Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [21st May],
That, in the opinion of this House, Mr. Bradlaugh, Member for Northampton, ought not to be allowed to take the Oath which ho now requires to be administered to him, in consequence of his having previously claimed, at the Table of the House, to make an Affirmation or Declaration instead of the Oath prescribed by Law, founding his claim upon the terms of the Act 29 and 30 Vic. c. 19, and the Evidence Amendment Acts of 1869 and 1870, and on the ground that under the provisions of those Acts the presiding Judge, at a trial, has been satisfied that the taking of an Oath would have no binding effect on his conscience."—(Sir Henry Drummond Wolff.)
And which Amendment was,
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "it be referred to a Select Committee, to consider and report their opinion to the House whether the House has any right, founded on precedent or otherwise, by Resolution to prevent a duly elected Member, who is willing to take the Oath proscribed by the Act 29 and 30 Vic. c. 19,
and 31 and 32 Vic. c. 72, from so doing; and, if they are of opinion that the House has such right, further to report on what grounds it is competent to the House to prevent such Member from taking the Oath,"—(Mr. Gladstone,)
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ Debate resumed.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
said, that it must be a matter of satisfaction to the House that the debate on this matter had not concluded on Friday evening, but that time had been given for the question to be considered in all its bearings, and for its gravity to be appreciated, not only by the House, but by the public out-of-doors. It was his opinion that the question whether Mr. Bradlaugh should be allowed to take the Oath was not one which could with any propriety be relegated to a Select Committee. There was nothing complicated in the nature of the question. There was no evidence to be taken in regard to matters of fact; it seemed to him to be a matter of principle which ought to be decided by what Lord Beaconsfield once well described as the "unerring instinct of the House of Commons." The question, although a grave one, was a very simple one. It was, should the Oath of Allegiance be administered to an individual who had thought it his duty to publicly declare beforehand, coram populo, that the Oath of Allegiance could have no binding effect upon his conscience, and who told the House of Commons that that Oath was based upon the idlest of superstitions, upon a mummery and a mockery which were degrading and absurd. That was the position Mr. Bradlaugh had taken up; and he (Lord Bandolph Churchill) maintained that if the House allowed him to take the Oath they would, to a certain extent, acquiesce in Mr. Bradlaugh's opinions. In this way they would acquiesce—by such a proceeding the House would admit that one of its own Members might, with right, law, and justice on his side, call God to witness that he was a true and loyal subject, and at the same time proclaim that the God whom he called upon was to him an incomprehensible nonentity, and that he would not so call upon Him if it were not for the civil 335 disabilities which would otherwise attach to him. Moreover, he added that the taking of the Oath could not affect in any degree his conduct as a Member of Parliament. Now, what was the natural result of such an admission? It appeared to him that the House would be unable to preserve solemn forms in the efficacy of which it did not sincerely believe; and they could not sincerely believe in solemn forms which they allowed to be trampled upon and held up to public scorn by one of their own Members. But a great deal more followed. If the House allowed the Oath of Allegiance to be thus treated, and if the House admitted that Members of the House might declare, with all the authority which a Parliamentary position gave, with right, law, and justice on their side, that the words "So help me God" were merely a ridiculous and superstitious invocation, utterly devoid of any moral force, then the whole connection between the proceedings of Parliament and a Divine sanction was in danger; and the idea, he might almost say the faith, which had for centuries animated the House of Commons that its proceedings were under the supervision and would be guided by the wisdom of a beneficent Providence, lost all its force. It could not be doubted, and history could prove, that when persons, and even nations, suffered what were believed to be their most cherished convictions to be trampled upon and insulted and held up to public derision they could not be far from abandoning those convictions. He did not know how it might be with the Liberal Party; but from the opinions he had been able to gather from many quarters, he was convinced that by a great majority of the people of the country the triumph of Mr. Bradlaugh in this matter would be regarded with feelings of shame and grief. It was not for that that the Liberal Party was placed in a position of such power and had the confidence of the country given to it; and although the House never had been, and he trusted never would be, a place for the discussion of matters of abstract theology or questions of doctrine or of dogma, still, on the other hand, hon. Members opposite were not returned in such numbers in order that the House of Commons might become a place where the solemn forms and practices of the Christian religion might be safely derided, and the existence of a God publicly 336 and with scorn denied. It was a question which must be decided upon general principles chiefly, it was a question in which very great and very vital principles were involved, and they must not allow pettifogging technicalities to be introduced into the discussion by Law Officers, who were apt to confuse the proceedings of this House with the proceedings of the Old Bailey. It had been the proudest boast of the Commons of England that, however great their political differences might be, they were at any rate united in one sentiment—that of loyalty to the Crown; and they gladly testified to that fact when they took the Oath of Allegiance at the Table. But Mr. Bradlaugh's ideas of loyalty were in one respect analogous to his ideas on religion. They were widely different from ours. In a book which he had written, which he had endeavoured to circulate far and wide, entitled The Impeachment of the House of Brunswick, and which, he observed, had reached a sixth edition, Mr. Bradlaugh had laid down the principle that it was within the inherent competence of the House, without any precedent transaction to justify it, and on its own Motion, to vote the deposition of the Royal Family, and to substitute any other form of Government which might seem good. He would quote one passage as a fair specimen of the contents of that book—I loathe these small German breast-bestarred wanderers, whose only merit is their loving hatred of one another. In their own land they vegetate and wither unnoticed. Here wo pay them highly to marry and perpetuate a pauper prince race. If they do nothing, they are good; if they do ill, loyalty gilds the vice till it looks like virtue.From such sentiments it might be seen that if Mr. Bradlaugh were now admitted to take the Oath he might base his Parliamentary career on principles which all other hon. Members were precluded from entertaining by their belief in the sanctity of that very Oath, but which he could adopt in the House and the country with all possible freedom, because he had declared beforehand that in his eyes the Oath was a mere idle form which could not bind his conscience, and therefore would not govern his principles or guide his conduct. It might be that, even if that were true, no evil said could arise from the action of one man; but he (Lord Eandolph Churchill) took a 337 different view. The Oath testified alike to the sense of loyalty and of religion on the part of a Member, both of which were derided by Mr. Bradlaugh; and if, under the guidance of the Prime Minister, the House admitted him by allowing him to take the Oath, it became an absolute impossibility that either loyalty or religion could occupy in the minds of Members of Parliament or of the English people the same lofty, unshaken, and unassailable position which they had occupied without interruption down to the present day. He could not think that that could be the policy of the Liberal Party; but although it was of course possible that the Conservative Party, and others who agreed with the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Drummond Wolff), might be placed in a minority on the question, still they should have the satisfaction of feeling that in the sentiments which they uttered, and in the action which they took upon it, they were in complete accord with an overwhelming majority of the English people. The right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) seemed to think hon. Members on the Opposition Benches were making an unnecessary fuss over what he emphasized as their Oath, as distinguished from what he called his Affirmation; but what would the right hon. Gentleman have felt had Mr. Bradlaugh said—"Well, as I object to a superstitious Oath, and as one must be a Quaker or a Moravian in order to be allowed to make an Affirmation, I hereby declare that I am a member of the Society of Friends, and claim to affirm accordingly." Would he not have been outraged, and would not the whole Society of Friends have been outraged, by such a declaration? There would have been a most withering denunciation on the part of the right hon. Gentleman of such a proceeding. Yet the present case was still more serious. The hon. Member for Northampton claimed to take the Oath, and, in doing so, he outraged all hon. Gentlemen who believed in its sanctity and efficacy just in the same way as he would have outraged the Society of Friends by declaring himself to be one of their body for the mere purpose of taking his seat in the House and claiming to make their Affirmation. In this case the hon. Member for Northampton outraged the feelings not merely of members of the Church 338 of England or of the Society of Friends, but of all men and women who believed in an immortal God. As for the rights of the constituents of Northampton, he (Lord Randolph Churchill) was not disposed to recommend the House to be very much exercised on the matter. They did not elect this Gentleman in the dark. It was quite true that the morality and the piety of Mr. Bradlaugh were guaranteed to them by the hon. Member for Bristol (Mr. Samuel Morley), who was much respected by the great Nonconformist Body for his sense of religion and his piety, and it was equally true that the loyalty of Mr. Bradlaugh was guaranteed to them by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Clackmannanshire (Mr. Adam). At the same time, as the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster told the House the other night, the whole history of this man, political, literary, and religious, was placed before the constituents of Northampton during the heat of an election contest in the minutest detail. He had been told that Mr. Bradlaugh had flaunted his opinions before the constituents, who deliberately elected him as their Member. On their heads, therefore, must rest the responsibility of any action which this House might take. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster had tried to alarm the House by citing the case of John Wilkes; but would the right hon. Gentleman assert that there was the slightest analogy between John Wilkes and Mr. Bradlaugh? The House should not suffer itself to be deluded by such chimeras. He (Lord Randolph Churchill) hoped he should not be deemed presumptuous if he ventured to make an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman at the head of Her Majesty's Government. He had a conviction that there was not any Member of the House who viewed Mr. Bradlaugh's opinions with greater horror and aversion than the First Lord of the Treasury. He would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to abandon the position he had somewhat lightly taken up and not to seek to evade a great question by a transparent and obvious device. The right hon. Gentleman had behind him a great majority, which in his hands might, no doubt, be the means of promoting the best and the highest interests of the country. "Do not," he would say to 339 the right hon. Gentleman, "let it be in our power to say that the first use you made of that powerful weapon was to mark it with an indelible stain, and that the first time you led the Liberal Party through the Lobby in this new Parliament was for the purpose of placing on those Benehes opposite an avowed Atheist and a professedly disloyal person."
§ MR. WATKIN WILLIAMS
said, that if the question before the House had been as stated by the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) whether an avowed Atheist, who openly declared that the Oath was a mere empty form, having no binding effect on his conscience, should be allowed to go through the form, he should have concurred with the noble Lord in saying that that was a question to be decided by the House itself, and not one to be remitted to a Select Committee; and, indeed, he concurred in most of the abstract propositions and sentiments propounded by the noble Lord, but ventured to think that this painful and delicate subject would, before it was finally disposed of, give rise to two most important questions, and questions not exclusively within the jurisdiction of the House to determine. That being so, it was necessary for the dignity of the House that they should proceed with the utmost care and caution; and it was desirable, before coming to a final decision, to obtain the preliminary assistance of a Select Committee. The terms of the proposed Reference to the Select Committee,' as at present framed, were imperfect and very unsatisfactory. That remark was applicable not only to the Amendment of the Prime Minister already before the House, but also to the Amendment of which Notice had been given by the Attorney General. Two questions, he thought, would arise One was a pure question of law. It was this—If a person presented himself to take the Oath, avowing that it was a meaningless form without binding-effect on his conscience, would the circumstances of his uttering the solemn words with his lips be a taking of the Oath? This important question he did not wish to prejudge, although he entertained a very clear opinion with regard to it. In the Courts of Law the Judges refused to allow the oath to be administered to persons of tender years, without first questioning them to ascertain, 340 not, indeed, whether they could utter the words with their lips, but whether they appreciated the real nature of the solemn act they were about to perform. So, again, if a person in the witness-box were to announce that he did not believe in the existence of a Supreme Being, and that the taking of an oath had no binding effect on his conscience, he was disqualified from going through the farce and the form of doing that which ho himself had announced was nothing. It would not, in fact, be the taking of the oath within the true meaning of the law. The taking of the oath was not the mere utterance of words by the lips, but the expression of a solemn declaration from the heart and conscience of the man calling God to witness that he was speaking the truth. This was a question of the greatest importance, lying at the foundation of the unfortunate issue now raised; and it was entirely ignored by the terms of the proposed Reference to the Committee, which begged the whole question by assuming that Mr. Bradlaugh was ready to take the Oath. The second question was, perhaps, of still greater importance, of greater difficult}7, and even of greater delicacy. It was this. What were the real facts and circumstances under which Mr. Bradlaugh advanced to the Table and proposed to go through the form of taking the Oath? Hon. Members had referred to facts of which he was in entire ignorance. He had never seen the book which was quoted by the noble Lord, nor had he read Mr. Bradlaugh's speeches to his constituents. Indeed, he was ignorant as to Mr. Bradlaugh's opinions generally. He might likewise remind the House that it was decided in the Queen's case—and, as he thought, wisely decided—that a man about to be sworn was himself the final judge and arbiter of what was his conscientious belief as to the existence of a Supreme Being, and of the binding nature of the Oath upon his conscience. If, then, a man did solemnly and seriously declare that he believed in the existence of a God, and that an oath did bind his conscience, that was conclusive on the subject. The majority of hon. Members were ignorant of the relevant facts of this case, and wanted to know what they were. It was not sufficient to know what opinions Mr. Bradlaugh might have held ten years, or ten weeks, or 341 even ten days ago. He might have changed them within either of those times; and, in the darkest periods of religious oppression and superstitious bigotry, an opportunity was always given a man to re-consider or recant his opinion. The greatest unbeliever was allowed to re-consider his opinions, to recall his words, and to submit himself to the tribunal he had offended and to recant. What hon. Member in the House would object if this Gentleman came forward now in a repentant attitude? [Laughter from the Opposition.] That laughter was an evil omen as to the spirit in which hon. Members were approaching that question. If they sincerely believed in the reality and solemnity of the proceeding, why should they deride the idea that a man might say he repented of his evil thoughts and evil opinions? If, therefore, he came solemnly and reverently to the Table and said, "I do believe in the existence of a Supreme Being, and in the binding nature of the Oath," would they then refuse it to him? ["No, no!"] Let them not accept idle declamation about what were popularly supposed to be the opinions of Mr. Bradlaugh. If, however, Mr. Bradlaugh came forward and said, "Your Oath is an idle form; I do not believe in the God whom you invoke; I sneer and laugh at you and your proceedings," he would be the last to let him take it in that sense; and he ventured to say that that would not really be taking the Oath. With regard to the Amendment of the Prime Minister, he objected to it, because it referred to the Committee a point which never ought to be so referred. This House would never allow its jurisdiction to pass to any Select Committee or any other body; but he hoped they would deem it desirable to remit to a Committee the task both of investigating the question of law and examining the real circumstances in which Mr. Bradlaugh asked to have the Oath administered to him, and also of stating, for the guidance of the House, what was its opinion upon the matter. He regretted the exceedingly unsatisfactory character of the proceedings of the late Committee. The House knew nothing of what passed in that Committee, and had received from it no assistance to guide it in coming to a right conclusion. The same mistake, he trusted, would not be repeated in the case 342 of the proposed Committee. In the Amendment before the House the proposition was that it be referred to a Select Committee to consider and report whether the House had any right, founded on precedent or otherwise, by Resolution, to prevent a duly elected Member who was willing to take the Oath from so doing. Who could doubt that the House had such a right, unless, indeed, the very expression "to take the Oath" begged the whole question? He would refuse to let that be questioned by even a Reference to a Select Committee. Supposing a Member after his election became a lunatic, and then came to the Table to be sworn, must the House submit to the indignity of allowing a person non compos mentis to go through the form of taking the Oath? Could it be assumed for a moment that the House was so helpless that it could not arrest the progress of a sham ceremony, and the open abuse of its proceedings? It was obvious that the House had such a power, and it was not necessary to refer such a question to a Committee. Again, the proposed Reference spoke of a Member" who is willing to take the Oath. "Why, those words begged the whole question. If the view of the facts put forward by the noble Lord were correct, it could not be properly affirmed that Mr. Bradlaugh was willing to take the Oath; he was willing only to go through a form. In the amended Reference, of which Notice had been given by the Attorney General, the mistake made was still more fatal; because, after reciting a number of facts, which excluded the main point in controversy, the Committee was to be asked to report whether it was of opinion that the House had the right, under "the above circumstances," to prevent Mr. Bradlaugh from taking the Oath. That, however, did not exhaust the case by any means. He only made these comments to direct the attention of his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General to the matter, because they had plenty of time to repair those omissions and defects, if such they wore. He thought that the proper form would be contained in the words which he would now read to the House—namely—That it be referred to a Select Committee to inquire into the facts and circumstances in which Mr. Bradlaugh claimed to have the Oath prescribed by statute administered to him in 343 this House, and also as to the Law applicable to such claim under such circumstances, and as to the right and jurisdiction of the House to refuse to allow the said Oath to be administered to him, and to report thereon to this House, together with their opinion thereon.He threw that out to the better judgment of the hon. and learned Attorney General. He repudiated the attempt by hon. Gentlemen opposite to make an appeal to the country ad odium by insinuating that the Government, in their desire to do strict justice, were actuated by a sympathy for Mr. Bradlaugh's opinions. For himself, he utterly disclaimed any sympathy with a person who, it was alleged, had taken up the attitude of Mr. Bradlaugh. If this matter was referred for inquiry and information, and the Committee reported that Mr. Bradlaugh, while, on the one hand, proposing to take the Oath, had, on the other, alleged that it was a mere idle form, that it was not binding upon his conscience, and that he disbelieved in the existence of God whose Name was invoked, then, he said, do away with the Oath altogether if they pleased; but as long as it remained a part of the Statute Law and the Rules and Regulations of that House, to permit Mr. Bradlaugh, with those avowed sentiments on his lips, to go through the form of the Oath would be to prostitute the Forms and proceedings of that House, and to bring the solemn Oath imposed by their Statutes into ridicule and contempt before the whole nation.
§ BARON H. DE WORMS
, in craving the indulgence which the House usually extended to those who addressed it for the first time, said, if the question had been one of theological controversy, involving either tenets or dogma, he would not have addressed the House. That, however, was not the case. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, on Friday evening, said that this subject should be considered from a purely judicial point of view. If by "judicial" the right hon. Gentleman meant that they should approach it with the utmost care and impartiality, he entirely agreed with him; but if he meant that it was simply to be treated as a dry question of law, he must differ from the right hon. Gentleman. He held that the dry, legal phase of the question had passed away the moment the decision of the Committee was made known. That decision was, in his mind, 344 a wise one. The present question was one of far greater importance. He should like to know in what capacity Mr. Bradlaugh could possibly have taken the Affirmation? Certainly not in the capacity of a member of the Society of Friends or of any sect for whose benefit the Affirmation was provided. The present question was a far different one. The hon. Member for Northampton approached the Speaker and told him that he was in no way bound by the obligation of an Oath. Even if, according to the charitable presumption of the hon. and learned Member for Carnar-vonshire (Mr. Watkin Williams)—and he (Baron de Worms) was willing to accept the hypothesis—Mr. Bradlaugh was inclined to repentance, up to the present time there was not the slightest evidence of that. So far from there being any evidence of it, there was every evidence to the contrary, for there was a letter of the hon. Member for Northampton, published in Friday's papers, the only inference to be drawn from which was that he wanted to take his seat and did not care much by what means he did it. The other night the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. John Bright) said, or left it to be inferred from his remarks, that this was a question of religious disability; and he appealed to the House against a repetition of the memorable debates of 20 or 30 years ago, which involved the question whether those who conscientiously objected on religious grounds to certain words in the Oath—"On the true faith of a Christian"—were to be debarred from taking their seats. He (Baron de Worms), as one of those who would not have been able to sit in the House at that time, protested in the name of Jews, Catholics, and even of the Society of Friends, against confounding that which was religious with that which was not religious. The right hon. Gentleman said that those who opposed the Amendment were "persons whose minds were distorted by strong religious feeling, by religious fanaticism, or what he might call religious passion!" He (Baron de Worms) denied that either "religious fanaticism or religious passion" could be excited in the case of an Atheist. He understood there were Gentlemen who at one time conscientiously believed that, by the admission 345 of others than those who belonged to the Church of England, the Legislature of the country would become un-Christianized, and there were right hon. Gentlemen now sitting opposite who expressed that opinion. They had changed their opinions; but what possible parallel could there be between Catholic and Jewish Emancipation, by which certain civil and religious disabilities were removed, and allowing a man who said he had no faith in the Supreme Being acknowledged by seven-tenths of the civilized world to take an Oath of Allegiance to the Crown, which Oath, according to his own statement, would be a mere mockery? The right hon. Gentleman made another remark, to which exception must be taken. He stated that, by refusing to allow the hon. Member for Northampton to take the Oath, they were establishing a sort of Inquisition. He (Baron de Worms) always understood that the action of that Body was directed against what it called "erroneous belief," and to making men adopt or profess religious principles that they did not believe. That, however, could not be applicable to the hon. Member for Northampton, for he had no religious principles, and, consequently, could not believe in any. He admitted that it would be inquisitorial if, when the hon. Member for Northampton presented himself at the Table, he were questioned as to his belief; but the right hon. Gentleman forgot that it was the hon. Member for Northampton himself who openly and for a purpose declared that he had no belief. His declaration was not the result of a question; it was simply a wish for notoriety, which he desired might be construed into fame. The word "inquisitorial" was in no way applicable to the case, and to impart into it a feeling which did not belong to it was to be deprecated. With regard to the legal aspect of the question, he was not in a position to discuss it with the Law Officers of the Crown; but be must say he was astonished to hear the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General say that the House had no cognizance—no legal evidence—of the authenticity of the works attributed to the hon. Member for Northampton. They were not trying this question as an action at law. It was a great, broad, Constitutional principle which was before them, involving 346 the noblest traditions and practices of the House. He trusted the question would be approached without any Party bias, and that no attempt would be made by legal quibbles to set aside the great point at issue. When the question was discussed the other evening there seemed to be a general disposition on the part of hon. Gentlemen opposite to find a very facile way out of the difficulty. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham said he would be glad to do away with all oaths at once. ["No, no!"] He said he did not see the value of them as binding. Now, when the question of disabilities was discussed 22 years ago, Baron Rothschild and Alderman Salomons were debarred from taking their seats, and were repeatedly re-elected by large and important constituencies. The House did not then hear the suggestion that by a simple stroke of the pen the difficulty might be done away with. The scruples of Baron Rothschild and Alderman Salomons were the scruples of conscientious men who felt that they could not take the oath "on the true faith of a Christian." But if the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham meant anything, it meant that Mr. Bradlaugh could actually do that, for by swearing on the book which he denies, Mr. Bradlaugh would be doing exactly the same as a Jew who should take the Oath on the "true faith of a Christian." When an appeal was made to the House to consider the feelings of the electors of Northampton, he would ask, were not Baron Rothschild and Alderman Salomons as important as the Member for Northampton, and were not the City of London and the borough of Greenwich, for which they were returned, as important as the borough that had elected Mr. Bradlaugh? And yet it was not suggested that the Oath should be done away with to facilitate the entry into the House of those men who believed in their religion and bad the courage of their opinions. From the remarks of the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Watkin Williams), he saw that there were many hon. Members on the other side of the House who would think twice before they went into the Lobby with a view of recording their acquiescence in atheistic principles. ["Oh, oh!"] Why, it would be so in 347 effect. When the hon. Member for Northampton openly declared that he did not believe in the Divinity, and that he had no faith whatever, but was willing all the same to take the Oath, those hon. Members who backed him up tacitly acquiesced in his principles. Why did not the Government accept the Motion of the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Drummond Wolff)? He was astonished to hear from the Prime Minister that it was the intention of the Government, if the hon. Member for Portsmouth had not moved in the matter, to allow Mr. Bradlaugh to take his seat, to allow him to go to the Table, to press the Holy Book to his lips, and to take the name of the Creator in vain in the most religious and Christian Assembly in the civilized world. He trusted that the House would not relegate its honour to the keeping of any Committee, or admit at the dictation of a number of legal Gentlemen that it was unwise, unholy, and un-Christian to prevent an avowed Atheist from swearing a lie at the Table of that House, on the holiest of books, that lie being a profession of allegiance to his Queen and his country.
§ MR. THOROLD ROGERS
said, he hoped the House would also accord to him, on the first occasion of his addressing it, the same patience which it had extended to the hon. Member who had just sat down. He confessed himself anxious to see this question referred to a Committee, because he was in the dark as to the constitution of the House in relation to the matter. He had heard a good deal of rhetoric and declamation about sacred things, and the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) talked of coram publico. He (Mr. Thorold Rogers) did not think that was Latin. What, however, were the facts of the case? It was said that persons disloyal to the House of Hanover were disabled from sitting in the House of Commons. It was not so always, for there sat in Parliament, on the same side as the noble Lord, many Jacobites, who received the gold of France for betraying their country, and yet who had vowed allegiance to the Sovereign against whom they were constantly conspiring. Unhappily, the history of England was full of examples of persons, who, boldly professing one set of opinions, came into that House and 348 conspired against them. The question raised was really this—Was the House of Commons able, by adopting the Motion of the hon. Member for Portsmouth, to exclude an elected Member, not for to-day, or for this month, or this Session, but permanently from Parliament, and to disable him from taking his seat, since there was and could be no machinery by which he could rehabilitate himself in future. Personally, he had no sympathy with the views of the hon. Member for Northampton. In his opinion, a person who recognized no law beyond that of his own mind, and such scanty rules as he thought fit to gather from human law for his own guidance, very much weakened his own character and lessened the value of his own life and acts. As far as politics were concerned, he had still less sympathy with the hon. Member; for he had found over and over again, in the course of his study of history, that sceptical opinions were always coupled with Tory or Conservative principles. Hobbes was a sceptic and a Conservative, the Tory Hume was the most profound sceptic of his age, and no man had ever more grossly insulted the decencies of religious belief than Gibbon, who also professed Conservative opinions. He knew something of the political views of educated sceptics; and he was certain that when this unhappy Gentleman, whose case they were discussing, became a little better educated by the atmosphere of the House, he would either repudiate his sceptical opinions, and keep his Liberalism, or retain his scepticism and migrate to the opposite Benches. He had a very large acquaintance, and at that very moment he knew many, both at the University to which he belonged and elsewhere, who were sceptics, and he invariably found the most enthusiastic advocates of the Imperial policy of the late Government were comprised among them. Having declared that he had no sympathy whatever with the political or religious heresies of the hon. Member for Northampton, he must say that he desired further information with reference to the facts of the case. He was in the House at the time the first scene occurred; and he understood then that Mr. Bradlaugh, the elected Member for Northampton, had asked to be allowed to make an Affirmation in lieu of an Oath, basing his application on certain provisions con- 349 tained in certain statutes. He was not aware that the hon. Member had at that time made any confession of his creed. Objection having been taken to his making an Affirmation in lieu of an Oath, the matter had been referred to a Select Committee of that House, and that Committee had reported adversely to Mr. Bradlaugh's claim. In these circumstances, he wished to know what he ought to do as an individual Member of Parliament. He thought three serious questions were involved in the discussion. First, was the House to be a Court in which judicial sentence was to be passed upon Mr. Bradlaugh? He did not think that it should be. If, however, it were such a Court, ho asked, secondly, whether sentence was to be pronounced upon evidence which he ventured to say would not be received in any Court of Justice, even in Turkey. Finally, he wished to know whether it was in the power of that House to inflict a disability upon Mr. Bradlaugh which was unknown to the law? These were the questions he, for one, would like to see solved. The hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell), in referring to this question the other day, had alluded to the cases of O'Donovan Rossa and John Mitchel. Those cases, however, were not in point, inasmuch as both those persons were convicted felons, who could by no possibility be admitted into that House. He was aware that that House exercised a power over its Members in the interest of order and propriety. It had exercised it in the case of Speaker Trevor, who was expelled for bribery in 1695, and of Mr. Christopher Atkinson, who was expelled for perjury, and it was a noteworthy fact that both these culprits were Tories. The most notorious period of English history, during which the House exercised an arbitrary power over its Members, was that of the Long Parliament, and there was nothing which had more discredited that memorable Parliament than these practices; but evenduring that period, although in some instances there was an over-readiness to allow private passions to operate in inducing it to expel its Members, in the case of Roman Catholics in the Upper House it had shown, at all events, a little generosity by relieving them from making a declaration which was wounding to their consciences, It might be, and, no 350 doubt, people had said that the hon. Member for Northampton had no convictions, no conscience, no settled opinions to be wounded; but hon. Members opposite did not seem inclined in the present instance to act as generously as they did in their sports, where they gave a little law even to vermin, and should still more to a Member of this honourable House, even though he were a reputed Atheist. ["Order, order!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member has applied an expression to a Member of this House which I must call on him to withdraw.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member, probably carried away by the heat of debate, has applied an expression to an hon. Member of this House which is not Parliamentary. The hon. Member referred to an hon. Member of this House as "vermin." Now, I am not here to act either as the defender or the censor of Mr. Bradlaugh; but I wish to point out to the House that if the hon. Member were present I should be bound to insist upon an expression of that kind being withdrawn, and, seeing that that hon. Member is absent, and, moreover, absent by the direction of the House, I think that I am still more bound to call upon the hon. Member to withdraw the expression he has used, and to use more guarded language for the future.
§ MR. THOROLD ROGERS
begged the right hon. Gentleman's pardon for having used the expression. [C'ries of "Withdraw!"] He had not intended to apply the term"vermin"to any hon. Member of that House; but referred to a phrase which was known in fox-hunting, the dogs not being allowed to run directly on the fox, and as many hon. Gentlemen opposite enjoyed that pastime, he thought his meaning would have been to them most clearly conveyed by a parallel or simile. That was what he meant, and he had not the smallest intention of applying any offensive expression to Mr. Bradlaugh. Mr. Bradlaugh, in his letter, had said—I shall, in taking the Oath, regard myself as hound, not by the letter of the words, but by the spirit of the Affirmation which I should have made had I boon permitted to use it;and he thought that the Committee, if appointed, should take those words into 351 their consideration. For himself, he would not allow any appeal to religious feeling to influence his conduct in the matter; and, further, he wished the point to he clearly ascertained. These were the reasons which induced him to believe that it was desirable that a Committee should be appointed to give further information to the House on this subject.
§ SIR JOHN E. MOWBRAY
said, that in the few words which he should offer to the House he should confine himself to the narrow issue before them, and would not follow his hon. Friend the Member for Southwark (Mr. Thorold Rogers) into the historical disquisition and speculative vein of inquiry which he had adopted on the present occasion. He had no doubt that on many future occasions his hon. Friend would have opportunities for this course of inquiry and enlightenment. For the present, however, as it seemed to him, the sole business of the House was to consider the proposal of the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Drummond Wolff), the Amendment which had been moved thereto by the right hon. Gentleman the Premier, and the course which was best to be pursued in reference to the subject-matter of the two. He quite agreed with the hon. and learned Member for Carnarvonshire (Mr. Watkin Williams) that the question was one that ought only to be inquired into with care and caution; but when the hon. and learned Gentleman proceeded to say that he supported the proposal for a Committee on the ground that he required information as to the facts, the obvious answer seemed to be that the Honse had already before it ample facts on which to form a judgment and pronounce a decision. He would briefly endeavour to deal with the question in the calm and judicial temper to the exercise of which they were invited by the Prime Minister, and in doing so he wished to say that his appeal to the House was as sitting judicially, weighing and considering evidence. If, on the 3rd of May, Mr. Bradlaugh had walked up to the Table and, without saying any word, had taken the Testament from the Clerk and subscribed the Oath, it would not have been competent for any Member of the House to interfere with the hon. Member in any way. It would not have been competent for any Member to have gone back upon 352 Mr. Bradlaugh's election speeches— which he might not have been prepared either to repeat or to defend in argument—or to set on foot any of the many inquiries and suggestions which had been made by hon. Members on both sides of the House in the course of that debate. The only course open to the House would have been to sit by and, having seen Mr. Bradlaugh subscribe the Oath, accept him as a Member of their Body. But the matter stood differently now. Mr. Bradlaugh, when he presented himself on the first occasion, claimed to be exempted from the taking of the Oath, not on the ground that he was a member of any denomination which, on purely religious grounds, objected to the taking of Oaths, but relying on the words of an Act of Parliament which permitted Affirmation only to a person on whom an Oath would have no binding effect. But the matter did not rest here, for the hon. Member had since himself supplied other and sufficient evidence in opposition to his claim. It would be idle to say that the House Was not in possession of the letter which the hon. Gentleman circulated over the country on Friday last through the columns of the Press, although, technically, the letter was not within their ken. In that letter Mr. Bradlaugh said he was willing to take the Oath, though he regarded it as an idle and meaningless form. If this evidence was not sufficient, what further testimony could the House possibly have or wish for? According to the law of the country, the hon. Member for Northampton was not a person entitled to make an Affirmation in lieu of the Oath of Allegiance, and his open repudiation of the binding effect of an Oath would make the House a consenting party to a mere mockery, if they permitted him to be sworn. It was utterly inconceivable that the dignity and authority of Parliament could be maintained if Mr. Speaker in the Chair and hon. Members in their places were to sit quietly by and accept the proposition that the House had no discretion in the matter, and that any Gentleman who could procure election was at perfect liberty to come to the Table and become a Member of the House by going through the solemn mockery of taking an Oath which he had declared to be an idle and meaningless form. To say that of the 353 House of Commons would be asserting a proposition to which he could in no way assent. The proceedings of Parliament were commenced each day with Prayer. Every day they began by asking that Almighty Being, "By whom Kings reign and Princes decree justice, and from whom alone cometh all counsel, wisdom, and understanding," to guide and assist them in their consultations. Was the very first step after Prayers to be to administer an Oath in the name of the Deity to one who openly said he would take it as an idle form? There was evidence amply sufficient to come to a decision at once respecting a Member whose opinions had been so fully described by himself, and to whom the Prayers, like the Oath, would be an idle and meaningless form. He could not for a moment admit the necessity of appointing a further Committee with reference to this subject. Sooner or later the House must decide the matter, and it would be far better to decide it at once.
MR. OSBORNE MORGAN
said, the question before the House had got into a semi-theological, semi-metaphysical, semi-historical atmosphere from which he wished to remove it, the only real point being simply, how should they get out of an admitted legal difficulty in circumstances of great difficulty and delicacy? The question was the more important because it involved not merely the individual liberty of a Gentleman who had been elected to Parliament, but also the partial disfranchisement of a constituency. ["No, no!"] The noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill), who made light of that, would do well to consider the following words from one of the greatest men who had ever sat in that House, Mr. Edmund Burke, delivered in Parliament 110 years ago on the Motion for the expulsion of Mr. Wilkes. On that occasion Mr. Burke said—That this House should have no power of expulsion is a hard saying; that the House should have a general discretionary power of disqualification is a dangerous saying; that the people should not choose their representatives is a saying which shakes the Constitution."— [Burke's Speech on Wilkes' Election, 17th Feb. 1771.]Furthermore, he wished to say that in his view the House of Commons never showed to greater disadvantage than when it was attempting to exercise ju- 354 dicial or semi-judicial functions; and on this point Mr. Burke, too, used weighty words in his speech just quoted. Mr. Burke said—In our legislative capacity we are in most instances esteemed a very wise body; in our judicial we have no credit, no character at all.The reason for this was the perfectly obvious circumstance that Parliament necessarily acted on Party lines, while without going so far as the late Mr. Justice Maule, who used to say that "a Judge ought to have neither politics nor religion," he did think that the first duty of a Judge was to get rid of everything like party considerations or religious bias. He thought the declamatory appeals which had been made to the "Holy Book" a little out of place in that Assembly. Let them reflect what they were doing. Here was a Member of their House, whom one Member charged with deriding the sanctity of an oath, another with being an Atheist, and a third with having written an indecent book. Surely Mr. Bradlaugh ought to know the specific cause of his exclusion, else the public might fairly criticize the House of Commons as a club which chose now and then to "blackball" objectionable members. On one occasion the hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr. Walter) suggested the introduction of a short Bill for the total abolition of oaths and the substitution thereof of Affirmations. As far as he (Mr. Osborne Morgan) was concerned, he shared the views on this question of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright), having taken as many oaths, probably, as any man in the House. But the constituency had the right to have this question decided at the earliest moment. Were they to decide it on the spur of the moment, after a heated debate, each man by a law unto himself, or were they to send it to a Committee, which would have the opportunity of discussing it calmly, of taking evidence, of sifting and examining the grounds on which it would act, and, as had happened already in this very case, would not, as regarded its Members, be always guarded by strictly Party considerations? Suppose they had excluded Mr. Bradlaugh by Resolution, suppose he then brought an action against the Clerk at the Table for refusing to administer the Oath, and suppose he was to succeed in that action, 355 would they not then be placed in an undignified and ridiculous position? The proposed terms of Reference to a Committee were wide enough and precise enough; they dealt with the competence of the House and with the case of Mr. Bradlaugh, and what more could be desired? He denied that the case of Baron Rothschild was analogous. It ought to be remembered that in this case it was the Member himself who had created the difficulty. This was the first time they had gone behind the back of the Oath—to extraneous evidence, to the acts, speeches, letters of the Member. For the first time they were embarking upon an unknown sea; and surely it was desirable, before they set out, to get their bearings, and how better could they do that than by sending the matter before a Committee? He appealed, not only to the old Members of the House, but also to the new Members on both sides, who were just, as it were, entering upon the threshold of Parliamentary life, and who might now be called upon to give perhaps their first vote, to remember that there was nothing so easy as to pass such a Resolution, and nothing so difficult as to get rid of a dangerous precedent.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
responded to the appeal just made as one of the older Members of the House, and also as a Member of the Committee on this case, whose proceedings had been impugned by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Carnarvonshire (Mr. Watkin Williams). He could assure the House that they discussed the matter calmly and temperately, each Member spoke as he felt inclined, afterwards the Chairman took the opinion of each Member seriatim, and then the votes were recorded. It was not a hole-and-corner Committee, for Mr. Brad-laugh himself was present, and had himself testified to the fairness of the Committee. The last speaker (Mr. Osborne Morgan) had recalled the House to the Question, and it was needful, seeing that the well-read Member for Southwark (Mr. Thorold Rogers) had indulged in a pretty ramble or skip among the flowers of rhetoric and facts of history; but although his exercise, which was well got up and must have taken a great deal of pains, amused hon. Members on the other side of the House excessively, it was a pleasant 356 exercise of Parliamentary youth; but the hon. Member, when he had had a little longer experience of Parliament, would find there was nothing annoyed people less, nothing knocked them down less, than playful references to the Long Parliament and such miscellaneous events of the two last centuries. His paradox was bold, but his handling was all light and no shadow; all Atheists in his eyes were, with no exception, Tories. It was a proposition they had not heard before; but, for effect, it would have been a little better if he had said that very nearly all Atheists were Tories, and had made just enough of exception to prove his point. There was, for instance, the exception of a man who, like Mr. Brad-laugh, came into a House of Legislation, and who, like Mr. Bradlaugh, came there to profess Atheism, but who gave piquancy to his profession by announcing at the same time his renunciation of his orders as a priest—Gobel, Bishop of Paris. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Denbighshire held that it was the inalienable right of a constituency to be represented by the Member it had chosen, and that to suspend him from service was to deprive it of its powers and rights. There was, however, something worse than that deprivation—it was when a constituency deprived a whole Parliament of its rights by sending a man to them not fit and qualified to sit in Parliament and to legislate for the country. A constituency might tyrannize over the House of Commons and do a great deal of mischief in a more high-handed way than Parliament ever could do by any reprisal. Mr. Bradlaugh was no stranger to Northampton either in his person or his opinions. This was not the first time he had stood for the place. He was chosen because he was Mr. Bradlaugh, with all his antecedents strapped to his back. He was elected with the full knowledge of the risk that was run by the constituency which made the choice. That constituency played "double or quits;" it had no right to insist on "double," because the game had turned up "quits." The House would not disfranchise Northampton by any possible action it might take in reference to Mr. Bradlaugh; it would only say that Mr. Bradlaugh had not fulfilled a condition antecedent to taking his I seat. Nothing they could do would 357 ultimately deprive Mr. Bradlaugh of his seat, unless they expelled him, or he took the Chiltern Hundreds. There was, for example, one instance in which Parliament did traverse the decision of a constituency to which he might refer; and Parliament did right on that occasion. It was in reference to a man elected for a far larger and more important constituency than Northampton —namely, the county of Tipperary. The House did not merely suspend the Member from taking the Oath, it expelled him from the House. There was a long debate, followed by a division, in which the numbers were 301 to 8 for expulsion as against a Committee. The case was that of Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa, in the beginning of 1869. In that case, Mr. Gladstone, the Prime Minister, moved—That Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa, returned as Knight of the Shire for the County of Tipperary, having been adjudged guilty of felony, and sentenced to penal servitude for life, and being now imprisoned under such sentence, has become and continues incapable of being elected or returned as a Member of this House.In the course of his speech Mr. Gladstone said—Of course, I am naturally led, in conjunction with the proposition that I submit to the House, to consider the counter proposal which is to be submitted to it as an Amendment —the proposal, I mean, to refer this question to the care of a Select Committee…If this were a case in which, after the best investigation we can mate, we thought that any just, fair, or reasonable doubt attached to the facts or the arguments of the case, or as to the course which the House ought to pursue, then I admit it might be a subject for reference to a Committee; especially if the question were one which involved the examination of a long and complicated series of precedents such as it would be difficult to bring under the view of the House in debate. But, Sir, in our view it is neither the one nor the other. The facts of the case are the fewest as possible, and the principles applicable as clear as can be brought to bear on any question of Parliamentary discussion."— [3 Hansard, excix. 123.]He (Mr. Beresford Hope) held that in the present case the facts were as few and clear as they possibly could be, and so he adopted the principle of his right hon. Friend, and he rejected the idea of a Committee. He called on the House to do so likewise, and to act upon its own inherent authority, relying on its own dignity, leaning on the support of a people proud of a House that was not ashamed to stand up for its own self-respect, its 358 responsibility to an Almighty power, and its fealty to a Sovereign on whose birthday they now discussing this question. They had all the facts before them. He would not talk of Mr. Bradlaugh's pamphlets, or any extraneous matter, but would simply stand upon the letter of the law and on the recent publication of the facts in the Records of the House. There he found these words—Mr. Bradlaugh, returned as one of the Members for the Borough of Northampton, came to the Table and delivered the following Statement in writing to the Clerk:—' To the Bight Honourable the Speaker of the House of Commons, I, the undersigned Charles Bradlaugh, beg respectfully to claim to be allowed to affirm as a person for the time being by law permitted to make a solemn Affirmation or Declaration instead of taking an Oath.—Ch. Bradlaugh.' And being asked by the Clerk upon what ground he claimed to make an Affirmation, he answered, 'By virtue of the Evidence Amendment Acts of 1869, and 1870.'That Record contained the whole case. Mr. Bradlaugh put himself under the protection of those two Acts, and what did they say?—that to affirm might be conceded to a witness in a Court of Law on the allegation made by him and believed by the Judge that an oath was not binding on his conscience. Mr. Bradlaugh claimed to enter the House by an unusual way, because the Oath was not binding on his conscience. The Speaker put the case to the House, the House referred it to a Committee, the Committee reported that the claim could not be admitted, and the House accepted the Report. Mr. Bradlaugh had retired from the Table, having by his claim to affirm constructively declared that he was a man on whoso conscience an oath was not binding. He had not retracted that implied declaration, and he had, therefore, retained the position he took when he entered; and the House, by accepting the Report of the Committee, had reciprocally replaced itself in the position which it then occupied. On the contrary, Mr. Bradlaugh had re-affirmed his declaration, and in a somewhat offensive manner, by his letter to the newspapers. But he (Mr. Beresford Hope) put that aside, dwelling as he did on the formal evidence contained in the documents of Parliament. They had sufficient evidence in the Votes and Proceedings, and to that he confined himself; and, to use the words of his right hon. Priend, the facts were as few and clear as possible. It was not worthy of the 359 hon. and learned Member for Carnarvonshire (Mr. Watkin Williams) to say—in a spirit of, should he call it sentimentalism? or should he call it pietism?—that Mr. Bradlaugh might be the subject of a miraculous conversion. Could they imagine Mr. Brad-laugh coming to the Table as a Christian penitent? He, for his part, would be heartily glad at such a change in what he must ask Mr. Bradlaugh's pardon for calling his soul. But it was trifling with the time of the House to speak of such a conversion as a relevant argument. Supposing hon. Gentlemen opposite were to go on their knees and beg pardon of the Tories for all the ugly things they had said during the Election, he should be very glad indeed; but ho should protest against the Member who seriously advanced such a proposition as trifling with the time of the House, and making jests that were not seemly. He was afraid he must say something like that of the suggestions of the hon. and learned Member for Carnarvonshire, and he appealed to the House to act on the clear and simple facts as they found them in their own Records. They would not be judicious, or prudent, or true—they would simply be cowardly, if in this matter they did not act for themselves.
§ DR. LYONS
said, that no one had rejoiced more than be at the return to Office, with a large accession of power, of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury; and he felt that, representing as he did a great constituency in which there were many Catholics as well as many Protestants, he had some right to give expression to his feelings on this question. He was one of those who incurred much odium by supporting a great measure of legislation which in an unfortunate moment met with a fate which it ill deserved at the hands of his fellow-countrymen in that House. He had the honour to represent the City of Dublin; and since this question had been agitated he had been inundated with representations with regard to it. He trusted he did not exceed the limits of Parliamentary language when he said that the large body, not only of the Soman Catholics, but of the Protestants of Dublin, and of all Ireland, were scandalized with the proceedings in which this House had been occupied in reference to the Gentleman who had been elected for North- 360 ampton. Not only were they scandalized at the views he had had the audacity to put forward on so many occasions in regard to religious subjects, but with regard to those which he had put forward in reference to great moral questions, and also at his outrageous assertions with reference to the reigning House in this country. Among the reasons that had urged him to take the step he was now about to take in voting against the Party for whom he had made considerable sacrifices in coming to this House were the following—It did not appear to him that the Reference to the Committee at all accurately conveyed to that Committee a full representation of the facts as they occurred under his own observation in that House; and if they were to suppose that the Committee was to be technically bound by the Reference, he believed it would como to a decision which would land that House in a most unfortunate difficulty, and that it might be looked upon as almost a foregone conclusion. Ho presumed it would be useless to appeal to the Mover of the Resolution now to make the scope of the Reference wider; but unless that could be done, and the whole case placed before the Committee, they would have difficulty in coming to a sound conclusion. They saw the hon. Member come to that Table, they saw him decline in effect, if not in words, for when a man claimed to affirm it was mere special pleading to say that he did not refuse to take the Oath. To all intents and purposes Mr. Bradlaugh unquestionably refused to take the Oath when he claimed to affirm. But if his position was a bad one when he refused to take the Oath, what were they to say of an individual who, when the case had been referred to a Select Committee, and it was shown that he was under a disability to enter this House, yet came forward and tendered himself to take that Oath? If his position was bad in the beginning, it was a hundred times worse now. It was idle and a mockery to compare this ease with either that of O'Connell, or Baron Rothschild, or Alderman Salomons. They had the courage of their convictions. It was an object of ambition with them for a long time to sit in the House, and yet it was not found that they violated their consciences in coming forward to take an Oath they did not believe in. He had 361 no hesitation in saying that the House as well as himself were scandalized to see the change which had taken place in the hon. Member's opinion. They had heard that night that death-bed repentances were often efficacious. Were they to consider that House of Commons' repentances made in the course of a few days with the object of coming into the House were conscientiously binding and efficacious? He felt that it was necessary to protest in his humble name, and to protest in the name of his constituents, against this proceeding. It was one which he believed to be fraught with evil, and to be of evil example, and which, he believed, would do much to undermine the sanctity with which an Oath was regarded in the House. It might or might not be a wise and judicious thing to consider at a future time the propriety of abolishing Oaths; but that was an entirely different question, and was not now before the House. But he would ask them to look to the example of another country —a great country—which the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster had often referred to— namely, the United States. On the highest and most recent authority he had it that not only in the Local States but in the General Congress oaths were still enforced, and there was no prospect of their being abolished. He said this on the authority of a member of the Boston Bar, and he received the information within the last few days. Not only had the constituency which he had the honour to represent been scandalized, but if they would judge what the feeling in other places would be let them look to Scotland, where a nobleman whom ho would not dishonour by comparing him with the individual whoso case was before them came forward for election as a Representative Peer, and a noble Lord, with a courage that all would honour, moved that he be not elected, and he was not elected. That furnished them with an illustration of what the feeling in Scotland would be. He knew what it was in Ireland, and he thought it would be seen by the votes of Members on both sides of the House that the feeling of Ireland was violated. These were some of the reasons why ho felt obliged, under present circumstances, to vote against the great Party which he felt it was such an honour to support in 362 the House. He only regretted that the unfortunate circumstances in which the House found itself placed had apparently made it necessary for the Government to take up at all a question having such aspects, and, as was said the other night, such unsavoury antecedents. Who was it who was awaiting their verdicts? Ho could not be called a martyr to science, or one with regard to whom they might feel themselves in a position of great difficulty, and to whom they might feel it necessary to extend all possible facilities by altering the existing legislation of the House. He would not discuss that individual's antecedents; but he was there to say on his own authority, as one who for many years had carried on the practice of medicine, that one of Mr. Bradlaugh's publications was of a most mischievous, and, he would venture to say, of the most injurious kind, and it had already corrupted the mind of youth in this country, and if they admitted him into that Assembly they would put the House into the position of being an advertising agency for the advocacy of his wretched and unfortunate views throughout the country. He was sorry to say that they had already taken some root in the country; and he said it, on his authority as a physician, that nothing could be more unfortunate than that such views should ever have been put before the country. Not only were they injurious to the living, but on the authority of physiologists they were likely to lead to a deteriorated population in future —not only a diminished, a deteriorated, a vitiated, but a diseased population. With regard to the course advisable to be taken in this crisis, he (Dr. Lyons) found a precedent that had not been stated, and it was somewhat to the point, for two Gentlemen (Sir H. Morrison and Lord Fanshaw) who refused to take the Oath were soon after—it was in 1688—discharged from farther attendance on the House of that day. It was greatly to be regretted that not only did the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman halt in not sending a sufficiently ample Reference to the Committee, but that the Motion also halted, and the result of the Motion being carried would be to leave the House in a very unfortunate predicament, for the individual in question would still be a Member of the House, though not capable of taking any part in its proceedings, and would 363 still be able to claim connection and association with the House, though he could not sit within the Bar and vote. If he (Dr. Lyons) were within his privilege, he would move the addition to the Motion of the words—That he be discharged from further attendance on the House, and that a new Writ be issued for the election of a Member for Northampton.That would throw back the matter on the electors, and would put the fault on the right shoulders. The fault originally lay with the electors of Northampton, and it would be well for the honour and credit of the House to send him back to Northampton; and if Northampton chose to elect him again, and the House found it was not in a legal position to get rid of him, then on Northampton would rest that great wrong and public scandal, and the House would have washed its hands of the presentun fortunate incident. By such a course the House would have cleared itself in the eyes of the world, and would have acted with the dignity which was expected of it. He thought that if the whole country were polled at the present moment, the majority of educated people would be of opinion that the House should send Mr. Bradlaugh back to Northampton. Judging from the remonstrances and representations sent to him on all sides by persons of the highest rank in the community, by the sound middle class, and by numbers of individuals in the working classes—for he had taken every opportunity to test the feeling of the public-—he believed the majority of this country would desire to see the House exercising its high privileges and powers to the utmost to send that individual back to Northampton. It seemed to be taken for granted that the electors would return him again. Now, they had recently seen great changes in the opinions of constituencies. He did not pretend to speak for Northampton, which he knew very little about; but he had heard there was a considerable change of opinion in Northampton. That constituency was tried on three occasions before it elected Mr. Bradlaugh, and it was within the bounds of reasonable calculation that the electors of Northampton, under the moral influence exercised by the House, would re-consider the position, and, in the language of the old Writs, which he 364 was sorry was ever changed, return to them "a fit and proper person" to serve in Parliament. If the House were polled irrespective of the various questions that had turned up, he believed the vast majority would say that Mr. Bradlaugh was not a fit and proper person. He (Dr. Lyons) said on his own responsibility that Mr. Bradlaugh was not a fit and proper person to represent a constituency; and the House would be acting up to the great functions it had performed in past times, and would preserve its traditional dignity, its great public importance, and its position as guardian of public morals in sending Mr. Bradlaugh back, and the probability was that Northampton would think three times before sending him to the House again. He believed that for that in dividual to take his seat in the House without a protest from a large part of the Members would have the worst possible effect, would materially diminish its weight, influence, and importance; and it would come to be believed that if a constituency took up any individual, irrespective of his creed, or belief in a God or any Supreme Being, or of his being in harmony with the opinions of the House on the great moral questions of the day, he must necessarily be accepted by the House. He (Dr. Lyons), on the part of a great Catholic and Protestant constituency which he represented, now washed his hands of this business. This country had been great under Plantagenet and Catholic Sovereigns, it had been great under Protestant Sovereigns, from the days of the Imperial Elizabeth, and it was great under the milder sway of Victoria when every religious denomination was recognized; but woe betide the day when the ship of the State should be left to go on the waste of waters with her bulwarks of religion and morality stove in, and left a prey to all the immoralities and godlessness which would be sure to prevail among a community represented by men who had no belief in God. Let Northampton send to them a God-fearing if not a God-loving man.
§ MR. WARTON
said, he distrusted the reference to a Select Committee, because they had already had experience of a Select Committee in this case. He hoped he should not be considered to speak disrespectfully of the Leader of the Opposition if he said that, in his 365 opinion, the right hon. Gentleman had consented too readily to the reference to that Committee, in which, if it had not been for the presence of the honourable, learned, and honest Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood), there would have been a failure of justice. The Law Journal, which knew no Party and had no political tone, stated that the ablest lawyers were agreed that Mr. Bradlaugh had no right to affirm. Nor was the House to be terrified by the word "judicial," so frequently used by the Prime Minister and repeated by the right hon. and learned Judge Advocate. There were judicial principles of great simplicity, and a great number of them were principles of common sense. He would refer to one—that no man could take the advantages of a course without taking its disadvantages also. Qui sentit commodum, sentire debet et onus. Having claimed to affirm, Mr. Brad-laugh had no right now to hark back. Then it was said that Northampton was an important constituency. Well, Brid-port was an important constituency. The City of London was surely an important constituency, so was the City of Westminster and the County of Middlesex, and yet they were told in a recent electioneering tour that their verdict was of no importance. They were not to be frightened by such words as "judicial" or "important constituency." They ought to show no respect for a constituency which had returned Mr. Bradlaugh, knowing that he was the Cerberus of Atheism, treason, and filth. They had been told by his hon. Colleague (Mr. Labouchere) that Mr. Bradlaugh was not returned for any religious convictions, but for his political views. It appeared that one hon. Member who was elected did not believe in God, and that the other professed the attributes of the Deity in being able to read the secret hearts of his constituents. The true principle on which to decide this case was that of respect for religion. He was delighted to hear his old Friend the junior Member for Greenwich (Baron de Worms) standing forward and avowing his reverence for the Old Testament, in which were the words, "Pear thou the Lord and King;" and in the New Testament, which Christians revered, were the words, "Pear God and honour the King." The man who did not fear God could not honour the King. The 366 principle which ought to guide the House was that when a man came to that Table he should not merely go through the form of an Oath, but that he should take it. That was the principle which ought to guide them, if the House believed, as he hoped it would ever believe, that no man's allegiance to his Sovereign could be trusted who professed no allegiance to God.
§ MR. HOPWOOD
said, that the course of the debate fully justified the warning that calmness was required for the discussion of this question. There was something unpleasant in witnessing the complacency with which men talked of religious matters in public; and it was distinctly with the view of avoiding that unpleasant alternative that this Motion of referring the question to a Committee of the House had been proposed. To judge by the expressions that had been used in the debate, it seemed that some hon. Members wore disposed to deny to the person in question the justice usually granted to absent men. For instance, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University had spoken in a tone that amply justified the caution with which the House had begun its treatment of the case. In his opinion, it was by no means desirable that the views of the hon. Member for Northampton should be spoken of lightly or sportively. He, for one, believed it possible that an Atheist might have a conscience, and for that reason alone he protested against the unjust and unmanly way in which a few hon. Members had vituperated an absent man. Moreover, ho hoped that for its own sake the House would allow the question to be considered impartially. The matter was one of too great importance to be hastily decided in the midst of political conflict, and the discussion should take place in a quieter chamber, and under more serene circumstances. No Committee of the House could have treated the matter more calmly than that of which he had recently had the honour of being a Member; and he was, therefore, not afraid of another Committee. If, however, the House refused to appoint a second Select Committee a very inconvenient precedent would possibly be established; and an hon. Member, on presenting himself at the Table to take the Oath, might run the risk of being cross-examined as to his religious 367 belief. In that case the House would be placed in the obviously absurd position of having to provide authorized theological definitions and formulæ. At any rate, the House would easily perceive, without any effort of the imagination, that it would be better to refer the whole case to the decision of a Committee than to settle it in an off-hand and possibly an injudicious manner.
§ SIR HENRY TYLER
said, this was a question for the House itself to decide. He agreed with the hon. Gentleman who spoke last that it was a pity to have to discuss this question in the absence of Mr. Bradlaugh. However, if that Gentleman were absent in body, he was too much present with them in his writings. He thought it was only right the House should have before it some further evidence of an authentic character showing the nature of the teachings and doctrines inculcated by the man whoso entrance into the House of Commons they were now asked to facilitate by means of a specially-constituted Committee. He felt sure that many hon. Members opposite were not acquainted with the writings of the hon. Member. If they would listen to a few words which he would read from those writings, he should turn their cheers into shudders of abhorrence. He had applied to his bookseller for a catalogue of the works written by the hon. Member for Northampton.
§ SIR HENRY JACKSON
rose to Order. The Question before the House was neither the personal character nor the writings of the hon. Member, but simply whether a Select Committee should be appointed to inquire into a matter connected with the procedure of the House. The attacks which were about to be levelled at the hon. Member for Northampton appeared to him to be of an irrelevant nature.
§ MR. SPEAKER
If the hon. Member proposes to bring forward and criticize the writings of the hon. Member for Northampton, it appears to me that that would be foreign to the Question before the House. I would therefore advise the hon. Member to confine himself strictly to the Motion of the hon. Member for Portsmouth and the Amendment of the First Lord of the Treasury, in neither of which is there any reference to the writings of the hon. Member for Northampton.
§ SIR HENRY TYLER
bowed to the direction of the Chair. The hon. Member for Northampton, however, had applied to take the Holy Word of God in his hand and to swear upon it; and he desired, therefore, to know whether he might show how the hon. Member treated the Word of God and wrote about it?
§ MR. SPEAKER
If the hon. Member will proceed with his remarks, if he should be out of Order I will draw his attention to the circumstance.
§ SIR HENRY TYLER
explained that he held in his hand a work which showed the feelings which the hon. Member for Northampton entertained against the Bible. In one of the numerous pamphlets written by Mr. Bradlaugh and printed and published by Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh, under the title of the Free Thought Publishing Company, at 28 Stonecutter Street, E.C., he found words such as these—Lord Campbell's Act is intended to hinder the publication of indecencies; but the pages of God's most Holy Word do not come within the scope of the Act, and, therefore, lovers of obscenity may have legal gratification so long as the Bible continues to exist.That was the way in which the hon. Member for Northampton spoke of the Word of God; and, knowing this, surely no Member of the House ought to feel satisfaction at seeing him kiss that Holy Book to take the Oath. What were the hon. Member's feelings about his soul? ["Order, order!"] He said in another pamphlet—"I contend that the soul"—
§ MR. SPEAKER
If this House is to embark upon criticisms of all the works of the hon. Member for Northampton the debate will never come to an end.
§ SIR HENRY TYLER
said, he was glad to be saved by the decision of the Speaker from the horrible task of reading to the House any further extracts from Mr. Bradlaugh's writings. Ho regretted, however, that he was debarred from adducing what he considered to be important evidence to show that the hon. Member should not be allowed to take the Oath. It appeared to him that the whole question was one of very great danger, but of danger in an opposite direction to that contemplated by the Prime Minister. The danger was not that of refusing to allow the hon. Member to take the Oath, but 369 that of allowing him to do so. Ho had no difficulty at all in coming to the conclusion that the hon. Member was not a proper person to take the Oath and a seat in that House. They thought nothing of deciding upon the punishment of a criminal who had stolen a pocket-handkerchief, or the execution of one who had been guilty of poisoning bodies. But what should they think of a man who had poisoned and was poisoning the minds and souls of millions of his fellow-creatures? It was said by some—"Oh, do not make a martyr of the hon. Member." Well, he contended that such a man could not be made a martyr, for a martyr in a bad cause was no martyr at all. One of their greatest and gentlest poets had said—A daring infidel (and such there areFrom pride, example, lucre, rage, revenge,Or pure heroical defect of thought,)Of all carth's madmen most deserves a chain.But what would Dr. Young have written about an infidel, who was also the disseminator of the Fruits of Philosophy? He could not but look upon the present occasion as an opportunity for those who were on the side of Atheism, irreligion, and immorality to vote in one direction——["Order, order!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must point out to the hon. Member that it is not in accordance with Parliamentary usage to say that Members of this House are on the side of Atheism, irreligion, and immorality.
§ SIR HENRY TYLER
said, that after what had fallen from the Chair he would, in conclusion, content himself with remarking that the present was a grand opportunity for hon. Gentlemen to vote on one side or the other according to their predilections.
§ SIR HENRY JACKSON
said, ho was convinced by the course of the debate of two things—first, that a very great number of hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House had personal objections to the hon. Member for Northampton of so deep-seated a nature as to make them hazard almost everything in the hope of excluding him from the House; and, secondly, that they expressed these feelings all the more willingly because in so doing they saw an opportunity of damaging their opponents, who really liked the hon. Member's opinions just as little as they did 370 themselves, but who desired to act according to law, by fastening on them a charge of participation in his views. He protested strongly against this line of conduct. To every educated man, there could bo no spectacle more painful than to see a person of undoubted talents at war with society, and rendered less useful to his country by the avowal of opinions which were altogether out of harmony with those of the majority of his countrymen. But these considerations were not now under discussion. The only question now to be considered was—What was the right course for the House to take under circumstances admitted to be most difficult? He saw no course better than to refer the point to a Select Committee. He was not deterred from this by the differences of opinion which the last Committee had exhibited. To those who were familiar with the different views which different tribunals took of the same evidence and the same statutes, it would not seem wonderful that the Committee recently appointed to consider the case of the hon. Member should have differed so much in their reading of the several Acts of Parliament in which the law was to be found. He had heard with regret something like a sneer thrown out at the Members of the Committee on a supposition that their legal opinions had followed their political predilections. But that was certainly not the fact, and the best proof of that was the part taken by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood), than whom no sounder Liberal, and his hon. and learned Friend would perhaps allow him to say no more consistent Radical, was to be found in the House. The decision at which the Committee arrived was the outcome of their consideration of five or six different statutes, each dealing with only a part of the subject, and each passed, as it seemed, without reference to any other statute. Nothing, could be more judicial, more thoroughly impartial and satisfactory than the conduct of the Committee during the discussion; and, with the exception of his right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Cambridge, every Member of the Committee had desired to retain his judicial demeanour. His right hon. Friend, indeed, had thrown off the judicial mantle which became him so well, and, instead of guiding the House, had 371 sought to incite its anger. But even his right hon. Friend would, if again appointed, approach the matter again from a judicial point of view. The matter had now been debated as if the inevitable and foregone conclusion of the Committee would be that the House had no right to refuse to any Member coming to the Table the right to make an Affirmation. He was bound to say that his experience of the last Committee by no means suggested that such would necessarily be its conclusion. Let the House reflect how the matter stood. The hon. Member for Northampton claimed as a right conferred on him by Act of Parliament the privilege of mating an Affirmation instead of taking an Oath. He not only made that claim, but he gave his reasons for it, by referring in terms to the provisions of two statutes which he named, and which were mentioned in his statement as recorded in the Votes—the first allowing a Judge, and the second— amending the first—allowing any person empowered by law to administer an oath, if satisfied that a witness, by reason of the absence of all religious belief, would not be bound by the sanctity of an oath, to substitute an affirmation or declaration in its place. That was the law of the land with regard to testimony in Courts of Justice. He would not now yield to the temptation of discussing the expediency of extending these Acts to promissory oaths, as to which opinions might differ. He could only read Mr. Bradlaugh's statement as an admission that he recognized no religious belief whatever. He retained the opinion which he had expressed in the Committee that, according to the law, Mr. Bradlaugh had, under these circumstances, the right to come to the Table and make the Affirmation; but the House, adopting the Report of the Committee to the contrary, appeared to have arrived at a definite conclusion, and to have decided that the making of an Affirmation was not open to him. Thereupon, Mr. Bradlaugh thought right to change his ground, and said that he found nothing to prevent him availing himself of the other alternative—the taking the Oath; and he had given reasons for this, which, though cynical and offensive to some hon. Members, were at least honest and outspoken. This alternative claim had 372 raised questions not only as to the meaning of the Acts of Parliament, but as to the nature of oaths themselves; and the House was now invited to get out of this arena of theological controversy by relegating these questions to a Committee, where they would be discussed with judicial calmness. The question resolved itself into one of law, and it was this—-Was it competent for the House to refuse to receive the Oath when thus tendered by Mr. Bradlaugh? There was a considerable consensus of opinion that there was no precedent in point. So the Committee must report either that the House had no such power—which, after the argument of the hon. and learned Member for Carnarvonshire, it was almost impossible to suppose—or it might report that having regard to all the circumstances of Mr. Bradlaugh's case it had power, and was bound to refuse to allow him to take the Oath. Suppose the Committee so reported—suppose that it advised that, having regard to the original declaration of Mr. Bradlaugh, having regard to the proposition of law put before the former Committee, having regard to the Resolution moved by the hon. Member for Portsmouth, its opinion was that a man who had once claimed exemption from taking an Oath because he was not bound by its sanction could not afterwards be allowed to take the Oath on an assertion that it was a meaningless form—what more could hon. Members opposite want? That Report would probably exclude Mr. Bradlaugh for some time to come —indeed, until either the Government or the Colleague of the hon. Member for Northampton would or could pass a general Bill for substituting Affirmations for Oaths in all cases—and the House must bear in mind that many who might vote for the Select Committee might vote against such a Bill. No doubt, the question was one of extreme difficulty and delicacy. The Government had taken every possible precaution to remove it from the arena of political bias and religious animosity into a calm judicial atmosphere; and, by the Reference [proposed by the Prime Minister, the Committee would have an opportunity of advising the House as to this question altogether superior to the heated debate and the unusual language in which some hon. Members had indulged.
§ MR. J. G. HUBBARD
said, he knew nothing about Mr. Bradlaugh except what he had learnt involuntarily, for he avoided all contact with filth; and he quite approved of the Speaker, when it was proposed to read from a work of that Gentleman, taking the course of checking the unnecessary reading of moral garbage. The House was not responsible for this question having been raised. It was Mr. Bradlaugh who had raised it; and he (Mr. J. G. Hubbard) believed it was done out of simple vanity, and for the purpose of advertising himself and his detestable doctrines. Had Mr. Bradlaugh come forward like other Members, and, like others, taken the Oath, no objection would have been raised by any Member on that—the Opposition—side of the House. They might have shrunk from his proximity, and regretted that the electors of Northampton should have made so unhappy a choice; but, as far as they were concerned, his admission would have been unchallenged: but he had thought right to raise the question now before the House, and that question it was for the House to settle. There was no necessity, as it seemed to him, for a reference to a Committee. A Committee would discover no precedent to guide them, for in the whole history of Parliament they would not find a moral monster. Between the cases of Mr. Pease, Baron Rothschild, and others mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, and that of Mr. Bradlaugh, there was no analogy whatever. Those men believed in a Supreme Being, and only objected to the form, not to the nature, of the Oath they had to take. The scruples of the members of the Society of Friends, especially, could not but excite the deepest respect, founded as they were on true Christian feeling. Many of its members were distinguished by their religious erudition; and one of them, John Joseph Gurney, years since published a treatise on Christianity which might have been written by a Bishop. Why did Mr. Pease refuse to take an Oath? Was it because he disbelieved in God, whom it invoked, or dissented from its meaning? Par from it. His objection was that, knowing himself to be always in the presence of God, he would not admit a doubt of his habitual veracity by invoking God to witness the 374 truth of his words upon even the most solemn occasions. He literally obeyed the Divine injunction—"Let your Yea be Yea, and your Nay, Nay." But here was a man who had no belief in a Supreme Being at all; and the question was whether they ought to give an opportunity of blasphemy to one who denied the God that made him. He agreed that the question was worthy —aye, demanded—the most careful, the most deliberate, and the most charitable consideration, and he was not prepared to say that a House full of enthusiastic new Members anxious to express their feelings on a subject which touched them deeply was the best tribunal to decide the question under discussion; but, seeing that the conscience of every right-thinking Member of that House was concerned, the House, as a whole, and not a fraction of it, seemed to him the proper authority to deal with the difficulty before it. They were told that they must deal with the matter on the principles of justice, and he admitted that they ought to do so; but they owed justice not only to the man who was elected for Northampton, but to the Crown, to their constituents, and to that House. Truth and justice ought always to be inseparably united; but the proceedings of the person who was the cause of this unhappy controversy was contrary to truth, for in his case truth meant the affirmation on one day of that which, on a previous day, he had declared to be idle and unmeaning words. That was a course from which his heart revolted, and he could not consent to do anything to bring a man of such principles into the House of Commons, to be a disgrace to the Legislature and a disgrace to the country-It was impossible to deal with the question on mere legal grounds; it must be dealt with by the religious instinct which Jew and Christian alike possessed. All the changes that had been made in the form of the Oath had been out of respect to the existence of religious scruples, and not to the absence of religious scruples; and he thanked the right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) for having so lucidly, in his speech the other evening, set forth the impossibility of dealing with Mr. Bradlaugh in the same way as the religious Society of Quakers. He hoped the religious sentiments of hon. Members 375 would induce them to retain in the Forms of the House a recognition of that Supreme Being to whom everything must bo referred if men were to be anything but simple sensualists, referring to no higher arbiter and judge than to their own will.
§ MR. WILLIS
believed that justice could be done to the hon. Member for Northampton only by adopting the course which the right hon. Gentleman at the head of Her Majesty's Government proposed to take. This was a purely legal question; but ho did not underrate its importance on that account. Compared with it, the majority of the questions decided on the other side of Westminster Hall sank into utter insignificance. If the question raised by the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Drummond Wolff) were answered in the affirmative, not only would the borough of Northampton be deprived of one of its Representatives, but the House would assume a jurisdiction it had never before exorcised. ["No!"] The House, he maintained, had not the jurisdiction to enter into the state of mind of a person who presented himself to take the Oath. This Motion, if agreed to, would impose on the Member for Northampton a disability in the nature of a punishment; while at the same time the House, by assuming an authority it did not possess, might, as in past times, be brought into indecorous collision with the other Branch of the Legislature, and the decisions of the Courts of Law. Moreover, the House proposed to act in a judicial manner; and he had failed to perceive in that Assembly, especially on the opposite side, that impartiality and control of passion which were necessary for the administration of justice to any person. This question could only, in his opinion, be satisfactorily settled by referring it to the consideration of a Select Committee. If Mr. Bradlaugh were excluded from the House, the electors of Northampton would undoubtedly return him again, by way of protest against an attempt to deprive them of the power of choosing whom they pleased to be their Representative. His own difficulty in respect to the question was this—He wanted to be assured that Mr. Bradlaugh ought not to come into the House. Had the House the right it claimed to possess? When a Member had been duly returned and was about to take the Oath of Allegiance, 376 could the House, on proof that the Oath was not binding on his conscience, preclude him from taking it? No reference had yet been made to the statutes relating to the Oath administered to Members of Parliament. He had examined those statutes, and he denied the right of that House to interfere with the power of any Member, duly elected, to take that Oath, no matter what might be his opinions or character. If the hon. Member for Northampton were refused his seat the matter would not stop there. The principle would then be affirmed that the House could question the frame of mind in which a Member took an Oath; and he would feel himself entitled to interrogate many Members of the House whose religious opinions were, he knew, not entirely in accordance with the most vehement of the Opposition as to their state of mind in taking the Oath. ["Name!"] In his speech the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin begged the whole question. The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked whether the House ought to allow its Forms to be outraged. For his own part he denied, first, that the form was the House's form, and, secondly, he denied that the form had been outraged. He was present when Mr. Bradlaugh walked up to the Table to be sworn on the previous day. Except by rumour, he knew nothing of the opinions of Mr. Bradlaugh. That hon. Gentleman proposed to take the Oath; and if it had been administered, as far as his own knowledge went, there would have been as decent a compliance with the Forms of the House as he had yet witnessed. But was it not monstrous, a scandal upon public morality, that men pretending to be the special vindicators of the Supreme Being should stand up in the House and say that, although they perfectly know the opinions held by Mr. Bradlaugh, no question would have been raised had that Gentleman skulked among the other hon. Members at the commencement of the Session and taken the Oath. Ho could assure hon. Members who dwelt upon the decency and solemnity of the form to be gone through that there was much greater seeming decency in the quiet manner in which the hon. Member for Northampton approached the Table to take the Oath, than in the huddled, promiscuous way in which, a few days ago, Members congregated round the Table. 377 It had been said that the course proposed to be taken by Mr. Bradlaugh would be an outrage on the conscience of the House. He (Mr. Willis) did not know what the conscience of the House meant. He was familiar with what was meant by the conscience of an individual, nay, what was meant by the conscience of Mr. Bradlaugh, if he had one, and could well understand that his taking the Oath would inflict an outrage on the feelings of some persons; but he denied that any outrage would be inflicted on the conscience of the House. That House was not a Court of Justice. It was not a Court at all. It had no power to administer an Oath, except that power be conferred upon it by an Act of Parliament. There was no analogy between the proceedings of a Court of Justice and the proceedings of that House that could justify a reference to a Court of Justice. Not until the House had been in existence for four centuries was an Oath imposed to be taken in the middle of it. For the first time, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the Oath of Supremacy was imposed. That Oath was taken, not before the Speaker, but before the Lord High Steward; and the burden of taking it be-fovo the Lord High Steward was not removed until the reign of William IV. He (Mr. Willis) had administered the Oath to himself. The Speaker did not administer the Oath, nor did the Clerk. A Member could administer the Oath to himself; and he (Mr. Willis) denied that the House was to stand between a Member and any opinions he might entertain in taking the Oath. The opposition might be pardoned, on account of the reverses which they sustained at the General Election, for attempting to make as much as possible out of the present difficulty. The transactions of the late Administration, however, made him think that they were scarcely the men to be the guardians of divine honour or the in-culcators of public morality. ["Question!"] They would best repair their shattered fortunes by assisting the Government in obtaining security for life and property on behalf of those subjects of the Turkish power, for whose condition Lord Beaconsfield was responsible, and in placing the finances of England on a sound footing. ["Question!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
reminded the hon. and learned Gentleman that he was travelling from the Question before the House.
§ MR. WILLIS
said, he was exceedingly glad to receive that rebuke from the Chair; and it would be his pleasure, if he remained a Member of the House, to obey the orders of the right hon. Gentleman and recognize his authority. In conclusion, let him say that Members on his side of the House repudiated as strongly as Members on the Opposition side all sympathy with the opinions and views which the hon. Member for Northampton entertained. He besought the House not to be hasty in coming to its conclusion upon this subject. When he knew that men who were the very impersonation of infidelity and the mocking spirits of the 18th century had sat upon those Benches and taken part in their deliberations, it ill-comported with the dignity of the Party that was opposite to him, in the discission of a purely legal question, to attempt to fasten upon any Member of the House the slightest sympathy with atheistical principles or statements inconsistent with allegiance to Her Majesty. They had been taught by the late Prime Minister to regard Bolingbroke, an avowed infidel, as the father of modern Toryism. ["Question!"] That was the question. He was asking Members on the other side to spare their insinuations, because he might make insinuations in return, though he did not desire to do so. He would only add that he hoped the House would lay aside all uncharitableness and decide this momentous question in a calm and judicial spirit.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
said, he had been amused watching the various devices by which persons tried to keep out the hon. Member for Northampton. A great deal of political and religious bigotry and fanaticism had been imported into this question. The late right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland said the hon. Gentleman ought to be excluded because he did not believe in the divinity of Christ. Did Unitarians or Jews believe in it, and yet they were admitted. Another hon. Gentleman said that it was absolutely necessary for admission that a man should believe in some divinity or other. Why, it was trifling with the sense of grown-up men to say such a thing. There were some religious bodies represented in that House who believed in a Divinity which sent the sufferers in the Tay Bridge disaster to a sudden and ter- 379 rible death because they were breaking the Sabbath. ["Oh!"] In his view this was a dishonouring view to take of the dealings of the Almighty with His creatures. He had made up his mind to vote for the appointment of a Select Committee, on the ground that he was opposed to the feeling of bigotry that had been exhibited during this debate, because he was opposed—and would always be opposed, let his career be long or short in that House—to religious bigotry or intolerance. He would vote for it because he believed that the question ought to be removed from the heated atmosphere of that House to a cooler atmosphere upstairs. But he thought Ministers would have acted more wisely if they had acted more boldly and brought in a Bill which would enable the hon. Member for Northampton to make an Affirmation. There were several Members of that House who would prefer to make an Affirmation rather than take an Oath. He would prefer it himself, because he thought this system of oath-taking was most demoralizing. He would have been thankful to the Government, therefore, if they had taken this opportunity of dealing a blow at so demoralizing a system. He should vote for the proposed Committee, believing that in doing so he should be standing up for the rights of conscience against fanatical opposition.
§ MR. TREVELYAN
Sir, I am sure that hon. Gentlemen who have been my Colleagues in former Parliaments will acknowledge that I have always been the last man to put myself forward in what, without using the epithet in a disparaging sense, I may call a sensational debate; but there is that about the present controversy which renders it almost incumbent on a private Member who supports the views of the Government not to give a silent vote. For there are circumstances connected with the question so disagreeable, which place the advocates of what I believe to be the cause of justice, and the Privileges of the House of Commons, rightly read and considered, in such an invidious position, that there is something almost cowardly in leaving those right hon. Gentlemen who are forced to take a forward and definite course of action in the matter unsupported and alone. And I am the less unwilling to speak because the subject is, from the very nature of 380 it, without any temptation to a speaker; for the very point on which I rise to insist on is this—that an hon. Gentleman who tries to be eloquent, who tries to be effective, who tries to move and impress his hearers, is taking what I believe to be an incorrect view of the business on which we are at present engaged. What is that business? Rightly or wrongly— as I think, most unfortunately—we are sitting as a Criminal Court, debating whether a person should have inflicted upon him one of the severest sentences which, short of long imprisonment, can possibly be pronounced—the sentence that, after going through the labour and anxiety of a contested election—nay, of three or four successive elections—shall be deprived of the fruit and result of his labours, and declared incompetent of sitting in Parliament. That sentence, which in the case of many of us here present would amount to a fine of £3,000, £4,000 or £5,000—for to deprive a man of what he has obtained by money is the same as to deprive him of the money itself—we are called on to discuss here, and now, in a Court which in intention is, I am sure, a Court of Justice; but a Court in which all but the most scrupulous men are biassed—I do not say governed, but biassed—by their Party feeling; a Court whose Members may come in and go out at their pleasure—a Court which, as was finely said more than 100 years ago, is thin to hear evidence, and full to pronounce sentence—a Court of which I will venture to say that not one half of the Members have seen the documents which are the principal evidence we have got, and of which not a single Member has examined those documents as they must be examined before they would have any weight in a genuine Court of Law. The hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Drummond Wolff), who acts as prosecutor, comes down with a bundle of papers and pamphlets out of which ho reads certain passages; but we who listen to them do not know the context. We do not know what light may be thrown on these passages by the general tenour of the words in which they occur. We do not know whether those works are authentic productions of the hon. Member for Northampton. We have not the proof of it which would induce a Court of Law to admit such books, pamphlets, or newspaper letters as evidence for a single moment. When Home Tooke, or, 381 as he then was, the Rev. John Home, was supposed to have written what was supposed to be a libel on the Speaker, a predecessor of the hon. Member for Portsmouth brought the culprit before the House of Commons, and it was only on the third day of the proceedings that it was discovered that the only evidence that Horne had written the libel was the testimony of two compositors, one of whom had printed the manuscript but did not know the handwriting, and the other had heard someone else say that Home was the author of the letter. That is the sort of plight in which a popular Assembly puts itself when it usurps the functions of a Court of Justice without any intention of binding itself by its rules. And then the hon. Gentleman, in an off-hand manner, interjects a theory that the hon. Member for Northampton not only does not revere the form, but that he does not believe in the substance of the Oath. He brings us a passage taken from a book published by the Company which prints for the hon. Member for Northampton —there is evidence on which to condemn a defendant!—the author of which states that Parliament has the power of altering the succession to the Throne. That is what this unknown author says; and what says Hallam in his Constitutional History of England?By the Revolution and by the Act of Settlement, the rights of the actual Monarch of the Reigning Family were made to emanate from Parliament and the people.The hon. Gentleman asks you to declare that the enunciation of a doctrine as certain and established as anything in politics—a doctrine on which the right of the present Reigning Family is absolutely founded—a doctrine, as an hon. Member near me has suggested, for denying which we should all of us subject ourselves to the mysterious but alarming penalties of prcemunire, is sufficient reason for keeping one of your Colleagues from sitting in a Parliament which is the direct successor of the Conventions and Parliaments that unseated the Stuarts and placed William III. and the Brunswicks on the Throne. That is the sort of legal teaching which was not only accepted as sound, but was actually applauded by those who, with the eyes of all the lawyers in England upon them, are sitting in a judicial character to try the 382 hon. Member for Northampton; and, if he is convicted, to sentence him to exclusion from Parliament. And if such were the arguments of the hon. Member for Portsmouth, what are we to say to the artful and able invective of the hon. Member for Dungarvan—a judge, mark you, speaking to his brother judges, and rapturously and vehemently cheered by them while he was denouncing the prisoner? What are we to say to the eloquent appeal to our religious feelings which was made by the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin? Why, this—that the present case is not one for eloquence. The right hon. Member for Birmingham referred to the case of Wilkes; and from the first to the last of that great controversy nothing is more noticeable than this—that the most rattling and telling speeches were in almost all cases the most mischievous, because, in a judicial question, a rattling speech is seldom made by a man whose mind, for the time being, is in a judicial frame. I sympathize, most deeply do I sympathize, with the feelings and sentiments of the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson). My views as to those awful and solemn subjects, and the tone in which those subjects should be treated, do not differ from his. My disapprobation of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Brad-laugh) in taking so vexatious, so unnecessary, so insulting an attitude with regard to an institution of the House of Commons, with which, after all, he was willing to conform, is quite as pronounced as that of any Member of the House. But it is precisely because he has behaved in a way in which few of us would wish to behave that we are now in danger of being hurried into a perilous and indefensible course. My firm belief is, that if certain Gentlemen who I could name had quietly and unobtrusively stated that a form of adjuration did not add force to the simple word of an honest man, and, therefore, while they took the Oath, they took it under protest, their conduct would have passed without censure, and even with approbation. But it is not against modest and unobtrusive men that dangerous and oppressive precedents are levelled. As a practical business Member of the House, I should like to do anything in my power to express my sense of the 383 manner in which the hon. Member for Northampton has interrupted and dislocated Public Business during the first week of this new Parliament; but I cannot allow that feeling to betray mo into agreeing to a course which some day we may be sorry we have adopted. This case, we acknowledge it—every man on these Benches acknowledges it —must eventually be settled by the House; but the preliminary investigation should, at any rate, be conducted elsewhere. It is not in this heated atmosphere, where the person who is most concerned cannot even appear to defend himself, that that inquiry should take place, but in some quieter room in this building, where appeals cannot be made to the passions—where good law can be distinguished from bad—and trustworthy evidence from assertions which are no evidence at all. That is the course which the Government proposes to us to adopt in the form of this Committee, as proposed by the Prime Minister and amended by the Attorney General. Enlarge the Reference as widely as you choose; place on the Committee men—the fewer the better—whom all the House can trust— and such men there are; but do not let the case be decided, at this moment, by the House as a body, on such knowledge, or want of knowledge, as is before us now. It is unpleasant, as a Member of the House of Commons, to say that we are not a fit tribunal to try anything or anybody. As the Member for a Scotch constituency, it is still less pleasant to appear on this side of the question at all; but justice is justice, and in supporting the proposal of the Government I am convinced that it is for justice I shall vote.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, he was sorry that the hon. Member for the Border Burghs (Mr. Trevelyan) seemed to think that that House—a branch of the Supreme Tribunal of this country—was not a fit tribunal to try so simple an issue as was then before it. The hon. Member would forgive him (Mr. New-degate) for not commenting at any length upon his historical references; but the hon. Member appeared to have ignored, or not to know, the difference between the Convention and a Parliament. It was in the form of the Oaths taken by its Members that formerly the position and functions of this House in 384 reference to the other Estates of the Realm were defined and limited; but the House had now a very simple issue to deal with, a very simple case before them. The Member for Northampton had presented himself at the Table and claimed to make Affirmation instead of taking the Oath of Allegiance. A Committee of the House was appointed, and recommended the House to decline to receive this application to affirm instead of taking the Oath of Allegiance. The hon. Member again presented himself at the Table to take the Oath; but in a document which he had on his previous appearance placed upon the Table, he had declared that if he took the Oath at the Table it would not be binding on his conscience. More than that, the hon. Member for Northampton, as he (Mr. Newdegate) supposed he might call him—["No, no!"]—or Mr. Brad-laugh-—he believed that either form of expression was within the Order of the House—Mr. Bradlaugh, by the Paper he had presented to the House, and by his publications, had declared that if compelled to take the Oath he should do so with a mental reservation. Now, he (Mr. Newdegate) would, with the permission of the House, in very few words, prove, that in the terms of the Oaths formerly taken by Members of the House, this was expressly provided against. He held the form of the Oath of Supremacy, as enacted by 3 James I., c. 4, in his hand, and it concluded with this passage—And these things I do plainly and sincerely acknowledge and swear in these express words by me spoken, and according to the plain and common sense and understanding of the same words, without any equivocation or mental reservation or secret evasion whatever, and I do make this recognition and acknowledgment heartily, willingly, and truly.That was the old form of the Oath of Supremacy. Similar words were to be found in the Oath of Abjuration, which he himself, and the elder Members of the House, had several times taken at the Table of the House—All these things I do plainly and sincerely acknowledge and swear, according to these express words by me spoken, and according to the plain and common sense and understanding of the same words, without any equivocation or mental evasion or secret reservation whatever, and I do make this recognition and acknowledgment heartily, willingly, and truly.It appeared to him, therefore, that the 385 House had a very simple function to perform, and that it would be disgraceful to the House if it went forth to the public that a Member was allowed to come to the Table and take the Oath avowedly with mental reservation, declaring that he did not regard the Oath as binding upon him. The plain remedy, therefore, seemed to be this— that the House should request Mr. Speaker to desire that Mr. Bradlaugh should appear at the Table, and that the right hon. Gentleman should be instructed to put to him questions in terms calculated to elicit answers equivalent to those contained in the Oath of Abjuration, which he (Mr. Newdegate) had over and over again repeated. For that course they had precedents. Many hon. Members like himself had repeatedly made that declaration. The House would proceed with becoming dignity if, on this occasion, it directed Mr. Speaker to require from Mr. Bradlaugh answers to questions which would be equivalent to the recitals formerly contained in the Oaths. These questions, if answered truly, would render it impossible for Mr. Bradlaugh to take the Oath, as he had announced his intention to do, with mental reservation. He (Mr. Newdegate) thought the House should be somewhat jealous of any attempt to tamper with the Oath of Allegiance. His hon. Friends sitting near him would remember that in the year 1865 a Roman Catholic Member of the House—Mr. Monsell, now Lord Emly— introduced a Bill for the purpose of simplifying, as it was called, the Oath taken by Roman Catholics. He proposed to omit these words—I hereby disclaim, disavow, and solemnly abjure, any intention to subvert the present Church Establishment as settled by law within this realm.There was at that time a mania for simplification, as it was called; and at the commencement of the next Session the Government introduced a Bill to simplify —that is, to cut down—the Oaths to a mere declaration of allegiance, and, of course, the words he had quoted were omitted. That was in 1866, and in 1869 the Church of Ireland was disestablished. When, therefore, they saw a person returned by a constituency as a Member of the House endeavouring to tamper with the Oath of Allegiance, they were bound to ascertain from his 386 own mouth, either by a Committee or at the Table, what was his real meaning; and whatever might be his reasons, whether he had any or none, for having refused to take the Oath, let the House, if he persisted, put its foot on this mischief while it was small. If they were not satisfied with the explanation of the Member as to his reasons for refusing duly to take the Oath of Allegiance, then let the House declare his seat vacant, let a new Writ be issued for Northampton, and let an intimation be sent to the electors of that borough that if they should again return a man to this House who would on his entrance to the House interrupt its proceedings by attempting to tamper with the Oath of Allegiance, that as other constituencies had been disfranchised, the House might be disposed to consider their case in that sense.
§ MR. SERJEANT SIMON
thought that if the House really appreciated the gravity of the question which it had to decide it would be thankful to the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government for the course he proposed to take. The frequent references to Party controversies and Party differences only proved the unfitness of the House to deal with the question. They had before them a legal question, and the House was not the place in which it ought to be, or could be, decided. His hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Baron de Worms) had referred to a right hon. Gentleman on that side of the House who had opposed the removal of the Jewish disabilities, and afterwards changed his mind. He did not know to whom his hon. Friend alluded; but he certainly saw many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen near him who advocated the removal of those disabilities, and to whose persistent advocacy his hon. Friend was able to take his seat in the House; and he saw many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite who as persistently, and as long as they could, withheld the privilege which his hon. Friend now enjoyed. With respect to the question before them, they were called upon to interpose between the obligation which the law imposed on Mr. Bradlaugh, and the rights of the constituency which had returned him. That was not a question of policy; it was one involving and depending upon legal principles; and it ought, therefore, to be decided, not 387 after heated debate in that House, hut in the calm atmosphere of a Committee room. ["No, no!"] Those expressions of dissent from the Opposition side only strengthened the opinion he had expressed. On -what ground did hon. Members opposite consider Mr. Bradlaugh an "incompetent person" within the meaning of the statute? He was neither a minor, a lunatic, nor a female. Their arguments proceeded on the ground that the hon. Gentleman was an Atheist and an unbeliever, and on that ground they wished to exclude him from that which he claimed as his right in accordance with the law. There was nothing alleged against the hon. Member except his writings outside the House, and those were matters not within the cognizance of the House. He should, therefore, support the Motion for a Select Committee.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
said, the last speaker could hardly have listened attentively to the debate, or he would not have said that the question was whether Mr. Bradlaugh ought to be excluded because he was an Atheist. A far more difficult and dangerous question had been raised with regard to the honour and privileges of the House; and it had been raised, not by the Opposition, but by the gentleman who wanted to sit in the House, and by him alone. He had thrown discredit on the Oath, which they all believed to he absolutely necessary. If he had not dragged the question so prominently before the House nothing would have been said with regard to his taking the Oath. If, like other men, he had presented himself at the Table and taken the Oath, no one would have disputed his right; because he would have complied, so far as they would have known, with all that was required, because they had no right to go beyond the Act of Parliament. On presenting himself he asked to make an Affirmation because the Oath was not binding upon him, and the matter was referred to a Committee. He then wrote a letter, in which he stated that, although the Committee said the Oath must be taken, he did not believe in it, but looked upon it as an idle form. It was that to which they objected; that was the origin of the question which they had now to decide. He was more than surprised to hear the Prime Minister, for whom he had a deep respect, say he 388 would have allowed a man to take the Oath, although he had avowed he did not believe in it. He deeply regretted this statement on the part of the Prime Minister; and he knew it would wound the feelings and susceptibilities of many in the country that the right hon. Gentleman should, have said so. [A laugh.] Hon. Gentlemen might laugh; but he knew no subject that was more calculated to stir up strong feelings in the country, and to damage the Government. When he heard the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster speak of the falsehoods that had been propagated by oaths, he could not help asking whether the hon. and learned Gentlemen on the Government Benches would be parties to getting rid of oaths in Courts of Justice, and whether they did not consider oaths essential to the righteous administration of the law? This was called a delicate question, but was only a delicate question with regard to this House; it was not a delicate question with regard to the individual who had brought it before the House, because he had flaunted it before the country. He wished for notoriety. The only notoriety he would gain would not be to his interest. The result, however, would be to show that the people of this country still recognized the authority of a Supreme Being, whose blessing it was right to invoke on all their deliberations and proceedings.
MR. H. VILLIERS STUART
said, he should have preferred to give a silent vote; but he rose, lest his motives in voting for the Select Committee should be misunderstood. He entertained as strong a feeling on the religious aspects of this question as any hon. Member in that House; and he would not support the reference to a Select Committee if he believed it would be used merely for the purpose of facilitating the admission of the hon. Member for Northampton. He, however, took a very different view of the question, and thought the thanks of the House were due to the Prime Minister for the wise and statesmanlike course he had suggested. There never was a question which concerned the dignity of the House more that it should be approached with deliberate and well-considered steps. There never was a question which was less suited to be made a Party question than this one. On both these grounds he thought 389 the reference to a Select Committee was the best course that could be adopted; and he, therefore, should give it his hearty support.
§ MR. MARK STEWART
said, it could not be denied that Scotland's voice ought to be heard on his side of the House as well as on the other. He hoped the House would take a wise and right view of the question, and would not be precipitated into a division without a careful consideration of the principles involved. It was a great Constitutional principle that what the House had ordained and settled it was their bounden duty to carry out. The hon. Member for the Border Burghs (Mr. Trevelyan) had spoken from the other side with more moderation than many hon. and learned Gentlemen of the long robe on the other side. These hon. and learned Gentlemen had told them that the question ought to be discussed without passion or fervour; but more declamatory speeches he had rarely heard. His hon. Friend (Mr. Campbell Banner-man), sitting below the hon. and learned Member for Colchester (Mr, Willis), had seemed, indeed, in danger of his life, sitting as he did in such close proximity to a Member who had dealt out his blows in the manner they had just witnessed. The hon. Member for the Border Burghs had based his whole case on this point—that the House was not the place for a judicial inquiry, and that the inquiry should be relegated to a Committee upstairs. Now, if the matter were only with reference to Mr. Bradiaugh, they might feel that there was some soundness in this appeal; but he (Mr. Mark Stewart) was bound to point out that there was a far wider scope to it than this, for it was, in his opinion, a great Constitutional question. He would ask whether the House was to be a party to that hypocrisy, that indifference to truth, that utter want of principle which they were asked to consent to on this occasion? Were they to send this question to a Committee upstairs in order to have that unveiled which was already patent to everyone in the House, and which everyone could find out from the letter that had appeared in The Times of Friday. If there was any doubt about this, the House could settle it, if it saw its way clear to adopt the suggestion of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newde- 390 gate). It could summon Mr. Bradlaugh to the House, and ask him whether he wrote the letter, and whether he adhered to the principle of the letter, and then the whole question would be decided. The hon. Member (Mr. Trevelyan) could not suppose that those hon. Gentlemen whom he saw opposite, and many of whom he knew entertained high and conscientious views on this question, would lend their support to relegating this question to a Committee. The whole case was as clear as daylight, and the House should not be led away by the sophistry of hon. Members opposite, who had argued the issue by the hour, as if no one could possibly understand it unless he listened to all their arguments. Everyone could make up his mind on the subject. In this matter he appealed to hon. Members opposite, and he appealed to the Leaders of the Party. Where was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Clackmannan and Kinross (Mr. Adam), who was so anxious that Mr. Bradiaugh should take his seat? Where was the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. H. Richard), the advocate of religious liberty? Where was the hon. Member for Bristol (Mr. S. Morley), who was also so anxious that Mr. Bradiaugh should be returned? Why did not these Leaders tell the House the real motives which induced them to declare in favour of the Member for Northampton? If Mr. Brad-laugh were to be allowed to come to the Table and to declare his readiness to take the Oath—which he had told the House in the face of day that he did not respect—what was to happen to the House? Members on the Ministerial side might override them by their majority; but what was to become of their allegiance and of their religious principle if this were decided in favour of Mr. Bradiaugh? Why, they did not know what the country might answer in that ease. He would call the attention of the House to the fact that the Marquess of Queensberry had been rejected at the election of Scotch Representative Peers because he held very similar views to those of Mr. Bradiaugh. These outside things, he contended, showed how public opinion was going. He asked them to take heed what they were doing, and urged hon. Members seriously to consider the question and vote against this Committee, because the House already 391 knew all that was needful to come to a final decision.
§ MR. COURTNEY
admitted that if by sending this question to a Select Committee they were going to be bound absolutely by the conclusions to which it might come, he should be almost, if not altogether, constrained to vote with the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for West Sussex (Sir Walter B.Barttelot) and the hon. Member for Wigton Burghs (Mr. Mark Stewart) that Mr. Bradlaugh could not be admitted to swear at the Table. But that was not the question before them. The question before them was one of law. They had to determine what the law was; when they had ascertained what the law was, they would then be better able to determine whether Mr. Bradlaugh was entitled under the law to come and swear at the Table. Was the House to come to a conclusion on that point, or should they first send it for consideration to a Committee? He was surprised that any objection should be raised to the Committee; and he regretted that the Leader of the Opposition should have followed the hon. Member for Portsmouth in challenging a vote of the House, instead of sending the matter to a Committee for accurate investigation. The Committee which sat had defended and maintained the law; and he had no confidence that the House would, in the first instance, have done so. For reasons which had been well expressed by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Carnarvonshire (Mr. Watkin Williams), every Member coming into the House was bound to take the Oath, with certain exceptions, and Mr. Bradlaugh did not come within those exceptions. Then the question was, could he take the Oath, having told them that an Oath did not bind his conscience? The essence of an Oath was the invocation and the appeal. Where there was no invocation and no appeal there was no Oath—the mere repetition of words did not amount to an Oath. He was jealous of the honour of the House. He wished to vindicate the House of Commons from the errors of a multitudinous vote, and to refer the question to a Select Committee. When Baron Lionel de Rothschild, on July 29, 1850, came to the Table to be sworn, he asked to be sworn on the Old Testament. Mr. Henley inquired whether, in that form, an Oath was more binding on his 392 conscience? A debate arose. Mr. Page Wood, as a friend of Baron de Rothschild, said the only possible question that could be put to him was whether or not he considered an Oath in that form binding on his conscience. That question might be properly put. Sir George Grey and Sir James Graham agreed that the question might be put. It appeared to him that Mr. Bradlaugh, having declared that for him there was no appeal and no invocation in the Oath, it was by his own act he was debarred from coming and swearing at the Table. [Opposition cheers.'] He was sorry to hear those cheers, because that was not the question for them. The question for them was whether they best consulted the dignity of the House by deciding on arguments in a debate like that, or by sending the question to be considered and reported on by a Committee upstairs. He had no doubt the latter course would be adopted; and in that case he hoped the Committee would take a little time, and put on record in alternative Reports the different arguments for arriving at the two conclusions, so that when the question came back to them again they would have proper materials for coming to an independent judgment.
said, he would not have risen but for the remarks of the hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney). Considering the ability and the sentiments of his hon. Friend, he was somewhat astonished at the conclusion at which he had arrived. He could only explain it by supposing that his hon. Friend had mistaken the issue before the House. This was not a question of the rights of the hon. Member for Northampton, though it was quite true those rights were involved in a secondary manner. The real question was this—whether the House would sanction the Oath of Allegiance being profaned. The facts were not in controversy. The hon. Member for Northampton had not said at the Table of the House in so many words that the Oath was not binding on his conscience; but he had at the Table of the House made a statement which involved that fact, and there was no pretence on the part of any hon. Member of a doubt as to that being the position of the hon. Member for Northampton. Then the hon. Member came to the Table and desired to take an Oath 393 not binding on his conscience. He (Mr. Gorst) took his stand upon the simple ground that for the House to permit a man at that Table solemnly to take an Oath which he had declared would not be binding on his conscience was to permit that man to profane the Oath; and the question which the House had to decide was whether they would permit that profanation to take place. The hon. Member for Northampton, when he asked to make an Affirmation, meant that it would be indecent and an outrage on the House of Commons to take an Oath not binding on his conscience. Well, after a Committee had sat and decided that he was not entitled to make an Affirmation, it seemed most indecent for that hon. Member to come to that Table and attempt to make light of the Oath taken by Members of that House. And when it was right that someone should rise and protect the House from that profanation, the duty was undertaken, not by the Leader of the House, but by the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Drummond Wolff). It was not until afterwards that the Leader of the House proposed that a Committee should be appointed. There was no pretence for a reference to a Committee. In former cases when a Committee was appointed, it had to inquire into facts. But that was not so now. The facts were placed before the Committee by the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone); and the Committee was asked to report, not facts, but its opinion on the powers of that House. He challenged the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General to point to any precedent in which, in such a case, the House had delegated to a Committee to report on its own powers and privileges. He believed it was Lord Beaconsfield who had once said that a Committee of the House of Commons was an elaborate machinery to find out something which everybody knew. Did anyone for a moment doubt that the House had the most absolute power to put a stop to any profanation of its own oaths? Why, a County Court Judge had the power to prevent a witness being sworn who did not believe in the validity of an Oath; and was that House, the highest tribunal in the land, without the power which the Judge of a County Court possessed? There was no doubt 394 that the House possessed the right which the Committee were to report upon; the question was, whether the House ought to use that right? The facts were before the House, and the Committee was unnecessary, unless, perhaps, to screen the Government from responsibility. The Government might, perhaps, be more fortunate in the second Committee than they had been in the first; but he was almost certain of one thing—that the hon. and learned Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood) would not be put upon the second Committee. In the comparative secrecy of the rooms upstairs the Government might venture to let in the hon. Member for Northampton, when they dared not support a Resolution to let him in before the whole House; and this was the only explanation he was able to give of the reason for which the Committee had been proposed.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir FARRER HERSCHELL)
said, that the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down (Mr. Gorst) stated that the real Question before the House was whether the House would permit the Oath to be profaned. There was no such question before it in the Amendment which would be shortly put from the Chair. The question before the House was briefly this— whether a matter which had arisen with reference to Mr. Bradlaugh's taking his seat should be determined at once upon the question raised by the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Drummond Wolff), or whether that question was to be postponed and the House was to have the benefit of the opinion of a Select Committee upon the subject? Would the hon. and learned Member who had just sat down venture to say, if he found himself. in a minority on a division that night, that the majority had voted that the Oath should be profaned? It was generally admitted that the question before the House was one of much gravity and delicacy; and he agreed with the right hon. Member for the City of London (Mr. J. G. Hubbard) that the House ought to proceed with the utmost possible deliberation and caution. That was the way in which the Government wished to treat the subject. He would ask the House to consider for a moment what consequences would follow their acceptance of the Motion of the hon. Member for Portsmouth. No precedent had been cited by hon. Members on 395 the other side of the House for preventing an hon. Member who had been duly elected from complying with the requirements of the Statute if he wore willing to do so, nor had anyone alleged that the House had ever as yet claimed any such power. If they declined to appoint a Select Committee, they would be asserting that the House might interpose to prevent an hon. Member from fulfilling the only condition on which he would be allowed to sit and vote, although, at the same time, the hon. Member would not be expelled the House, but would be debarred from taking any part in its proceedings. It was altogether a misapprehension to suppose that the result of the Resolution would be that the hon. Member for Northampton would cease to represent that town; on the contrary, he would still be Member for Northampton, but the town would be deprived of the services of one of its Representatives. That distinguished the present case from the cases cited by the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell) and other speakers, who had given instances of the election of persons labouring under some legal disability, and unfit, for that reason, to take part in the deliberations of the House. Now, however, they were asked, for the first time, to pass a Resolution, in order that an hon. Member who was willing to take the Oath might be prevented from doing so. He could only say that if such a precedent was to be set, all care and circumspection ought first to be employed. Precedents were easily set, but it was often very difficult to foresee their consequences; indeed, precedents set with general approval had often produced very regrettable results. He would not argue the question raised by the hon. Member for Portsmouth, but would confine his observations to the question of the Amendment before the House. He altogether challenged the view that it was in no respect a question of Constitutional right, but rather of mere policy. The question was, in fact, a legal one, and was simply whether the hon. Member for Northampton had a right to take the Oath in the manner prescribed by law, or whether the House could forbid him to do so. It was not the case, as some hon. Members had said, that there was no doubt as to the right of the House over its Members; 396 and the debate itself was abundant proof that such doubts were somewhat widely entertained. To put an extreme instance, suppose the hon. Member for Northampton had presented himself at the Table to be sworn among the first batch of hon. Members, and had asked to make an Affirmation, and on being told he could not do so had said—"Oh, very well, then I will take the Oath," who could possibly have interposed, when at the time no House had as yet been formed? He (the Solicitor General) was not putting that as conclusive, but merely to show the difficulties that surrounded the question. Again, his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chatham had said that the House only claimed the power possessed by every County Court Judge of preventing a person taking the Oath; but he denied that Judges exercised such power, and wished the House to remember that the principles of Common Law were not truly applicable to the case under discussion. He contended that the objection always came either from the witness himself or from some person whom his testimony might affect. The arguments by which the Motion was supported supplied an additional reason against the House coming to a hasty conclusion. It was a very dangerous thing to reason by analogy in cases of this kind. If they were going to set a precedent, let the limits of that precedent be clearly understood. It was all very well to say it was quite enough to proceed on the mere fact that Mr. Bradlaugh, having at first claimed to affirm, now claimed to take the Oath; but some hon. Members opposite had rested their case on far higher ground than that. They had gone upon principles which might lead them to very wide results. If the question was how far want of belief in a Supreme Being, and the expression of that want of belief in writings or pamphlets, disqualified a man from taking his seat in that House, it became important to know how far that could be inquired into, by what means it was to be inquired into, and how it was to be decided; and who would say that such matters should be determined by the House on the spur of the moment? Hon. Members opposite had not been content to rely on the opinions on religious questions expressed in works alleged to have been written by Mr. Bradlaugh but had alluded to ex- 397 pressions in them which they said showed a want of loyalty. Well, that was an entirely different ground to take from the want of religious belief; and if he wished to show how far the House was from the spirit in which they ought to approach such a question, and how difficult it was in a House constituted as that was to approach it in the proper spirit, he could find no better illustration than was afforded by the extracts which had been quoted to show the want of loyalty. The extracts had been culled from a work without the context, without the date at which they were published; and was the House to adopt a Resolution based on such extracts without the person against whom they were quoted having the opportunity of making any explanation, or of pointing out any unfairness in the manner in which they were used, or in any other way meeting the case brought against him? Again, the right hon. Member for the City of London (Mr. J. G. Hubbard) urged that the question was one to be determined by the religious instincts of the House. Now, nobody had a greater respect than he (the Solicitor General) had for those religious instincts; but he protested against the assertion that the question was to be determined by such instincts. They knew what had been the result of determining questions by religious instinct. The religious instincts of the right hon. Member for the City of London would probably have prevented the hon. Member for Greenwich (Baron de Worms) from making the speech he had made that night. ["No, no!"] Possibly they would not have that effect now changes had taken place; but a short time ago the case would have been different. It was a very dangerous thing to rely on the religious instincts of the House in dealing with a question of Constitutional right. Those instincts were for a long time shocked at the idea of Roman Catholics taking part in the proceedings of that House. Indeed, there was hardly any act of intolerance which had not been defended at some time or other under the plea of religious instincts. And, therefore, though he had the deepest reverence for religious instincts, he doubted whether they were absolutely safe guides on questions of that kind. [Laughter from the Opposition.'] Hon. Gentlemen might laugh; but, probably, it was not those who 398 boasted most loudly of their respect for religious instincts who were the most deeply penetrated with religious conviction. He yielded to no man in his reverence for those instincts; but he distrusted them when they were put forward and paraded as the test and foundation of the decisions of the House on such questions as that now before it. It was very much the same with what the noble Lord (Lord Randolph Churchill) called the "unerring instinct of the House." He wished the House had an unerring instinct. If all questions could only be decided in that way, it might save much time and spare them many speeches. The hon. Member for Greenwich had protested against the notion that they were to enter into the question of the evidence on which they were acting. That hon. Member said that objection had been taken because the books which had been quoted were not before the House, but that they were now dealing with broad Constitutional principles. Well, if there was one Constitutional principle broader than another, it was that they ought not to determine any question unless they had the best authority for the facts. They had had not only books quoted, but also letters from newspapers. ["Hear, hear!"] He would appeal to the House whether letters in newspapers were used against any hon. Member without the question being first put to the hon. Member whether he had written the letters which had appeared in his name? The House should be very jealous of acting on anything that was not properly before it or on its records in some way, because they were setting a precedent which would be quoted hereafter, and the materials on which they were acting would be looked for, and the precedent would be judged of on those materials. The fact, therefore, that an hon. Member had to go outside of the records and to appeal to books, pamphlets, and letters in newspapers, was surely the best possible reason for appointing a Select Committee in this case. He asserted that by reference to a Committee they would have a calm and judicial consideration of this question such as experience had proved it was impossible to obtain in that House. Already there had been a Committee appointed; and he appealed to all the Members of that Committee whether the question had not been discussed in a totally dif- 399 ferent spirit from that which had obtained in the House itself? It was said that when a former question was sent to a Committee there was almost entirely a Party division. That might be perfectly true, and yet there was no reason for saying that similar circumstances would occur in the present case. Then, again, some complaint had been made of the Reference proposed to be made to the Committee. It was said that the Reference was too broad, and that it prejudged the question. ["Hear, hear!"] Hon. Gentlemen opposite might approve of that assertion; but he denied that it was correct. All he could say was that it was not intended to be so drawn, but to be so framed as to raise the whole question at issue. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for West Sussex (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) had appealed to him whether he would be willing to do away with the oath in Courts of Justice, and he would at once say "No," as he believed the sanction of an oath in Courts of Justice on ignorant persons was very valuable. But he very much doubted the value of an oath as regarded Members of that House. He did not think it would make the slightest difference in an Assembly such as that whether an hon. Gentleman took the Oath or affirmed; and, indeed, from the manner in which the Oath was taken in the majority of instances, he was not struck with the idea that hon. Members were pervaded with any great degree of solemnity on the occasion. Indeed, he was afraid the Oath in that House was treated as a matter of form. ["Oh, oh!"] He was not alleging that against those who uttered the exclamations; no doubt there were exceptions. ["Oh, oh!"] He did not think a tremendous chorus of cheers which sometimes accompanied the taking of the Oath rendered the ceremony a very solemn one. Nor was their reverence for the Oath promoted by such a discussion as the present; for one hon. Member went so far as to say that if a man believed in some kind of God or other that would be sufficient for the purpose of the Oath.
§ SIR H. DRUMMOND WOLFF
said, he should not be dictated to by the Prime 400 Minister in that way. What he had said was some divinity or other—a di-vinitv of Unity or a divinity of Trinity.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir FARRER HERSCHELL)
, said, he was not going to enter into any controversy with the hon. Gentleman. His explanation amounted to a distinction without a difference. But, in any case, they ought not by language of that sort to be deterred from doing their duty. Hon. Members opposite had said that the country was against the Government. But hon. Members must think the country had strangely constituted susceptibilities if they would take objection to the reference of such a question to a Committee of the House. It was just and right that the question should be decided; and how could it be decided in a better way than after referring it to a Select Committee? If the country was to be against them it would be because the Opposition Members had made up their minds to misrepresent the Government in desiring that a matter of such great importance should be temporarily removed from the arena of heated debate to the calm judicial consideration of a Committee of the House, carefully chosen.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
rose to Order, and asked if it was permissible for a Member to impute to other Members that they could be guilty of misrepresentation?
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, that there was no ground for his interposition, and nothing out of Order in what the hon. and learned Member (the Solicitor General) had said.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir FARRER HERSCHELL)
said, that he had only put it to the House as a hypothesis —that it depended upon the action of hon. Members opposite if they would convert the hypothesis into a fact. He submitted to the House that the proper course was to agree to the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government. He was sure the country would see nothing improper or unwise in considering this matter calmly, as it would be deliberated upon by a Select Committee. He would have expected much more assistance from the other side of the House than they had received, as a new point had arisen, and the Leader of the House had suggested the Committee as the best way of 401 dealing with it. His right hon. and learned Friend the Member for the City of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) had really not suggested a single argument to show that the appointment of the Committee was undesirable. He could not understand the course which had been adopted by the right hon. Baronet the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote), unless it was that, with his well-known amiability, he was anxious to return good for evil, and that, as the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Drummond Wolff) had not followed him on the first occasion, he would follow that hon. Member on the present occasion. But why had not the right hon. Baronet seen fit to assent to the proposal of the Prime Minister to refer this question to a Committee? No hon. Member had ventured to say that any mischief or evil was likely to result from the appointment of the Select Committee which was proposed by the Prime Minister; and if that were so, it was surely a very strong and undesirable thing that in a grave and important question of this kind the course suggested by the Leader of the House should not be followed. The more carefully, calmly, and judicially the House considered this matter, under circumstances in which appeals to religious emotions would not induce hon. Members to swerve one hair's breadth from the path of strict justice and Constitutional law, the more would the decision commend itself to the respect of the country and of the future. He submitted that no danger could ensue from pursuing the course suggested by the Leader of the House.
§ SIR HARDINGE GIFFARD
said, that no one wished to deny that they ought to decide the question before the House carefully and deliberately; but he thought his hon. and learned Friend opposite appeared to have assumed, and that without proof, that the only mode in which the House could decide upon the question in the calm spirit which he advocated was by submitting it to a Select Committee. He would like to know into what facts the Committee was to inquire, and upon what it was to decide, for he believed that there was no fact whatever in dispute; on the contrary, it appeared to him to be the merest trifling with the House to suggest that there was any single Member who entertained the smallest doubt as 402 to what the facts really were. Again, the person most interested in the question had repudiated any doubt about the matter; he had used no disguise. At the Table of the House, by a preliminary communication to Mr. Speaker, and by letters published last Friday in the various newspapers, which no one in his behalf had ventured to deny came from him, and with whose name they were associated in the plainest possible terms, he had asserted that he had a right to go through the words prescribed by the Statute, while, at the same time, he avowed, and wished to make the House of Commons a party to his avowal, that those words were not binding upon his conscience. The Prime Minister had told them that it was an important question to the hon. Member for Northampton whether the House should interpose between him and the performance of his statutory obligations; but he (Sir Hardinge Giffard) pointed out that it was also an important question for the House of Commons: because, with that avowed declaration before them, if they permitted those words—he abstained from saying taking the Oath—to be recited, and that book to be kissed, they themselves would be sanctioning that which he did not think it was any exaggeration to describe as a gross irreverence. Further, he did not think that the reluctance entertained by hon. Members to allow a performance of that sort to go on in the House of Commons could be properly described as religious fanaticism. On the contrary, he would be rather disposed to say it was irreligious fanaticism which sought to degrade sacred words; and no one who had witnessed the proceedings alluded to could doubt that it was not a less cherished object to the hon. Member for Northampton to have a seat in the House of Commons than to enforce upon the House so far an admission of his principles that they would permit him to abstain from taking the Oath and substitute an affirmation in its place; or, if they would not do so, to assent to his proposition, to use his own language, that it was "so much the worse for those who compelled him to adopt a meaningless form." He wanted to know in what way the Select Committee was to help them over that matter. Was it to ascertain that which the hon. Member avowed? or was it to consider a question of law which the Solicitor General, although he 403 said a question of law existed, had forgotten to point out? Would any lawyer of reputation say that if a person took an oath in any place where an oath was insisted upon as a necessary preliminary, and at the same time expressed disbelief in a Superior Power, a Court of Justice would hold that proceeding to be good? He was sure that neither his hon. and learned Friend nor the Attorney General would answer in the affirmative. Since, then, neither law nor fact was the subject of debate, into what was the Committee to inquire? What further remained was a question as to the power of the House of Commons. It was admitted that there were no precedents for such a case as that before them, and they were going to appoint a Select Committee to search for precedents when it was well known there were none. The appointment of a Committee for the mere purpose of postponement was, he submitted, extremely undesirable; and the hon. Member for Liskeard had avowed that if they were going to remit the question to the Committee in the sense that they were to decide it, he should object to its appointment. The appointment of the Committee would be a mere postponement of the discussion of the grave issues involved, that must sooner or later arise, as to whether the hon. Member for Northampton should be allowed to go through, as he had expressed his willingness to do, that very profane performance. He would be the last to profess that the desire to observe a reverent demeanour or respect their religious forms was confined to either side of the House; but he could not help thinking that they had been misled in the matter by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, from whom they might have expected guidance. The Solicitor General had told them that the question was a most serious and delicate one. Undoubtedly it was so; but that had only broken upon the Government after the action taken by the hon. Baronet the Member for Portsmouth. After which the Prime Minister had moved an Amendment, that he observed the Attorney General also proposed to amend. He did not wish to weaken the effect of anything that had been said by the hon. and learned Member for Carnarvon; but, as had already been pointed out, the terms of the Reference proposed 404 were such as assumed the whole question. The essential characteristic of an oath was the appeal to a Supreme Being; and when the Solicitor General adopted the language that the hon. Member for Northampton was prepared to come forward and take the oath, he was stating exactly that which he was not prepared to do, because he was not prepared to appeal to a Supreme Being; on the contrary, he said—"I deny the existence of the Being in whose name I am expected to affirm." Were they to call upon Mr. Bradlaugh to admit that which he denied? Were the Committee to examine lawyers upon some question of law which had not been suggested in the course of that debate? He had heard no such question raised, or he should have been happy to have addressed himself to it. Now, the form of Reference was—That it be referred to a Select Committee, to consider and report their opinion to the House whether the House has any right, founded on precedent or otherwise, by Resolution to prevent a duly elected Member, who is willing to take the Oath prescribed by the Acts 29 & 30 Vic. c. 19, and 31 & 32 Vic. c. 72, from so doing; and, if they are of opinion that the House has such right, further to report on what grounds it is competent to the House to prevent such Member from taking the Oath.This proposed Amendment of the Prime Minister first assumed the whole question, which was then to be remitted to a Committee, who would Report upon it and send it back for discussion. Again, the vice of the Amendment of the Attorney General was precisely the same. He proposed, in the case of the Amendment becoming the substantive Motion, to move in substitution thereof the following words:—That Mr. Bradlaugh, the Member for Northampton, having claimed at the Table of this House to make an Affirmation or Declaration instead of. the Oath proscribed by Law, founding his claim upon the terms of the Act 29 and 30 Vic. c. 19, and the Evidence Amendment Acts of 1869 and 1870, and stating that ho had been permitted to affirm in Courts of Justice by virtue of the said Evidence Amendment Acts: And it having been referred to a Select Committee to consider and report their opinion whether persons entitled, under the provisions of the Evidence Amendment Act 1869 and the Evidence Amendment Act 1870, to make a solemn Declaration instead of an Oath in Courts of Justice, may be permitted to make an Affirmation or Declaration instead of an Oath in this House in pursuance of the Acts 29 and 30 Vic. c. 19, and 31 and 32 Vic. c. 73; And the said Committee having reported that in their opinion 405 such persons cannot be admitted to make an Affirmation or Declaration instead of an Oath in pursuance of the said Acts. And Mr. Brad-laugh having since come to the Table of the House for the purpose of taking the Oath.At those words he stopped. Did Mr. Brad laugh come forward for the purpose of taking an Oath? No. Lot him go into any Court of Justice and tell the Judge that he did not believe in a Supreme Being, but that, at the same time, he was ready to be sworn—why, the Attorney General well knew that there was no Judge in the land who would admit such profanation. It being admitted that the Common Law of the country required that there should be a belief in a Supreme Being to take an Oath for any purpose, it was proposed to submit the question to a Select Committee, in terms so carefully worded that, if they were guided by the language of their own Reference—and they could do nothing else than follow the words of that Reference—they must find that Mr. Brad laugh was entitled to take the Oath." Was that, he asked, a form of procedure which recommended itself to the good sense of the House as to the question of a point of law? No such question existed; there was no doubt at all about the law. He did not think that the question was one which could be decided upon the ground put forward by the hon. Member for Berkshire, or by that urged by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. John Bright). The House was not now dealing with the abolition of Oaths and Affirmations; and it seemed to him to be the grossest fallacy to argue whether it would be desirable at some future time to prevent questions of this sort recurring by putting everybody on the dead level of refusing to recognise the existence of a Divine Being, and he doubted whether that was the view of the majority of the House. The question before them was whether, with the avowed disbelief of the hon. Member for Northampton before them, they should go through the form of referring the matter to a Select Committee for the purpose of its being sent down again and re-debated. It was not to be supposed that the decision of the Select Committee would be decisive of that question; and as to the so-called calm, cool, and deliberate decision of such a body, he was not aware that it was contrary to 406 the judicial spirit that the Members of the House of Commons should feel strongly against an attempted profanation of its religious forms. He would not go into the question of Mr. Brad-laugh's publications, or into that of his loyalty, for he agreed that it was irrelevant to the particular question before the House, but that which was relevant, and the question which he would ask was, did Mr. Bradlaugh present himself for the purpose of taking the Oath, or of reciting an idle form? The facts of the case were not in dispute; and, therefore, he maintained that they were abrogating their functions by remitting it to a Select Committee, and that they were proclaiming to the country upon the admitted facts, and with an entire absence of precedent, that they were in favour of this gentleman being permitted to recite idle words, and to go through what he would probably describe a piece of mummery; that they must remit the question to a Select Committee to discuss what was already known, and to come to a conclusion which, after all, that House must ultimately decide for itself. For those reasons, it appeared to him undesirable to accept the Amendment of the Prime Minister, which left nothing for the Committee to do, but, on the contrary, dictated to them the conclusion at which they were to arrive.
MR. MAC IVER
said, he should not have ventured to interpose, had he not been in a position, in a very few words, to convince the majority of hon. Members that they ought not to come to any decision that evening upon the question before the House. It might be interesting to hon. Members generally— and he was sure it ought to be of great interest, indeed, to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite—to know that the elect of Northampton, whom they were so anxious to have speedily amongst them, had that day been the hero of a libel case in Bow Street Police Court; and if they would wait until to-morrow and read the reports of the case, they would see that Mr. Brad laugh endeavoured to deny certain things which a newspaper called The British Umpire had published. Mr. Bradlaugh had applied for a summons substantially on the ground "that there was not a word of truth in the statement that he had on any occasion defied the Deity." One result of those proceedings at the police 407 court was that five witnesses contradicted upon oath Mr. Bradlaugh's affirmation. It was not Mr. Bradlaugh, but Her Majesty's Government and the Liberal Party, as well as the House of Commons, who were on their trial before the country; and it would be a shameful thing if, by their vote on that occasion, hon. Members were to give countenance to the blasphemy which had been perpetrated before their eyes. Thinking that he had given sufficient reasons, he begged to move that the debate be now adjourned.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Mac Iver.)
said, he had given a hearty assent the other day to a request which appeared to him to be reasonable. Certainly, he had had no expectation that they would make great progress with these propositions by debating them in the House; but, still, he thought hon. Members should have an opportunity of considering them in the interim before another evening. They had now debated them again over an entire evening, and he might observe that the business was one which ought to be expeditiously transacted. The hon. Member for Portsmouth had, very properly, asked that the debate should be resumed at the earliest possible time; but if the debate were adjourned at that moment, he knew not when it could be resumed, for it was not possible for the Government to put aside their Business for the purpose, nor did he suppose that private Members would be willing to do so. He was compelled to express his disappointment that, as it appeared to him, the discussion made very little progress. He had just heard the late Solicitor General deny that any question of law had been stated at all for the consideration of the Committee. He presumed, however, that the hon. and learned Gentleman had not heard the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Colchester, who stated, at great length and with great force, the legal argument on this subject. His hon. and learned Friend near him had also stated and re-stated the questions of law. These questions had, indeed, been stated again and again; but the late Solicitor General having, probably, been absent from the House at the time, 408 then availed himself conveniently of the fact, and endeavouring to come at some idea of what had been discussed, thought that no question of law had been stated at all. The hon. and learned Gentleman had also said that the terms of the Reference begged the question, because it recited the words "willing to take the Oath prescribed;" but if that were so, it was equally begged by the Motion of the hon. Member for Portsmouth, which contained the words "ought not to be allowed to take the Oath which he now requires to be administered to him." Being very little competent to deal with questions of law, he would not attempt to describe those raised by the present case. It appeared to him, however, that the capacity of the House to interfere when a person declared himself desirous to take the statutory oath was a most grave and delicate question. He granted that they had not proposed to raise that question by a Reference to the Select Committee. The Government believed, on the whole, that it was to the interest of the House and the country that it should not have been raised; but when objection was taken, and when controversy could not be avoided, then followed what he believed to be the universal precedent in such cases, by proposing that it should be referred to a Select Committee. He had expected that the late Chancellor of the Exchequer would, for reasons which he would, perhaps, understand, have shown a greater disposition to conform to this precedent than had been exhibited in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. The Government believed that a Reference to a Select Committee was the only useful and salutary method of dealing with the case; not that a Select Committee could stand in place of the House, but because it could assist, and because, undoubtedly, it could discuss such matters at ease, and in a manner far more favourable to their true, accurate, and impartial solution than—he said it with great respect—they had been discussed in the House that night. He could not help thinking that the great majority of the House would at least agree that there would be no advantage in prolonging the debate, and he must, therefore, say "No" to the Motion for its adjournment.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
agreed with the Prime Minister that the time had arrived for coming to a deci- 409 sion. He need not say that the question had been fully and fairly argued out in the course of the debates that evening and of Friday last; but he did not recognize any reasons given by his hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead for a further adjournment. He was anxious, and had been hitherto anxious, that justice should be done in the matter before the House; and he considered that the course which the Opposition had taken up to that time had been entirely correct and consistent. He saw no inconsistency whatever in what had been imputed as inconsistent on his part, in supporting the original Resolution for the appointment of a Select Committee for the consideration of a difficult and delicate point of law, the construction of certain statutes, and the question whether those statutes which related to the giving of evidence in Courts of Justice did or did not apply to the case of promissory oaths in that House, and the case which was then before them as to the course which ought to be pursued. He had supported—and he thought he was quite right in supporting—the proposal that a Select Committee should be appointed to inquire whether the effect of these Acts which had been passed was to admit an hon. Member to make an affirmation instead of an oath. The Committee having arrived at the decision that the hon. Member for Northampton could not make an affirmation, he had then presented himself at the Table to take the oath, which, at the same time, he told them he recognized not at all, and which he considered to be a mere trifling and unmeaning formality. He (Sir Stafford Northcote) maintained that it was their duty to stand up and say that they would be no parties to such a proceeding. He thought they wanted no Committee to teach them their duty on such a matter; and, for his part, he should object to put his conscience into the hands of any Committee for such a purpose, nor did he see that a Committee could bring out any new fact, or afford them any light, which they did not at that moment possess. He could not but regard the appointment of a Committee as being a simple way of putting off a decision, and must add that, in his opinion, the subject had been fully exhausted, and that as there was nothing more to be added to the knowledge of the subject they 410 might go to a division, at all events upon the Main Question.
§ SIR H. DRUMMOND WOLFF
hoped the hon. Member for Birkenhead would withdraw his Motion. He believed it had been laid down by every precedent that an Atheist, even if willing to take the oath in a Court of Justice, could not be allowed to do so, and were a Committee to be appointed that would be proved. He thought that the balance of argument had been entirely on that side of the House; and he thought they would be enabled to defeat the intentions of the Government, which were evidently to force Mr. Bradlaugh upon the House of Commons.
§ Motion, by leave, withdraun.
§ MR. CALLAN
said, he had intended to give a silent vote on the question before the House; but he now thought it would be regrettable that no voice from Ireland should be raised that evening other than that of the junior Member for Galway, which had been so ambiguous in its character. He regretted the high character which the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster had given to Mr. Bradlaugh. The right hon. Gentleman had asked how could the House consistently exclude the latter while they admitted Jews and Unitarians, who did not believe in Christ. He had the honour of being acquainted with Jews and Unitarians in Ireland, and on their behalf he repelled, with indignation, the attempt to drag them into the same category as Mr. Bradlaugh. He (Mr. Bradlaugh) said—"I am without any idea of a God or of His existence. I deny the existence of a God." Again, he says—and he was not surprised when he read that passage to find that some hon. Members condemned Mr. Bradlaugh-—They preach ideas interfering with children domestically and in schools, and I am obliged to destroy Theism in order to make way for Secularism. Jesus Christ is a fiction. Christianity is a corroding and eating cancer, the enemy of progress and the foe of all science. What is Christianity? It is blasphe my against humanity, crushing our efforts and hopes.That is the gentleman to whom the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor 411 of the Duchy of Lancaster paid a tribute of respect, offensive to every Member of this House, when he said, "his sense of honour and his sense of conscience"—the sense of conscience of the incubator of The Fruits of Philosophy—"would make his declaration as binding on him as my affirmation is binding on me, or your oath on you." That was the language used with reference to an infidel blasphemer by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, he wished to ask whether the hon. Member was in Order in referring to his Colleague as an infidel blasphemer?
§ MR. SPEAKER
I have already stated, in an early part of this debate, that expressions of that kind, if used towards a Member who is present, are entirely out of Order. I consider that the absence of the Member in this case is an additional reason why the language employed should be most careful and guarded.
§ MR. CALLAN
—amid cries of withdraw—said, if he was corrected by the Speaker he should at once withdraw.
§ MR. CALLAN
said, he begged to withdraw the observation. Although the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) had taken the part of Mr. Bradlaugh, he could not refrain from thinking that he would prefer as Colleague in that House his old acquaintance, Lambri Pasha, instead of the gentleman who was the subject of the debate.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
said, he thought he was not in Order in speaking at that time; but, inasmuch as a personal attack had been made upon him, he hoped that would justify his saying a few words. He had read somewhere in history that it was a favourite device with those whose moral character was not above reproach to make most ardent professions of a religious faith. An attack had been made upon him by a gentleman who was considered—he did not say whether rightly or wrongly— more open to attack himself, inasmuch as the hon. Member of that House, who had been elected by the constituency as his Colleague, had refused to sit with him.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
said, that an attempt had been made to draw him into a profession of belief. Hon. Members on his side were quite mistaken if they thought that he would not say what he had to say upon that question. He would remind the hon. Member that the part of champion of the Faith had been played out in Ireland. That part had been played several times, and the players had invariably been false to the promises they had made. He was sent there on political grounds, and those only.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member must address himself to the Chair. The hon. Member is now addressing himself to another Member. I must call upon him to speak to the Question before the House.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
said, he bowed to the decision of the Chair. He would not trouble the House further. Hon. Members of that House always showed generosity when questions of religious belief were raised. He would tell them that the time was past in Ireland when the part of champion of the Faith was to be played, and that the Irish people were not prepared to be betrayed by a second Sadlier or a second Keogh.
§ COLONEL MAKINS
said, he objected to the terms of the Prime Minister's proposition being again repeated in the Amendment to it that was on the Paper.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: —Ayes 214; Noes 289: Majority 75.416
|Agar-Robartes, hn. T. C.||Bentinck, G. W. P.|
|Alexander, Colonel||Beresford, G. De la P.|
|Amherst, W. A. T.||Biddell, W.|
|Archdale, W. H.||Birkheck, E.|
|Ashmead-Bartlett, E.||Birley, H.|
|Bailey, Sir J. R.||Blacklburne, Col. J. I.|
|Balfour, A. J.||Boord, T. W.|
|Baring, T. C.||Broadley, W. H. H.|
|Barttelot, Sir W. B.||Brodrick, hon. W. St. J. F.|
|Bates, Sir E.|
|Bateson, Sir T.||Brooks, W. C.|
|Beach, W. W. B.||Bruce, Sir H. H.|
|Bentinek, rt. hn. G. C.||Burghley, Lord|
|Burnaby, Col. E. S.||Hinchingbrook, Vise.|
|Burrell, Sir W. W.||Hope, rt. hn. A. J. B.B.|
|Buxton, Sir B. J.||Hudson, C. D.|
|Callan, P.||Jackson, W. L.|
|Cameron, D.||Kennard, Col. E. H.|
|Campbell, J. A.||Kennaway, Sir J. H.|
|Garden, Sir B. W.||Knight, P. W.|
|Castlereagh, Viscount||Knightley, Sir B.|
|Cecil, Lord E. H. B. G.||Knowles, T.|
|Chaplin, H.||Lacon, Sir E. H. K.|
|Christie, W. L.||Laurie, R. P.|
|Churchill, Lord B.||Lawrence, J. C.|
|Cobbold, T. C.||Lawrence, Sir T.|
|Coddington, W.||Leamy, E.|
|Cole, Viscount||Lechmere, Sir E. A. H.|
|Coope, O. E.||Lee, Major V.|
|Corbett, W. J.||Legh, W. J.|
|Corry, J. P.||Leigh, B.|
|Cotton, W. J. R.||Leighton, S.|
|Crichton, Viscount||Lennox, Lord H. G.|
|Cross, rt. hn. Sir R. A.||Lever, J. O.|
|Daly, J.||Lindsay, Col. B. L.|
|Davenport, H. T.||Loder, R.|
|Davenport, W. B.||Lopes, Sir M.|
|Dawnay, Colonel L. P.||Lowther, hon. W,|
|Dawson, C.||Lymington, Viscount|
|De Worms, Baron H.||Lyons, B. D.|
|Digby, Col. hon. E.||Macartney, J. W. E.|
|Dyke, rt.hn. Sir W.H.||Macfarlane, D. H.|
|Dyott, Colonel B.||Mac Iver, D.|
|Egerton, hon. W.||Macnaugnten, E.|
|Erring-ton, Gr.||M'Carthy, J.|
|Ewart, W.||M'Coan, J. C.|
|Ewing, A. O.||M'Garel-Hogg, Sir J.|
|Feilden, R. J.||M'Kenna, Sir J. N.|
|Fellowes, W. H.||Makins, Colonel|
|Fenwick-Bisset, M.||Manners, rt. hon. Lord J.|
|Fihner, Sir E.||Martin, B.|
|Pinch, G. H.||Marum, E. M.|
|Fletcher, Sir H.||Master, T. W. C.|
|Floyer, J.||Maxwell, Sir H. E.|
|Foley, J. W.||Miles, Sir P. J. W.|
|Forester, C. T. W.||Mills, Sir C. H.|
|Foster, W. H.||Moore, A.|
|Fowler, H, H.||Moss, B.|
|Fowler, B. N.||Mowbray, rt. hon. Sir J. R.|
|Fremantle, hon. T. P.|
|Galway, Viscount||Mulholland, J.|
|Garfit, T.||Murray, C. J.|
|Gathorne-Hardy, hon. A. E.||Musgrave, Sir B. C.|
|Newdegate, C. N.|
|Gibson, rt. hon. E.||Newport, Viscount|
|Giffard, Sir H. S.||Nicholson, W. N.|
|Gill, H. J.||Noel, rt. hon. G. J.|
|Goldney, G.||North, Colonel J. S.|
|Gore-Langton, W. S.||Northcotc, H. S.|
|Gorst, J. E.||Northcote, rt. hon. Sir S. H.|
|Grafton, F. W.|
|Grantham, W.||O'Beirno, Major P.|
|Greer, T.||O'Connor, A.|
|Gregory, G. B.||O'Conor, D. M.|
|Hall, A. W.||O' Donnell, F. H.|
|Halsey, T. F.||Onslow, D.|
|Hamilton, I. T.||O'Shea, W. H.|
|Hamilton, right hon. Lord G.||Palliser, Sir W.|
|Parker, C. S.|
|Harvey, Sir B. B.||Patrick, R, W. C.|
|Helmsley, Viscount||Pell, A.|
|Hermon, E.||Pemberton, E. L.|
|Hicks, E.||Plunket, hon. D. R.|
|Hildyard, T. B. T.||Powell, W.|
|Hill, Lord A. W.||Power, B.|
|Hill, A. S.||Price, Captain G. E.|
|Puleston, J. H.||Stewart, M. J.|
|Rankin, J.||Storer, G.|
|Redmond, W. A.||Sullivan, T.|
|Repton, G. W.||Sykea, C.|
|Richardson - Gardner, R.||Talbot, J. G.|
|Taylor, rt.hn. Col. T.E.|
|Ridley, Sir M. W.||Thomson, H.|
|Ritchie, C. T.||Thornhill, T.|
|Roberts, C. C.||Thynne, Lord H. P.|
|Rodwell, B. B. H.||Tollemache.hon. W. F|
|Bolls, J. A.||Tyler, Sir H. W.|
|Boss, A. H.||Walrond, Col. W. H.|
|Bound, J.||Warton, C. N.|
|Russell, Sir C.||Watkin, Sir E. W.|
|St. Aubyn, W. M.||Watney, J.|
|Sandon, Viscount||Whitley, E.|
|Schreiber, C.||Williams, O. L. G.|
|Sclater-Booth, rt. hn. G.||Wilmot, Sir H.|
|Scott, Lord H.||Wilmot, Sir J. E.|
|Scott, M. D.||Winn, B.|
|Selwin - Ibbetson, Sir H.J.||Wortley, C. B. Stuart-|
|Sexton, T.||Wroughton, P.|
|Smith, rt. hon. W. H.||TELLERS.|
|Stanhope, hon. E.||Percy, Earl|
|Stanley, rt. hn. Col. F.||Wolff, Sir H. D.|
|Acland, Sir T. D.||Campbell- Bannerman, H.|
|Ainsworth, D.||Causton, R. K.|
|Allen, H. G.||Cavendish, Lord E.|
|Amory, Sir J. H.||Cavendish, Lord P. C.|
|Anderson, G.||Chadwick, D.|
|Armitage, B.||Chamberlain, rt. hn. J.|
|Armitstead, G.||Chambers, Sir T.|
|Arnold, A.||Cheetham, J. P.|
|Ashley, hon. E. M.||Childers, rt. hn. H. C E.|
|Balfour, J. S.||Chitty, J. W.|
|Baring, Viscount||Clarke, J. C.|
|Barnes, A.||Clifford, C. 0.|
|Barran, J.||Cohen, A.|
|Bass, A.||Colebrooke, Sir T. E.|
|Bass, H.||Collins, J.|
|Baxter, rt. hon. W. E.||Colman, J. J.|
|Beaumont, \V. B.||Colthurst, Col. D. la Z.|
|Bevan, T.||Cotes, C. C.|
|Biddulph, M.||Courtauld, G.|
|Bolton, J. C.||Courtney, L. H.|
|Brand, H. B.||Cowan, J.|
|Brassey, H. A.||Cowen, J.|
|Brassey, T.||Cowper, hon. H. F.|
|Brett, B. B.||Craig, W. Y.|
|Briggs, W. E.||Creyke, R.|
|Bright, J. (Manchester)||Cross, J. K.|
|Bright, rt. hon. J.||Cunliffe, Sir R. A.|
|Brinton, J.||Currie, D.|
|Brocklehurst, W. C.||Davey, H.|
|Brown, A. H.||Davies, D.|
|Bruce, rt. hon. Lord C.||Davies, R.|
|Bruce, hon. B. P.||Davies, W.|
|Burt, T.||De Ferrieres, Baron|
|Buszard, M. C.||Dickson, T. A.|
|Butt, C. P.||Dilke, A. W.|
|Buxton, F. W.||Dilke, Sir C. W.|
|Byrne, G. M.||Dillwyn, L. L.|
|Caine, W. S.||Dodds, J.|
|Cameron, C.||Dodson, rt. hon. J. G.|
|Campbell, Lord C.||Duckham, T.|
|Campbell, Sir G.||Duff, rt. hon. M. E. G,|
|Campbell, R. F. F.||Duff, R. W,|
|Dundas, hon. J. C.||Lawrence, Sir J. C.|
|Earp, T.||Lawson, Sir W.|
|Edwards, P.||Laycock, R.|
|Egerton, Adm. hon. F.||Lea, T.|
|Elliot, hon. A. R. D.||Leahy, J.|
|Evans, T. W.||Leake, R.|
|Eairbairn, Sir A.||Leatham, E. A.|
|Farquharson, Dr. R.||Leatham, W.|
|Eawcett, rt. hon. H.||Lee, H.|
|Ferguson, R.||Leeman, J. J.|
|Ffolkes, Sir W. H. B.||Lefevre, G. J. S.|
|Findlater, W.||Litton, E. F.|
|Finigan, J. L.||Lloyd, M.|
|Firth, J. F. B.||Macdonald, A.|
|Fitzwilliam, hon. C. W. W.||Mackie, R. B.|
|Mackintosh, C. F.|
|Fitzwilliam, hn. W. J.||M'Arthur, A.|
|Fitzwilliam, hon. W.||M'Arthur, W.|
|Foljambe, C. G. S.||M'Intyre, Eneas J.|
|Foljam be, F. J. S.||M'Laren, C. B. B.|
|Forster, Sir G.||M'Laren, D.|
|Forster, rt. hon. W. E.||M'Minnies, J. G.|
|Fort, R.||Magniae C.|
|Fowler, W.||Maitland, W. F.|
|Fry, L.||Mappin, F. T.|
|Fry, T.||Marjoribanks, Sir D. C.|
|Givan, J.||Marjoribanks, E.|
|Gladstone, rt. hn. W. E.||Marriott, W. T.|
|Gladstone, H. J.||Mason, H.|
|Gladstone, W. H.||Massey, rt. hon. W. N.|
|Glyn, hon. S. C.||Meldon, C. H.|
|Gordon, Sir A.||Mellor, J. W.|
|Gourley, E. T.||Middleton, R. T.|
|Gower, hon. E. F. L.||Milbank, F. A.|
|Grant, A.||Moreton, Lord|
|Grant, D.||Morgan, rt. hn. G. O.|
|Grant, Sir G. M,||Morley, A.|
|Grey, A. H. G.||Mundella, rt. hn. A. J.|
|Gurdon, R. T.||Nicholson, W.|
|Hardcastle, J. A.||Noel, E.|
|Hartington, Marq. of||Nolan, Major J. P.|
|Hastings, G. W.||O'Connor, T. P.|
|Havelock-Allan, Sir H.||O' Gorman Mahon, Col.|
|Hayter, Sir A. D.||The|
|Henderson, F.||O'Shaughnessy, R.|
|Heneage, E.||Otway, A. J.|
|Henry, M.||Paget, T. T.|
|Hersohell, Sir F.||Palmer, C. M.|
|Hibbert, J. T.||Palmer, G.|
|Hill, T. E.||Palmer, J. H.|
|Hollond, J. R.||Pease, A.|
|Holms, J.||Pease, J. W.|
|Hopwood, C. H.||Peddie, J. D.|
|Howard, J.||Peel, A. W.|
|Hutchinson, J. D.||Pender, J.|
|Illingworth, A.||Philips, E. N.|
|Inderwick, F. A.||Playfair,rt.hon. Dr. L.|
|Ingram, W. J.||Portman, hn. W. H.B.|
|Jackson, Sir H. M.||Potter, T, B.|
|James, C.||Powell, W. R. H.|
|James, Sir H.||Power, J. O' C.|
|James, W. H.||Price, Sir R, G.|
|Jardine, R.||Price, W. E.|
|Jenkins, D. J.||Pugh, L. P.|
|Johnson, E.||Pulley, J.|
|Johnson, W. M.||Ramsay, Lord|
|Johnstone, Sir H.||Ramsden, Sir J.|
|Joicey, Colonel J.||Ratcliffe, D. E.|
|Kingscote, R.||Reed, E. J.|
|Labouchere, H.||Reid, R. T.|
|Laing, S.||Rendel, S.|
|Lambton, hon. F. W.||Richardson, J. N.|
|Lawley, hon. B.||Richardson, T.|
|Roberts, J.||Tillett, J. H.|
|Robinson, T.||Tracy, hon. F. S. A. Hanbury-|
|Rogers, J. E. T.|
|Roundell, C. S.||Trevelyan, G. O.|
|Russell, C.||Vivian, H. H.|
|Russell, G. W. E.||Walter, J.|
|Russell, Lord A.||Waugh, E.|
|Rylands, P.||Webster, Dr. J.|
|Samuelson, B.||Wedderburn, Sir D.|
|Samuelson, H.||Whalley, G. H.|
|Seely, C.||Whitbread, S.|
|Shaw, W.||Whitwell, J.|
|Sheridan, H. B.||Whitworth, B.|
|Shield, H.||Wiggins, H.|
|Simon, Serjeant J.||Williams, B. T.|
|Slagg, J.||Williams, S. C. E.|
|Smith, E.||Williams, W.|
|Spencer, hon. C. R.||Williamson, S.|
|Stanley, hon. E. L.||Willis, W.|
|Stansfeld, rt. hon. J.||Wills, W. H.|
|Stanton, W. J.||Willyams, E. W. B.|
|Stevenson, J. C.||Wilson, C. H.|
|Stewart, J.||Wilson, I.|
|Story-Maskelyne,M.H.||Wilson, Sir M.|
|Strutt, hon. H.||Wodohouse, E. R.|
|Stuart, H. V.||Woodall, W.|
|Summers, W.||Woolff, S.|
|Tavistock, Marq. of||Wren, W.|
|Taylor, P. A.|
|Thomasson, J. P.||TELLERS.|
|Thompson, Sir H. M.||Grosvenor, Lord E.|
|Thompson, T. C.||Kensington, Lord|
That the words 'it he referred to a Select Committee, to consider and report their opinion to the House whether the House has any right, founded on precedent or otherwise, by Resolution to prevent a duly elected Member, who is willing to take the Oath prescribed by the Acts 29 and 30 Vic. c. 19, and 31 and 32 Vic. c. 72, from so doing; and, if they are of opinion that the House has such right, further to report on what grounds it is competent to the House to prevent such member from taking the Oath,'" be there added.
said, that he must ask leave to withdraw the words he had proposed in order to substitute others.
said, that he rose to move the adjournment of the debate. He trusted that the Government would have no objection to adjourn the debate at that stage. The House had, by a considerable majority, pronounced in favour of a Reference to a Committee, and by that decision they were, of course, bound. The exact terms of the Reference to the Committee was a matter of considerable importance, and it would be no easy task to make the terms of Reference entirely satisfactory. That was proved by the fact that the words originally proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister were intended to be amended by the Amendment of the 417 Attorney General. They had heard very distinctly from an hon. and learned Member opposite that, in his opinion, the terms of Reference ought to be replaced by other words. Under those circumstances, he did not think that they would be asking too much by requesting the Leader of the House to consent to the adjournment of the debate, in order that the House might maturely and carefully consider the terms by which this extremely important question was to be referred to a Select Committee.
§ COLONEL MAKINS
said, that he had risen for the purpose of seconding the Motion, so that he had been guilty of a breach of Order in attempting to speak before this division was taken, inasmuch as he had already exhausted his right of speaking. He thought that they could congratulate themselves upon the fact that a division had not taken place until a Motion for the adjournment had elicited from the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister a declaration that the Government had carefully considered this matter, and had come to the conclusion that it would be better for the House and for the country that they should take no notice of it and allow Mr. Bradlaugh to take the Oath and his seat. That being so, and the decision of the House having been given, he rejoiced that there could be no mistake in the country as to the attitude of the Government upon this most important question.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Gorst.)
said, that he should have been glad to have heard some expressions of opinion with regard to the terms of Reference. It had been originally objected to the terms of Reference that they were too narrow, and that they ought to have specifically referred to the circumstance of Mr. Brad-laugh's case. For that reason, although they had not thought the terms of Reference too narrow, yet they had yielded to the general wish of the House; and his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General had accordingly proposed words which they hoped would meet the circumstances of the case. He was not aware of any objection to the terms of Reference as they now stood. The hon. and learned Member for Carnarvonshire 418 had proposed another course; but he had not heard any other of the numerous speakers that evening show any preference for his proposition. He should not object to the adjournment of the debate if they were made aware of the distinct points upon which the House was disputing and for the consideration of which time was required. Under those circumstances only could he consent to the adjournment of the debate. He should be very glad to learn from hon. Members what were the distinct points towards which their endeavours were to be directed, for otherwise they would run the risk of finding, when they came again to consider the subject, that they were as much in the dark as at present.
§ MR. C. S. PARKER
said, that he could only speak for himself; but there was one objection which he had to the terms of Reference now proposed—namely, that they prejudged the question to be decided. To tell the Committee that Mr. Bradlaugh was willing to take the Oath prescribed by the Acts 29 and 30 Vic. c. 19, and 31 and 32 Vie. c. 72,"was not a proper statement of the case, and those words were used in the new terms of Reference proposed by the Attorney General, as well as in the original Motion of the Prime Minister. It seemed to him that Mr. Bradlaugh's case did not come under that description; he was not a Member willing to take the Oath prescribed. It was true that he was willing under protest to repeat what he called "words of an idle and meaningless character;" but more was required than that. The statute required that an Oath should be taken; the meaning of which was that in proof of his affirmation a solemn appeal to the Deity should be made. Mr. Bradlaugh had distinctly informed the House, by his appearance at the Table and claim to make an Affirmation, that he was not prepared to make that solemn appeal which the Act prescribed. Therefore, he, for one, objected to the terms of the Reference to the Committee as they now stood.
§ MR. GIBSON
said, that he should have much preferred that his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General should make a proposition to meet this case; but he should shortly state what seemed to him to be the proper terms of Inference. In his opinion, the terms of 419 Reference at present proposed would not enable any Committee to give a free, fair, reasonable, and impartial consideration to the real question at issue. That was his deliberate opinion after a careful and minute examination of this question. The Amendment put upon the Paper by his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General only differed from the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister in the fact that it had a very valuable Preamble, which, he thought, was fairly drawn. He was not disposed to be captious; but he could not help thinking that no scope whatever was left to the discretion of the Committee. If the Committee came to the conclusion that there was no precedent for preventing any Member from taking the Oath, then, when they arrived at that abstract resolution, they would be precluded from considering a single one of the special circumstances surrounding the case of Mr. Bradlaugh. That was his reading of the clause, and he thought that they were surrounding themselves with unnecessary difficulties by going into the abstract question at all. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had said, he was sure with perfect truth, that, so far as he knew, no question like this had ever before arisen. He had not heard any hon. Member suggest that any question of this kind had ever before occurred. He thought, therefore, that they confused themselves and that they confused the Committee by referring to them an abstract question for which there was no precedent. He should suggest that they should omit all the words from the word "whether," in line 5 of the last paragraph of the Attorney General's Amendment, down to the second "whether," in line 9. There was another point which, he thought, should be present in the minds of the Committee. They should not be bound by a willingness to take the verbal form of Oath. There might be a real conscientious taking of the Oath, or there might be a mere formal repetition of the words without meaning; and he thought that that distinction should be kept in view, so that the Committee should be at liberty to consider whether going through the form of taking the Oath by Mr. Bradlaugh was or was not a conscientious taking of the Oath. He was quite sure that there was no intention on the part of his hon. and learned 420 Friend to evade the point, and perhaps the words which he had hastily jotted down might be of assistance to him. He would read the clause as he proposed that it should stand.And Mr. Bradlaugh having since come to the Table of the House for the purpose of going through the form of taking the Oath prescribed by the 29 & 30 Vic. c. 19 and the 31 & 32 Vic. c. 72, and objection having been made to his so doing, it be referred to a Select Committee to consider and report their opinion to the House, whether it is competent for the House under the above circumstances to prevent Mr. Bradlaugh by the said Resolution going through the said form.It seemed to him that they had nothing to do with the abstract question, but a great deal to do with the question whether they were right in allowing Mr. Bradlaugh to go through the form of taking the Oath.
§ MR. WATKIN WILLIAMS
said, he hoped that the House would not consider it necessary to adjourn this debate. If the debate were postponed, it would probably only give rise to a renewed debate. The general sense of the House appeared to be that the question should be referred to a Select Committee, and that seemed to him to be a very satisfactory course. The House seemed to be of opinion that the terms of Reference should be enlarged. It was his intention, unless the Attorney General accepted the words which he had suggested, to move that the terms of Reference he proposed should be adopted. After the recital in the Attorney General's Amendment, he proposed that it should run—That it be referred to the Committee to inquire into the special circumstances under which Mr. Bradlaugh claims to have the form of Oath prescribed by the 29 and 30 Vic. c. 19, and the 31 and 32 Vic. c. 72, administered to him in this House, and also as to the Law applicable to such claim under such circumstances, and as to the right and jurisdiction of this House to refuse to allow the said Oath to be administered to him, and to report thereon to the House, together with their opinion thereon,
§ LORD ELCHO
hoped the Prime Minister would consent to the adjournment of the debate. He desired to see upon the Paper the Amendment proposed by the hon. and learned Member for Carnarvonshire.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, he did not see any objection to striking out the words of general reference which would be un- 421 necessary, inasmuch as it was included in the particular Reference. The Amendment, therefore, of the Prime Minister having been withdrawn, and his Amendment having become the main question, the Amendment proposed might be considered, and there would be no objection to the adjournment of the debate for that purpose.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Question, "That those words be there added," put, and negatived.
To add, after the word "That" in the Main Question, the words "Mr. Bradlaugh, the Member for Northampton, having claimed at the Table of this House to make an Affirmation or Declaration instead of the Oath prescribed by Law, founding his claim upon the terms of the Act 29 and 30 Vic. c. 19, and the Evidence Amendment Acts of 1869 and 1870, and stating that he had been permitted to affirm in Courts of Justice by virtue of the said Evidence Amendment Acts: And it having been referred to a Select Committee to consider and report their opinion whether persons entitled, under the provisions of the Evidence Amendment Act 1869 and the Evidence Amendment Act 1870, to make a solemn Declaration instead of an Oath in Courts of Justice, may be admitted to make an Affirmation or Declaration instead of an Oath in this House in pursuance of the Acts 29 and 30 Vic. c. 19, and 31 and 32 Vic. c. 72; And the said Committee having reported that in their opinion such persons cannot be admitted to make an Affirmation or Declaration instead of an Oath in pursuance of the said Acts:
And Mr. Bradlaugh having since come to the Table of the House for the purpose of taking the Oath prescribed by the 29 and 30 Vic. c. 19, and the 31 and 32 Vic. c. 72, and objection having been made to his taking the said Oath, it be referred to a Select Committee to consider and report their opinion to the House whether the House has the right, founded on precedent or otherwise, by Resolution to prevent a duly-elected Member who is willing to take the Oath prescribed by 29 and 30 Vic. c. 19, and 31 and 32 Vic. c. 72, from so doing; and, if they are of opinion the House has such right, further to report whether it is competent to the House, under the above circumstances, to prevent Mr. Bradlaugh, by Besolution, from taking the above Oath."—(Mr. Attorney General.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
said, it would be in the recollection of the House that on Friday last the Motion stood first as one of Privilege. To-day it was merely the first Order; and he, therefore, desired to know whether by the Forms of the House it could again receive priority that day?
said, the debate would come on as the first subject next evening. He intended to give Notice that he should move that the question be referred to the same Gentlemen as composed the former Committee.
§ MR. ONSLOW
asked, whether the discussion, being one of Privilege, would take precedence of the Motion for the adjournment of the House over the Derby Day?
§ MR. SPEAKER
The Question of the adjournment over the Derby Day having reference to the Business of the House will take precedence of this question, which will follow.
§ Debate adjourned till To-morrow.