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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 39

As to the Right and Jurisdiction of the House

As to the Right and Jurisdiction of the House.

As to the right and jurisdiction of the House to refuse to allow the form of the Oath prescribed to be taken by duly elected Members to be taken by them, your Committee are of opinion that there is and must be an inherent power in the House to require that the law by which the proceedings of the House and of its Members in reference to the taking of the Parliamentary Oath is regulated, be duly observed. But this does not imply that there is any power in the House to interrogate any Member desirous to take the Oath of Allegiance upon any subject in connection with his religious belief, or as to the extent the Oath will bind his conscience; or that there is any power in the House to hear any evidence in relation to such matters.

And your Committee are of opinion that by and in making the claim to affirm, Mr. Bradlaugh voluntarily brought to the notice of the House that on several occasions he had been permitted in a Court of Justice to affirm, under the Evidence Amendment Acts, 1869 and 1870, in order to enable him to do which a Judge of the Court must have been satisfied that an Oath was not binding upon Mr. Brad- page 10 laugh's conscience; and, as he stated he had acted upon such decisions by repeatedly making the Affirmation in Courts of Justice; and, as above stated, nothing has appeared before your Committee to cause them to think Mr. Bradlaugh dissented from the correctness of such decisions, your Committee are of opinion that, under the circumstances, the Compliance by Mr. Bradlaugh with the form used when an oath is taken would not be the taking of an Oath within the true meaning of the Statutes 29 Vict. c. 19. and 31 & 32 Vict. c. 72; and, therefore, that the House can, and in the opinion of your Committee ought, to prevent Mr. Bradlaugh going through this form.

But your Committee desire to point out to your Honorable House the position in which Mr. Bradlaugh will be placed if he is not allowed either to take the Oath or to affirm.

If the House of Commons prevent a duly elected Member from taking the Oath or Affirming, there is no power of reviewing or reversing that decision, however erroneous it may be in point of law.

But it appears to your Committee that if a Member should make and subscribe the Affirmation in place of taking and subscribing the Oath, it would be possible, by means of an action brought in the High Court of Justice, to test his legal right to make such Affirmation.

The Committee appointed to inquire into the law relating to the right of certain persons to affirm in effect recorded that Mr. Bradlaugh was not entitled by law to make the Affirmation.

But, from the fact that this Report was carried by the vote of the Chairman, thus showing a great division of opinion amongst the members of that Committee, the state of the law upon the subject cannot be regarded as satisfactorily determined. Under these circumstances it appears to your Committee that Mr. Bradlaugh should have an opportunity of having his statutory rights determined beyond doubt by being allowed to take the only step by which the legality of his making an Affirmation can be brought for decision before the High Court of Justice.

The House, by an exercise of its powers, can, doubtless, prevent Mr. Bradlaugh from obtaining such judicial decision; but your Committee deprecate that course.

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Your Committee accordingly recommend that should Mr. Bradlaugh again seek to make and subscribe the Affirmation he be not prevented from so doing.