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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 39

Mr. Charles Bradlaugh, a Member of the House; Examined:

page 27

Mr. Charles Bradlaugh, a Member of the House; Examined:

84. Chairman : You were in the room, I think, when Sir Thomas Erskine May gave that part of his evidence as to a matter which was not on the Votes and Proceedings?—Yes, but which took place upon the occasion of my first coming to offer to affirm.

85. Is that accurately and fully stated?—It is accurately and fully stated. I shall have to ask the indulgence of the Committee if in any of the points which I press there seems to be any undueness in the pressing of them, because, as far as I can see, this is the first occasion on which such a matter has arisen. In the reference which the Committee have to deal with, I claim to be sworn and take my seat by virtue of my due return, a return untainted by illegality of any description, and in pursuance of the Statute of the 5th of Richard II., which puts upon me the duty of coming here to be sworn and do my duty under penalty of fine and imprisonment. I do not know whether the Committee wish that I should read the Statute. It is the second Statute of Richard II.; it is on page 228 of the revised Statutes, Vol. I.; it is a Statute of the year 1382. I submit that although a Member may not sit and vote until he has taken the oaths, he is entitled to all the other privileges of a Member, and is otherwise regarded both by the House and the laws as qualified to serve, until some other disqualification has been shown to exist; and I quote in support of that Sir Thomas Erskine May's book, p. 202, that there is nothing in what I did in asking to affirm which in any way disqualified me from taking the Oath. The evidence that that is so is found in the case of Archdale, on page 3 of the Precedents handed in by Sir Thomas Erskine May, where, after John Archdale had claimed to affirm, he was called into the House, and Mr. Speaker, by direction of the House, asked him if he would take the oaths; that I have never at any time refused to take the Oath of Allegiance provided by Statute to be taken by Members; that all I did was, believing as I then did, that I had the right to affirm, to claim to affirm, and I was then absolutely silent as to the oath; that I did not refuse to take it, nor have I then or since expressed any mental reservation, or stated that the appointed Oath of page 28 Allegiance would not be binding upon me; that, on the contrary, I say, and have said, that the essential part of the oath is in the fullest and most complete degree binding upon my honor and conscience, and that the repeating of words of asseveration does not in the slightest degree weaken the binding effect of the Oath of Allegiance upon me. I may say, that if it would be more convenient for any Member of the Committee to ask me any question upon my statement as I go on, it will not interrupt me at all.

86. I think the Committee would rather hear you through.—I submit that according to law the House of Commons has neither the right nor the jurisdiction to refuse to allow the said form of oath to be administered to me, there being no legal disqualification on my part of which the House can or ought to take notice, and there being on my part an express demand to take the Oath, this demand being unaccompanied by, and free from, any reservation or limitation. I submit that there is no case in which the Oath of Allegiance has been refused to any Member respectfully and unreservedly tendering himself to be sworn. I submit that any Member properly presenting himself to be sworn, and not refusing to be sworn, is entitled to be sworn, and to take his scat without interruption, and that the discussion of any disqualification or ineligibility must in such case, according to the practice and precedent of Parliament, take place after the Member has taken his seat; and I quote in support of that John Horne Tooke's case, which came before the House in 1801. It was alleged that John Home Tooke was ineligible because he was an ordained clergyman of the Church of England. There he was allowed to take the oaths first, and after he had taken the oaths Earl Temple rose and said (I am quoting from page 956 of the Parliamentary History, Volume 35), that he observed a gentleman who had just retired from the table after having taken the Oaths whom he conceived to be incapable of having a seat in the House in consequence of his having taken priest's orders, and been inducted into a living. Earl Temple agreed he would wait to see if a petition were presented against him, and if not he should move a resolution upon the subject; and ultimately a resolution was moved that John Horne Tooke was ineligible. The House allowed John Horne Tooke to sit, but declared clergymen for the future page 29 to be ineligible for sitting. I rely upon that as showing that the proper course to be pursued, supposing that any Member should think that I am ineligible, is to wait until I have been sworn and have taken my seat, and then to challenge it; and that this is clear, because if it were not so it would be possible for the first 41 Members sworn or for a majority of that 41, that is, for 21 Members to hinder, the swearing of all Members coming later to the table without any remedy on the part of the Members aggrieved; and I submit, with great respect for the evidence of Sir Thomas Erskine May, that he has misapprehended the force of the Standing Order that he read to you. Hatsell's Precedents, Volume II., page 90, declares distinctly that when a Member appears to take the oaths within a limited time, all other business is immediately to cease, and not to be resumed until he has been sworn and has subscribed the Roll; and with great submission to Sir Thomas Erskine May, there is no word in the Standing Order which he quoted as altering and changing that practice, which does so alter and change it. All that the Standing Order does is to specify the time and the manner in which the Members might come to the table to be sworn, which had not been hitherto specified; but it does not in any way deal with what was to happen when they did come to the table to be sworn. And if the Committee would permit me respectfully to submit, it would be most dangerous to the House if it were not so. The first batch of Members called over by the Clerk of the House are sworn, and they may then, if the contention raised upon the Standing Order quoted by Sir Thomas Erskine May be correct, prevent every other Member being sworn, if there be more than 40. They may fulfil all the duties of a House of Commons, and do what they please, without any remedy, as the matter stands; every election might be declared null and void, and every one sent back to their constituencies one after another. I submit also that the case of the Attorney General, Sir Francis Bacon, Volume I. of the Commons Journal, page 459, is also a precedent in the same direction. I am obliged to tell the Committee that I cannot quote it with the same reliance that I can put upon Horne Tooke's case, for the notes seem to have been taken, I will not say irregularly, but they do not seem to convey the whole of what took place, and therefore page 30 I can only deal with the result. Sir H. Hobart is quoted as being "the only attorney that hath been in this House;" and then there arises a discussion, some of which does not seem to me to be material, as to whether the then Attorney General could sit or not, and I find in the returns that the Attorney General at that date was Sir Francis Bacon, who, three days after this discussion, elected to sit for the University of Cambridge, and although I have not the legal evidence, because the returns are incomplete for that year, as he elected to sit for the University of Cambridge, the probability is that he had also been returned for a county. There was then a Statute of the 46th Edward III., which has only recently been repealed, which made a practising man of the law absolutely ineligible; and it also appears that there was some oath of qualification, of which I have not been able to find the words, which was then taken by a Member coming to the table; and it appears here that the Oath was alleged in the course of the discussion, and two things were said which I press upon the attention of the Committee; one, that the precedents to disable a Member ought to be shown on the side of those who seek to disable (it is not written so lengthily as that; the words are, "The precedents to disable him ought to be showed on the other side"), and the other is, "Their oath, their own consciences to look unto, not we to examine it," which meant, as I submit, that the House did not constitute itself into an Inquisition to look behind a man coming to take the Oath, but that, subject to his being dealt with by law if he had taken it improperly, or subject to a legal disqualification being made clear to the House, they assumed his oath to be properly taken. I submit that even Members absolutely petitioned against and alleged to be disqualified or ineligible by law, are always allowed to be sworn when they come to the table to be sworn and to sit pending the decision of the petition. The only cases which I have found of absolute legal disqualification in which the Member's election was annulled before he had entered the House, are the cases of Mitchell and O'Donovan Rossa (both of whom were away), and the case of John Wilkes, who was physically incapacitated from taking the oath from the act that he was in the custody of the law at the time, and those who held him would not have permitted him to come to the table to be page 31 sworn. Those are the only cases even with an allegation of an absolute disqualification in the case of O'Donovan Rossa and Mitchell, and of a disqualification alleged, but not admitted, and not legal, not statutory, in the case of Wilkes, that I have been able to find; and in Wilkes's case the House has solemnly decided that it did wrong there, and I submit that it ought not to do it again. But here the return is not questioned. It is not pretended that there has been a single circumstance of illegality connected with the election, the sole point being, Am I qualified to sit? If I am qualified to sit, I have the duty to take the Oath, and the House has neither the right nor the jurisdiction to refuse the Oath to me, nor to interrupt me in the taking of it. If my qualification or eligibility to sit is to be discussed, the precedent for the proper mode of discussing that qualification is in Home Tooke's case, and rightly so, because then I have the opportunity from my place in the House of defending myself, and of correcting any misstatements that may possibly be urged by Members who may be too anxious that I should not sit, supposing in any other House of Commons it should happen, and it then gives the Member attacked fair play. While I admit entirely that the House has a full and most complete right to expel any sitting Member, and this in its own discretion, and for any reasons in its wisdom sufficient, I submit that it has never done this without first calling upon the Member to be heard in his own defence, and that that cannot possibly happen until the Member is sworn and is sitting. I submit that while the House has the right to annul the election of a person absolutely disqualified by law, it has never, except in one case, that of John Wilkes, claimed the right to interfere, and in that case it ultimately expunged from its proceedings the whole of its hostile resolutions, as being subversive of the rights of the whole body of electors of this kingdom. I quote on that the Commons Journal, Vol. 38, 3rd of May 1782. I do not think that I should be right in troubling the Committee with the very strong arguments used time after time by Edmund Burke, Thomas Pitt, and others; but I want to point out this, that in addition to the charge on which John Wilkes was expelled from the House (and I am not questioning his original expulsion), there were also charges introduced against John Wilkes for his publications outside the page 32 House. That will be found in 1st Cavendish, page 73 and page 129, and they are charges far exceeding anything (if I may judge from the reports which have even been put in) in relation to any supposed publications of my own. None of those charges were ultimately considered by the House to justify the interference of the House with the choice of the constituency. To use the words of Mr. Thomas Pitt, on page 350 of Cavendish, words endorsed by the House itself, "Nothing but a positive law can enable you to circumscribe the electors in their choice of a representative, however, indiscreet they may be in their choice." I consider now on what grounds is it claimed that the House of Commons has the right and jurisdiction, following the words of reference, to refuse to allow me to take and subscribe the Oath? Is it for a disqualification or ineligibility existing prior to my election and continuing down to the time of my election—I mean a disqualification or ineligibility created by Statute or existing at common law? No such disqualification is even pretended. Is it for a disqualification or ineligibility of like legal character arising since my election? No such disqualification is pretended. Is it for conduct not amounting to absolute disqualification legally, but conduct for which the House has in its discretion exercised its rights and jurisdictions by expelling a Member? It must be this, or it is nothing. If there is neither legal disqualification prior to my election, nor legal disqualification subsequent to my election, then there must be such conduct not amounting to absolute legal disqualification as would, were I a sitting Member, justify the House in using its discretion to expel a Member, But if that conduct be prior to the election, then I submit that the constituency is the sole and sovereign judge of the fitness of the candidate, such candidate not being legally disqualified, and that where the chosen and duly returned candidate is ready to perform his duties, this House has neither the right nor the jurisdiction to revoke the decision of the constituency; and that in the only case in which the House did so interfere it afterwards solemnly recorded that its conduct was illegal, as being subversive of the rights of the whole body of the electors of this kingdom. If the complaint against me is for conduct arising since my election, then I submit that even if such matters justify my expulsion as a Member, the point could only be raised after page 33 I had been heard in my place against the Resolution, and that the matter could not arise until I have taken the Oath and become entitled to speak, sit, and vote. Manifestly this must be so, as otherwise it would always be in the power of a majority to exclude from coming to take his seat any Member to whom they might have an objection; and although such a thing is, luckily, not probable now, there have been times, even in the history of the House of Commons, when a majority, even of election committees, as I read in the Records of the House, have sought by mere prejudice to exclude Members. It is, therefore, the more necessary that at any rate a Member should have the right to be heard in his own defence. I submit that there is no precedent whatever for preventing a Member from taking his seat and the Oath, on the ground of conduct not amounting to absolute legal disqualification. There is no such precedent to be found at all, and I have searched very carefully indeed. I put the question to Sir Erskine May lest anything should have escaped me, and I say absolutely there is no precedent. Then I submit that it would not be consistent with the dignity of the House to examine any statement made by any Member outside the House, as to any of its procedure, and that in fact the House has firmly refused to allow a Member to be challenged as to whether or not some of his extra-Parliamentary utterances were inconsistent with his Oath of Allegiance; and here I should like the Committee to come to a decision, because it would alter and abridge my argument. If the Committee thought (I will put a suppositious case) that, say there were some document that they thought they had the right to take into consideration here, then while I should object to that, I should like to have the opportunity of addressing the Committee as to that. So far as the evidence has gone, I have not heard of any, except the mere statement in the House, only I judged from a question put by an honorable and learned Member that something was passing in his mind (which, by the way, did not seem to me to be the fact) justifying a question put to Sir Thomas Erskine May as to whether the Oath could be administered to a man who had done something either actually or by implication repudiating the effect of that Oath. I have heard nothing in the evidence, so far as it has gone, giving the slightest color or warranty for page 34 such a question. If there are any facts to be dealt with by this Committee other than that, then I should like to know the facts, and to argue upon them; but it would be only wasting the time of the Committee to address argument to any point which the Committee would not think it right to consider; and I should be glad if, before going further into my statement, the Committee thought it right to intimate to me their view upon that.

The Committee deliberated.

87. Chairman : I think the Committee would like to understand from you the kind of objection that you are anticipating before you proceed with your argument; as I understood you, you took this kind of objection : "I wish to know whether the Committee are going into any proceedings external to the proceedings which took place in the House, or will entertain the consideration of those questions," and that if they did so you would wish to be heard upon that point; I understood you also to say that beyond that general question as to any proceedings which may have taken place as part of the transaction in any other place than the House itself, you wish to know whether the Committee would take such matter into their consideration; am I right in supposing that to be the character of your objection?—Not quite. Practically my question is this: Will this Committee take any facts into consideration other than those of which I have heard evidence given, and those which have been stated by myself in the course of my argument? If so, I should like to know, because I understood the permission of the Committee to be that I should address them at the close of the case before their deliberations, and I should submit with all respect that the Committee would not take one matter of fact into their consideration to influence them in their deliberations which I had not the opportunity of addressing them upon. If they have finished, and if there are no facts except those which I have heard to be dealt with, it enables me to turn out and eliminate a portion of the argument which I have prepared.

The Committee deliberated.

88. Chairman: The Committee have considered the matter which you have submitted to them, and they request me to inform you that members of the Committee do propose, after your statement is concluded, to ask some questions of page 35 you; but I have to inform you, at the same time, that you will-be invited, and are invited, to state any objections that you may entertain to any such questions when put, and that you shall have a full opportunity of addressing the Committee after they have heard your answers to the questions so put?—That will enable me to eliminate a portion of my argument. I wish to submit to the Committee one Observation on the precedent of Daniel O'Connell, and that is that, as a matter of fact, the evidence of Sir Thomas Erskine May shows that he misapprehended that precedent. It was a refusal by Daniel O'Connell to take the Oaths by law required of a member at the date of his election. Between the date of his election and the date of his refusal the law had changed, but it had not changed (so the House interpreted the Statute, or so the Statute ran, I do not know which) at the date of his election. So that I submit that Daniel O'Connell's case is a case of a Member refusing to take the Oath by law required : And I further submit that the Parliamentary Debates will show that the words which appear as being used by Mr. O'Connell on the 19th of May, sufficiently expressed his reason for refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy some days at least before the House asked him again to take it. Then I have only two other matters which I should wish to submit to the Committee.' One is that I have, neither directly nor indirectly, obtruded upon the House, since I have been a Member, any of my utterances or publications upon any subject whatever; that there is no precedent, except in the case of John Wilkes, for any reference on the part of any opposing Member to such publications by any Member prior to the taking of his seat; and that the ultimate decision of the House in John Wilkes's case is directly against the introduction by any Member hostile to me of any such matter as a reason for my not being allowed to take my seat. Finally, I most respectfully submit that I have grave matter of complaint that my privileges as a Member of the House of Commons have been seriously infringed, and that the rights of the electors, my constituents, have been ignored in the attacks made upon me without previous notice to me; attacks to which I had no opportunity of making a dignified reply; attacks which, if the newspaper reports be accurate, were in many instances based upon absolute misapprehension or page 36 misquotation of my publications, and in one instance at any rate, based upon the most extreme misrepresentation of my conduct. I thank the Committee for listening to me, and I regret if my want of knowledge of the forms of the House has involved my saying anything in a manner in which the Committee would prefer that I should not have said it.

89. That is all you wish to state at present?—That is all I wish to state at present upon the evidence as taken by the Committee. If fresh evidence should be taken, I should ask the permission of the Committee to have the right of addressing them upon that.

90. The Committee will now proceed to examine you.—Before any question is put to me, will you, Sir, tell me when is the proper time to object to any question which I may think I have the right to object to?

91. When the question is put, before answering it?—

Mr. Attorney General : You will understand that I am not in any sense cross-examining you, but merely to clear up what took place in the House. I am entirely in the hands of the Committee.

92. We know from the Proceedings of the House that you did at the table of the House make a claim, in the first instance, to make affirmation instead of taking the oath?—Yes.

93. And we understand that you did so on the ground that you were a person entitled to make affirmation within the terms of the Evidence Amendment Acts of 1869 and 1870?—That was then my impression of the law, and that was the claim which I made.

94. And I presume, of course, that at the time when you made that claim you founded it upon the belief that you were entitled to make affirmation in the House of Commons?—I made that claim solely upon my belief that the law entitled me to make it.

95. Then as regards your power to give evidence under the Evidence Amendment Acts in courts both civil and criminal, you of course put it before the House of Commons, as a fact, that, you were a person entitled in those courts to make affirmation?—Yes.

96. And I presume that you were acquainted with the terms of those Acts, the subject interesting you?—Quite.

97. Were you aware that if you yourself were called as page 37 a witness, it would be necessary before you were allowed to make affirmation in a court, either civil or criminal, under the Acts of 1869 and 1870, that two things should be established; first, that you yourself objected to take the oath, or that your right to take it was objected to by some one else; and then, secondly, that the judge would be required to satisfy himself that the taking of an oath by you would have no binding effect upon your conscience?—No, that is not my interpretation of the Statute, nor do I think it has always been (although I think it has sometimes been) the interpretation of the judge or other presiding officer dealing with it.

98. Would you kindly explain your own view as to the sense in which you read the statute of 1869, which says that the judge must satisfy himself that the oath is not binding upon the conscience of the person wishing to affirm, the words being, "If any person called to give evidence in any court of justice, whether in a civil or criminal proceeding, shall object to take an oath, or shall be objected to as incompetent to take an oath, such person shall, if the presiding judge is satisfied that an oath would have no binding effect on his conscience, make the following promise and declaration"?—My interpretation is that upon certain answers being given by the witness, the judge is bound to take his affirmation, even supposing that the judge himself should not be of opinion that the oath is not binding upon him; and it has been decided so by the Court of Queen's Bench. In the case of ex parte Lennard v. Woolrych, a man tendered his affirmation at the Westminster Police Court, and the magistrate asked him (I am repeating from memory, but repeating perfectly accurately the substance of what appears in the affidavits tiled in the Court of Queen'? Bench), "Why do you object?" He said, "I am an Atheist." The magistrate refused to allow him to give evidence upon affirmation, and the court held that upon hearing that answer there was enough under the Act, and that the magistrate was bound to take the man's evidence, and issued a mandamus to compel him.

99. You will not suppose that I am arguing with you, but as I understand that case the witness who tendered himself having said he was an Atheist, the court held that the magistrate was bound to raw the inference from that page 38 assertion that the oath was not binding, and therefore to let him make the affirmation?—That is so. Whether the presiding officer did draw the inference or not, the court held that he was bound to.

100. Then I do not think that there is much difference between us; but I assume that when you come to the table of the House of Commons, and asked leave to make affirmation instead of taking the Oath, you were a person, as I understand it, who, if you had gone into a court of justice and made the same request, would have been held by the presiding judge to be one upon whom the oath would have no binding effect?—I did think so when I applied to affirm. I do not think so since the Report of your Committee, for your Committee has reported that the two oaths are entirely different.

101. It is a question for you : do you draw any distinction between the binding effect upon your conscience of the Assertory Oath, as it is called, and the Promissory Oath?—Most certainly I do. The Testimony Oath is not binding upon my conscience, because there is another form which the law has provided which I may take, which is more consonant with my feelings. The Promissory Oath is and will be binding upon my conscience if I take it, because the law, as interpreted by your Committee, says that it is the form which I am to take, and the Statute requires me to take it.

102. Pray do not answer this question unless you like : am I to understand you that the binding effect upon your conscience of the Oath depends upon whether there is an alternative method of taking that which is to you equivalent to the oath?—No, most certainly not. Any form that I went through, any oath that I took, I should regard as binding upon my conscience in the fullest degree. I would go through no form, I would take no oath, unless I meant it to be so binding.

103. Pray object if you do not wish to answer this question : By virtue of what do you regard that assertion which you make within the Oath as binding?—I have not caught your question, if you will pardon me for saying so.

104. By virtue of what portion of what is contained in the Oath do you feel that your conscience is bound; is it by the mere fact that you repeat the words therein contained, or is it by that which is contained in the form of the Oath? page 39 —Those words, "I do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to her Majesty Queen Victoria, her heirs and successors, according to law," are to me, binding in the most full and complete and thorough degree on my conscience.

105. If you read a promise out of any book or paper, and said, "I promise so to do," is there more binding effect in those words that you have read than in the mere ordinary assertion of a promise?—Yes, because this reading is by law, and by the decision of your Committee intended to be the form in which I pledge my allegiance as a Member.

106. Then if it were a form sanctioned by law, as in the case of an affirmation, is there any more effect upon your mind if you take it in the form of what we call an oath than if you took it simply by words of affirmation or promise?—If the form sanctioned by law ran "I affirm," or "I declare and affirm," or "I solemnly and sincerely declare and affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to her Majesty Queen Victoria, her heirs and successors, according to law," that would be equally binding upon my conscience.

107. Do you attach any express or particular meaning to the words "I swear"?—The meaning that I attach to them is that they are a pledge upon my conscience to the truth of the declaration which I am making.

108. But a pledge given, may I ask, to whom?—A pledge given to the properly constituted authorities, whomsoever they may be, who are entitled to receive it from me.

109. Do you attribute any more meaning to those words than a pledge to human beings around you?—I attach no more meaning to those words than I do to a pledge to human beings authorised by law to take such a pledge from me under similar solemn circumstances.

110. But the solemn circumstances, I suppose, are the mere mundane circumstances?—The statutory circumstances. I meant "solemn" simply in the sense of being the statutory circumstances; I meant to distinguish between that and mere conversation.

111. I think we understand from your answers that you do not attribute any more weight to the use of the words "I swear," and to the words "So help me God," than you would to an ordinary promise if it were given under the page 40 same circumstances as those under which you gave that, promise in the House of Commons?—I conceive myself entitled by law to distinguish, and I beg therefore to object to so much of the question as deals with the words "So help me God," my objection being founded on the case of Miller v. Salomons, in the 17th Jurist, and the case of the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway Company v. Heaton in the 4th Jurist, new series.

112. I presume by that answer you mean that "So help me, God" is no part of the oath or promise, but merely the form in which it is taken?—That is so; it is merely a form of asseveration.

113. Will you confine yourself, then, to the words "I swear"?—I will.

114. Do you attribute any greater weight or any meaning to the words "I swear," and to the fact of kissing the book, beyond the words of ordinary promise?—Not beyond the words of ordinary promise made under statutory obligation.

115. Then what greater weight do you attach to a promise made under statutory obligation than to an ordinary promise?—I would prefer not making any promise that I did not intend to keep; but the law has attached a weight to statutory promises, and a penalty and disgrace on the breaking of them.

116. That is a consequence resulting from human action; you do not attribute any other weight to such a promise beyond what results from such penalties?—I object to that question.

117. I will now go to another point. How lately is it that you have claimed a right to affirm in a court of law?—In a superior court or in an inferior court?

118. In any court where you have taken an oath?—Recently in an inferior court, within a few days.

119. How lately prior to your claim in the House of Commons?—Prior to my claim in the House of Commons, about 12 months.

120. You had made a claim on several occasions, I suppose, prior to the period which you have just mentioned?—Yes.

121. What steps, if any, were taken by the judge on such occasions to arrive at the conclusion that the oath would have no binding effect?—On the last occasion, by Mr. page 41 Justice Lindley, none. I presume he thought my claim to affirm well founded, and he simply bowed his head, and the clerk administered the affirmation after looking to him.

122. I suppose you made a claim to affirm?—When the clerk brought the Testament to the witness-box I said, "I desire to affirm," and the clerk looked at Mr. Justice Lindley, who just bowed his head (he happened to be the presiding judge), and I did affirm.

123. Had you reason to think that Mr. Justice Lindley was acquainted with any previous applications by you to affirm?—I should think it possible, because the claim to affirm has been the subject of considerable litigation by myself in the courts.

124. Upon any occasion upon which the judge did make inquiry, what was the nature of the inquiry?—The present Lord Justice Brett, whom I remember distinctly challenging me upon it when he was Mr. Justice Brett, said: "Why do you claim; Mr. Bradlaugh?" and I perfectly remember my answer, but I am just thinking whether I am not entitled to say this : that happened seven years ago; I do not intend to imply that there is any change or anything since, but I think I am entitled to say to this Committee that it is hardly within the limits of their reference to inquire into something that happened in a law court between myself and a judge seven years ago.

125. I should not have asked the question, but you have stated in the House of Commons yourself, in order to support your claim to make affirmation, that you have frequently been permitted to affirm?—That is so.

126. And I think you gave the last nine or ten years?—Yes, and Mr. Justice Brett's question came within that time. I hope you will not consider that I am putting the objection unfairly. What I want to put is this : that the conversation which took place on the occasion of my having affirmed (and I repeat that I have affirmed before different judges) being more or less informal, ought not to be the subject of inquiry by this Committee. The fact is of record. Those were all at Nisi Prius.

127. It was before a judge who would have to administer an oath?—Quite so.

128. If you state that you really entertain an objection to the question, I do not wish to press it myself personally?— page 42 I have no objection to answering, except that I have purposely tried to keep out of this discussion any question of my views; otherwise I am quite in the hands of the Committee, and if the Committee are disposed to press the question I will give the answer, having made my objection.

129. I do not wish to go into the views generally entertained by you, except so far as expressed by you that the Testimony Oath had no binding effect upon your conscience?—My answer applied to the Assertory or Testimony Oath.

130. I am asking you what you stated when a Testimony Oath was being administered to you; but if you desire not to answer the question, so far as I, an individual member of the Committee, am concerned, I do not wish to put it to you?—I take the objection.

131. Mr. Gibson: Can you recall whether within any time since your right to affirm was first recognised in courts of justice, you have taken the Oath?—Never; that is to say, the oath as a witness.

132. Have you ever taken any oath since your right to affirm was first admitted in courts of justice?—It only has been my right to affirm as a witness that has been admitted in a court of justice; I have under cover of that Act, but I think illegally, affirmed as foreman of a special jury, but I have considerable doubt whether the Act covered my affirmation as a juryman.

133. With that knowledge now present to your mind, is it the fact that the oath which you seek to take at the table of the House is, if you are permitted to take it, the first oath that you will have taken since you were permitted to affirm in courts of justice?—It is the first occasion upon which there has been any reason for my taking or not taking the Oath of Allegiance since I have been permitted to affirm.

134. Or any other form of oath?—My memory is not quite clear upon that; I am not sure. There was a case in which I took evidence as a Commissioner from America, and I am not at all sure whether the completion of that Commission was before or after the passing of the Affirmation Act.

135. But since the passing of the Act?—I cannot quite pledge my mind as to that; but except in that case in which page 43 I was a Commissioner for taking some evidence in relation to an American process, in which I may have done so, I certainly have not.

136. Then am I to understand that you seek now to take this oath with exactly the same meaning in your mind as you would take the affirmation?—Which affirmation?

137. The affirmation which you originally sought to take at the table of the House, the Promissory Affirmation?—I seek to take the Oath of Allegiance just as I should seek to take the Affirmation of Allegiance.

138. And do you attach in your mind no different meaning to the word "swear" than you would to the word "affirm?"—The law does not.

139. Do you, in your own mind, attach any difference to the sanction?—I object that the question put to me asks me to make a distinguishment which the law does not make.

140. I do not wish to press anything to which you object; do you desire to tell the Committee that, in your own mind, there is no distinction drawn when you use the word "affirm" and when you use the word "swear"?—To me, on the Statute they have the same meaning; that is, they are a pledge that what I put after those words is binding upon me in the most complete degree.

141. I suppose you are aware of all the ordinary definitions of an oath contained in the law books?—I am afraid that would be saying more than I have any right to say. I am fairly well read, but not sufficiently to say that I know them all.

142. You know a great many of them, I suppose?—I have learnt a few.

143. You said to my honorable and learned friend, the Attorney General, that you regarded the word "swear" as a pledge given to a properly constituted authority, and that that was the meaning you attached to the word "swear"; what do you mean by the "properly constituted authority" that you referred to in that answer?—Whatever may be the authority established by Statute for the purpose of taking such an oath.

144. A human authority?—All authorities established by Statute for the taking of oaths are human authorities page 44 Any authority outside a Statute is illegal, and any persons administering such an oath is indictable.

145. You are aware of the meaning of the expression "sanction of an oath "; what do you consider would be the sanction of the Oath if you took it?—I am not sure that I apprehend the meaning that is in your mind when you use the words "sanction of an oath."

146. I will read the definition which is contained in Mr. Baron Martin's judgment in the case of Miller v. Salomon's, where it refers to the case of Omichund v. Barker, as reported in the "Law Journal": "The doctrine laid down by the Lord Chancellor (Hardwicke) (Omichund v. Barker), and all the other judges, was that the essence of an oath was an appeal to a Supreme Being in whose existence the person taking the oath believed, and whom he also believed to be a rewarder of truth and an avenger of falsehood, and that the form of taking an oath was a mere outward act, and not essential to the oath which might be administered to all persons according to their own peculiar religious opinions, and in such manner as most affected their consciences." You have listened to that statement?—Yes; and I have also read the judgment of the Court of Error in the following year, in which they say that the essential words of the oath are those without the appeal, and that the words "So help me, God" are words of asseveration, the manner of taking the oath; but the words preceding them are, it appears to me, an essential part of the oath; and in the case of the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway Company v. Heaton, it was held that the oath was completely taken without the addition of that appeal.

147. I am not at all upon the words "So help me, God," which are the words referred to in the last case to which you referred. I am now upon what contains a promise that an oath is being taken when a man uses the word "swear"; do you object to the definition which I have read?—I object to that definition as overruled by the Court of Error in its final decision in error, confirmed by a subsequent decision of Lord Campbell in the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway Company v. Heaton, when it was held that the appeal was not a part of the oath.

148. Chairman : In both those cases I think the judges in holding that view had reference simply to the words page 45 So help me, God"?—Simply to the words "So help me, God.

149. I think we are a little misunderstanding each other?—I hope not; I want to be candid with the Committee.

150. Mr. Gibson: I am not at all on the words which that case went on of "So help me, God," but I am on what must be the essential distinction between an oath and an affirmation; what, I ask you now, do you conceive to be the essential distinction between an oath and an affirmation?—Following the judgment of the Court of Error, repeated in the other judgment which I quoted, I regard the essential words of the oath as beginning with "I swear," and ending with "according to law." I submit that it is no part of my duty to draw any distinction, if distinction exists, between the value of that and the value of an affirmation, because the Statute has declared that they both Slave the same value.

151. Do you consider that the taking of an oath implies in the person taking it the existence of a belief in God, and that he will reward and punish us according to our deserts?—That depends upon the form of the oath; and since the decision you quoted very many forms of oath have been entirely changed by the Legislature.

152. Do you consider that if you use the word "swear," you appeal to a God?—I consider that I take an oath which is binding upon my honor and conscience.

153. Without any reference to God?—I consider that I take an oath which is binding upon my honor and conscience.

154. And supposing that you break that oath, what what would be the consequences which you consider would result to you?—I am not aware that the Statute has provided that I shall declare my opinion upon those consequences.

155. Am I to understand that you decline to answer?—I am objecting that the question is one which would not be put in a court of law, and therefore, much more, should not be put here.

156. In answer to the Attorney General, and in your statement also, you used the words "essential part of the Oath," and the words of the Oath are, "I do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty page 46 Queen Victoria, her heirs and successors, according to law;" do you consider that all the words there present to your mind are equally definite and clear meaning?—I consider that the whole of those words are essential: I hold them to be essential, and I submit myself to the construction which the Court has put upon them.

157. Is there any word in the Oath in the Statute which does not convey to your mind any clear and definite meaning?—There is no word in that which does not convey to me a clear and definite meaning.

158. And do you regard the words at the end of it, "So help me, God," as conveying any definite meaning, or merely as a useless addendum to the promise?—I object that this Committee will not ask me my opinion upon those words, because they have been held by the highest court of law in this realm, subject to appeal, to be no necessary part of the Oath.

159. Sir Henry Jackson : If your counsel were here I should put to him this question, which do not answer if you object; I will treat you as if you were your own counsel; I understand your view to be that the Act of 1866 or the Act of 1868, gives you two alternative methods of taking your seat, the one of affirmation and the other of oath, and that it is open to you to take whichever of the two you prefer; you prefer the affirmation, but it having been decided not to be competent for you to make the affirmation, you now propose to take the Oath?—That is exactly my construction.

160. Now I will tell you my doubt, and perhaps you will be good enough to tell me what you say upon it. It occurs to me that these two alternatives are what lawyers call true alternatives; that is to say, that each excludes the other, and that the Committee having decided (perhaps you will say erroneously) that you cannot affirm, you have by your claim to affirm excluded yourself from the alternative claim to take the Oath; are not the two mutually exclusive?—No; the House of Commons decided that, fortunately for me, and that saves me the trouble of thinking on it for myself. When John Archdale applied to affirm, the House held that he could not affirm, and they ordered him to take the Oath.

161. Was that under the Statute which regulates the page 47 present procedure?—No, but it was under the claim of a man who thought that he had alternative courses, and who refused to take the Oath.

162. That is the answer which you give to my doubt?—I am not sure whether I have answered fully.

163. You do not condescend to any argument upon the Statute, but you think that the one alternative is not exclusive of the other?—I thought then, and subject to the Report of the Committee against me, which I presume binds me, I should still think that I have the right to affirm, and if there were any way in which I thought I could legally raise the question, I should try to do so.

164. But on the hypothesis that the decision of the Committee was right, have you anything except the Archdale precedent, from which you would argue that these two Acts of Parliament do not create two mutually exclusive alternatives?—I should simply reply that if that be so, and you told me that I did not come within the one, I must come within the other.

160. Mr. Staveley Hill: I wish to ask you one question with reference to what took place before Lord Justice Brett (then Mr. Justice Brett), and, of course, if you think proper, you will take the objection as you did to what the Attorney General asked you: when Mr. Justice Brett admitted you to affirm, what steps did he take with a view to satisfy himself that an oath would not be binding upon your conscience?—He put to me the question, "Why?" and I gave to him three words as an answer, and these three words apparently satisfied him, and he directed the clerk to allow me to affirm. He put no question to me as to whether the oath was binding upon me or not.

166. Have you any objection to tell the Committee what those three words were?—The question put by Mr. Justice Brett was, "Why?" I object to tell the answer, because it would be an inquiry into a man's religious opinions, and Sir George Grey, in introducing the Parliamentary Oaths Act in 1866, under which I claim, said, "We will make no inquiry into any man's religious opinions; let the constituencies be the judges of that."

167. But those three words, whatever they were, satisfied Mr. Justice Brett that an oath would not be binding upon your conscience?—I cannot say that, but they satisfied him page 48 sufficiently that he gave the clerk directions to allow me to affirm.

168. When did that take place?—About eight years ago, speaking roughly; it may be six or seven years, but I am not certain about the time.

169. Was it reported in the newspapers, and is it generally known?—I am not sure; there have been cases reported.

170. Mr. Pemberton: I wish to ask whether, since you were returned as a Member of this House, and since the Report of the last Committee, you authorised the publication of a letter which appeared in the newspapers of the 21st of May in reference to the proceedings which have taken place on this matter?—I ask that the question may not be put to me, because I say that the House has already decided that they will not put any inquiry to a member as to what happens outside the House to determine what was consistent with the Oath, or not.

171. Of course I do not press the question more than to remind you that it had reference to proceedings which have taken place in this House, and in a Committee of this House?—Many things I have read (I do not know whether they are accurate or inaccurate), speeches made by Members referring to proceedings in this House, and to that Committee in relation to this matter. To put it roughly, I should submit that this Committee should not examine me as to extra-Parliamentary utterances in reply to extra-Parliamentary utterances. For example, one honorable Member, Sir Henry Drummond Wolff, made a speech at Chichester——

172. Lord Henry Lennox: Not at Chichester?—The papers said so; they may be very likely wrong, only it shows still more, I submit, the force of the objection that extra-Parliamentary publications in reply to extra-Parliamentary utterances should not be the subject of questions before this Committee.

173. Mr. Pemberton : I will only again point out that it was not in reply to an extra-Parliamentary utterance, but had reference to proceedings in this House?—That assumes what would be passing in the mind of the writer and what he had in view in assuming it, and I decline to discuss any subject of that kind.

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174. I am to take it that you decline to answer the question?—No, I object to answer it. If the Committee think that I ought to answer it I will answer it. I do not take a legal objection. You quite understand that if the Committee think I ought to answer it, I will answer it at once.

The Committee deliberated.

Chairman: The Committee have come unanimously to the conclusion that the question put by the honorable Member for East Kent ought to be answered; but, in arriving at that conclusion, I am requested to inform you what I will now read : "That the Committee think Mr. Bradlaugh should answer the question put to him by Mr. Pemberton, on the ground that it refers to matters written by him directly in relation to the question involved in the order of reference to the Committee, and for the purpose of expressing his views on such questions since the claim was made by him to make the affirmation, and before the appointment of the Committee."

175. Mr. Pemberton: I wish to ask whether, since you were returned as a Member of this House, and since the Report of the last Committee, you authorised the publication of a letter which appeared in the newspapers of the 21st May, in reference to the proceedings which have taken place on this matter, such letter being signed in your name?—I think one of the members of the Committee has a copy, which I handed to him; I have not seen the print; and as I sent to all the newspapers a lithographed copy, I prefer, for greater accuracy, to ask him to return it to me. I hold in my hand a copy which I have no doubt is the same.

176. Chairman: Do you object to that letter being put in?—The moment the Committee decided that I ought to answer that question, I had no reserve in saying that I left myself in the hands of the Committee on it. I shall take the liberty of wishing to address a word or two to the Committee presently upon it. (The letter was handed in.)

177. Mr. Watkin Williams : Do you propose to take the Oath in the form given in the Statute of 1868, which I will read to you : "I., A. B., do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to her Majesty Queen page 50 Victoria, her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me, God?"—I do, that being the form in the Statute.

178. If you are permitted to take that oath, do you intend the Committee to understand and believe that it will be binding upon your conscience as an oath?—Yes.

179. In taking such oath, do you consider yourself as appealing to some Supreme Being as a witness that you are speaking the truth?—I submit that having said that I regard the oath as binding upon my conscience, this Committee has neither the right nor the duty to further interrogate my conscience.

180. Sir Richard Cross : You know of course that in taking the oath in the form prescribed by the Statute, and according to the custom of taking oaths, you will have to kiss the Testament: do you attach the smallest weight to the kissing of that book?—I attach the weight attached by the law to the whole of the formula.

181. Do you attach the smallest weight to the kissing of the book; do you think that the kissing of that book adds in the slightest degree to the weight upon your conscience of the words which you have already spoken without kissing the book?—The law has said that the whole of that is to be complete; I have not the right, therefore, to form an opinion, or to formulate an opinion as to how much of that I would leave out had I any choice in the matter.

182. Then do you attach any further importance to the word "swear" in the oath itself, and to the fact of the kissing of the book than if the word "swear" were written "affirm," and no kissing of the book were required?—I have already said that I attach to the complete affirmation the most complete binding effect on my conscience. If I were allowed a preference, I would and still prefer the affirmation. The law says that the oath is the form, and I shall regard that form as in all its respects binding upon my conscience.

183. Do you look upon the kissing of that particular book as adding any more sanction than the kissing of any other book?—I decline to do that which the law has not done; the law has not split up the formula into parts, and expressed an opinion upon each part separately, and I deny the right of the Committee to ask me to do that which the law has not done.

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184. I will ask you one other question; do not answer it unless you like?—I will not.

185. Do you think that the fact of the kissing of that book has any relation to an appeal to a Supreme Being, that you will, before Him, perform the oath which you have taken?—The law has not required me, in any case, to express an opinion as to that by itself. As to the whole Oath I have expressed an opinion.

186. As regards the kissing of that book, would you look upon that, so far as your conscience is concerned, as an idle form?—The law has not required me to look upon it by itself, and I dispute the right of the Committee to divide the Oath into parts, and to take one part by itself without the other. I have already answered that the whole of the Oath when taken by me, and if taken by me, will be binding upon my conscience.

187. But still you consider that a certain part of that Oath, which the Statute imposes upon you the necessity to take, is an idle, and empty, and meaningless form?—I have never said so at any time.

188. But do you consider it so?—Most certainly I do not consider the most considerable portion of it an idle and empty form.

189. Some portion of it, I said?—I consider no portion of the essential Oath an idle and empty form.

190. That is to say, that you would take the Oath because the Statute says you must do so in order to take your seat?—That is not so. I take the Oath because the Statute says that I must do so, intending to be bound in my honor and conscience by the oath I take. Every Member takes the Oath because he must do so in order to take his seat, and he could not take it without it.

191. But you do not think that the forms of the Oath, as settled by law, adds anything to the binding of your conscience further than saying "I solemnly affirm"?—Your question presumes a form of thought which I have not enunciated.

192. Mr. John Bright: Do I understand you aright that you have never said that the oath, as you propose to take it, is less binding upon your conscience than it is supposed to be on the consciences of other men?—I have never said so; and in 1868, when I stood for election, there being page 52 then no form of affirmation possible for me, I had gravely considered the question.

193. It is within your knowledge that some men, and not a few men, who do not absolutely refuse to take an oath, still greatly prefer to make an affirmation?—If it would not be impertinent to say it, many Members of the House have told me so since this question has been pending.

194. Chairman: I think you said, when I informed you that the Committee thought that the letter should be put in, that it was a subject upon which you wished to make an observation?—I wish just to make the slightest observation upon that, and upon one or two points that arose in questions that have been put to me. If the Committee would allow me to think for a moment I believe I can compress it within very slight limits.

195. Sir Gabriel Goldney : Your statement to Mr. Justice Brett, I understood, you would think over?—No, that my answer did not apply to. If the Committee think that I ought to answer that question in the same way, the question as to the three words, or rather four words, that I answered to Mr. Justice Brett, I am quite in the hands of the Committee, and I should not decline to answer them.

196. Mr. Staveley Hill : The reason why I asked you what they were, and where they were to be found if you did not answer the question, was on purpose that one might look for them, because it must be a matter of public notoriety what the words were?—I should think it very possible. I have taken my objection, and if there is even a thought in the Committee that I had better answer the question, I should not object to do so.

197. Chairman: What are the observations which you wish to offer in consequence of your examination?—As the House will now have before it the statement, I ask the Committee in examining it to take it complete, not to separate one or two words in it and to take those without the countervailing words, and to remember that in this letter I declare that the oath, if I take it, would bind me, and I now repeat that in the most distinct and formal manner; that the Oath of Allegiance, viz.: "I do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to her Majesty Queen Victoria, her heirs and successors, according to law," will, when I take it, be most fully, completely, and unreservedly binding upon page 53 my honor and conscience; and I crave leave to refer to the unanimous judgment of the full Court of the Exchequer Chamber, in the case of Miller v. Salomons, 17th Jurist, page 463, and to the case of the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway Company v. Heaton, 4th Jurist, new series, page 708, for the distinguishment between the words of asseveration and the essential words of an oath. But I also desire to add, and I do this most solemnly and unreservedly, that the taking and subscribing, or repeating of those words of asseveration, will in no degree weaken the binding effect of the oath on my conscience. I should like, finally, simply to submit to the Committee, and especially to the honorable and learned gentleman on the left of the Chairman, that there has not been from the beginning to the end of this matter, any declaration, either distinct or implied, that the Oath if taken by me would be less binding upon me than upon him; and I do submit to this Committee that this House has never sought to inquire or to distinguish in any fashion as to the religious views of its Members, except so far as any of them have found themselves obliged by their conscience to refuse to comply with some form that the House has put before them. On the contrary, in the Lords' protest on the discussion of the Promissory Oaths Municipal Bill, Lord Holland and other Lords put it in the most distinct fashion that no sort of inquisition and no sort of inquiry ought to be tolerated involving any examination of a man's theological views. Lord Holland added, in words better than I can command : "That there is no tribunal which he knows competent to make that examination, and that the purely secular and political duties called upon to be performed were not such as to entitle that examination to be made." I thank the Committee for having listened to me, and I submit myself to their decision.

198. Chairman : You mentioned some precedents which you thought might usefully be added to the list of precedents which we have already had : could you conveniently add those cases?—Yes, I will do so.

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Monday, 7th June 1880.