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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 82

May the House of Commons Commit Treason? — An Appeal to the People

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May the House of Commons Commit Treason?

An Appeal to the People,

The House of Commons has thought fit, for no reason known to the law, to prevent me from serving my constituents, who have returned me as one of their Burgesses to serve in the present Parliament, and it so prevents me while recognising and admitting the perfect lawfulness and regularity of my return. I allege that in thus disregarding the votes lawfully given of a free constituency, and in treating as nugatory the unimpeached and valid return duly and regularly made to the writ sent to Northampton from the Clerk of the Crown, requiring the electors to choose a member, the House of Commons has been guilty of treason against the Constitution. If I am not qualified to sit, then the return is bad, the seat is vacant, and a new writ should have been issued to elect a member for Northampton, But the House admits that the return is good, and on its return-book I am entered as the member; the House declares that the seat is not vacant, and it allows me to have and exercise all the rights and privileges of an unsworn member—that is, all except the right of sitting, speaking, and voting. That is, it treasonably violates the right of the electors to be represented in Parliament. The House does not pretend that I was disqualified from being elected; if it had so pretended, the seat could, on petition, have been given to my Conservative opponent by amending the return, or the election could have been declared void, and a new writ ordered. The House does not pretend that since my return I have done any act disentitling me to sit; if it did so pretend, it ought to expel me. The House claims the right to utterly disregard the suffrages of the electors of Northampton, and to treat the votes of those electors as subject to its pleasure. Lord Randolph Churchill said, during the debate in the House, that

"Parliament recognised no rights but its own. It had never treated these claims for electoral or representative concessions as rights; it had always regarded them as high and valuable privileges which it was in its power to withhold or bestow, and it had never been guided by any other principle than expediency or policy."

The majority cheered this treasonable utterance, which is as false as it is treasonable. It is not true that in this country Parliament has recognised no rights but its own, nor ought it to be true in any country pretending to have representative institutions. It is true that Parliament is supreme in this country, and by statute can enlarge, modify, or take away any right, but this has no bearing on nor relevancy to the act of treason committed in my case by the House of Commons. To use the words of a learned judgment delivered by Lord Denman, as Lord Chief Justice of England, "the House of Commons is not the page 2 Parliament, but only a co-ordinate and component part of Parliament. That sovereign power [Parliament] can make and unmake the laws; but the concurrence of the three legislative estates is necessary; the resolution of any one of them cannot alter the law or place any one beyond its control." Nor, would I add, ought either House separately, by its mere whim, to be able to deprive any subject of the law's protection. Nor is it true that even Parliament has always regarded the electoral suffrage as a privilege which it is in its power to withhold whenever it may consider such a withholding expedient or politic. In 1704 the House of Lords formally resolved that the voting at elections was the exercise of a right, that the vote was the right and property of the voter. The question whether the vote is right or privilege has been formally argued and solemnly determined at law. Lord Chief Justice Holt adjudged that the vote of the elector is his right "a freehold or franchise," and he adds; "who hath a right to choose [representatives to sit in Parliament] is a matter originally established and settled before there is a Parliament assembled." Lord Randolph Churchill thought it fitting the dignity of Parliament to describe the constituents who chose me as "the scum and dregs of the nation." This was a foul and cowardly libel—foul and cowardly; foul because utterly foundation less in fact, and cowardly because my constituents have most respectfully petitioned to be heard at the bar in assertion of their right, and no voice has been allowed them; foul and cowardly because it was only said by the noble lord in my presence when, and perhaps because, he knew that I was by the rules of the House obliged to sit in silence and without right of' reply whilst he insulted my constituents on whose earnings his family lives; foul and cowardly because the men who elected me are industrious and law-abiding subjects, who not only earn their own livelihood, but toil to aid in maintaining the family of the noble lord. But even here, again. Lord Chief Justice Holt, 180 years ago, had answered by anticipation : "The law hath no respect to person. He is, though a cobbler, a free man of England, and to be represented in Parliament."

The House has not tried me for any crime; it has made no formal charge against me; it has heard no evidence, and has examined no witnesses in support of any accusation. It has allowed its members to most recklessly assail my life and character on the authority of anonymous pamphleteers, using against me publications which do not even bear a printer's name. It has permitted opinions I do hold to be mixed up with opinions to which I am hostile, and the result to be presented without possible verification or contradiction, as a fair statement of opinion for which not only I am to be condemned to exclusion, but for which my constituents are to be deprived of their right to voice and vote in the Commons' House of Parliament. The House has allowed, without proof and notwithstanding challenge, words to be taken from writings and speeches spread over thirty years, wrested from their context, and these to be used against me to deprive me of page 3 my right as the elected of Northampton, and to deprive my electors of the duty which they ought to have at my hands. The House, knowing that the law is against it, protects itself by physical force, and yet permits it to be said that it is I who have appealed to force. When I sued the officer of the House for an assault so severe that the mere passive resistance to it nearly cost me my life, the House prevented the legality of the resolution, by which it had hindered the law being obeyed, from coining before the Court of Queen's Bench. It refused to plead the resolution, and relying on its privilege, would not permit evidence to be given that it had forbidden me to do that which the law required. It pretended that I had committed a contempt, and that the assault upon me was one for which I therefore had no legal remedy. Mr. Justice Field, in delivering judgment against me, said : "Mr. Bradlaugh said—and I do not know whether truly or untruly—he said it might be possible that that which the House had adjudged to be a contempt was merely the lawful act on his part of going into the House for the purpose of completing his qualification, and enabling him to perform the duties of his position in the House. He said how unjust it is, and how wrong it will be in such a case, that it should be in the power of anybody to declare that to be a contempt which, under those circumstances, would be merely a simple performance of his duty;" but his lordship added that the answer to this was; "It is not to be presumed that any Court .... will do that which in itself is flagrantly wrong." But the House of Commons is thus guilty of doing "that which in itself is flagrantly wrong." It does not introduce a Bill to deprive me of the right to sit, but it usurp in my case a treasonable dispensing power, and in spite of the law prevents my sitting where I have the lawful right to sit, speak, and vote as a duly-elected commoner of England. The House of Commons does not introduce a Bill to take away from Northampton one of its representatives, but it usurps most treasonably the power of gagging and disabling the representative Northampton has chosen. If this be quietly endured then no man's seat is safe, no man's vote is his right. If the House of Commons by its mere resolution alone can override law, what reasonable-security is there for the life, liberty, or property of any subject of this realm? It is sought to cover this treason with the pretence that popular feeling endorses the usurpation, and therefore, having in vain appealed to law, and in default of every other appeal, I once more appeal to that public opinion which has been sometimes represented as the sole security against arbitrary power.

But I urge that if I am lawfully chosen and my return good, then that no constituency has any voice in the matter save that constituency which those me. In electing, in choosing, its own representatives each constituency exhausts its right : it has not, it ought not to have, any voice in hindering from the performance of his duty the lawful choice of another. It is said; "But may a lunatic, felon, clergyman, minor page 4 or woman sit if returned?" The answer is that these may be prevented by law, and no law yet makes my return unlawful. If any of these were returned they would be at once unseated on election petition; no one has ventured by petition before the election judges to challenge the validity of my return; nay, Sir Stafford Northcote, in express words, on March 6th, 1882, admitted the right of my constituents to elect me. But, as a despairing effort to conceal the treason, it is said I am a bad man, and the House will not have me. Have I driven men to dishonor and suicide by gambling? No; yet men who have done this sat and voted against me. Have I been drunken within the House or even out of it? No; yet men, parading their piety, staggered tipsily through the lobby to record their votes against me. Have I used my influence, and sold my title as a director of a foreign company? No; yet a noble lord who had done this was in the House to speak and vote against me. Have I prostituted my rank on a directorate, whose transactions have been judicially condemned as fraudulent? No; yet at least one right honorable who voted against me has so done. What is my offence? It is said : You are a Socialist ! That is not true. Then it is declared : You have written against marriage and family! That is without foundation. You are an Atheist! So were George Grote, Sir William Molesworth, John Stuart Mill, and Ashton Dilke. It is true that many really good-meaning men think that their honest objection to the views which they think I hold, and to the manner in which they think I have made known such views, is sufficient justification. But it is needful to remind the nation that "the most dangerous acts, and those least to be defended in principle, are very apt to proceed from that party which has the best intentions, and thinks that the end may sanctify the means." It is added : "You are coarse in your speech." If this were true, fitness of things should make me a Conservative member, like Mr. Grantham, Lord Folkestone, or Baron de Worms, or a Roman Catholic member, like Mr. "O'Donnell" or Mr. Callan. But I sat in the House for more than five months of its actual sittings and no item of Parliamentary misconduct was ever alleged against me. And if there had been, unless it amounted to legal disqualification, it was for my constituents to judge; they judged, and they re-elected me. To illegally render that return inoperative is treason to the Constitution.

The most impudent and brazen-faced defence offered of the treason—and this by Conservative statesmen—is that the electors of Northampton, when they last elected me, knew the House of Commons would not receive me, The electors of Middlesex knew that the House would not receive John Wilkes; but they re-elected him, and the House of Commons at last ordered that its illegal resolutions excluding Mr. Wilkes should be expunged from its journals, "as being subversive of the rights of the whole body of the electors of this kingdom."

Price One Halfpbnnt.

London; Printed by Annie Basant and Chas. Bradlaugh, 63, Fleet St., E.C.