§ MR. LABOUCHERE
, in rising to move—That Mr. Bradlaugh, Member for the borough of Northampton, be admitted to make an Affirmation or Declaration, instead of the Oath required by Law,said: It will be in the recollection of the House that shortly after you, Sir, first took your seat in that Chair, at the commencement of the Session, Mr. Bradlaugh, having been duly elected a Member for the borough of Northampton, came forward to the Table and asked to be allowed to affirm his allegiance instead of taking the Oath of Allegiance. You, Sir, then came to the conclusion that you were not prepared to decide this important question, and you, therefore, referred it to the House. The House referred it to a Committee, and that Committee reported that Mr. Bradlaugh could not make an Affirmation. That Report was laid on the Table, but no action was taken upon it. It was not discussed, and the House neither accepted nor rejected it. Upon this, Mr. Bradlaugh, being anxious to know whether the alternative of taking the Oath was open to him, again came to the Table. On that occasion the hon. Gentleman the Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Drummond Wolff) rose, and, as a question of Privilege, protested against Mr. Bradlaugh being allowed to take the Oath. Again, after considerable discussion, the matter was referred to a Committee. That Committee decided that Mr. Bradlaugh could not take the Oath of Allegiance; but it appended to this a recommendation advising the House that it would be desirable to allow him to affirm. Mr. Bradlaugh, therefore, is in this position. Should the House act upon the finding of the first Committee and not allow him to affirm, and act upon the finding of the second Committee so far as not to allow him to 444 take the Oath, he would be unable to take his seat. Thus, the House will be brought into conflict with a constituency of some importance. ["No!"] I really do not understand why an hon. Member opposite should cry "No!" It surely is enough to attack one of the Members of the constituency without attacking the constituency itself. I repeat that the constituency is of some importance, and I will go further, and say of great importance; and this most important constituency would be partially disfranchised, and would have only one Representative instead of two accorded to it by the Constitution in this House. Now, I think it is an open question whether the second Committee was right in coming to the conclusion that Mr. Bradlaugh ought not to be allowed to take the Oath. I say this, not upon my own opinion, but because there are many constitutional authorities who hold that the House has absolutely no right to interfere with a Member when he comes up to take the Oath of Allegiance. I believe there is only one precedent of a like character, and that precedent is from the time of Queen Elizabeth. In the reign of Queen Elizabeth barristers who practised were not allowed to sit for counties. Lord Chancellor Bacon, then Attorney General, was returned for a county, and came to take the Oath which Gentlemen had to take before taking their seats. This was objected to on the ground that he was a practising barrister, and on that occasion the House of Commons came to this decision—"Their oath their own consciences, not we, to examine." I think that is a precedent which goes to allow any Gentleman to take the Oath, and acts as an impediment to the House inquiring into the religious or other motives or feelings which actuate him in taking that Oath. But I do not wish to contest this question, because I am perfectly aware that there is a strong feeling in this House that it would be in a certain measure indecorous to allow a Gentleman who had stated that the most sacred words of the Oath are an unmeaning form to come to the Table and to repeat them. I, to a great extent, agree with hon. Gentlemen in this view. I think it would be infinitely preferable that Mr. Bradlaugh should be allowed to affirm; and it is because I am of that opinion that I ask the House 445 to assent to the Motion that stands in my name. Now, a good deal of extraneous matter has been introduced into the discussions respecting this question. Speeches very valuable from a literary point of view have been addressed to the House; but, unfortunately, they were somewhat beyond the issue. The issue is a strictly legal issue. The question really that is submitted to the House is this—Has Mr. Bradlaugh a legal right to affirm instead of taking the Oath; and if ho has this right, is it not just and expedient that he should be allowed to do so? The law lies in a nutshell. I am not myself a lawyer, and wore it not that the legal portion of this question is exceedingly clear, I should hardly venture to seek to explain it to the House. In 1866, the only persons who were allowed to affirm in Courts of Justice were Chiakers, Separatists, Moravians, and others who had a religious objection to taking an oath. In that year the Parliamentary Oaths Bill was passed, and it is upon the 4th section of that Act that Mr. Bradlaugh claims his right to make Affirmation. It is—Every person of the persuasion of the people called Quakers, and every other person for the time being by law permitted to make a solemn Affirmation or Declaration instead of taking an Oath, may, instead of taking and subscribing the Oath hereby appointed, make and subscribe a solemn Affirmation.It is a well-known principle of law that the restrictive words must not by implication, or by interpretation, be introduced into enabling Acts. These enabling words must be understood in their fullest sense, and I would ask hon. Gentlemen to remember that this Parliamentary Oaths Act is an enabling Act. Bearing this in view, I ask them to look at these words. It would be difficult to suppose that the words "every other person" mean alone those who are specifically stated in the Act; but this difficulty becomes almost an impossibility when, after "every other person," the words "for the time being bylaw permitted to make a solemn affirmation" are added. I am perfectly aware that lawyers are very fond of surplusage; but this is not a question of surplusage. If it be asserted that only those who are mentioned in the Act may affirm, it is a question of sheer, unmitigated nonsense. The words can only be understood by anybody who reads them in a 446 plain and practical sense to mean that Mr. Bradlaugh, or, indeed, any other Member, may affirm, who is for the time being permitted to affirm, instead of taking the oath, in a Court of Justice. There is another point in connection with the language of this section to which I wish to call the attention of the House. Hon. Gentlemen will see that the words are, "Instead of taking an oath may instead of taking and subscribing the oath hereby appointed." It is a remarkable fact that in this section, where the intention of the Legislature to allude to the Parliamentary Oath is certain, the words "an oath" are used; and in every other section of the Act where the intention is also equally certain, either "the oath" or "the oath aforesaid" is used. It is only in this particular phrase, where presumably all oaths are alluded to, that the words "an oath" are substituted for "the oath," and "the oath aforesaid." In 1869 the Evidence Further Amendment Act was passed; and the 4th section of that Act is—If any person called to give evidence in any Court of Justice, whether in a civil or a criminal proceeding, shall object to take on oath, or shall be objected to as incompetent to take an oath, such person shall, if the presiding judge is satisfied that the taking of an oath would have no binding effect upon his conscience, make the following promise and declaration.There is no question that Mr. Bradlaugh has been allowed in Courts of Justice to affirm instead of taking an oath. He has not only been allowed to do this as a witness, but he has been allowed by no less an authority that Mr. Baron Bram-well to affirm instead of taking an oath before taking his place in the jury-box as foreman of a jury. That, I think, is important, because a grave distinction is raised by hon. Gentlemen between promissory and Parliamentary Oaths. What are the objections which can be raised against the proposals which I have made? The first is what I may call the distinction argument. Hon. Gentlemen say there is a distinction between Parliamentary Oaths and witness oaths. We who are in favour of Mr. Bradlaugh affirming do not deny that there is this distinction. It is the ground on which we base our belief that Mr. Bradlaugh is entitled to affirm. What we say is, that it is precisely because a distinction was recognized and alluded to in the 447 Parliamentary Oaths Bill that Mr. Brad-laugh has a right to affirm. The other objection urged is, that the section of the Evidence Further Amendment Act states that a presiding Judge must be satisfied. But you, Sir, are the presiding judge. ["No!"] An hon. Gentleman says "No!" I shall undertake to show that you are. In 1870, the Evidence Further Amendment Act was passed. In this Act I find the following clause:—The words 'Court of Justice' and 'presiding judge' in Section 4 of the Evidence Further Amendment Act, 1869, shall be deemed to include any person or persons having by law authority to administer an oath for the taking of evidence.In the next year the Parliamentary Evidence Act was passed. In that there is this section—An Oath or Affirmation under this Act may be administered by the Speaker of the House of Commons.Therefore, it is very clear that you, Sir, may administer an oath; therefore, you are the presiding judge. ["No!"] Well, I consider it is pretty clear. Hon. Gentlemen say "No!" and, perhaps, it will gratify hon. Gentlemen to know that it is not absolutely necessary for my contention that you should be regarded as the presiding judge. I merely thought it right to state my opinion in reference to an anticipated objection. If Mr. Bradlaugh went before a Court of Law he would have to satisfy the presiding judge of the Court of Law that an oath is not binding on his conscience, before he was allowed to affirm; but any hon. Gentleman has only to read the Act to see that, assuming he may affirm, he has not to satisfy you that the Oath is not binding on his conscience. All that he has to do is to satisfy you that he has satisfied a presiding Judge somewhere else. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen laugh. I do not know whether law is laughable to them or not; but that is the law, and I should like to see any hon. Gentleman of great legal experience get up and deny it. At the commencement of each Session a book is forwarded to all Gentlemen in this House called the "Rules, Orders, Forms, and Proceedings of the House." It is not absolutely official; but it emanates from so high an authority—the Clerk of the House—that it is almost official. I find in No. 22, it is stated that— 448Members being Quakers, Separatists, Moravians, and others, may make and subscribe an Affirmation instead of an Oath,according to law. Who are these others? I know that there is a certain sect who once were Quakers, and that they might be meant; but does not the word "Quaker" cover them, and, whether it does or not, does not the word "others" cover everybody else? I know there are some Gentlemen who think they can see through a stone wall. These Gentlemen will not take the plain simple meaning of a sentence, but they always imagine there is something more in a thing than meets the eye. Lawyers, from contending that black is white or white is black in Courts of Justice, are much given to this habit of mind; but I appeal to any hon. Gentleman not afflicted with this mania to read the Acts I have quoted, and, unless he is prepared to abjure Lindley Murray and every other text-writer of the English language, to tell me whether the plain grammatical construction of the language of the 4th section does not allow Mr. Bradlaugh to affirm in this House? The Parliamentary Oaths Act was brought in by the late Sir George Grey. He was not a tyro. No Gentleman knew better the Forms of the House. No Gentleman understood better the English language; and it is impossible to suppose he would have deliberately inserted words which, unless they bear the interpretation I have put upon them, are absolute nonsense. I will now go to the question of the two Committees. The first, it will be admitted by hon. Gentlemen opposite, was somewhat hastily formed. They themselves protested against the haste with which it was appointed. It was appointed in such haste that the hon. and gallant Member for county Galway (Major Nolan), being in Ireland when he received the intimation that he was upon it, found that, though he made all speed to return to England, the decision had already been arrived at before he reached town. This imperfectly-formed Committee were divided in opinion as to whether Mr. Bradlaugh might affirm or might not affirm, and the decision was come to by the vote of the Chairman; and it will not be inconsistent with the general respect in which the right hon. Gentleman is held to say that a decision come to by the preponderance of his one vote is not quite the same as one 449 arrived at by a majority of the House or a majority of the Committee. The Attorney General and the Solicitor General voted in the minority. If we were unhappily engaged in some legal conflict with a foreign nation we should appeal to the advice of our Attorney General and Solicitor General. Is it actually suggested that we should engage in a conflict with a constituency when our Attorney General and Solicitor General tell us we are in the wrong and the constituency in the right? If even the second Committee had not recommended that Mr. Bradlaugh he allowed to affirm, I should have challenged the decision of the first Committee. The reason why I did not do so at first was that Mr. Bradlaugh presented himself at the Table and wished to know whether he might adopt an alternative course. I do not ask the House to adopt the recommendation of the second Committee because it is their recommendation; for I fully admit it was not entirely within the scope of the reference to the Committee. But I ask the House to consider that very wise and learned Gentlemen, by a considerable majority, came to the conclusion that this was the best way out of the difficulty. As the Committee has pointed out, if you allow Mr. Bradlaugh to come to the Table and affirm, your action is in no way final. All you do is to say that there is such doubt on the question that you will not step in and prevent his affirming. The right of his doing so can be raised by any hon. Member in a Court of Justice. It would be well to remove this question from the somewhat emotional atmosphere of this House into the calm and temperate region of a Court of Law. It has been asserted that the Judges would be influenced by the decision of the House on this question. It is impossible to suppose such a thing. In the interpretation of the Statutes for themselves the Judges are not likely to be more influenced by the decision of this House than by that of any other corporate body. Comparisons are sometimes invidious, and, therefore, I must not make them; but I would point out to the House the very eminent names in the list of the hon. Gentlemen who have advised the House to let the hon. Member for Northampton come to the Table and affirm. We have the Attorney General, the Solicitor General, Serjeant Simon, 450 Mr. Watkin Williams, Mr. Trevelyan, Mr. Bright, Mr. Childers, and Major Nolan, who, had he been here, would probably have turned the vote of the Committee. Then there is Mr. Hopwood, who did vote on the first occasion that Mr. Bradlaugh could not be allowed to affirm, but who, on second thoughts, had come to the conclusion that he should. ["No!"] Well, that although he is not entitled to affirm, yet he ought to be allowed to affirm by the House. As practical men we ought to look at the consequences of not allowing Mr. Bradlaugh to affirm. I do not myself precisely know what he is to do. But I will suppose that, not being allowed to affirm, he goes to that Table, and asks to be allowed to take the Oath. He is ordered to retire. If he does not retire, I presume he would be taken into custody. He would, I presume, be put in confinement. We will assume that he would be at some time let out. He would then come again to the Table. I think it very possible the House would get tired of this, and would then say—"We can declare the election void." Mr. Bradlaugh would go down to Northampton. He would be re-elected. ["No!"] Hon. Gentlemen will allow me to say that I do know something about that. I can assure the House—of course I cannot be certain—but I can assure hon. Members that, to the best of my belief, Mr. Bradlaugh will be re-elected. ["No!"] Well, possibly; I say very probably he would be re-elected. He would again tender himself to take the Oath. The same scene would be gone over again. Mr. Bradlaugh would again go back, and would again be re-elected. You would then, if you still declined to allow him to enter the House, create a species of martyr. The consequence of your not allowing him to affirm would be that in the end Mr. Bradlaugh would come to that Table and repeat the words which we regard as sacred and he does not. If you think there is a certain measure of profanity in allowing that, it is you that would put yourselves in that position. Mr. Bradlaugh himself asks to be allowed to affirm. It is you who say he should not be allowed to do so. The Oath was never intended as a religious disability. The sole object of the Oath or Affirmation is to enable a Member who is elected to make a declaration of his allegiance. It is true 451 that for a time these Oaths were a religious disability, in the case, for instance, of Jews and Quakers. But what happened? The House interfered to put away that disability. It is contrary to—it is repugnant to—the feelings of all men of tolerant minds that any Gentleman should be hindered from performing civil functions in this world on account of speculative opinions regarding another world. ["Oh, oh!"] Hon. Gentlemen exclaim as if I were uttering some new doctrine. In 1837 there was a Bill brought into Parliament and passed, called the Municipal Officers' Declaration Bill. The Act was to enable Quakers, Separatists, and Moravians to make a declaration instead of an oath. It was moved that the words "and others" be inserted. This was not carried, and the following Protest remains on the books of the House of Lords, signed by Lord Holland, Lord Radnor, Lord Denman, and Lord Brougham—Because the introduction of these denominations in the declaration may, in my apprehension, lead to vexatious litigation, and such litigation to yet more vexatious inquiries respecting theological and speculative tenets of individuals—inquiries on principle unjustifiable, and in practice injurious to religious liberty. The right of a man to substitute the declaration proposed by this Bill for that enacted by the Act of George IV. might be questioned, on the score of his not being, as he professed to be in the declaration, a Quaker, a Moravian, or a Separatist, and the Court of Law called upon to try his right under the words of the Statute would thus be compelled to pronounce judgment on the character of his religious creed, a jurisdiction which no human, or at least no secular, tribunal has the right or the means to assume, and which is more accordant with the spirit of the Inquisition at Rome than consistent with the habits and professions of a Protestant community and a free people.And Lord Holland adds—I cannot directly or indirectly sanction the opinion that any particular faith in matters of religion is necessary to the proper discharge of duties purely political or temporal.Sir George Grey seems to have taken a large view of his own Bill, for in the debate on the Parliamentary Oaths Bill of 1866 he says—Let no man be asked any question as to his religion, but let him take his seat in the House if qualified to sit there in the opinion of those who sent him there, on taking the oath of allegiance as a loyal subject of the Crown."—[3 Hansard, clxxxi. 456.]The Oath in that passage, I may explain, 452 means Oath or Affirmation, for Section 4 of that Act says—The affirmation of allegiance shall have the same effect as the making and subscribing of the oath hereby appointed.So that Sir George Grey wished that every person duly elected by a constituency should come to that Table and be allowed, without any question as to religious belief, or absence of religious belief, to take the Oath or to affirm. It is no novelty to say that it is most desirable that whenever the State imposes upon a Member of a Legislature the necessity of taking an Oath he should be allowed to substitute an Affirmation. The founders of the American Republic, in order that there should be no mistake about their toleration, incorporated in their Constitution a distinct declaration that in no case should any gentleman called upon to take the Oath be forced to take it if he preferred to make an Affirmation. A few years ago, in the late Civil War, there was an Oath so stringent as to earn the title of the Iron-clad Oath. Its object was to oblige anyone elected to the public offices to swear that he had not taken part directly or indirectly in the Rebellion. Even in regard to that Oath the Americans stuck to the principle of their Constitution, and laid it down that anyone might affirm instead of taking the Oath. On this particular issue it is undesirable to come into conflict with constituencies and to interfere with their free choice of their own Members. In Northampton there are, perhaps, fewer persons than in almost any other town of its size of Mr. Bradlaugh's way of thinking in religious matters. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen laugh. Do hon. Gentlemen think that when Mr. Bradlaugh is in a town to give lectures on his particular views he must necessarily convert everyone? As a matter of fact, there are exceedingly few persons in Northampton of Mr. Bradlaugh's views. Mr. Bradlaugh was elected on a political issue; and so strong is the feeling that the constituency would be badly used if Mr. Bradlaugh were not allowed to take his seat, that I am convinced that the majority of Mr. Bradlaugh over any Conservative that became a candidate would be still greater now than at his last election. This is not the case of a Gentleman having been elected saying he will 453 not conform to the regulations of the House. Twenty-five years ago, a Quaker was sent to prison by the House for refusing to take the Oath; but Mr. Brad-laugh says—I should prefer to take the Affirmation, which is more binding on my conscience; but I am prepared to take either the Affirmation or the Oath. I am fully prepared to go through the forms necessary for taking my seat.It is the House that interferes and says he shall not be allowed to take the Oath. I think it would be most desirable to weigh the justice and expediency of this course before finally adopting it. The hon. and learned Member for Launceston (Sir Hardinge Giffard) has given Notice of an Amendment to my Resolution. This Amendment seems to me somewhat strangely worded. The late Solicitor General asks the House to run counter to the Report of the second Committee. I merely mention this, because it is possible that considerable stress will be laid on the circumstance of our running counter to the Report of a Select Committee. I am, therefore, obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman for having brought in an Amendment which knocks out the bottom of that argument; because, if he asks the House not to agree to the Report of the second Committee, he can hardly object to me or any other Gentleman asking the House not to agree with the Report of the first Committee. I have endeavoured to make the matter as clear as I can from a legal point of view; and, in any case, I trust the House will not allow itself, when acting with judicial functions, to act with any personal feeling with regard to the Gentleman now before it. The question ought to be an A and B one as it affects Mr. Bradlaugh. The question is a general one as to whether Mr. Bradlaugh has the right to affirm instead of taking the Oath of Allegiance; and as to whether, if he has that right, it is just and expedient on the part of the House to allow him to exercise it. I beg to move that Mr. Bradlaugh, Member for the borough of Northampton, be admitted to make an Affirmation or Declaration, instead of the Oath required by Law.
§ MR. C. M'LAREN
, in seconding the Motion, remarked that there were many Members in the House who felt with him that if the law permitted they would very much rather make the Affirmation asked for by the hon. Member 454 for Northampton than take the Oath that the law compelled them to take. But it was a satisfaction to think that the debate must lead to such a conclusion as to enable the majority to signify, as he believed would be the case, their disapproval of the present system. He insisted that the question should be decided on purely technical considerations; and these, in his opinion, were amply sufficient to justify the House in accepting the Motion. They had had the evidence of two Committees, and still, to a certain extent, their decision was unfettered. He hoped that the Motion would meet the necessities of the case, and begged the House to remember that, if Mr. Bradlaugh were allowed to make an Affirmation, it would be possible to test his right to do so in a Court of Law. He could hardly suppose that the House intended partially to disfranchise the borough of Northampton, or to deprive Mr. Bradlaugh of rights that were clearly correlative to his duties as a Member of Parliament. If Mr. Bradlaugh might neither take the Oath nor make an Affirmation, the House would be logically almost driven to expel him; and he believed there was no precedent for expelling a Member before he had taken his seat. It seemed to him that the House should attach some weight to the opinions of the majority of the Committee, including six eminent lawyers, besides the Law Officers of the Crown. He would ask the House to consider what would be their position and the position of the English people if they, unhappily, came to the conclusion of ostracising Mr. Bradlaugh. If they did so, he could not see how they would be able to admit a Moravian, or any other person who, from religious grounds, would refuse to take the Oath; and he would like to hear who were the "other persons" who might enter the House without taking the Oath, if it were not persons like Mr. Bradlaugh. If they excluded him, the House would have decided that no Member should be admitted until an inquisition had been previously held outside as to his religious opinions. They would thus practically fetter the constituencies by telling them that unless they returned a Member whose views were in accordance with those of the normal majority of the House they would be excluded from any representation, Such a course would 455 strike a most fatal blow at Constitutional principles, and a still more fatal blow against civil and religious liberty; and, as a Member of the Liberal Party that had been returned in overwhelming numbers, he should most deeply regret it if the House came to such a conclusion.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That Mr. Bradlaugh, Member for the Borough of Northampton, be admitted to make an Affirmation or Declaration, instead of the Oath required by Law."—(Mr. Labouchere.)
§ SIR HARDINGE GIFFARD
, in rising to move as an Amendment—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,said, that there was no Member of that House, if he excepted the hon. Member for Northampton himself, who did not heartily regret that this question had been raised. So far from having any desire to interrogate anyone as to his religious belief, they should have thought it a subject of special congratulation, and might possibly have entertained the charitable hypothesis that Mr. Bradlaugh's opinions did not continue the same as they had been, if without any notice he had come to the Table and taken the Oath in the ordinary manner. In that case no question would have been raised, and every hon. Gentleman about him would have deprecated any inquisitorial proceedings as to Mr. Bradlaugh's views. But it was impossible not to see that Mr. Bradlaugh's views had been thrust upon the House, and that important distinction must be obvious to everyone. Each man was the keeper of his own conscience, and if he kept it to himself it was his own affair; but if he challenged the House of Commons to say whether he was or was not entitled to take the Oath it was impossible for the House of Commons to shield itself by saying that each man must be guardian of his own conscience. The Members of that House were the guardians of the decency and the decorum of that great Assembly, and the Member for Northampton was now shifting to them the responsibility which he might have kept to himself. He would briefly recapitulate the history of this matter. A question was addressed 456 to the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair, and the right hon. Gentleman in turn invited the consideration of the House to it. At the instance of the Government a Committee was appointed, and that Committee reported. They had heard something about the Report having been carried by this vote or by that. He was himself unable to understand the attributing of the Report of a Committee which reported by a majority to the vote of any particular Member. The Report was the Report of the Committee. If anybody was to go behind a decision and examine the way in which each Member voted, and proceeded to weigh in the balance the authority of each particular Member, it was obvious that, whether as regarded Courts of Law or that House, the finality of the decision was gone. It was at the instance of Her Majesty's Government that this Committee was appointed, and when the Report was presented to the House one of two courses was open to them. Either Her Majesty's Government might have challenged, if they thought proper, the Report of the Committee, or they might, as they did, follow another course. They thought it right to move for another Committee, in which case the terms of Reference assumed the accuracy of the Report made by the first Committee. And, in truth, when the House discussed at some length the appointment of the second Commit tee, it was pointed out that it was very desirable to have a discussion on a question of law carried on without heat in a serener and more judicial atmosphere, and that a Committee was the atmosphere in which such a question ought to be debated. While it was assumed that the first Committee had disposed of the question of the Affirmation, the question of the Oath was referred to the second Committee. That question was debated with very considerable animation on each side, and what the Committee thought right they reported; but they were asked to add to the Report a matter which had not been remitted to them; and, in fact, to overrule the decision of the first Committee, the subject matter of the first Committee's decision not being within the preamble of the Reference. He admitted it might be said—"Oh, this is not overruling the legal principle laid down by the first Committee; but this recommendation. 457 which is outside the Reference altogether, may he interpreted in this sense—that, assuming the first Committee to have been correct in the law laid down, the second Committee only recommends a form in which the question may be ultimately decided." Well, that was about the most extraordinary proceeding ever heard of when they found appended to that recommendation the names of four Members of Her Majesty's Government, two of them the Attorney General and the Solicitor General. That recommendation amounted to this—Whereas it had been decided and assumed to be the law that it was unlawful to make an Affirmation, in that case the Attorney General and Solicitor General recommended the law to be broken. They recommended the law to be broken in order that the Courts of Law might find out whether the Committee had decided right or not. He would have to quote a precedent presently where a somewhat similar question arose, and then he would show what the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister of the time said on the subject. But for the moment he would advert to the question raised before the first Committee. Considering the names of the Gentlemen who sat on that Committee, and that it was a question of law upon which lawyers of very great eminence had differed, he would not dogmatize or say that the question was too clear for argument. But he assumed, in the absence of any proceedings on the part of Her Majesty's Government, that the decision of the first Committee was not to be challenged; and he was entitled to assume, therefore, that it would be unlawful to allow the Member for Northampton to make an Affirmation instead of an Oath. Now, the whole point in dispute had been assumed in the two orations to which they had listened. It was said that the word "others" in the Witnesses' Oaths Act of 1871 must have referred to everybody, and not merely to persons who entertained a peculiar religious belief. But he held it very arguable that in the different stages of relaxation which the Legislature adopted it proceeded on the assumption of some religious feeling and some religious opinions, although not confined to particular sects and beliefs. The hon. Member for Northampton, in reading the Act of 1871, and referring to it as 458 confirming his view, omitted a very important portion of it, which, if the House would permit, he (Sir Hardinge Giffard) would now supply. The declaration was in these words:—I, A B, do solemnly and sincerely and truly affirm and declare that the taking of any oath is, according to my religious belief, unlawful.He would have thought that these words, "according to my religious belief," might have formed part of what the hon. Member read to the House, and might have been urged in favour of the view that religious persuasion was an essential condition of either taking the Oath where the Oath was lawful, or the Affirmation substituted for an Oath were the objection to the taking of an Oath was founded on religious belief. He would have thought that that argument was at least worthy of some notice in considering the question whether they were to adopt the Resolution of the first Committee or not. Although he did not put forward his opinion as of more value than that of any other hon. Member, yet he felt bound to give expression to it lest it might be thought that he did not entirely concur in the Report. Well, what course was suggested in face of the difficulty created by the hon. Member for Northampton himself? It was said in the recommendation of the Select Committee that—From the fact that this Report was carried by the vote of the Chairman, thus showing a great division of opinion among the Members of the Committee, the state of the law cannot be regarded as satisfactorily determined. Under these circumstances it appears to your Committee that Mr. Bradlaugh should have the liberty of having his statutory rights determined beyond doubt by being allowed to take the only step by which the legality of his making an Affirmation can be brought for decision before the High Court of Justice.That recommendation was entirely beyond the scope of their inquiry. They were not invited to make any such recommendation; and it could only have the authority of those who had appended their names to it. He would, however, take it for the moment as having the authority of the names appended to it. And now let him remind the House of the precedent that existed on this subject. When Mr. Alderman Salomons was returned for Greenwich there were three Oaths which every Member was 459 bound to take—the Oath of Allegiance, the Oath of Supremacy, and the Oath of Abjuration. Alderman Salomons came to the Table and demanded to be sworn on the Old Testament. The Speaker inquired on what ground. He said that was the form binding on his conscience. Accordingly on that statement the Old Testament was handed to him, and he proceeded to take the two Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy. He also took the Oath of Abjuration down to the words "on the true faith of a Christian." He omitted those words, and the Speaker interposed, stating that the Oath had not been taken according to the law. Upon that, debate arose. On that occasion the same suggestion was made which had been made here. It was suggested that the hon. Member might be allowed to sit and vote in the House subject to the penalties he would incur, and in that way the law would be determined. Lord John Russell, the then Prime Minister, protested against any such course being taken; and the then Attorney General, now the Lord Chief Justice of England, pointed out that that was not the proper course to pursue "where the House itself had a duty to perform in respect of the administration of the oath." The Lord Chief Justice added—I cannot agree that the proper course would he to disobey the law in order that it may he seen whether the tribunals of the country would endorse the decision. The suggestion has actually been made that the House should give up its right of jurisdiction over matters that come within it; and, indeed, if the question of penalty were decided by a Court of Law, it could not determine the question whether a Member was entitled to sit and vote in the House, nor warrant the House in shrinking from a duty which the House is bound to perform.That seemed to be precisely a case in point. It appeared to him that the Committee, in the recommendation they had made, said what was tantamount to this:—Do what is unlawful, and leave it to the Courts of Justice to say whether it is right or not. If it was unlawful, it did not seem a decent course to permit what had been decided by the Committee to be contrary to law, in order afterwards to have it determined by the Courts of Law whether it was right or wrong. But there was a much more serious question behind. Suppose they permitted Mr. Bradlaugh to make Affirmation, was it quite clear that any 460 Court of Law could go beyond that? In the course of events he presumed that Mr. Bradlaugh would be sued for penalties, and thereupon he supposed that Gentleman would prove that he was permitted by the House to make an Affirmation. Putting that fact even as a question for a jury, would it not be very pregnant evidence that he was one of those persons in respect of whom the Statute permitted an Affirmation to be made? And how were they going to get beyond that evidence? Mr. Bradlaugh had, on more than one occasion before the Committee, availed himself of his power to decline to answer certain questions, and in an action every presumption would be made in his favour, and not a single question tending to substantiate the action could be put to him if he objected. How could they go behind that? What facts were they to prove? Had they arranged who was to be the plaintiff? Was it all arranged that there was to be a special case stated between the parties? He had not heard of any such arrangement, and, so far as he could gather from the proceedings of the Committee, he very much doubted whether Mr. Bradlaugh was disposed or bound to afford them any information. Was the House going to make a bargain with Mr. Bradlaugh? Was the House going to say to him-—"If we allow you to make an Affirmation, will you state the facts in a special case to help us to have the law decided?" But there was a more important question still; for, when the unlawful thing was done, it was provided that the seat should be declared vacant. Who was to decide that question? Was the House to wait until the court of first instance, or peradventure the House of Lords, had decided, before it presumed to exercise its own peculiar function, any interference with which it resented from all other jurisdictions. They had been told they might have an action brought against their own officer for refusing to permit Mr. Bradlaugh to make Affirmation; but the duty was not imposed on Sir Erskine May, but on the Member himself, of taking the Oath or making Affirmation. The section of the statute said—"the Oath shall be solemnly and publicly made and subscribed by every Member" before he took his seat; and the 4th section provided that if any Member without 461 having made and subscribed the Oath should take part in debate or vote he should be subject to a penalty and his seat should be vacated in the same manner as if he were dead. Then they would have this whole debate over again on the question of the issue of the Writ. In these circumstances they were entitled to ask what was the intention of the Government? Were they in favour of the Motion or Amendment which had been placed on the Paper? He admitted that there was a remedy that could be applied. That remedy was legislation—legislation of the kind which was adopted when Sir David Salomons could not take his seat. The House on that occasion, under the leadership of Lord John Russell, positively declined to shrink from its plain straightforward obligations, or still less to be controlled by the action of third parties in Courts of Law. If ever there was an á fortiori case it was the one with which Lord John Russell was then dealing. His Lordship objected to the law as it was laid down by the lawyers. He was taunted again and again by his own followers that he would not allow Sir David Salomons to do that which would raise the question in the Courts of Law. He said—The first example we have to set is that of obedience to the law, and whatever we may think of the policy or expediency of the particular law that we complain of, or of what in our view is natural justice—the view I submit to the House of Commons is this, that we should ourselves he the first to set the example of obeying the law, and leave the Legislature to remedy that which is supposed to be unjust.The hon. and learned Gentleman concluded by moving the Amendment of which he had given Notice.
§ MR. R. N. FOWLER
Mr. Speaker, It has been said that this is a delicate question. Sir, it seems to me to be not merely a delicate but a solemn question. The question before the House is, whether a man who denies the common God of Jew and Christian is to be permitted to sit in this House? Reference has been made to the Society of Friends and to the Jewish Persuasion. It seems to me to be an insult to both those Bodies to compare them to an Atheist. As regards the Society of Friends, allusion has been made to the late Mr. Joseph John Young. I would allude to the father and uncle of my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. W. E. Forster). 462 More holy and devoted men than these have seldom lived, and it would be an insult to their memory to compare them to the hon. Member for Northampton. As regards the Jews, I had the honour to sit in a former Parliament with the Gentlemen mentioned before the Committee—the two Barons de Rothschild and Sir David Salomons—and all who knew them will agree with me that they were eminently qualified to sit in this House. Sir, is it desirable to admit to this House one who denies the existence of God and of a future state? The example of the United States has great influence with hon. Gentlemen opposite; but I may remind the House that the United States refused to admit the territory of Utah into the Union. I may be told that this was rather on moral than on religious grounds. I might reply that objection may be taken to the moral as well as to the religious views of the hon. Member for Northampton. I do not insist on this, because, if a man denies God and a future state, I do not see how he can be expected to be a moral man. His language must necessarily be—"Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die." We are told to respect the verdict of the constituency of Northampton: I do not think the House is bound to do so. Twice has the great county of Tipperary returned men whom this House has refused to admit. I particularly refer to the case of Mr. O'Donovan Rossa, because his rejection was moved by the present Prime Minister. But, Sir, we have to look, not to the electors of Northampton, but to the people at large. I believe, if we eared to put to our constituents, apart from any question of confidence in the right hon. Gentleman I see before me, apart from any foreign or other question, a large majority of the people of England, and also of Ireland and Scotland, would say in reply to the appeal—"We will not have among our Rulers one who denies the God who is above." Sir, on these grounds, because I believe that I am supported by the feeling of the people of England, because I am confident I express the views of that great constituency by whose favour I now stand before you; above all, because if I could assent to the proposal of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Labouchere), I should be recreant to my country, my Sovereign, and my God, I give my 463 cordial and earnest support to the Amendment I have the honour to second.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words '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 Tic. c. 19, and the 31 & 32 Vic. c. 72,'"—(Sir Hardinge Giffard,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. SERJEANT SIMON
said, that his hon. and learned Friend (Sir Hardinge Giffard) had entirely disregarded the Motion of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), and treated the question as though it had arisen on the consideration of the Reports of the two Committees. The question before the House was altogether independent of those Committees and their Reports. Notice of the present Motion had been given before the Report of the second Committee had been laid on the Table, and before, if he mistook not, the Committee had been appointed. It was, in fact, an independent Motion brought forward by the hon. Member, and the issue which it raised was one of the gravest moment. It asked the House to allow Mr. Bradlaugh to affirm instead of taking the Oath. It did so upon the ground of right, a right which concerned not the hon. Member only, but the constituency that had sent him to that House, and, indeed, every constituency in the Kingdom. Now, according to law, it was not only Mr. Bradlaugh's right, but his duty to come to the Table and take the Oath, or affirm. This duty was imposed by Statute, and the House had no right in his (Mr. Serjeant Simon's) judgment to interpose and prevent his doing the one or the other. The House was not appointed to administer either the Oath or the Affirmation. Neither Mr. Speaker nor the Clerk at the Table was empowered to do so. From the 5th Elizabeth down to the Statute of William and Mary the Oath was taken before the Lord Steward. He was not appointed to administer it. It was simply to be taken before him, in his presence. From William and Mary down to the 464 1st William IV., the Oath had been taken before the Lord Steward and the House; but since the Statute of 1st William IV., Members were required to take it before the House only. Each Member was required to come to "the Table in the middle of the House, while there was a full House sitting, with the Speaker in the Chair," and take the Oath, or make the Affirmation, and subscribe the Roll. This was a duty imposed by the Statute upon every Member, and it was all that the Statute required of him. The House was, in fact, the witness, and nothing more than witness, to the act of taking the Oath, or making the Affirmation; and he (Mr. Serjeant Simon) held that when Mr. Bradlaugh presented himself at the Table and asked to be allowed to affirm, as one of the "other persons" allowed by law to affirm, no question should have been asked of him any more than it should have been asked of any Member who claimed to affirm because he was "one of the people called Quakers." The very Statute that gave to the Quaker the right to affirm gave the same right to "other persons" who, for other reasons, wished to affirm instead of taking an Oath. But it was said that the "other persons" referred to in the Statute meant persons objecting to take the Oath on religious grounds. He challenged that interpretation of the Statute. There was no foundation for it. On the contrary, the terms of the Statute pointed directly and only to persons incompetent on religious grounds to take the Oath. Indeed, it pointed directly to that very class of persons of whom Mr. Bradlaugh was one. The very distinction which it made between "the Oath" to be taken at the Table of the House—that was, the Oath of Allegiance, and "an oath," an oath of testimony, which was not to be taken at the Table of the House but in a Court of Law, or elsewhere, this very distinction, as it seemed to him (Mr. Serjeant Simon), was conclusive of the point. The Statute said that instead of "the Oath" Quakers might affirm, and all "other persons" who were allowed to affirm instead of taking "an oath," in a Court of Justice. Who were those "other persons"? They were persons, according to the terms of the Statute, who were "incompetent" to take an oath in a Court of Law or other judicial proceeding, and as to whom the presiding 465 Judge was "satisfied that an oath would not be binding on the conscience." Mr. Bradlaugh claimed as one of those persons to be allowed to make the Affirmation; and he (Mr. Serjeant Simon) held that, when he made that claim, he was as much entitled to be allowed to affirm as any hon. Member who declared himself to be "one of the persons called Quakers." The more he had considered the subject the more convinced he had been that this was the true meaning of the Statute, and that Mr. Bradlaugh ought to have been allowed to affirm without question. But it was said that the first Committee had reported against Mr. Bradlaugh's right to affirm, and that the recommendation of the second Committee was ultra vires, and that it overrode the finding of the first Committee. With all submission, this was not so. The House, no doubt, was accustomed to pay respect to the Reports of its Committees, and it ought to do so. But the House was not always, or necessarily, bound by what a Select Committee had done or recommended. Reports came before them for consideration; and the House, as the ultimate judge, had, in many cases, declined to adopt them. It was asked to do so now by the Amendment of his hon. and learned Friend (Sir Hardinge Griffard) in the case of the second Committee, because that Committee, it was said, had gone beyond the scope of the Reference. He (Mr. Serjeant Simon) contended that what the second Committee had done was strictly within the scope of their authority, and did not override the finding of the first Committee. What were the matters referred to the second Committee? They were charged to inquire into the "factsand circumstances" under which Mr. Bradlaugh claimed to be sworn, and to report and advise the House as to the law and the jurisdiction of the House with reference to those "facts and circumstances." Those words, the "facts and circumstances," governed all that followed in the Order of Reference. And what were the facts and circumstances? The Order itself recites them—namely, that Mr. Bradlaugh had claimed to be allowed to affirm, and having been refused, had afterwards claimed to take the Oath. The Order, therefore, opened up the whole question again as to Mr. Bradlaugh's right to affirm, and the right of the House to 466 refuse to allow him to do so. The recommendation of the second Committee pointed out the "facts and circumstances" under which the decision of the first Committee was arrived at. It showed and declared their decision to be, under the circumstances, unsatisfactory. That it was carried by a majority of one, that one being the Chairman's vote, and, considering the serious matter involved, that it was a question of law of great nicety, and that a vast body of professional opinion was at variance with the finding of the first Committee, it was not overriding the judgment of the first Committee, or asking too much of the House to recommend that, if Mr. Bradlaugh presented himself again, and asked to be allowed to affirm, he should "not be prevented from so doing." The issue was a grave one; not for Mr. Bradlaugh only, but for the House itself. If Mr. Bradlaugh were not allowed either to take the Oath or affirm, he was concluded. There was no appeal from the decision of the House. On the other hand, if he were allowed to affirm, and the House was wrong in permitting him to do so, it would be open to anyone to have the question decided by the calm judgment of a Court of Law. The question before the House was a far wider question than that of an individual's right, important as that undoubtedly was. It was not Mr. Bradlaugh's right merely that they were considering; it was the right of every constituency in the Kingdom to return whom they pleased to represent them, whether the person returned was acceptable or not to Members of that House. They had no right to control the constituencies of the Kingdom, and to say that the men they sent here should be men of this or that particular pattern. Arguments had been used during these discussions—indeed, they had been employed that evening by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. R. N. Fowler), the Member for the City of London—that shocked modern opinion. The hon. Member denounces Mr. Bradlaugh as unfit to sit here because of his views on religion. It was by precisely the same kind of argument that Nonconformists, and Catholics and Jews, were formerly kept out of Parliament, and denied civil and political rights. There was not an argument against Mr. Bradlaugh's admission which had not been employed against all and each of these different 467 bodies. He (Mr. Serjeant Simon) remembered well how they were employed against the admission of his own community. It was the spirit of such arguments that lighted the fires of Smithfield, and established the Inquisition in Spain. He (Mr. Serjeant Simon) had, and could have, no kind of sympathy with Mr. Bradlaugh or his opinions. He condemned and deplored them. But he held the right of conscience to be the most sacred of all human rights, and whether a man believed much, or little, or nothing at all, rested upon precisely the same common ground, the right of each man to determine for himself in matters of religion. To attempt to limit this right was to deny it altogether. To impose disabilities, or to punish a man, by withholding civil or political rights, because of his opinions, was a power which he (Mr. Serjeant Simon) could not concede to any man, or body of men. He (Mr. Serjeant Simon) belonged to a race that had suffered more than any other for the sake of conscience, and, in many parts of the world, they suffered still. He, for one, would never use the rights he enjoyed as an Englishman to exclude another from equal participation in those rights. Least of all would he, because of his own religious convictions, by word or deed, join with those who would invade the sacred domain of conscience, and deny the right of private judgment.
§ MR. WARTON
asked, "Where are we now?" The Attorney General, as representing the Government, had taken credit to himself for accepting the decision of the first Committee; and he wished to know whether it was at the instigation or with the sanction of Her Majesty's Government that the second Committee had appended to its Report the recommendation that Mr. Bradlaugh should be permitted to affirm—a matter which in no way entered into the scope of its inquiry? He hoped, and indeed believed, that the House, and especially the Liberal Members of it, would pause when they considered what a terrible effect would be produced in the country by voting in favour of the Motion which would admit Mr. Bradlaugh to the House. He agreed with the hon. Member for the City of London (Mr. B. N. Fowler), who seconded the Amendment, that the question was one of religion, and that if it were put to a vote 468 of the country there would be a far larger majority against the Motion than that which returned the Liberal Party to power at the recent Election. The right hon. Gentlemen he saw opposite him (Mr. Gladstone and Mr. John Bright) were religious men, and he hoped they would not on the present occasion throw their shields over an infidel and a blasphemer. There was an assumption on the part of Mr. Bradlaugh's supporters that an infidel had a conscience—an assumption which he denied not only on broad grounds, but on the very derivation of the word, which implied a knowledge of some One with us, or the light of God in our own nature. In conclusion, he begged that every Member of the House who believed in God would vote against the "fool who hath said in his heart there is no God."
§ MR. WHITBREAD
wished to remind hon. Members opposite of a fact which they had apparently forgotten, which was that when the first Committee in reference to this matter was appointed it was distinctly understood that the Report of the Committee was in no sense to decide the question, but was simply to be a means of affording information to the House to enable the general body of Members to arrive at a decision on a very difficult question. Then, again, it was sought to make the Government responsible for the course which had been pursued by the second Committee. Let them not forget that the Leader of the House proposed to appoint as the second Committee the very same Gentlemen who had formed the first. If that course had been followed it was but reasonable to suppose that the Committee would have come to a similar conclusion. But it was at the instigation, and at the express wish of the Leader of the Opposition, that new names were added, and that if a Report different from that anticipated had come out, it was rather hard to throw the responsibility on the Government. The hon. and learned Member for Launceston (Sir Hardinge Giffard) also based a considerable portion of his argument on the erroneous assumption that the Report of the first Committee had decided the law of the case, but admitted that the question was one of law. If this last proposition were true, which he (Mr. Whitbread) admitted, surely no tribunal could be so competent to decide it as the Law Courts. 469 But he feared that the question was one which involved a wider issue, and therefore regretted the course into which the House was allowing itself to be led. He was one of those who thought it was wrong to prevent Mr. Bradlaugh taking the Oath when he came to the Table. He, having looked as carefully as he could through the precedents as stated by Sir Erskine May, had not been able to find one which supported the view taken by those who supported the view embodied in the Amendment, and which would prevent a man taking the Oath for which he tendered himself, or, indeed, from submitting himself to any test which the law prescribed. Before the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts it was required that every man selected for a municipal office should take the Holy Sacrament—a much more solemn matter than making an Affirmation; but he knew of no case in which a man who presented himself to take the Sacrament was refused. The whole effect of the precedents before them was this—that when a Member was willing to comply with the Forms of the House as prescribed by law he was not liable to be questioned by any man. It had been said by the learned ex-Solicitor General, as had been stated before by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) the other night, that if Mr. Bradlaugh had come to the Table and asked to be sworn without bringing to the notice of the House his objection to take the Oath, they and the House would have most willingly allowed him to do so. That he considered a very astounding statement. But now they said the conscience of the House was aroused. Was it necessary, then, that the conscience of the House should have a flapper to awaken it to action? Surely the opinions of Mr. Bradlaugh were just as well known before he was elected as they were after he wrote a letter to a newspaper declaring what they were. Yet it was said that the conscience of the House might have slept but for Mr. Bradlaugh's letter and his claim to affirm. For his part, he did not understand a conscience of that kind, and he hoped it was not possessed by a majority of hon. Members. But how was the conscience of the House to be brought into play in the future? If some one who openly avowed opinions like those 470 of Mr. Bradlaugh were returned to the House and, coming to the Table, required to be sworn, was the conscience of the House to be allowed to slumber in that case? It seemed to him that hon. Gentlemen opposite were trying to establish a most painful precedent, because the rule now to be adopted must be applied to future cases. Was the House to say—"We will not raise that question because the Member himself had not raised it?" But what were they going to do in the case of Petitions? Surely the conscience of the House would not slumber when the Clerk at the Table had been called upon to read a long Petition pointing out facts of this kind. He wished to call attention to these considerations, because he did not wish to go behind the simple test which the law prescribed. The test was one for individuals, and the acceptance of it was for individuals alone. He did not think the House was qualified or had the right to go behind the conscience of any man who came forward and expressed his readiness to take the test in the same words as the others and without any addition or qualification. The precedent of Sir David Salomons was a most unfortunate one, as he wanted to omit certain words altogether. It would have been wise not to have raised this question. He did not dispute the power of the House to act in the way proposed. Its powers within its four walls were unlimited, but he did dispute that it was a constitutionally right course; and there was a domain into which he denied its right to enter—the domain of conscience. He felt confident that time would show that it would have been wise not to raise the question. He was asked to set aside every precedent and the history of centuries, and, in a generation which might almost have made its boast that it had lived to see the last shackles cast off conscience, to join in the course proposed by the Amendment. If he had been asked to write off some test, to take some step in furtherance of freedom, he had not such a worship of precedents that he would refuse to do so; but he was asked to take an opposite course, to which he could not consent to be a party.
§ COLONEL BURNABY
could not give his voice in favour of Mr. Bradlaugh being allowed to come to the Table and make a solemn Affirmation or take the 471 Oath. Oaths were established by God, who, they read, swore by Himself, because He could swear by no greater. He hoped the House would pause before it glided into an error which would reflect, directly or indirectly, on one-seventh of the world's inhabitants—he meant the British Empire. If Mr. Bradlaugh were permitted to take the Affirmation it would pollute the Affirmation now taken by all men who believed in God. There was a remarkable passage in Dean Swift which said—A man called to any office of trust is bound by oath to faithfully discharge its duties, and that oath ceases to be valid except in the case of those who believe that a Divine Being exists.They all knew that Mr. Bradlaugh did not believe in the existence of a Divine Being; and, therefore, he protested against his being allowed to take an Oath or make an Affirmation which would have no binding effect upon him; and he was glad to hear that there was no precedent for such a course as that. An oath was an affirmation of negation or promise corroborated by attestation of the Divine' Being; and he, for one, objected to the air of the House being stained by Mr. Bradlaugh being allowed so to swear or affirm.
MR. HINDE PALMER
said, he had not brought forward the Motion of which he had given Notice because, among other reasons, it could have no immediate effect, and an Act of Parliament would be required to carry it out. But the more he saw of the discussion the more he was convinced that the course he had proposed was by far the best that could be adopted. All that was required was a solemn pledge of allegiance, and that would be best provided for by being put at the head of the Parliamentary Poll to be signed by every Member. It was his intention to vote for the proposition of the sitting Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), because he had a firm conviction that Mr. Bradlaugh was entitled by the law, as it stood, to take his seat. The admirable speech of the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) must have convinced the House that it had no right to intervene between Mr. Bradlaugh and his taking the Oath or Affirmation; and he maintained that according to the fair interpretation of the Act, Mr. Bradlaugh was one of the persons permitted by law to make an Affirmation in lieu of an Oath.
§ MR. J. G. HUBBARD
reminded the House that in every one of the cases which had been cited a scruple to take the Oath had arisen in the mind of the person who objected, and who was subsequently relieved. But that was a totally different thing from the case which unfortunately now occupied the House. He assured the House that hon. Members on his side of it were as fully in favour of religious liberty as hon. Members opposite, and as fully alive to the propriety of not tying people down to one particular form of oath or affirmation. Nobody on his side of the House was disposed to act the part of inquisitor either in connection with morals or religion, and Gentlemen returned to Parliament had up to the present been unchallenged by Members of the Opposition when offering to take the Oath at the Table. In this case, however, they were not permitted to leave unnoticed the person desiring to be enrolled among them; for had not Mr. Bradlaugh first of all declared that the Oath was obnoxious to him, and then placed his opinion on record in his letter printed in the newspapers? He was of opinion that Mr. Bradlaugh's manner of dealing with the question before them was not quite honest and straightforward. They had, in fact, to deal with a person who, in the first place, declared that he could not make a solemn asseveration, but afterwards said that he would make it, in order to obtain his object. Did not such behaviour smack of untruth and gross hypocrisy? He hoped the House would refuse to make itself the accomplice of Mr. Bradlaugh in this matter. The person upon whose behalf they were invited to change the laws of the country, by those who said "Do away with Oaths and Affirmations," had shown to the House that he disregarded truth, and knew no arbiter but his own will. He contended that, while giving every possible latitude to different religions or persuasions, a civilized country could not permit the abrogation of the ties and obligations which were the only security for the maintenance of order and the observance of truth.
§ SIR HENRY JACKSON
said, that the hon. and learned Member for Launceston (Sir Hardinge Giffard) had pushed his case to the length of saying that the law had been definitively declared by the Report of the Select Committee, and 473 that the proper course for the Government now to take would be to introduce new legislation, with the special object of letting Mr. Bradlaugh take his seat. But did the House think the hon. and learned Member would have made that suggestion unless he had a well-founded hope that he and his friends would be able to stop such legislation if it were proposed? He (Sir Henry Jackson) gave him credit for perceiving that the difficulty of the position was such that either side or either Government might not unreasonably shrink from altering the law to meet the particular case; and he asserted that the real question before the House was, not whether some Government at some time or another was to undertake the heroic task of altering the existing law, but whether, according to the law as it stood at present, Mr. Bradlaugh was or was not entitled to come to the Table and make the Affirmation. He was aware that the Select Committee had reported against Mr. Bradlaugh having that right; but he also remembered that, during the debate which led to the appointment of the Committee, no one was louder in his protests that its finding would not be binding on the House than the hon. and learned Member. He (Sir Henry Jackson), like his hon. and learned Friend in the former debate, contended that the House was not bound to follow the Report of that Committee, if it did not commend itself to the judgment of the House. The House need not shrink from the consideration of the whole question, either as one of public policy, or on the narrower ground of the construction of the Act of Parliament. On the broad question of policy, he thought it was remarkable that in the year 1880 hon. Members of the House should be found boldly asserting that a new fetter should be imposed on the ground of religious belief or of the absence of religious belief, and actually avowing their determination to refuse a man the right of sitting in that House on such grounds. When Parliament had enacted that the fact of a witness not entertaining any religious belief should no longer be an impediment to the reception of his evidence in the most important questions involving life and death, social status, character, or property, surely it was no longer possible to refuse to apply the same principle to hon. Members of that House. His 474 own feeling always was that the greater the value attached to the obligation of an oath, the greater was the danger of diminishing by contrast the value attaching to a man's simple word. But that was a wide question, into which it was not necessary to enter. For, in fact, the Legislature had already determined the question with which the House was then concerned. What was the object of the Parliamentary Oath as required by the Statute of 1866? For whose benefit was it intended? For that of the House? Was it to be in the nature of a test? Surely not Its intention was to assure the Queen to the extent to which an Oath would give such assurance that every person taking his seat in the House should promise to bear her true allegiance according to the law. It was intended for the benefit of the Sovereign, and she alone was entitled to claim the benefit of the Oath. It was never intended to be a test, social or religious, for admission into the House. It was assumed by the Legislature that the majority of hon. Members would take the Oath; but it provided for the case of subjects of the Queen who, desirious of giving her true allegiance, might yet shrink from taking the Oath. The result, therefore, of preventing any Member from either making the Affirmation or taking the Oath, would be to deprive the Sovereign of a Declaration of Allegiance proffered by a subject elected as a Member of the Body appointed by the Constitution for the purpose of legislating for the Realm, and obviously the more doubtful the allegiance of any particular subject, the more important to the Sovereign would be the declaration of that allegiance by such a subject. The particular case then before the House had not before arisen. He had never thought that Mr. Bradlaugh should be allowed to take the Oath; but he had all along held the opinion which he had expressed in the Select Committee, that he should be allowed to affirm. He thought the Oath excluded the Affirmation and the Affirmation the Oath; but one or other must be available for every elected Member. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Launceston had said that the second Committee had taken an improper course in advising the House to allow Mr. Bradlaugh to do what he called break the law in order to enable a legal tri- 475 bunal to give its decision on the question. But he (Sir Henry Jackson) ventured to say that the second Committee had, upon a more mature consideration of the question as a whole, come to the conclusion that the first Committee had arrived at an erroneous result, and that what they recommended to be done would be to obey and not to break the law. Did anyone seriously believe that the Legislature intended any such consequence as that a man should neither be allowed to take the Oath nor to affirm? Even his hon. and learned Friend had not ventured to say that, but had said that that question was arguable. It was difficult to imagine any question which a lawyer would admit to be incapable of argument. But supposing that the point were doubtful, or even that on the strict construction of the Statute a man required either to take the Oath or to Affirm, could do neither one nor the other, was it not evident that such a result was simply a casus omissus? After what had occurred with respect to the Rothschilds and Salomons of a former generation, it could never have been intended that anyone should be excluded from that House on the ground of his religious opinions. The wording of the Act of Parliament was so clearly prospective and elastic that one could not doubt that the Legislature thought that every possible case which could arise had been met, and that it intended to enact by words comprehending every person who, by reason of religious convictions, or absence of religious convictions, had been theretofore debarred from giving testimony in a Court of Justice, but who, by past or future legislation, was, or might be, relieved from that bar; that in the future every person so relieved from taking an oath in a Court of Justice should in like manner be relieved in that House, and if he objected to taking an Oath might at once come into the alternative category and take his seat in the House by making an Affirmation and not by taking the Oath. He maintained that whether they looked upon this matter as a question of public policy, or as one simply of the construction of the Act of Parliament, it was right that Mr. Bradlaugh should be allowed to affirm. He had been struck with, and thought it only right to bear testimony to, the candid manner in which Mr. Brad-laugh had given his evidence before the 476 Select Committee. For his own part, he had no hesitation in saying, according to the best judgment he could form, that if Mr. Bradlaugh was allowed to make Affirmation, he would not only not be breaking the law, but he would be obeying it. If the law allowed Mr. Bradlaugh to make Affirmation in a Court of Justice no sound reason could be urged for refusing him that privilege in the House of Commons.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
said, his hon. and learned Friend (Sir Henry Jackson), with his usual ingenuity, had tried to gloss over the profoundly illogical position in which the Report of the Committee had placed them. The House was not now confronted by a single difficulty; it had to deal with two distinct difficulties, which, though depending on each other, had a different origin and should be treated differently. There was the difficulty created by the perverse mental conformation of Mr. Bradlaugh, owing to which he tried to make his own admission to that House as difficult as possible by way of testing extreme conclusions; while the other difficulty was that in which they had been landed by the rash cowardice or cowardly rashness of the last Committee that sat. That Committee had a wide field thrown open to it; but, not satisfied with that, it went beyond the draft Report submitted by the Chairman, and in doing so it travelled over perfectly irrelevant ground. It invited the House to bring down a Deus ex maehinâ—the beneficent divinity of the Greek drama—in order to settle the question. That Deus ex machinâ was a common informer. It invited the House to invite Mr. Bradlaugh to go to the Table and to do that which the first Committee said he should not do—to make an Affirmation—in order that an action might be brought against Mr. Bradlaugh. That was a roundabout, contemptible way of meeting the difficulty. He had seen such extraordinary things that Session that he came to be surprised at nothing. They had been treated to many scenes, like the transformation in a pantomime; they had clauses turned into Bills, and Bills brought in without names; but this proposal of the Committee—a supremely ridiculous, contemptible, and unworthy conclusion—invited that unfortunate man, the still unseated Member for Northampton, to subject himself to a 477 harassing prosecution and a heavy fine, beside the loss of the seat to which he had been elected, all, forsooth, to try a legal point. That was the conclusion to which they were invited; but it was so supremely contemptible and unworthy of the matter, that he (Mr. Beresford Hope) shrunk from its adoption. As to precedents, there were none, and why? Because no man ever came forward to put himself in the position in which Mr. Bradlaugh had placed himself. When Mr. Bradlaugh came to the Table he made his first clever move in a deep game, or he made his first blunder. He made two appearances before the Committee, and he was listened to attentively; and the object of his second appearance became plain—he saw that he had got into the meshes of the Affirmation Act. Then, again, there was Mr. Bradlaugh's own letter, in which he explained why, and how, and in what sense he would take the Oath. The Committee unanimously called upon Mr. Bradlaugh to produce the letter. The hon. and learned Baronet the Member for Coventry had passed a warm eulogium on Mr. Bradlaugh's candour before the Committee; but he (Mr. Beresford Hope) must point out that Mr. Bradlaugh struggled against the production of that letter. ["No, no!"] The room had to be cleared, and a Resolution put, and then Mr. Bradlaugh had the sense to produce the letter. But Mr. Bradlaugh wished to exclude everything outside of that House. He should not read passages from the letter to the House; he would not do it the ill compliment of assuming that these passages were not ringing in their ears. He made no doubt that an Affirmation would be as solemn and equally binding on Mr. Bradlaugh as an Oath. He quite believed that. Therefore the case stood thus—Mr. Bradlaugh was self-excluded from the Affirmation, and self-excluded also from the Oath. Some hon. Gentlemen had ingenuously suggested that the passing of a Bradlaugh Belief Act would be a troublesome, a lengthy, and an uncertain process; and, as the great object was the bringing in of Mr. Bradlaugh, the only alternative was that the House of Commons should make itself an accomplice to a possible breach of the law, conspiring to put Mr. Bradlaugh in a position which would make him either a Member of Parliament or a man who was heavily amerced and who 478 lost his seat. And why were they to do all that? They had heard much of the right of the, constituencies to return whom they liked. He granted that as a general principle; but then it must be remembered that a fallacy often lay under a general principle: Latet dolus in generalibus. And if that was true in any case it was true in this matter. The constituency had power to return to the House whom they pleased; but the House fenced that power with the condition that the man so returned should be qualified to sit. A minor, for instance, might make a better Member than many men of full age; but the House firmly refused to let him take his seat. Again, an alien who was not naturalized might be the most eminent statesman in the world; but the House sternly refused to let him take his seat. Their more recent legislation had not taken away restrictions, but had multiplied them. Every morning they looked at the election column of The Times to see who was out that day. And what was the meaning of that? It was that men mostly reported by the Judges to be men of high honour, of high integrity, many of them well fitted to be in that House, had, by the misconduct of two or three blackguards acting against their wishes and orders, been made unconscious accomplices in acts of bribery which voided the election. They might have been returned by a majority of 1,000; yet if but one such act of bribery was proved, the 999 other votes went for nothing. The majesty of the law and the dignity of Parliament had to be vindicated. The constituency might tear their hair at the loss of a cherished Representative, but out he went. That was an evidence that the general principle that the constituency could chose whom it liked was not an absolute and irrefragable rule. The House of Commons had declared that the effect of an act of bribery, committed behind a man's back, and against his knowledge or his wish, stripped him of the quality of being a Member. Now, Mr. Bradlaugh, as he (Mr. Beresford Hope) contended, had stripped himself by his own act of the quality of being a Member. When the constituency of Northampton returned him it was to be presumed that they returned him as a man who was ready and willing to go through the process which the law recognized as necessary to enable him to sit for that 479 borough. And what had he done? He had shut the door against himself by his appearances and his acts in that House, by his letter to the newspapers, by his silence in one place and his utterances in another. He had disqualified himself from either affirming or swearing—the only two doors of entrance into that House. He had more absolutely disqualified himself than the Members of various boroughs with whose unhappy fate they all so deeply sympathized; and it would be just as logical to rehabilitate the Members for Canterbury, Gravesend, Wallingford, and so forth, as to try, either by a conspiracy with the informer or by a brand-new Act of Parliament, to seat the self-disqualified Member for Northampton. No doubt it was to be regretted that Northampton should be deprived of one of its Representatives; but there were some things of even greater importance than the satisfaction of that constituency. There were the honour of Parliament and the moral sense of Parliament to be considered; and rather than that honour should be tarnished and that moral sense blunted, it would be ten thousand times better that Northampton should remain unsatisfied.
§ MR. HOPWOOD
said, that with reference to the grounds upon which the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Beresford Hope) assumed to be the defender of Christianity in the case now before the House, he (Mr. Hopwood) had no doubt he had opposed on the same grounds the admission of Dissenters to Parliament.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
explained that the hon. and learned Gentleman was in error. He was only 8 years old when the Test and Corporation Act was repealed.
§ MR. HOPWOOD
said, the right hon. Gentleman had lived a long life since and had not learned much, whilst he had forgotten less. There was a time when the Christianity which the right hon. Gentleman claimed to represent would have kept out the Jews, and even have burned them. With regard to Mr. Bradlaugh's conduct before the Committee in reference to his letter to the newspapers, he (Mr. Hopwood) maintained, in opposition to the right hon. Gentleman, that Mr. Bradlaugh had pursued a justifiable and even a manly course. Mr. Bradlaugh said that they 480 ought not to judge him by anything except that which had taken place in the House, and had explained that his letter to the newspapers was an extra-Parliamentary utterance, written in consequence of the many misrepresentations to which he had been subject, and which were the most severe, cruel, and abominable that it had been his (Mr. Hopwood's) lot to hear spoken in that House of an absent man. Questions might be asked as to his own consistency. When acting on the first Special Committee, he formed the opinion that Mr. Bradlaugh had no right to make an Affirmation. He still said so; but now he was convinced that his single vote did Mr. Bradlaugh an injustice, inasmuch as the latter had a right to test legally the question at issue. He, therefore, now shrank from the responsibility of preventing by his single vote that Gentleman from trying the question of his right before a legal tribunal. He entertained a strong feeling that the hon. Member had a legal right to take the Oath, for it was admitted that no one was legally entitled to administer it; and, therefore, no one had a right to object to its being taken. The precedent which it was sought to set would justify an inquiry into the religious belief or fitness of the hon. Members for Greenwich, Portsmouth, or any other hon. Gentleman who might present themselves to take the Oath, and if they did so, it would enable hon. Members to say—"I ask to know the attitude of that man's mind; I don't believe he can take the Oath conscientiously." ["No, no!"] Hon. Gentlemen opposite could not say that before Mr. Bradlaugh came to the Table they did not know his opinions; and yet they now said that if he had not thrust those opinions on the House they would not have objected to his taking the Oath. In other words, they said—"Mr. Bradlaugh, if you had come to the Table with a lie on your lips, we would have allowed you to be sworn." ["No, no!"] He (Mr. Hop-wood) challenged any man to say that if Mr. Bradlaugh had presented himself to take the Oath anyone would have got up and said—"That man is a blasphemer." He declined to believe in the sincerity of an assertion which amounted to a declaration that hon. Gentlemen opposite would have tacitly assented to what they regarded as an act of blasphemy. He 481 believed that when Mr. Bradlaugh was elected, it was said at Greenwich or Portsmouth that there would be an endeavour to prevent him taking his seat. Was that founded on what Mr. Bradlaugh said at the Table? The occurrence had not then taken place, nor had he written a letter to the newspapers. The hon. and learned Gentleman the late Solicitor General talked about breaking the law. How did he know it to be the law? What right had he to dogmatize? The right hon. and learned Gentleman the late Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Gibson), he (Mr. Hop-wood) believed, would not be so confident on the matter as the late Solicitor General. The second Committee recognized the fact that the House of Commons had a serious difficulty before it, and considered whether it could not do something to relieve the House of that difficulty. Would the House be angry with them for exceeding the letter of their instructions? If the House did not agree with the recommendation, it could reject it. Mr. Bradlaugh might be sent to gaol as a criminal for refusing to take the Oath; but, beyond that, there was his right to take his seat; and he had offered to discharge the imposed obligation in the manner most binding upon him. The House could not calmly sympathize and endorse the language that had been used about an Atheist having no conscience, when it remembered the purity of life of men who had been known to hold what were regarded as the most extreme opinions, judged by the theological standard. He knew nothing of Mr. Bradlaugh except what the House did from his public utterances; but he hoped it was not very much to stand up in that House to speak for a man. Never had there been a man more frank and unreserved than Mr. Bradlaugh before the Committee; and from what he had seen of that Gentleman, he could not conceive that he might not be otherwise than an ornament to the House. The constituency demanded that the man should take his seat; and he was there to do it. Would not the House determine that the fairest thing to do was to hold their hand, and to stand aside, as there was no one called upon to administer the Oath, and it was only for him to take it or the Affirmation? The latter would, in this case, be the least offensive to their ears, 482 while it would be the most binding upon him. It was an additional reason why he should be allowed to make it that any one could challenge his conduct in a Court of Law, where the question could be more calmly considered than it could be in that House.
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR
said, that, as one of the youngest Members of the House, he would naturally have shrunk from taking part at so early a stage of a debate on a question of such importance; but, after the challenge just thrown out by the hon. and learned Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood), he could not remain silent; and, therefore, he rose at once to accept that challenge with reference to the right of Atheists to sit in the House of Commons. He was not one of those persons who would be prepared to exclude Mr. Bradlaugh altogether from the House because of any opinions he might entertain, or any principle he might have enunciated there or elsewhere. It would be, on his (Mr. Arthur O'Connor's) part, extreme affectation to pretend to believe that the character of that House would suffer, or that the House had anything to fear in the estimation of sensible persons from the presence of Mr. Bradlaugh on the roll which contained the names of such men as John Stuart Mill, Locke, and Hume. The people of Northampton had a clear right to be represented in the House by the man of their choice. That right they had exercised, and they had chosen Mr. Bradlaugh. The House, therefore, was bound to consider that Mr. Bradlaugh was a very fit Representative of those who had sent him there. But before Mr. Bradlaugh could be admitted to take part in their proceedings, it would be necessary, as things now were, that he should either make an Affirmation or take the Oath of Allegiance. The House could decide that Mr. Bradlaugh could not be permitted to substitute an Affirmation for an Oath. The Oath would, therefore, remain for him the indispensable preliminary to admission to the full privilege of Membership—was it to remain indispensable? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) speaking from the Treasury Bench itself, had said on a former occasion that in his opinion the taking of the Oath in the case of a great number of Members became a mere formality, a degradation, 483 or a desecration. For his (Mr. Arthur O'Connor's) own part, he thought it was of no use, and hoped it would soon be done away with altogether; but in the meantime it subsisted, and the Rules of the House required it. It was prescribed by statute law. Was the hon. Member for Northampton to be allowed to take it? With all respect for the hon. and learned Member who had last spoken (Mr. Hopwood), he (Mr. Arthur O'Connor) answered without hesitation in the negative. There were laws above any Rules of the House of Commons, and there were commandments higher than any Act of Parliament. One of these commandments was—"Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain." That commandment had no sanction from the intelligent will of Mr. Bradlaugh, who attached to it no more importance than he did to the God who gave it; for the hon. Member had proclaimed that, as he did not know God, it could not be binding upon the hon. Member. It was, however, binding on hon. Members who did acknowledge God. He, for one, disclaimed any intention of imputing to Mr. Bradlaugh any thought of taking the name of God in vain. The hon. Member seemed to evince a much keener sense of what was proper and seemly than those who seemed to be ready to insist upon the administration of the Oath, and in whose mouth it would be nothing but a most horrible blasphemy. As Christians they could have no part in such a proceeding. He did not know what would be the issue of this discussion; possibly, when a particular majority was present, the House might then decide to admit Mr. Bradlaugh to the Table; but he trusted that would never be. Of one thing he was certain—that they could not decently, as Members, permit the record of such a proceeding to appear on the Journals of the House. If, however, it should be so, he, for one, would call upon the majority of those who sat upon that (the Opposition) side of the House, and who were still Christians; he would also appeal to the hon. Member who had spoken so well as the worthy representative of an ancient people, to whom the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was sacred—he would appeal to them all to wash their hands of all complicity in this transaction. He might likewise appeal personally to the Speaker, if it 484 should be decided to admit Mr. Bradlaugh to the Oath, to go through the empty formality of taking an Oath which he really could not take then—when the hon. Member did come to the Table, he trusted that the Speaker would allow him (Mr. Arthur O'Connor) and those who agreed with him sufficient time to withdraw from the House, that they might not be made even involuntary witnesses to an act which would be a scandalous and flagrant violation of the laws of God.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he would remind the last speaker (Mr. Arthur O'Connor) that the question before them was not whether Mr. Bradlaugh was to be admitted to take the Oath; the question was whether Mr. Bradlaugh should or should not be allowed to make an Affirmation. He wished to deal with a few of the considerations which arose in connection with that question, some of which had been referred to by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Launceston (Sir Hardinge Giffard). His hon. and learned Friend had assumed that there had been a determination by the first Committee of what was the existing law on the subject. He had said, over and over again in the course of his speech, that the law had been decided by that Committee, and had protested against the House reversing the decision arrived at by the Committee. He (the Attorney General), however, must remind hon. Members that when the Reference was made to the first Committee, it was agreed, on all sides of the House, that that Committee should determine nothing. He would not quote his own words; but he had, before the appointment of the Committee, said that the Committee was to decide nothing, and that the House had not delegated its functions. But he would refer to what had been said by his hon. and learned Friend himself, who had agreed to the appointment of the Committee on the terms that it should have no power to determine anything, but should be appointed only to facilitate the prooceedings of the House, with whom must rest the ultimate decision. That ultimate decision was now to be given by the House. The opinion of the first Committee now for the first time came before the House, by way of advice only, and the House had to form its own judgment. It had been said that 485 the Government had failed in its duty in not taking action in the matter. The Government had had no opportunity of taking action. The day after the Committee had agreed to its Report, Mr. Bradlaugh withdrew his claim to make an Affirmation and applied to take the Oath. Fresh circumstances thus immediately arose, and fresh considerations had to be applied. It was impossible that there should be dissent on the part of the Government from the opinion of the first Committee, which was merely to advise the House, and which no one had attempted to act upon. It was in the year 1562 that an Oath was first imposed, and then it was intended, not as a religious test, but to mark that the Sovereign of the Realm, and not the Pope, was the head of the Church. The tendency of recent legislation as to the taking of oaths in Courts of Justice had been to make concesssions. In 1854 all persons who objected to take an oath as being repugnant to their religious belief were allowed to affirm; and in 1888 another important advance was made, as then everybody who could assert that the taking of an oath was not binding on his conscience was permitted to make an affirmation. Meanwhile Parliament had done with regard to itself what it had already effected with reference to Courts of Law. It had allowed Quakers and others to make an Affirmation. As to the class of persons who were entitled to affirm, it appeared to him that the 4th section of the Act of 1866 provided, in effect, that the same power to make an affirmation which was given to witnesses in Courts of Justice should be extended to Affirmations made in the House, and the class of persons who were to exercise that power were those who, on ordinary occasions, when called upon to take an oath, might be entitled to affirm in place of it. He could not understand why full effect should not be given to a statute which, although a statute of procedure, was also an enabling statute. He could not agree with his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Preston (Sir John Holker) in his narrow construction of the statute. He believed that it was intended by the statute to admit to that House, on making an Affirmation, all those who in any other circumstances were allowed by law to make an affirmation instead of taking an oath. That 486 was his view of the statute, although, doubtless, much might be said in opposition to it. But he did not wish to argue the question, as a technical question, as to the mere construction of the Act. He would not say, in such a matter, that he was necessarily right and that others must be wrong. There had been great difference of opinion on that subject. But the question arose how this House was going to deal with the advice of the Committee? He thought it would be more convenient that the House should follow that advice than shut a Member out of that House. It was notorious that the first Committee appointed by the House to inquire into this question were pretty equally divided in opinion; and if it were insisted that their views ought to be acted upon, he asked whether the opinion of the majority or that of the minority ought to be accepted? He thought there was a fallacy in arguing that the House was about to delegate its functions to a Court of Law. Reference had been made to the difficulty which, it was said, had been created by the precedent of 1851; but, in his (the Attorney General's) opinion, there was none, as the hon. Member on that occasion had refused to take the Oath in form, for he left out the words "on the true faith of a Christian." If there were no doubt about the question they should not ask for a decision of a Court of Law in reference to it. It was because the question was so doubtful, and because lawyers who had made the study of the law their daily occupation could not agree, and because the bulk of the House must find a greater difficulty in determining the question, that it ought to be brought before a tribunal which could pronounce an authoritative decision upon it. He was not seeking to deprive the House of its functions. The Legislature had, in 1866, settled the mode of arriving at a binding decision, and it was too late now to question the propriety of affording an opportunity to the Courts of Law of giving a decision on the question now raised. The Motion did not seek to introduce any mode of procedure, or to establish any new principle. If Mr. Bradlaugh had come to the Table and been allowed; without question, to make an Affirmation, that fact would not have deprived the Courts of Law of jurisdiction over the particular case. If Mr. Speaker had raised no 487 question as to Mr. Bradlaugh's right to affirm, that fact would not have interfered with the jurisdiction of the Courts of Law. Let the House remember how the question arose. By the Act of 1866 every person was primâ facie entitled to take an oath; and if he sat or voted in the House without taking the Oath, he was liable to penalties. Well, how could such person excuse himself? The only way he could do so was by saying that being a person entitled to make an affirmation under the 4th section of the Act, he had affirmed in place of taking the Oath. He was thus enabled to avoid the penalty he would otherwise have incurred for not having fulfilled the primary obligation of the statute. And what would he have to prove in order to do so? He would have to prove affirmatively that he was a person who, for the time being, was entitled, to make an affirmation instead of taking an oath. Whether he was entitled to do so within the walls of Parliament was a question over which the Courts of Law had jurisdiction; and they were not, by the Motion now before the House, unduly yielding to the jurisdiction of the Courts of Law or overruling the authority of Parliament. There was absolute power given by the statute to the Courts of Law to determine whether the Oath should have been taken, and whether, if it had not been, the excuse for making an Affirmation instead was valid. Therefore, while he admitted that the question was one worthy of the consideration of a Committee of the House of Commons, he could conceive no difficulty in adopting the course which was recommended in the Motion before them. They should remember, that whether they allowed Mr. Bradlaugh to take the Oath or make an Affirmation, they would not finally determine the question. If, by a Resolution of the House, they stated that Mr. Bradlaugh was entitled to affirm instead of taking the Oath, that would, in one sense, be a procedure of the House; but it would not relieve him from penalties, if he were liable to them under the statute. If the statute said that the Oath should be taken—a particular case not being exempted—then that statutory obligation could not be altered by a Resolution of the House of Commons. But it was said that, by its Resolution, the House would grant to Mr. Bradlaugh a privilege which he did not possess. They 488 would grant him no such privilege. If he had the right, he had it only as a statutory right, one conferred on him by the 4th section of the Act, and they could not interfere with it if he were so entitled to it. Mr. Bradlaugh had a claim of privilege to make—he had no one to make it to. It was, if anything, his right, and they were only affording him that clear abstract right of action which was given him by the statute; therefore, it was a perfect fallacy to say that they were dealing with a claim to which they might object if they thought proper. His hon. and learned Friend opposite [Sir Hardinge Giffard) had protested against the question being considered on the recommendation of the Committee. It was not so brought under the consideration of the House. If the Committee had made no such recommendation, the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) would have been equally within his right in submitting the Motion to the House, and it would have been submitted on the ground it had been that evening. The Committee had determined that, under the circumstances, the Oath ought not to be administered to Mr. Bradlaugh, because it would not be binding on his conscience, and that, therefore, he was precisely the person who ought to be allowed to affirm. ["Oh, oh!"] That was a perfectly consistent view of the question. A Member of the House was only entitled to affirm if an Oath was not binding on his conscience. On that ground the Committee refused to allow Mr. Bradlaugh to take the Oath; but, at the same time, they expressed the opinion that he should be allowed to affirm, because he could not take the Oath, and, therefore, he had a right to affirm. They came to the conclusion that the common-law right of every Member to take his seat ought not to be taken away from Mr. Bradlaugh; and, as he could not take the Oath, they said he ought to be allowed to affirm—leaving the question of penalties, which remained to the determination of a Court of Law. Let him point out to those Members of the House who were discussing this question, not upon the merits of the case or as a matter of principle, but rather with reference to their views of Mr. Bradlaugh's opinions, that if the Report of the first Committee was to be a final decision, the result would be that not only would Mr. Bradlaugh be ex- 489 eluded from the House, but so would every other person who, from conscientious and religious scruples, however deep and sincere, declined to take an oath, if he were not a Quaker, or Moravian, or Separatist. There was no escape from that position, although it was a result at which he did not think they would willingly arrive; and he hoped, therefore, the Amendment would not be sanctioned by the House. By the law, as it at present stood, a person objecting to take the oath in a Court of Justice might substitute an affirmation for it; and he saw no reason why the House should not allow hon. Members who held similar objections to make an Affirmation of Allegiance. From the first to the last of this troublesome question he had endeavoured to determine the bare legal rights of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh), who claimed to take his seat; and he had come to the conclusion that the hon. Member could not take the Oath, and that opinion was framed principally upon the ground that he was a person entitled to make the Affirmation because the Oath was not binding on his conscience. It was because he thought so then, and thought so still, that he felt he should be acting perfectly consistently in asking the House to accept the proposition of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), and to allow Mr. Brad-laugh to make an Affirmation.
§ MR. GRANTHAM
said, he would admit that there was considerable difficulty in the question now before the House, but it had been greatly increased by the haste with which they had proceeded. The House had, in a hasty manner, delegated its opinion, if not its power, to the first Committee, of which he (Mr. Grantham) was a Member. Then the Committee had been called together the day following their appointment, and without proper time to give the matter due consideration; and yet he ventured to say there was not a single Member of that Committee who voted in the majority who had seen the slightest reason to change the opinion he then formed, or to doubt for a moment that that opinion was right. At the same time, he had no doubt that the opinions of those who voted on the other side were equally conscientious. He was surprised to hear the hon. and learned Member for Coventry (Sir Henry Jack- 490 son) state that the Committee now entertained a different view, in consequence of the difficulties in which the House was involved. It was the old story that hard cases made bad law, and if they were to adopt that principle the House would soon become the laughing-stock of the world. It was not necessary by a side wind to get over a difficulty which had been created, however great that difficulty might be. It was idle to say that nothing had been done by the House to accept the deliberations of that Committee; for it had been intended to allow Mr. Bradlaugh to take the Oath, and that was on the opinion that they were bound by the opinion of the first Committee. Then the second Committee was appointed, and he protested against the recommendation they had made as not being within the range of their inquiry. The duty of the Committee was not to go beyond the ambit of their Reference. It was their duty to act on the Reference made to them, and not to venture upon making suggestions, which might not be approved of, on the idea that they might get the House out of a difficulty. He thought the House itself was capable of dealing with the difficulties which arose in the course of its business without getting rid of them by the back door of a Court of Law; and unless Mr. Bradlaugh was entitled to Affirm, there was only one course open. The House must deal with the case, be it as a casus omissus. No one had ever yet attempted to come into the House as a professed Atheist, and it ought, therefore, to have the courage of its opinions, whatever they might be, and say, by Act of Parliament to be brought in on the authority of the Government, that Members should or should not be admitted with out reference to their religious opinions. That would be a fair and open way of dealing with the question, and he was very much surprised that the Government had not had the courage of the opinions of those hon. Members who had spoken, because they went the length of arguing that any hon. Member should be entitled to enter the House without being debarred by his opinions. He was surprised at the argument of his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General (Sir Henry James), that the House had denuded itself of its power by delegating it to Courts of Law. The House had never divested itself of its 491 power. A Judge might take on himself to allow children or lunatics to affirm; but no man could come into that House and seek to affirm merely because a Court of Law had allowed him to affirm. That was the fallacy which ran through the whole of the speech of his hon. and learned Friend. Through all the debates which had occurred on the question of the Parliamentary Oath, the religious character of the Act had been maintained. There was not a word to show that at any time the House had contemplated the admission within its walls of persons of no religious faith whatever. The language of Sir George Grey's Act, to which so much reference had been made—namely, "or other persons for the time being by law permitted to make an affirmation"—clearly pointed not to persons of Mr. Bradlaugh's stamp, but to all those to whom relief had at different times been extended on religious or conscientious grounds. It was a phrase which conveniently summed them up, and he thought his hon. and learned Friend, in the interpretation he had given of the section, must have overlooked its wording. Such an extensive interpretation as the hon. Member for Northampton now claimed for those words never seemed to have suggested itself to the Parliament of the day at all. Then, the occurrence of the words "presiding Judge" in Mr. Justice Denman's Act, clearly indicated that the making of an affirmation in lieu of an oath was limited to Courts of Law alone, and had no reference to that House. The question now raised was one of vast importance, and ought not to be settled in the indirect and unsatisfactory way suggested by the second Committee. No doubt, the tendency of the day was to do away with barriers of all kinds to religious faith or disbelief, and it might be that a time would come when the ceremony of admission to that House would be shorn of its religious character altogether. But, whatever the ultimate issue might be, the question was one which ought to be boldly grappled with; it was one for the majority of that House to settle, and not for a Court of Law, which might be placed in the embarrassing position of being in conflict with that House. He ventured to suggest that there would be very great difficulty indeed in having this question decided in the Law Courts. It was not. in fact 492 at all clear that the Courts of Law could impose penalties on a person who came to that House and affirmed under the Resolution which had been proposed tonight. That Resolution was not in any way identified with the opinion of the first Committee, nor did it suggest that in consequence of the Report of the second Committee it was desirable that Mr. Bradlaugh should be allowed to affirm. It was because these proceedings had from the first been hastily taken, in order to get over the difficulty, that he must protest against the passing of such a Resolution as was now under discussion.
§ MR. SPENCER WALPOLE
Sir, the House has now to deal with two questions of very great importance. One is a legal question, and the other a constitutional one, and on each of these points I wish to offer a few brief remarks. The legal question is embodied in the Resolution of the sitting Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), and the constitutional question has been very ably stated by my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General. The first of these questions, being a legal one, must be solved by every proper construction which can he put on certain Acts of Parliament. There are three classes of Acts which are immediately concerned in this question. First, there are the Acts relating to the promissory Oath of Allegiance, which is now required to be taken by all the great Officers of State, by the Judges of the land, and by Members of both Houses of Parliament, as a condition precedent to their being allowed to take their seats. It is a promissory Oath of great importance, and intended to be of great importance. The second class of Acts is of a totally different kind. It is the class of Acts relating to the admissibility of evidence, and to that alone. The third class of Acts are exceptional Acts. They are Acts which, in consideration of religious conviction and religious belief, dispense with the necessity of the oath being taken and allow an affirmation to be taken in its stead. These are the three classes of Acts which we must bear in mind upon every part of this case, and then we must see, by reference to the Acts, what is the interpretation we are to put upon them. The first class of Acts, although repealed in many instances, retained the promissory Oath of 493 Allegiance in the three cases to which I have referred, because it was regarded as a matter of momentous importance that persons should not assume high public offices or take a seat in Parliament except with a full recognition of the solemnity of the duties they would have to discharge. I would ask the House to consider the construction of that Act of Parliament. It begins by a Preamble which recites that one uniform Oath shall be taken by every Member. My hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General argued as if the principal object of the Act was contained in the 4th section; but it is the 3rd section which says that every Member of both Houses of Parliament must take that promissory Oath of Allegiance before he can take his seat at the beginning of every new Parliament. The exception speaks only of the person who objects to take the Oath on religious grounds, and who is there put on a level with the man who takes the Oath, because he equally recognizes a solemn religious obligation. The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) pointed to the construction of the 4th section of the Act, and in that he has been followed by my hon. and learned Friend; but may I remind him that, bearing in mind other Acts of Parliament, I think he has imported into that 4th section words which are not there? The exception mentioned applies specifically only to Quakers, and the words "every other person permitted by law for the time being to affirm," were intended to include Moravians and Separatists and other religious persons who might claim the benefit of the Act. Then I turn to the other Act. Every line of it refers to Courts of Justice, and to Courts of Justice alone, which allow the particular form in which the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) desires to affirm. In every criminal and civil proceeding, in every Court where the person satisfies the presiding Judge for the purposes of justice that his oath is not binding upon him, there, in order to promote the administration of justice, you make the exception; but not in any other case. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General has omitted one thing that seems to me to be important—namely, that in all cases where the exception is allowed, with the exception of the 494 Quaker, who is assumed to object to an oath, it is always stated in some form or another that the person desiring to affirm objects from religious motives to an oath; and, not only that, but in every one of these cases, the form of the affirmation is distinctly embodied in the Act of Parliament that allows it. Now, what is the form of the affirmation in the Evidence Amendment Acts? It is this—I, A.B., do solemnly and truly declare that the evidence I give shall he the truth, the whole truth, and nothing hut the truth.You cannot substitute another form of affirmation, unless you are authorized by an Act of Parliament to do so; and this very Act of Parliament distinctly points out the form in which an affirmation is to be made. I feel very strongly that the law, to my mind, is so clear on this one point, that I cannot do otherwise than vote against the Motion. Now, for the other point. I wish to appeal to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to consider the consequences that will follow the adoption of the Motion which is now made, with the intention, or rather with the understanding, that the hon. Member for Northampton shall be allowed to come to the Table and affirm. The consequence, in the first place, is that he comes into the House, and a great many hon. Members think it very doubtful whether he ought to do so; in the second place, every time he sits and votes in this House he is liable to a penalty of £500. Now, how long is this to go on, and how many penalties is he to incur? Is the House knowingly to sanction and encourage the hon. Member for Northampton when he takes his seat and incurs hundreds and hundreds of pounds of penalty which, in consequence of the provisions of the House itself, he will be forced to pay? Would anyone think it reasonable that he should not be indemnified if we allow him to sit, after having really promoted the conduct that involves him in these penalties? Then we ought also to consider, as the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Launceston (Sir Hardinge Giffard) suggested, what will be the result of moving for these penalties. The defence will be that he was entitled to affirm. Another defence will be that he was acting under the authority of the House, and that the House had the right 495 and the jurisdiction to determine this question—nay, that it was the duty of the House to determine it. Is that a consequence we are prepared to accept? Are we to bring ourselves into collision with the Courts of Law; or are we so incapable of determining what is the true construction to be put upon this Act of Parliament that we are to hand it over to the Courts of Justice, which may take any view irrespective of the point upon which we want to have a decision? I do not like the House to enter into any controversy with the Courts of Law, nor do I think it right that this House should shrink from the duty thrown upon it by Parliament—the statutory obligation to see that its Members are rightly seated. My conviction is very strong. I believe that, legally, the hon. Member cannot sit. I believe that the consequence of his sitting would be injurious to him and to the House, and I cannot support it.
§ MR. JOHN BRIGHT
Mr. Speaker, I hope the House will excuse me if I do not add very much to the strictly legal discussion with which it has been occupied the whole of the evening. If I wanted an excuse for avoiding much legal argument in what I have to say, I think I should have it abundantly in pointing to the different legal opinions which have been expressed to-night and on former occasions, and in the Committees on this question. It is evidently a matter which, if left to the lawyers, the lawyers would be unable to dispose of. Therefore, I shall not attempt to add an opinion which is not legal to the many legal opinions which we have had. But I should like to put two or three views to the House, which a man not brought up to the law may reasonably entertain, and, perhaps, as reasonably express. I must say, in the first place, that I think the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) was in his right place tonight when asking the House to consider the Resolution he has brought before it. He is here the Representative of a large constituency, whose choice is called in question—not the choice with regard to him, but the choice with regard to his Colleague, the hon. Member associated with him in the representation of that large constituency, but whose right to take his seat in this House has been contested by certain hon. Members, who obviously have no objection except that 496 his religious opinions—["No, no!" "Irreligious!"]—or his opinions on religion differed from theirs. I am quite sure no one who heard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City (Mr. Hubbard), or the right hon. and learned Member who spoke last from that Bench, will doubt for a moment the accuracy of what I say. When the right hon. and learned Gentleman had expounded all his legal arguments, then he turned to this heavier and graver question; and whoever listened to his speech will feel that he is acting very much upon his strong opinion with regard to that branch of the subject.
§ MR. JOHN BRIGHT
I recommend the House to read to-morrow what the right hon. Gentleman has said to-night; I have paid great attention to everything that he has said. Now, what is the simple question before us? It is agreed, I suppose, by hon. Gentlemen opposite that the electors of Northampton had a right to a free selection of a Member to represent them in this House. Nobody can say, I presume, that Mr. Bradlaugh was not legally entitled to offer himself as a candidate, or that the electors of Northampton were not legally entitled to elect him. If that be true of the constituency it must also be true of the Representative, that he is duly and legally chosen to sit in the House of Commons. Well, he comes to this Table and finds—or he has found before he comes—that some hon. Members—the majority—take an Oath, the Oath of Allegiance, and that some Members—only a small minority—take or make an Affirmation to a somewhat similar effect, There are a great many hon. Members of this House who take the Oath and greatly dislike it. ["No, no!"] That I know to a certainty—and it is open to any hon. Member, on coming to the Table, to propose to take either the one or the other. ["No, no!"] It may be that the Affirmation is so limited that many persons may not be allowed to take it. Mr. Bradlaugh did not come to the House and refuse to take the Oath. He made no such refusal. Probably if he had known, if he had had any suspicion, that the Affirmation would be refused to him, he would have taken the Oath as other 497 lion. Members take it—very much, I am afraid, as a matter of form. ["No, no!" "Withdraw!"] If any person thinks it necessary to deny that, I will not contest it. I must, however, say myself I know nothing more irreverent than the manner in which great numbers of Members take the Oath on this floor. Well, Mr. Bradlaugh comes here; he does not refuse to take the Oath—that is not the question; but he says he would prefer to make the Affirmation, as he has been allowed to make affirmations on most important questions in many of the High Courts of Justice in this country. And as he knows that a considerable number of persons make an Affirmation at this Table, he very naturally supposes he may do the same, and, prefering the Affirmation to the Oath, he communicates his view to the Clerk at the Table or to Mr. Speaker, and proposes to make an Affirmation. Bear in mind that he did not refuse to swear; that was not the question put to him—he proposed to make the Affirmation. On that occasion the Speaker entertained a doubt whether he was one of those persons who might be permitted to affirm. The Speaker's doubt was not as to whether Mr. Bradlaugh could swear, but as to whether he could Affirm; and having that sort of doubt which seems to enter the minds of lawyers on both sides of the House, the Speaker referred the matter to the House, and he did not chose to decide it for himself. Well, it would have saved us a great deal of trouble, Sir, if you had decided it for yourself. But no one can call in question your judgment. No doubt it was most conscientious, and possibly it may have been most wise. The question having been thus referred to the House, there was considerable debate and a good deal of heat and temper—at least, I judged so from the reports, for I was not in the House that evening. It was decided at last that a Committee should be appointed to consider the question and go through it more carefully and calmly than would be likely to be done by having the matter settled at once by debate and division in this House. A Committee of 19 Members was chosen. The Committee discussed this question, I think, only for one day; certainly they did not give to it anything like the amount of care, time, and discussion which was 498 given by the second Committee to the matter submitted to them. The Committee decided by the casting vote of the Chairman. ["No, no!"] You say "No;" but I know that it was so. I have it here. The numbers were Ayes 8 and Noes 8, and thereupon the Chairman declared himself with the Noes. That was the way in which this great question was settled in Committee. I do not say that the decision of the Committee, under such circumstances, should have no weight with the House. On the contrary, I admit its weight, whatever it may be. But, really, if out of 17 there had been 12 or 14 on one side, and four or five or six on the other, a decision of that kind would, probably, have some weight with the House, and it would naturally be entitled to have that weight. I did not agree with a great many things which were said or suggested in the Committee even by some of those with whom I voted. It was understood that Courts of Justice can allow a person like Mr. Bradlaugh to affirm. They can assume, or know, or be told that an oath is not binding upon his conscience, and, therefore, they can enable him to affirm. But the Act which enables him to affirm in a Court of Justice, it is assumed, has not the power to enable him to affirm in this House. And that is the difference, and that is the difficulty. But the fact is, that quite as many lawyers are on one side as on the other. I am not allowed here, I dare say, to mention names; but, besides the eminent lawyers in the House, there are very eminent lawyers outside who take the part of those who voted with the minority in the first Committee, and in favour of Mr. Bradlaugh being allowed to make the Affirmation. Now, at best, it must be considered—and I will give every weight I can to hon. Gentlemen opposite in their opinions; but still it must be admitted, in view of this difference among intelligent lawyers, that the question is extremely doubtful. I am one of those who take the view, in regard to one of those Acts, that this power, which is given to presiding Judges in Courts, is given to all persons who have the power to administer an oath. Well, no doubt, the House of Commons has the power, both at the Table and in Committees, to administer Oaths. I think, therefore, that the House might fairly agree that the power which was 499 given to Courts of Justice in the case of Mr. Bradlaugh rested with the House also, and that he might, therefore, as legally make an Affirmation here as he could make an affirmation in the High Court of Justice. Well, that decision of the Committee was laid upon the Table, but no action was taken upon it. I think that the hon. and learned Member for Launceston (Sir Hardinge Gifford), and one or two others, have said that was a tacit acknowledgement that we accepted the conclusion of the Committee. The fact is, the Report was only delivered to hon. Members on the very morning of the day on which Mr. Bradlaugh came to the Table and proposed to take the Oath. Therefore, there was no time for the House even to consider what should be done in reference to the Report of the first Committee, and so no action on it was taken at all, and it remains as it was, neither accepted by the House nor yet rejected. Well, then, afterwards Mr. Bradlaugh came on that very night to the Table again, and proposed to take the Oath. He had never refused to take it, and had never given the House to understand that he intended to refuse taking it. All that he had done was to tell the House that he should prefer to make an Affirmation, and that he believed it was within the practice and law of Parliament that he should be permitted to make it. Now, being denied the one, what was reasonable he should do if he had no insuperable objection? The course he would take would be naturally this—that he would propose to take the Oath. The one door being closed against him unfortunately, and, as he thought, quite contrary to his rights; then he said—"Looking to the interests of my constituents, for the purpose of which I am sent here, I have no objection to take the Oath which Parliament imposes, and I shall take it exactly as everybody else takes it"—[Cries of "No!"and "Oh!"]—allow me to finish—"from the first word of it to the last;" and, as ho stated in the most distinct manner to the Committee, that the Oath, the words that he would pronounce at this Table, would be absolutely binding upon his conscience and upon his honour—just as the words of the Affirmation would have been binding, if he had been permitted to utter them, and just as the words of the Affirmation are binding upon my 500 conscience and upon my honour. I pretend to have no conscience or no honour superior to the conscience and honour of Mr. Bradlaugh. ["Oh!"and "Hear, hear!"] It is no business of mine to set myself up—perhaps it is no business of yours to set yourselves up—as having a conscience and honour superior to that which actuates Mr. Bradlaugh. If you take a different line, I should like some ingenious man among you to tell me where it would lead to. Now, when Mr. Bradlaugh proposed to take the Oath, an hon. Member on the opposite side of the House—the Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Drummond Wolff)—did what never was done in Parliament in the lifetime of any man here, or I believe within the historic reading of any man—he rose in his place and objected to Mr. Bradlaugh taking the Oath. That is a course which is so unusual that at least, if there be any justification for it, it ought to be clearly and fully set forth. The practice is wholly new. Gentlemen upon the Committee from the opposite side of the House, including the right hon. and learned Gentleman who spoke last (Mr. Spencer Walpole), took some pains to ascertain if there was a shadow of a shade of a precedent for what had been done; but they did not succeed, and nothing was brought before the Committee to show that the course which had been taken had ever been taken before. It was said that, under the circumstances, there was no course open but to refer the matter to a Committee; and again the House referred the question to a Committee—the old Committee, with four new Members upon it. The first Committee consisted of 19 Members, and the second of 23. The opposite Party complained that there were not sufficient lawyers on it, and then more were added. When the question arose of adding other four, it was said that there was not a sufficient Nonconformist representation; but no names of Nonconformists were added. In fact, I never knew such a chaos and want of understanding in any debate in this House as has been shown on the opposite Benches. Then the Committee of 23 met and discussed the question for about seven days, and one day we sat from 1 o'clock to 7 without leaving the room. No question could have been discussed more thoroughly and more honestly. At last the Oath was refused, on a ground which I 501 think is absolutely untenable—although. I was in a small minority—that Mr. Bradlaugh had asked to Affirm. It was assumed that, because he asked to Affirm, he had declared that the Oath was not in the smallest degree binding on his conscience. He made no such declaration, and it is, in my opinion, an assumption we have no right to make, that this was his position. He had asked to Affirm, and he had stated, because he had to give some legal justification, that he did so because there were certain Acts referring to the case, and in Courts of Justice these had been sufficient to allow him to affirm. He never said the Oath would not have been binding on his conscience. He said, over and over again, that it would; and I insist now that the House is not just to Mr. Brad-laugh in saying that he could not take the Oath because he had asked to Affirm. I think that is taking an unfair advantage of him that not one of us would like to see taken against himself if he could be in a position at all similar to that which Mr. Bradlaugh is in. It comes to this. That his Oath is declared by the Committee not to be binding, although he himself has constantly asserted the contrary; and that on the ground that his Oath was not binding, it was resolved that he would not be allowed to take the Affirmation, although it would have been permitted to him to do so in a Court of Justice. A right which he has in every Court of Justice in the Kingdom the House of Commons, which is the source and fountain of all our justice, prohibits him from having at its Bar. I think, on these grounds, I am justified in saying and feeling that Mr. Bradlaugh has not had what I should call that favourable and generous justice which the House of Commons is in the habit of according to its Members. Now I come to the question of precedent, and, with regard to that, it is admitted there is no precedent for the course proposed to be taken. There has never been an Inquisition before when a Member has presented himself to take the Oath at the Table. There has never been any Member for Portsmouth in past times so courageous, or any great Party in the House willing to allow a question of this kind to be raised, when any Member came up to the Table to take the Oath of Allegiance. There are no precedents in any of the 502 Courts of Law either in this country or in Scotland, any more than there are in Parliament. In 1833 there certainly was a precedent in the case of Mr. Pease; and though it does not run on all fours with the present case, I will refer to it in order to allude to two opinions that were expressed concerning it. Mr. Pease, as the House well knows, objected to take the Oath, and also to make any Affirmation in which the words of the Oath were included. He would not swear. He had that curious notion that some people have that the New Testament is against swearing at all. He had, at the same time, an objection to make an Affirmation that he would defend the Crown by force of arms. He did these two things being a member of the Body to which I belong, and the House, both in Committee and in the full House, passed unanimously Motions giving him the right to affirm in the manner he desired—namely, that he should be allowed to take the Affirmation instead of the Oath, and that the words of the Oath to which he objected should be omitted from the Affirmation; and in that way he made an Affirmation which has formed a basis of the proceedings of this House ever since towards members of the Body to which, as I have said and as is well known, I belong as did Mr. Pease. Now, I should like to read one passage from the opinion of Mr. Wynn, who in that day was considered the very highest authority on all questions of Order in the House of Commons. It was on that account, no doubt, that he was asked to move the Resolution by which Mr. Pease was admitted to a seat in this House. He says—If the case was less clear than it really was, he was of opinion that, in deciding upon it, it would be the duty of the House to lean to the side of the claimant, and in conformity with those Acts of Parliament under which the Affirmation of Quakers was in all Courts and upon all occasions, in criminal as well as in civil cases held to be sufficient, to determine that it was also sufficient here."—[3 Hansard, xv. 642.]Now, I would ask the House to act upon the liberal and generous principles which Mr. Wynn recommended to the House. In Courts outside the walls of Parliament established for the administration of justice, Mr. Bradlaugh would have the right to affirm. The one other authority to which I wish to refer, Sir John 503 Campbell, the Solicitor General of that day, told the House that—Originally, by the common law of the land, every person that was duly elected was entitled to take his seat in this House without taking any Oaths whatever."—[Ibid. 644.]It is something to know what the common law of the land is, and to know that the common law of the land is in favour of freedom. Sir John Campbell goes back to the Act of the 5th of Elizabeth, before which no Oaths were required to be taken by Members of Parliament, and then he says—Now, as that statute, and the other statutes imposing Oaths, were infringements on the common law of the land, and were besides penal statutes, they must be literally and strictly construed, whereas the remedial laws, relaxing such provisions, and so far restoring in a degree the common law right, were to be literally construed."—[Ibid.]I appeal to the House—perhaps I ought to appeal to hon. Gentlemen opposite; perhaps they are not so full of passion as not to be able to appreciate an argument drawn from authorities like these. ["Oh, oh!"] If they will not listen to me, I shall appeal to those on this side, and to some below the Gangway opposite. I ask them whether Mr. Wynn, a leading and influential Member of the Conservative Party—["Whig, Whig!"]—well, I sat always on the Liberal side, and saw Mr. Wynn opposite—I ask whether they will not accept this view of Mr. Wynn on a question of this kind? I am not going to argue the question, as it has been argued by my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, and I will admit, if you like, that there is a doubt. But Mr. Wynn said, if there is a doubt, you ought to lean to the side of the claimant; and Sir John Campbell said the common law of the land is in favour of freedom, and that these remedial laws ought to be construed in a liberal spirit. If you admit that, I think that the course taken in regard to this question shows we have not made much progress during 50 years in regard to a matter of this kind. In the year 1833 the Houses of Parliament had come fresh from the country, fresh also from new constituencies. From that time to this there has been a gradual relaxation; but it is proposed now to establish a new test. It is a test of Theism. ["No, no!"] Surely the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Spencer 504 Walpole) who says "No!" must have forgotten everything that took place in the Committee, and cannot be conscious of his own principles and his own intentions? Why, surely, the object of this Motion is to establish the test of Theism. ["No, no!"] What was the meaning of the words at the end of the Oath, "On the true faith of a Christian," to which the Jews could not subscribe? That was a test of Christianity by which they were for many years kept out of this House. Now it is proposed by the hon. Member for Portsmouth—it was not proposed from the Front Opposition Bench, because that Bench appears to have abdicated its functions entirely, and has shown, I will not say an abject, but a remarkable submission to Gentlemen who sit in the lower part of the House. I say that you are about to establish a new test of Theism, and to do another thing which it appears to me will be intolerable to the House. You are going to establish two orders of Members in the House of Commons. We are not all to be equal in the future. I may come to the Table and Affirm, and nobody dare ask me any question about my religion, whether Christian, Atheistic, Theistic, or anything else. But if a Member comes to the Table, proposing to take the Oath, and you have certain doubts in regard to him, the hon. Member for Portsmouth can get up and put to him a question. ["No, no!"] Yes, he can. ["No, no!"] I am glad to see that hon. Members opposite are afraid to face the result. ["No, no!"] I say you are about to establish two orders of Members in this House—one, consisting of a small minority, can come up and no man can ask them a question; the other, a large majority, can come here and any Member who wishes to distinguish himself can rise in his place and protest against another hon. Member taking the Oath. ["No, no!"] I put it to the hon. Member for Portsmouth—What would he do in the case of a Comtist or a Positivist? [Sir H. DRUMMOND WOLFF rose to answer.] I do not want him to answer it now. I remember receiving a pamphlet advocating the getting rid of the idea of a God. That was sent to me on behalf of some persons who may be described in terms that are not appropriate, but who are said to be Positivists or Comtists. I do not know that they 505 are Atheists at all. I say nothing about it. But if that pamphlet represents them, and if any one of them comes into this House, no doubt it will be open—if the House proceeds in the course it is now taking—to the hon. Member for Portsmouth to pursue the line which he has already adopted, and to call in question some men for whom I have the utmost respect in regard to everything but their opinions on the question of religion, which I deplore, and in connection with which I can only commiserate them, for I know that many people have much greater power of belief than others have; and I am not one of those—having often myself passed through many doubts—to condemn without sympathy, at any rate, those who are not able to adopt the views which I myself hold. Now, Sir, only one word more. There are Members of this House of different Churches; but generally all, I trust, of one religion, of the religion which inculcates charity, and forbearance, and justice, and even generosity. There are those who belong to the Roman Catholic Church. I need not remind them of what they and their ancestors have gone through in Ireland for the last 200 or 300 years or more, or of how long a time they were kept out of this House, and by the very same class of arguments which the hon. and learned Member for East Surrey (Mr. Grantham) used. He tells us that for a very long time past there has been gradual relaxations. Yes, no doubt; but did he ever sit among those who have promoted those relaxations? I have been here for 37 years, and I have heard these questions discussed over and over again; but I never found that the time had come when the Party opposite, represented by Gentlemen who now sit there, were willing to make those relaxations. They submitted not to argument, not to sentiments of generosity or of justice; they submitted only to a majority which sat on this side of the House. Then there are the Nonconformists. I am told that there are some Nonconformists even—but I think it is rather in the nature of a mistake or of a slander—who have some grave doubts as to how they should vote on this occasion. It is occasions like this that try men and try principles. Do you suppose that in times past the Founder of Christianity has required an Oath in this House to defend the religion which He 506 founded? Or do you suppose, now, that the Supreme Ruler of the World can be interested in the fact that one man comes to this Table and takes His name—it may be often in vain—and another is permitted to make an Affirmation, reverently and honestly, in which His name is not included? But one thing is essential for us, the House of Commons representing the English people, which is, to maintain as far as we can the great principles of freedom—freedom of political action and freedom of conscience. The electors, I know not how many thousands, of the borough of Northampton have returned two Members to Parliament. You admit the one, and you exclude the other. All the constituencies of the Kingdom, you may rely upon it, will consider this cause is their own. You have heard, for the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) has told us to-night, that among his constituents there are but few who can be supposed in the least to sympathize with many of the opinions of Mr. Bradlaugh. [Laughter] Well, hon. Gentlemen who know nothing about it laugh at that. I think it very possible that, finding that Mr. Bradlaugh, in his political opinions was in sympathy with them, those electors so little liked the political opinions of hon. Gentlemen opposite that they preferred Mr. Bradlaugh, with his political opinions, to some opposing candidates who have represented them, and whose religious views might have been entirely orthodox. Now, my belief is that throughout the whole of the great boroughs of the Kingdom you will find the working classes taking part, not with the House of Commons in excluding Mr. Bradlaugh, but with those who wish him to be permitted to make the Affirmation. I am of that opinion myself. To a large extent the working people of this country do not care any more for the dogmas of Christianity than the upper classes care for the practice of that religion. I wish from my heart that it were otherwise; but of this I an certain, that the course which it is proposed to take in dealing out this rigid measure to a Gentleman honestly, openly, fairly, and legally elected by a great constituency will be productive of great evils, may bring this House into continual conflict with at least one constituency, and may bring us ultimately to the humiliation which 507 the House of Commons underwent in connection with another case some 100 years ago. Hon. Members opposite will, I dare say, represent to themselves and to others that they are the defenders of religion, of orthodoxy, of decency, and of I know not what. I am here as the defender of what I believe to be the principles of our Constitution, of the freedom of constituencies to elect, and of the freedom of the elected to sit in Parliament. That freedom which has been so hardly won I do not believe the House of Commons will endeavour to wrest from our constituencies, knowing by what slow steps we have reached the point we have now attained; and I do not believe that, on the recommendation of the hon Member for Portsmouth, they will turn back and deny the principles which have been so dear to them.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, that it was with considerable diffidence that he rose to make a few observations, after the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down; and he should not wish to do so had it not been that he had felt it to be absolutely necessary that some notice should at once be taken of the principles which the right hon. Gentleman enunciated. They had been told from the other side of the House that they ought to consider this question, to some extent, as a question of law; but the right hon. Gentleman had somewhat ostentatiously told them that he was not going to deal with the law. In that he exercised a wise discretion, because the speech of his right hon. Friend behind him, in its moderation and its calm good sense, would have been extremely difficult for him to answer. But the right hon. Gentleman had gone further, and had indulged in sneers upon everything and everybody connected with views different from his own. He had not only sneered at the motives of those who sat upon this side of the House, but upon the motives of all those hon. Members who intended to vote against the Motion. And when the right hon. Gentleman talked about justice and generosity, he would ask, where was his justice or his generosity? Where was his charity? The right hon. Gentleman was quite right in saying that this was a question which would try a man and his principles, and he had endeavoured, in the course of his speech, to justify the action 508 of Mr. Bradlaugh. He had told them, and deliberately told them, that there were many men in that House who took the Oath as a matter of form; and he had said, further, that Mr. Bradlaugh had come forward to take the Oath just as everyone else came to take it in that House. Now, he ventured in the name of their common Christianity, to repudiate such an idea. The right hon. Gentleman, in the course of his statement, had entirely misrepresented the position of Mr. Bradlaugh when he came to the Table claiming to be sworn. He could not put the case better than it was put in the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Coventry in the course of the discussion before the Select Committee. That Amendment stated that it was impossible to disregard Mr. Bradlaugh's own action in that matter. In claiming the benefit of the Acts of Parliament permitting Affirmations, he must be taken to have made that claim in accordance with the terms upon which it was allowed by these Acts. On reference to these Acts it would be seen that the only case where they applied was where the Judge was satisfied that an oath would have no binding effect on the conscience of the witness. That, therefore, was the real meaning of the hon. Member for Northampton when he came to the Table of the House and claimed to take the Affirmation instead of the Oath. In the exercise of his discretion, Mr. Speaker had left the matter in the hands of the House, and the question had been referred by the House to a Select Committee appointed on the Motion of the Government. That Committee reported after a very short interval. Their Report was in the hands of hon. Members. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General now said that when the question came on for discussion the Government had had no time to consider or to determine upon what course to take with reference to it. In his opinion, the Government had had just as much time to read the brief Report of the Committee as anyone else. The Report might have been mastered in a few minutes; and that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister accepted its conclusion was shown by the fact that when he moved for the appointment of another Committee, he asserted in the Preamble of his Motion that the first Committee had 509 already stated that, in their opinion, a person in Mr. Bradlaugh's position could not be permitted to make an Affirmation. If the right hon. Gentleman had then entertained the same opinion as that contained in the Report of the second Committee, he would not have been able to make the Motion which he did. But, since then, the Report of the second Committee had thrown the Government into a difficulty, and they had found it necessary to hark back. A very curious argument was put forward to justify their course. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dewsbury told them that they ought to take no notice of the Report of either Committee.
§ MR. SERJEANT SIMON
said, that he did not state that they should take no notice of the Report of the first Committee, but that the present Motion was totally independent of the Report of either Committee.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, that the hon. and learned Gentleman admitted stating that the proper course for the House to adopt was to disregard both Committees and proceed independently. What else was said on the matter? The hon. Member for Bedford told them that they had no precedent for interfering when a Member desired to take the Oath, and he went on to argue that it was not in the power of the House to interfere under any circumstances when a Member came forward to take the Oath. But he would venture to say, on the other hand, that there was no precedent for permitting a Member to take the Oath under circumstances like the present. They were told that the House was not to take cognizance of the position taken up by the hon. Member for Northampton, even when that hon. Member, by his own act, forced it upon their attention. He ventured to say that such a contention was one which outraged the feeling of the country. What did they all say every Sunday? In that solemn prayer in which they offered up for the High Court of Parliament, did they not ask the Supreme Being to direct and prosper all their consultations for the advancement of His glory? What did the various religious bodies say upon this question? They had received a Petition signed by the Roman Catholics, and they had also a Petition by the Wesleyan Methodists, protesting against the course which it was proposed to 510 allow Mr. Bradlaugh to pursue. And they might fairly be reminded that even in the darkest times during the French Revolution, in the re-action that followed the enthronement of the Goddess of Reason, it was moved by Robespierre himself in the Assembly, that it was necessary for the Assembly itself to take official cognizance of the existence of a Supreme Being. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster stated that they were proposing a new test of Theism. He would venture to say that they did nothing whatever of that sort. What they did, and what the Motion of his hon. and learned Friend proposed to affirm, was this—that after considering these two Reports they should act upon them, and should say that as the law at present stood, the hon. Member for Northampton was not entitled to take the Oath or to Affirm under the Statutes. The right hon. Gentleman alleged that such a course would make it necessary for them to put questions as to his religious belief to any hon. Member claiming to take the Oath; but, in this case, instead of their putting a question to Mr. Brad-laugh, he had put a question to them. He had come to the Table of the House and he had asked leave to make an Affirmation for the reasons he had given, and he awaited their answer. Before adopting the Resolution of the sitting Member for Northampton, they should remember how their action would be interpreted out-of-doors. It would be said that after two Committees had been appointed by the Government, and those Committees had reported that it was not legal for a man who denied the existence of a Supreme Being to take the Oath or to Affirm, he had, in defiance of the law, been admitted by a side wind in the House. He protested altogether against that proceeding, and upon two grounds. In the first place, it appeared to him to involve a complete humiliation of Parliament. It would appear that the Government and the House, after having given the subject much consideration, were unable to arrive at any conclusion whatever upon the subject, but would only leave it to be decided by a Court of Law. What would be the position of the House when the case came before a Court of Law? The Court of Law would decide either that the House had sanctioned an 511 illegal act, with full notice, and with its eyes open, and with the opinions before it of the Committees to whom was specially remitted the consideration of the question; or it would decide that the House had illegally kept out an hon. Member who had a right to be admitted. If either judgment were pronounced, the House would be putting itself in a most undignified position, and especially if, as might happen, the judgment were given as to the legality or illegality of their action by the House of Lords. Again, he objected to this as eminently unfair to Mr. Bradlaugh himself. He came to the Table of the House and asked a plain question, and was entitled to receive a plain answer. He was entitled to be told whether the action he proposed to take was illegal or not. So far as he understood the arguments from the Treasury Bench they did not declare that his act was illegal, but they said that though its legality was doubtful the House ought to admit him. If that contention were right—if either it were illegal to suffer Mr. Bradlaugh to affirm, or if it was so doubtful that the House could not pronounce any opinion upon it, then the proper course was to bring in a Bill and not to leave the matter in a position of such doubtful legality, and yet actually by a Resolution of the House to invite the hon. Member to come in and take his seat. It was said that those who refused to accept this proposal did so because they wanted to bring the House to a dead lock upon this question. Directly the contrary was the case. They did not desire to bring the House to a dead lock; but they said that if Mr. Bradlaugh ought by law to be excluded from taking the Oath, or making an Affirmation, then the House ought to have the courage to say so. If there was a doubt about it, then a Bill ought to be brought forward on the subject upon which the matter could be properly discussed. He objected in the strongest possible way to the course now attempted to be forced upon the House, by which it was sought to evade responsibility for a time, but which would end in bringing back a greatly increased responsibility upon the House. He believed that the course now proposed to be taken offered no certain settlement of the difficulty, and was utterly unworthy of the House of Commons.
§ SIR PATRICK O'BRIEN
said, that the few observations which he would address to the House would be simply for the purpose of explaining the position of himself, and, he believed, of many other hon. Members. What was the position of the hon. Gentleman whose case they were considering? It was this, that he had outraged not only British sentiment, but Christian sentiment, and he was there in that Liberal House of Commons to express his humble opinion on the subject. On the other hand, the hon. Gentleman had written that letter to The Times, which had been alluded to, and which, no doubt, withdrew him from the favourable consideration of every hon. Gentleman in that House, and from that of every Christian. But there was something beyond. There was a question whether any particular constituency in this country had a right to send to that House any person, no matter how reprehensible he might be; and he believed many hon. Members entertained the same opinion as he did, that they ought to look beyond the letter which he had written to The Times to the much larger question whether a complete and thorough freedom of election ought to be enjoyed by the constituencies. He rose in that House to state that as regarded the action of the hon. Gentleman it had been one which he and a great many others could have no confidence in and no consideration for; but he entertained even more the opinion that the action of the constituency was of greater importance, and to the constituency he left the question whether the hon. Gentleman was a fit and proper person to take his seat in that House. Although he considered that Mr. Bradlaugh, by his letter to the public papers, had put himself in a position which entirely cut him off from sympathy, yet he was not prepared to encounter the much larger question whether an English constituency was not justified in sending to that House any Gentleman whom they pleased; and on this account he should decline, as he believed many others would, to vote on the present occasion.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Newdegate.)513
§ MR. O'DONNELL
said, he should like to say a few words in support of the Motion for adjournment. At that advanced hour, and after the observations which had been made in that House by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright), the necessity weighed upon them to grant the requisite time for full consideration of all the attendant circumstances, so as to insure full publicity. The debates of the House upon this question at that hour could not be fully published; and the responsibility weighed upon them all in that great and painful question, and required them by all means in their power to insist upon an adjournment. Whatever might be said to the contrary, he could not but think that the remark of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham was unintentional where he instituted a comparison between the Catholics and the various sects who had elected Mr. Brad-laugh to be their champion. Such a remark was in the highest degree offensive to the Catholic population. He would venture to say, in the first place, that the Catholics were not relieved from the disabilities of ages by a roundabout device like that which was now being pressed upon the House. On the contrary, those disabilities were removed after the subject had been fully debated, and a Bill, brought in by the responsible Government, had passed the three Estates of the Realm. The whole of the proceedings in the matter confirmed him in the opinion that there ought to be the fullest discussion upon that question; and he thought the subject was one which required to be considered fully and fairly. For his own part, he had not the slightest intention of helping the Government to evade their just and proper responsibility.
SIR STAFFORD NORTHOOTE
said, he hoped they might understand that the Government assented to the proposal of his hon. Friend for an adjournment. The question was one, no doubt, of great importance; and he was aware that there were a considerable number of Gentlemen who desired to address the House upon the subject. He hoped that the Government would assent to that proposal.
said that he had naturally waited until there was some evidence that might be taken as evi- 514 dence of the disposition of a considerable number of Gentlemen wishing to speak upon the subject. After hearing the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir Stafford Northcote) he could not, of course, question for a moment that there was a sufficient amount of desire that that debate should be continued to-day—Tuesday—he should consider it his duty to yield in that matter. As the subject of debate was a matter of privilege, it would be idle for the Government to ask the House to meet at two o'clock, as it was necessary that the evening should be free before them. Consequently, he presumed that the House would meet at usual at 4 o'clock.
§ MR. A. M. SULLIVAN
said, he should like to know how that arrangement would affect the Bill with reference to the eviction of tenants now before them in case there were no Morning Sitting?
said, he was afraid that that Bill would not be able to be taken if the present debate were resumed. They would, however, see how that debate went, and make arrangements for an early day, during the present week certainly, to proceed with the Bill.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till To-morrow.