceedings taken against him from the Journals of the House. He then strengthened and deepened that mark of ignominy by appending to the Motion that the proceedings of the House were subversive of the rights of the body of electors in this country.If the right hon. Gentleman is going to support this Resolution in Debate, he will be asking the House of Commons to adopt a Resolution which will not only reverse the decision of 1880, but, as a mark of ignominy, he will be inducing the House of Commons to expunge these proceedings from the Journals of the House. Why is this ignominy to be brought on the Parliament of 1880? The Resolution complained of was not a 1165 sudden expression of the partisan feeling of a Party majority of the House. The right hon. Gentleman at that time was Prime Minister and Leader of the House. He had with him a very large majority in the House, and was at the head of one of the strongest Ministries of modern times, and yet, with all the influence that could be brought to bear upon his followers, and with the inspiration of one of the most remarkable speeches the right hon. Gentleman ever delivered in this House, he was defeated by a majority of 275 to 230, this being not at all an expression of Party antagonism, but the expression of a very much stronger and deeper feeling even in parts of the House where the right hon. Gentleman's authority and influence were well recognised—a feeling which induced the majority to refuse to allow proceedings to take place at the Table which they believed would be simply a mockery of legal forms. On that ground I submit to the House that there is no reason for passing the Resolution put forward. There is no doubt a difference of opinion on the point, but I believe absolutely and clearly that the House was within its rights in the proceedings it took; and although by the Act of 1888 the House has removed the difficulty and rendered intelligible the position of Members who desire to come to the House without feeling able to go through the form of taking the oath, yet I trust that if any similar circumstances should happen in the House, the House will have courage and resolution enough to protect itself by passing a similar Resolution. Since 1880 there has no doubt arisen a feeling of sympathy for the hon. Member for Northampton, and the hon. Member has more than once pleaded in the House as if this were a personal matter to him. That no doubt to some extent has moved and swayed the judgment of some hon. Members, but surely that is not a practical way of looking at the matter. The question whether or not this Resolution shall stand does not in the least concern the status in the House of the hon. Member. The Resolution was carried in 1880, but he has been sitting among us since 1885, and if he should come to take his seat in another Parliament the Act of 1888 has removed every difficulty from his way. There 1166 can be, then, no personal object in the matter, no such reason as was shown in the Wilkes case. Thus the erasure of the Resolution will answer no purpose, and while I contend that that Resolution was rightly come to, was justified by the facts and by the opinion of the House of Commons at that time, and was distinctly and unequivocally endorsed and upheld by the Courts of Law, I contend that it having been come to by the House of Commons, and also entered upon the Journals of the House, as a record of an interesting and important incident in Parliamentary history, it will answer no useful purpose, nor will it be in furtherance of any principle, or in relief of any individual from disqualification now, to remove it from the Journals of the House.
§ (4.40.) MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Mid Lothian)
I am happy to think that in this Debate the speeches have been brief and the tone temperate. I shall endeavour to follow the example which has been so well set by my hon. Friend and the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, and make no long demand upon the time of the House. In point of fact, I think that while length of speaking may sometimes be warrantable in the view of zealous advocates, for the purpose of covering a case which is felt to be weak, we who support the Motion of my hon. Friend have such confidence in the strength and in the simplicity of our case that it would be quite unwarrantable if we were to lead the House into lengthened disquisition. I cannot help saying, after having heard the speech of the Solicitor General—of whose acuteness we are all perfectly well aware—I cannot help intimating a suspicion that the Solicitor General himself has spoken with a feeling of some discomfort, mistrust, and misgiving, as to the nature of the arguments he was using, which I admit he may have been so far justified in using, that there were no better ones that could have been brought forward. But the hon. and learned Gentleman must not suppose that this is a gratuitous flourish or endeavour to inflict pain or slight or disparagement upon anyone by passing a Motion which he began by saying was totally unnecessary. I will endeavour to give the hon. and learned Gentleman the reasons. The proceedings of this House, speaking generally, are 1167 precedents for the future conduct of the House. Whatever proceeding stands uncorrected is a precedent pro tanto, and is presumptively entitled to some degree of weight and authority, or at any rate we are entitled to suppose, if it remains, and remains unattacked, that it does not contain within it the elements of a vicious principle. We believe that the proceeding in question is one that cannot be defended, and that it was fraught with one of the most mischievous and dangerous of all principles—namely, excess of jurisdiction. We believe that that constitutes the strongest reason for removing it. I say, Sir, that excess of jurisdiction is a matter which is usually subject to appeal. Even if it is not subject to appeal, it is limited to a particular case. It is sure to be noted, and it is most unlikely to recur. But in an assembly possessed of the almost immeasurable powers that belong to this House, and in an assembly with regard to which appeal against its proceedings is a thing totally unknown—for no power on earth can interfere with them so far as regards its control over its own Members—excess of jurisdiction is the greatest fault the House can possibly commit, however honest or conscientious it may be; and to leave on our records, with a presumptive authority, a case of manifest excess of jurisdiction is to leave upon our records the seeds of future mischief to be appealed to and turned to evil account in evil times. I think that is a pretty strong reason for our proceeding in this case. The hon. and learned Gentleman relies a good deal upon the Judgments of the Courts of Law. Sir, the Judgments of the Courts of Law do not touch the point. They do not notice the excess of jurisdiction on the part of the House. If the question had been raised before the Courts of Law whether the House had acted within its right, and the Courts of Law had then affirmed that the House had acted within its right, then I could understand the appeal of the hon. and learned Gentleman. But no such question could be raised before the Courts of Law. I might be considered guilty of a criminal offence—it is unlikely, but I can conceive of such a case—I or any Member of this House might be considered guilty of some criminal offence, and that criminal 1168 offence might be practically within the knowledge of those who hear me. That would not justify the House in passing; judgment and condemnation upon me. It is one of the highest duties of this. House to limit its own functions and jurisdiction, and I cannot therefore agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman in considering this Motion as being without any substantial meaning and purpose, for the object which I have endeavoured imperfectly to describe is one of high and serious order. The hon. and learned Gentleman says this is only a small House, and that only a few Members are present compared with the numbers who passed these Resolutions. But is that a just criterion? This House may now be smaller than it otherwise would be, on account of the reluctance of some hon. Members to take that part in this discussion which their Party allegiance might seem to entail on them in regard to the Motion of my hon. Friend. That may account for the partial reduction in the attendance this evening, and for the comparative smallness of the number of Members present; but the true answer is that the smallness of the House is not the test. I remember a good case in point. For three months, in 1851 we were engaged in a desperate battle over the Ecclesiastical Tithes Bill and it was discussed in large Houses of 300, 400, and 500 Members. I should like to know how many Members were in the House when that measure was repealed. It was not a case so grave as this, for it was a matter of policy, while this is a case of jurisdiction. But it was a case in which everyone felt that a great and grievous error had been made, yet I should not be surprised to find that the Act was repealed in a House of less-than 100 Members. The hon. and learned Member says that the rescinding of the Resolution in the case of Wilkes was not entitled to much authority, because it was carried in a small House. I presume there was a small House, because there was a general concurrence in what was being done. If it was a small House owing to surprise that would be a different matter; but there could be no surprise in the case, for, as the hon. and learned Gentleman has stated, the Motion had been made year by year and Session after Session, and its Sessional revival was a notice to all 1169 who cared to be present at the discussion. The hon. and learned Gentleman went on to admit, however, that in the case of Wilkes there was some reason for a proceeding of that kind, because it was felt to be a Parliamentary anomaly that there should be sitting in the House of Commons in his corporeal form a gentleman with regard to whom there was, on the Journals of the House, a. Resolution declaring him incapable of so sitting. But does not the hon. and learned Gentleman see that that exactly applies to the present case? Yes, precisely. If that was a matter of consideration in the case of Wilkes it must also be so in the present case. I will only mention another point in regard to which I feel the House will do well to correct the error into which it fell on a former occasion. I myself was one of the minority, but I was a Member of the House, and am concerned in the honour of that past House and of every House in which I have had the privilege of having sat, and I am therefore anxious that we should clear ourselves as well as the rest of the House from the discredit of an act which involved serious error. What I feel—what is felt on this side of the House, and what I think must on reflection be felt on the other side of the House also—is this: The strength of the case against Mr. Bradlaugh depended upon the words drawn by us from his own mouth. We sent him before a Committee. Before that Committee Mr. Bradlaugh, with an ingenuousness which does him honour, but with a simplicity which a practised man of the world would have qualified on such an occasion, made statements which caused us to become seised of the state of his mind in regard to questions of religious belief, and it was by our own act and by the pressure put by us on him that we drew from him statements on which our subsequent proceedings were based. I do not think that was a generous proceeding. However viewed then, viewed calmly now in the light of the golden distance, we must feel that that was a proceeding open to correction. Now, with regard to the form of this Motion, the hon. and learned Gentleman has quoted from a speech of mine in reference to the similar Motion in Wilkes's case. I pointed out that Mr. Wilkes's Motion not only relieved him from all difficulty and 1170 cleared up finally and completely the case in which he was concerned, but it carried a sting in it and recorded a distinct reproach against the House of Commons by describing the proceedings which it was supposed to rescind, "as being subversive of the rights of the whole body of electors of this kingdom." Those words are repeated in the Resolution of my hon. Friend now before the House. I confess I should be glad if we could arrive at some pacific solution of this question, and I venture to suggest we should do no harm by consenting to the omission of these words. Our object is to remove these records from the Journals of the House, which, so long as they remain there, give them some kind of title of authority as precedents. Our object is a wholly practical one. I think if we attain this object the hon. Member for Northampton may feel we do him no injustice in consenting to abandon the attempt to place on the Journals of the House words which convey a reproach on a former House which is totally unnecessary. If we are able to dispense with the closing words of my hon. Friend's Resolution, which I understand he is willing to do, I would commend this Motion to the House as one that is called for by the circumstances of the case, and one which may save its successors from the danger of committing the most dangerous error— the error, namely, of exceeding the limits of its own jurisdiction.
§ *(4.57.) SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE (Exeter)
As the House is aware, I may claim some hereditary interest in this matter, and I should like therefore to say one or two words, such as I believe Lord Iddesleigh would have used had he been with us. As a private Conservative Member I should like to remark that all who heard the speaker, the introducer of the Motion, must be prepared to acknowledge the admirable tone and temper with which the question has been brought forward. All on this side of the House will be perfectly prepared also to recognise fully the good service which the junior Member for Northampton has rendered in the House, and to unite in expressing deep regret at his serious illness. Having said this I may venture to suggest to the First Lord of the Treasury that the compromise which the right hon. Gentleman 1171 the Member for Mid Lothian has recommended be accepted at once and with unanimity. By the adoption of this course the wish of the hon. Member for Northampton, which has been referred to, to the effect that no pain might be given to Members on this side of the House; will be gratified. As the Motion stands at present it would be impossible for us on this side of the House to accept it, for we cannot admit that the action of the former Parliament was illegal. But as the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian has expressed his opinion that the insertion of the words to which exception is taken is not obligatory, so far as I am concerned, I shall be glad if the right hon. Gentleman the leader of the House can see his way to adopt the amended Resolution.
§ (5.0.) MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
I do not wish to prolong the Debate. I think for many reasons it would be undesirable to do so. Speaking in a sense as the personal representative of Mr. Bradlaugh, I may say that he will consent willingly to these words being withdrawn. If the Resolution be passed without them, my hon. Friend will regard the matter as entirely settled; and when my hon. Friend returns amongst us, as we all hope he will soon, he will in no sort of way raise the question again.
§ *(5.1.) THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH, Strand, Westminster)
I feel that after the admirable appeal of my hon. Friend from behind me, and after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, it is only right that I should intervene now and state the course which the Government propose to take. I must express for myself, and, I am sure, for all my hon. Friends on this side of the House, the great regret we feel at the illness of the hon. Member for Northampton. As the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen has remarked, the Member for Northampton is undoubtedly a warm partisan. He takes a strong view on all points on which he thinks it right to give expression to his views in this House; but he has been undoubtedly a valuable addition to this House, not only from the freedom and independence with which he has expressed his views, but from the manner in which he has 1172 conducted himself in this House. We lave now to consider his Motion in his absence. He would, no doubt, have preferred to make a statement in the House on the subject himself, ably and temperately as it has been done by the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen. There are a few observations which I wish to make. While acknowledging the moderate tone and temperate spirit which have characterised the debate on this question, I wish to take exception, so far as the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian is concerned, to the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman in which he urged us to expunge the Resolution of 1880 from the Journals of the House, on the ground that all the proceedings of the House are precedents, and are binding on the House in future. Undoubtedly the proceedings of the House are valuable precedents for the guidance of the House in its business. They are precedents, and; ought to be precedents, unless the law is altered in respect to that which was entered on the Journals. The law has been altered in the case of the oath. It was altered by the Act of 1888, and the proceedings of the House in 1880 can therefore form no precedent whatever. Therefore I should contend—and I hope I am not introducing contentious matter into this Debate—that the House in 1880 did not exceed its jurisdiction. It has been shown distinctly, and conclusively, that the House acted according to the best interpretation that it had of the law of the land, and of Parliament at that time. The evidence on which that action was grounded was the statement of the Member for Northampton himself, as to his own views made before the Committee. The House acted upon that information, which shows conclusively that in so acting it was not acting without knowledge, and it so acted to give effect to what was the law of the land at the time. If the hon. Member had refused to answer the questions put to him, he would no doubt have been within his right in doing so, but in giving his answers he acted in a consistent, straightforward and manly manner. I am quite sure the hon. Member for Northampton would be the last person in the world to complain of the consequences of his own acts, or that, his words formed the ground upon which action was based. I have considered 1173 very carefully the suggestion which has been made by the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, and supported by my hon. Friend behind (Sir S. North-cote).We remain of the opinion expressed in the Resolution of 1880. We believe that the House at that time did its duty—the majority of the House, which consisted not only of Conservatives, but a large contingent of Liberals. But, Sir, the circumstances are entirely changed. There is no longer any necessity for maintaining on the Journals of the House this Resolution, and in all the circumstances in which we find ourselves, and bearing in mind the fact that Mr. Bradlaugh has been a useful Member of this House during the last six or seven years, I, for one, shall not resist the Motion,' which the hon. and learned Gentleman has made, upon the understanding that the last words impugning the authority and control of the House are struck out. I could not under any circumstances, consent to say that the House in 1880 exceeded its duty—that it did anything contrary to the law of Parliament, or anything in derogation of the rights and privileges of the people. But if it is merely the desire that the Resolution of 1880 should be erased from the records, I shall offer no opposition.
§ (5.8.) MR. HUNTER
I believe I shall be acting in accordance with the wish of the hon. Member for Northampton, and as he would act if he were here, in accepting the suggestion which my right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone) has made, but I think it right to point out to the House that these concluding words were inserted in the Resolution, I imagine, rather from a strict fidelity to the precedent my hon. Friend (Mr. Brad-laugh) was copying, than with the intention of making any suggestion derogatory to the House. Therefore I will move the Resolution, omitting the words "as being subversive of the rights of the whole body of electors of this kingdom."
§ *(5.9.) MR. NORRIS (Tower Hamlets, Limehouse)
In the painful circumstances, I am most unwilling to prolong the Debate; but I think that no conclusive argument or justification has been brought forward for expunging the Resolution from the Journals of the House. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian stated more 1174 than once that he thought the House in 1880 committed an excess of its jurisdiction, but I may remind hon. Members that at that period the right hon. Gentleman was himself responsible for the proceedings in this House; he was then omnipotent, with a large majority at his back. I can only endorse the words of the Solicitor General, and it has been plainly proved that no useful purpose can be served by removing the Resolution from the Records. I will not put the House to the trouble of a Division; but I wish, on the part of myself and many Friends around me, to point out to our Front Bench that we are not entirely unanimous, and to make a personal protest.
§ (5.10.) MR. DE LISLE (Leicestershire, Mid)
I beg, consistently with the action I have taken on former occasions, to enter my personal protest against the course which has been adopted in making the compromise. It may be a matter of small consequence whether the Resolution is expunged or not from some points of view, but I think that if such a step is taken it will tend to lower the status and dignity of the House of Commons. I have expressed the opinion before, that a national assembly which legalises atheism and whitewashes treason cannot long withstand the waves of anarchy which threaten to overwhelm all civilised countries. I may be wrong in my view, but I avail myself of my privilege and make my protest. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian may now contend that the Government recognise the force of his arguments, and that is a position which he is clearly entitled to take up. The Government have consented to expunge this Motion from the Journals of the House. I foresee the day, not long hence, when an effort will be made, and successfully made, to expunge the Report of the Parnell Commission as being an excess of jurisdiction. The Leader of the House at that time will say to the mover of the Resolution, "I deny your arguments, but you shall have your way." If we cast our eyes back to the History of the English Parliament, I, as a royalist, maintain that this House was guilty of exceeding its jurisdiction when it condemned King Charles I., but I hare 1175 never heard that at the Restoration it was proposed to expunge the record of that event. I can only express my deep regret at the illness of Mr. Bradlaugh. I never opposed his action from any personal or private motives. It always appeared to me to be simply a matter of principle, and if, on former occasions, I opposed the abolition of the oath, I did so in the belief that the abolition of the oath entailed the abolition of the decalogue. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen may laugh, but I maintain in strict logic if the decalogue has no higher sanction than the dictum of Moses, then it has no binding force upon us, but recent events prove to us that the decalogue is as sacred to those who sit opposite as it is to those who sit around me. I can only express my deep regret that Her Majesty's Government have retired from the position which I thought they would always maintain when I first sought the honour of representing a constituency of my native county as a Member of the Tory Party.
§ *(5.15.) SIR W. BARTTELOT (Sussex, North West)
I regret extremely that we are not unanimous on this question. I had hoped that we should not have a dissentient voice from the offer of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, which has been accepted by the leader of the House. The Tory Party feel that they were right in the course they took in 1880; but things have altered since then. The Act of 1888 has made a great difference. The conduct and the character of Mr. Bradlaugh since he has been in the House have been such that, whatever our political opinions may be, we cannot help admiring the straightforwardness of that hon. Member in the discharge of his duties as a Member. A generous feeling has prevailed towards Mr. Bradlaugh, and I hope it will continue to prevail when the House learns the circumstances in which that hon. Member is now placed. God grant that the junior Member for Northampton may recover; but whatever happens, hon. Members will feel that, by accepting this Motion, they have done a generous act to a man who has endeavoured to do his duty.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.1176
Motion made, and Question,
That the Resolution of this House of the 22nd day of June, 1880—'That, having regard for the Reports and proceedings of two Select Committees, appointed by this House, Mr. Bradlaugh be not permitted to take the Oath or make the Affirmation mentioned in the statute 29 Vic., c. 19, and the 31 and 32 Vic., c. 72,'—be expunged from the Journals of this House,
—put, and agreed to.