HC Deb 04 August 1924 vol 176 cc2612-26

I am sure we have all heard with great satisfaction the declaration of the President of the Board of Education that he will administer the existing law with the strictest impartiality. At times we have had reason to complain that some of our schools are not treated quite with that strict impartiality which we think they deserve. I wish to turn to another point of special interest to Catholics, particularly those in Scotland, and should apologise to the House for venturing to intrude upon Scottish affairs when I do not understand the Scottish language very well. I wish to refer to a Catholic procession at Carlin, which was interfered with by the police authorities on 22nd June this year. Carfin is a village of which 75 per cent. of the inhabitants are Catholics. It has had a procession on the Sunday after Corpus Christi during the last five years. Until three years ago the processions were purely local and attracted no particular attention except in the locality. But during the miners' strike three years ago the miners who were unemployed occupied themselves in building a shrine in imitation of the one at Lourdes, and in order to make it more like the latter they made an artificial spring at the foot of the statue and laid on water. Then there were a number of alleged miracles among people who made pilgrimages to the grotto. Personally, I confess my faith in miracles in general and in those at Carfin in particular, but in order to avoid controversy I am speaking of them as "alleged" miracles. In consequence of these alleged miracles, enormous crowds of people visited the shrine from all parts of Scotland, and, on the day of this procession last year there were probably 50,000 or 60,000 people in this small village.

The Catholic majority in Carfin have always been on the very best terms with their neighbours who are non-Catholic. There never has been any disturbance or disagreeable incidents. They have also been on the best terms with the police, who have allowed them to organise their procession, and nothing has ever taken place to cause any disagreement between Catholics and Protestants. But a few days before the date of the procession this year the chief constable called on the priest and informed him that if the procession took place, and if he and other priests took part in it, they would be indicted under the Catholic Emancipation Act, 1829. It seems to me to be an extraordinary thing that this procession should have been singled out for treatment under an obsolete Act. We have had many sorts of processions of late years, processions of suffragettes, of the unemployed, of Communists, and of Salvation Army and other denominations, but the only one to be interfered with is a Catholic procession in this village, the population of which is almost entirely Catholic, and that was interfered with under an obsolete Act.

The police stated that they were acting under instructions, and my object in raising the question to day is to discover on whose instructions they were acting. I should like to remind the House that on the same day on which this procession was to have taken place, but was not allowed to owing to the action of the police, there were great processions of the same character all over England, and notably in London, Sheffield, Chatham and Chesterfield. In addition to Catholic processions, there were also processions organised by the Church of England. There was one which took place at the back of my house here in London, and it was organised by a Church of England parish in the neighbourhood. I read in the Press a fortnight ago that in a certain mining village in Durham there was a procession in honour of Lenin, and the men taking part in it carried banners bearing Lenin's portrait. When the miners' wives found out in whose honour the procession was taking place they assaulted the persons carrying the banners, and in this particular case the police came to their assistance, enabled the procession to proceed, the ladies who disagreed with the objects of it were driven off. My compliant against the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland is that when I have raised this question in the House before he has always returned evasive replies, and, further than that, he has not, so far as I know, taken any public action to ensure that these things should be stopped. I am not in any way attempting to make political capital out of this matter. The first time I asked my question the right hon. Gentleman said he knew nothing about the incident, but would make inquiry. Yet I am told by my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell (Mr. Ferguson) that he had told the right hon. Gentleman four weeks beforehand that he was going to stop this particular procession. The second occasion on which I asked the question the right hon. Gentleman replied that it was purely a question of traffic. As I have pointed out to the House, a very large number of processions were allowed on the same day in great centres like London and Sheffield, and, if the traffic could be controlled in those centres, it surely could have been controlled in a village like Carfin without the authorities falling back on the Act of 1829. The third time the right hon. Gentleman was questioned he said that the police had acted on their own responsibility. But, as a matter of fact, they have stated throughout most emphatically that they were acting under orders.

I should like to add that the promoters of the procession and the population of Carfin have no complaint to make against the police; they are always perfectly courteous and regretted the action that they were obliged to take. They also stated that they were acting under instructions. The Tight hon. Gentleman seems to know less about this matter than anybody else, and I hope that as one result of raising this question this afternoon the right hon. Gentleman will express in the most forcible terms his disapproval of what has taken place. It does seem extraordinary that under a Labour Government such an incident as this should have taken place. Surely the right hon. Gentleman could have expressed a wish that such incidents should not take place under a Government which stands for religious toleration, and which, I believe, sincerely upholds the cause of religious toleration in all parts of this Kingdom.

Before sitting down, I should like to make one or two remarks with regard to the interjections made by my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell (Mr. Ferguson) when I brought this matter up. After I had raised the matter in the House by question and answer, I received a letter from the Protestant Press Bureau, which said I had no sense of humour. I did not reply to that letter, because I think it is very difficult for anyone to appraise the value of his own sense of humour, and so I thought it better to leave the letter unanswered. But I can say I have a very high sense of the humour of my hon. Friend. My hon. Friend is, if I may put it in that way, really the villain of this piece. I fell sure he will not object to my referring to him in that sense, but he was the common informer who laid the information under which this indictment was threatened, and, therefore, he has, I think, some little responsibility to defend himself for the action that he took. The truth of the matter is that my hon. Friend is out of touch with the spirit of the times. He wants to go back to the 16th and 17th centuries. If I might venture to give a personal example to illustrate the difference in the sentiment of the present time, and the sentiment to which my hon. Friend wishes to go back, I would say this: I stand here as a Catholic of Catholics, but I have been sent here by 30,000 of my fellow citizens in Lancashire to represent them, and, certainly, not more than one-eighth belong to my religion. That is the spirit of the present time. To continue the example. In the 16th and 17th centuries two of my forefathers died in prison, and one was born in prison, for their devotion to the Catholic faith. That is the spirit of the age to which my hon. Friend wants to go back.

He made one or two definite observations by way of interjection. He stated first that these processions were illegal. That matter, I think, was finally disposed of by the right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith), on the occasion of the Eucharistic Congrees in 1908. After various attempts to insinuate that the procession was illegal, the Prime Minister of the day was obliged to go back on that ground entirely, and to request the Archbishop of Westminster not to hold a procession. It was in consequence of the request of the Prime Minister, and not in consequence of any prohibition, that that procession was not held. In a letter from the Archbishop of Westminster to the Prime Minister at that time, Cardinal Bourne said: The Acts and Declarations to which the Protestant societies "— certain societies which approached the Prime Minister to get the procession stopped— have called attention have never been invoked within my memory. They are universally regarded as a dead letter, and they are equally applicable to many acts which I and my colleagues perform publicly, and intend to perform publicly, over and over again throughout the year. That statement has never been contradicted, and the day after the procession was stopped, in deference to the wishes of the Prime Minister, the "Times," "Daily Telegraph." "Standard," "Daily Chronicle," "Pall Mall," and afterwards "Truth," and many other papers, had leading articles reprobating the attitude of the then Government, and declaring that the time had come for the Acts, which enabled people to allege illegality even if they could not prove it, should be swept from the Statute Book.

The final point with regard to my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell is this: He declared in this House that the priest at Carfin should be prosecuted for fraudulently selling water. I may, perhaps, explain to the House that the water of the spring at Motherwell is Glasgow Corporation water, which is laid on by an ordinary pipe, and is made to come up in the spring by means of an ordinary tap, so that if the priest was clever enough to sell this water at 5s. a bottle, as my hon. Friend declared, I think he should be congratulated rather than condemned. But if the hon. Gentleman means that this priest, or any other priest, sold water that was alleged to be blessed, or alleged to be holy water, then I offer him this challenge. If he can prove that any priest in England or Scotland, or anywhere else, sold water alleged to be blessed, or holy water, then I will pay as many pounds to the Motherwell Infirmary as pence have been paid for the water. While such Acts are on the Statute Book, and while such persons as my hon. Friend hold the views they do, it is really not safe for Catholics to be at large in this country. The situation is really like throwing a razor among a crowd of babies, and expecting that nobody will be hurt. I do appeal to the Secretary for Scotland to tell us to-night that the Government will support the Bill I am introducing to-morrow to remove these disabilities once and for all from the Statute Book.


As I am the defender, as my hon. Friend has put it, I will not seek to raise any strife or ill-feeling so far as I can avoid it, but I want to say, first, it is not the Glasgow water, but really the County of Lanark water. Another thing I want to point out is that I did not say I told the Secretary for Scotland a month before that I was stopping the procession. What I did say was that I had seen the Secretary for Scotland, and had sounded him on the matter, and he gave me every indication that he was not going to stop it, much to my surprise When he gave me an indication that he would not stop it, then, I admit, I took steps to see it was stopped. The history of the matter is this. In Motherwell, which is known all over Britain for the religious controversy that took place there, a Roman Catholic bishop named Bishop Graham began the controversy. He went to Motherwell and hired a hall. The invitation was to Protestants only, and he told them that their religion was no better than that of the "heathen Chinee," and that the only channel through which salvation could come was through the Roman Catholic Church. There is toleration for you! That bishop was just newly arrived from the Pope, immediately after ho got his promotion. That, naturally, set the Protestants of Motherwell into a flame, and the religious controversy was carried on for some years. This procession through Motherwell was deliberately attempted, even in the midst of the heat that had been engendered, and, if held, would certainly have resulted in riot, and probably the loss of lives. Carfin is exactly half a mile outside the border.

It was Cromwell, the greatest man that England ever produced, who said that Home never would advance an inch unless it was through Protestants who sat in the House, and men who made a profession of religion. I am certain to-day we shall sec them on their feet justifying this procession in Carfin. Our hon. Friend here is helpless; the Church of Rome is helpless, and it is only by the help the hon. Member is going to get to-day from Protestants that they will make any progress at all in this business. Take the material side of it. They go into Carfin, and, if they get established there, then it becomes the law all over Scotland. There are some here, I know, who had a big majority in Scotland last time, but if they support this they will not get back, and I will see that they do not get back. I want to draw my hon. Friend's attention to the fact that Scotland and England are entirely different, and the vast majority of Scotsmen will never tolerate what is tolerated in England. They have a better knowledge of the Bible, and they know that they were commanded, not only not to tolerate these statues and images, but to take them and smash them in pieces, lest they should be captivated and led astray by them, as they are in England through tolerating these images, and statues that have been erected, so that there is scarcely a paper wall between the High Church of England and the Church of Rome to-day.

The hon. Member challenged me about the payment for the water. I can prove that from the beginning they were charging for the water, until we showed them up, and then here is the trick they played, which was worse than charging. Everyone has to put his money into a box, which is beside the county water, and a piece of paper on which has to be written the name and what particular blessing, or what it is, he wants. This House can understand, therefore, that these poor people, who cannot pay their rent, and cannot pay the grocer, the tailor, or the butcher, put into that box what ought to go to pay the rent, the butcher and the grocer. Even my hon. Friend on the Front Bench will bear me out as to two cases in which he was interested. The rent was 2s. 10d. a week in one case, and 4s. 6d. in the other.


The hon. Gentleman is getting a little wide of the point. I understood the suggestion of the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Blundell) was that, owing to Government orders, a certain procession had been permitted.


Yes, the law has never been repealed. The law stands there, and what my hon. Friend has asked the Secretary for Scotland to do is to break through that law, and to make himself a lawless person in breaking through. What my hon. Friend proposes, in bringing forward his Bill, is that the Scottish Members here will show their hands in support of it, and that we in Scotland shall know exactly where they stand. That is what we want. We will fight this matter at the next Election, and they will realise it.


At the risk of losing my seat at the next Election I respond to the invitation of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Motherwell (Mr. Ferguson) to say that I stand for fair consideration of all sorts of processions. The hon. Gentleman who introduced this matter has stated what to me appeared to be reasonable facts, and I nave confidence that the Secretary for Scotland will adjudicate on this question as it deserves. What I do want to say is, in respect to my colleagues and myself who come from some of the Scottish constituencies which are largely constituted of people who belong to the Roman Catholic body, that I am satisfied of this; that in our constituencies there is no such thing as trouble on this account. Every consideration is shown to those passing through the thoroughfares, and those in processional order, and both live on the best terms of amity, and we are able to be of service the one to the other. What was said in respect to all this by the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool is, in my judgment, quite correct.

My anxiety is that we should avoid just the sort of thing which happens in the West of Scotland at the instigation of some like the hon. Member for Mother-well. So far as Ireland is concerned, one has only to be in some parts to see the prejudice which arises and which is applicable to both sides. When I was in the city of Belfast on one occasion the very cross which I am wearing on my watch-chain was taken to represent that I belonged to the Roman Catholic faith. In the public thoroughfare it was demanded of me that I should give an explanation. As a Scotsman, I promptly refused to do. I was asked to say that I would make no further refer-once to the churches on the particular question that I specialise in and which was referred to by the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool. He said something about collections going on in public houses for education, but I have never considered that public houses have ever assisted any kind of religion. I was asked to give an explanation, in the streets of Belfast, and I was fighting a great combat under their conception that I was a, Roman Catholic. Then I said: "Now I know what the prejudice is of the Orangemen of Belfast by their determination not to listen to a man because he is wearing the symbol of the Cross of Christ, whose religion is represented by all Christian bodies." What I am asking for here is, that the police shall carry on in the fashion which is done in other parts of the country with all types of processions, whether they be Communist or whatever they may be—that if there is trouble apprehended, arising from public processions, that the police shall be in attendance to see that order is kept. I do maintain that, in the highest interests of the nation, we shall do everything to calm down religious animosity and to suppress the fires of religious bigotry. Instead of having these warring religious factions, we should give some evidence that we have a religion, and not act like savages.

The SECRETARY for SCOTLAND (Mr. William Adamson)

I have had two questions put to me in the course of this Debate. On a previous occasion I tried apparently unsuccessfully to point out who was responsible for the Corpus Christi procession In respect to the Bill mentioned, the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Ormskirk Division (Mr. Blundell) asked if the Government are prepared to give the necessary time to carry through that Bill, which the hon. Gentleman hopes to intro- duce to-morrow. As to the first question, from information I have received I understand that the Corpus Christi procession at Carfin has been held for some considerable number of years, but up till 1921 the procession had always been held within the church grounds. Since 1921 and up till last year, the procession has passed along the public road. During these two years, 1921–22, the procession consisted simply of the members of the church and caused no inconvenience to the traffic in any shape or form. In 1923 the procession was largely attended. It was estimated, according to information passed on to me, that about 30,000 people were present. There was a serious interruption of the traffic owing to the fact that large numbers of those taking part knelt down on both sides of the public road during the proceedings. Complaints came to the police from different parties. I may say that amongst the names that came in of those who complained there was not that of my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell. I have never seen his name in any list.

Complaints came in that the traffic had been held up for as long a period as an hour and a half. In February, 1924, the local superintendent of police who had received a complaint about the matter in 1923, called on Father Taylor, the priest-in-charge of Carfin, in order to ascertain if a public procession was to be held this year. In the course of that interview the superintendent pointed out that Roman Catholic processions were illegal under Section 26 of the Roman Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 if they involved celebrations of religious rites or if religious habits were worn by the clergymen taking part. Father Taylor did not say whether the procession would or would not take place this year when the superintendent called, and this is the answer to the question of my hon. Friend—the superintendent acted entirely on his own initiative in the statement that he made to Father Taylor. The chief constable knew nothing of the matter until the superintendent reported to him in May the intention of Father Taylor to proceed with the procession.

The chief constable then in turn discussed the matter with Father Taylor and Dean McAvoy. At this interview the chief constable did not refer to the Act of 1829. He based his objections to a public procession to the interruption of the traffic which had been caused in 1923. After a very brief interval Father Taylor agreed to abandon the public procession. On reconsideration, Father Taylor applied for and obtained a permit which the county council were authorised to grant under the bye-laws for regulating the assembling or procession of bands on the highway or in the streets of the county. I know nothing of the circumstances under which the permit was granted, but it may be pointed out that the permit can only authorise a procession otherwise legal. Hearing that the public procession was to proceed, the chief constable instructed the superintendent to see Father Taylor and to inform him that if he went on with the procession a report would be made to the Crown authorities. The superintendent was also instructed to obtain the names of the priests and monks who would take part in the procession, so that they would not require to interfere with the procession while it was in progress. Father Taylor thereupon said that the procession in the public road would not take place: it would be abandoned and would take place within the church and Grotto Grounds.

While I have no personal acquaintance with Father Taylor I should like to bear testimony to the good feeling, tact and commonsense that have been displayed by him throughout the whole matter'. Neither the Lord Advocate nor myself had any knowledge of the matter until more than a week after the procession had taken place, when my attention was called to the matter by the hon. Member for the Bothwell Division (Mr. J. Robertson), in whose constituency Carfin is situated. He informed me that Father Taylor had been in touch with him, and had told him that he wanted my hon. Friend, the representative of the Division, to discuss this matter with him. That was the first I heard of it. The Lord Advocate heard of it when I reported to him a day or two later what had been told me by my hon. Friend the Member for Bothwell. The second point is with regard to the complaint that the penal provisions in the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 are unjust and out of date. I think there is little doubt that in the minds of a considerable section of the community there is not now any sympathy with provisions of that sort. Their repeal, however, is a matter for Parliament, and for the people of the country generally. At the present moment it would not be possible for me to give a pledge that the Government will give facilities for the passage of the Bill to which reference has been made.

8.0 P.M.

I am not empowered to respond to such an appeal as that of the hon. Gentleman, especially in view of the heavy legislative programme already in hand. So far as my personal attitude is concerned—and I want to say quite frankly, and in speaking now, as I propose to do, I am speaking for myself alone—I am prepared to give to the Roman Catholic sections of the community the same fair play as I claim for myself—nothing more and nothing less—and I have endeavoured, and intend to continue as long as I am in the position of Secretary for Scotland, to hold the balance fair between all sections of the community.


I shall endeavour to avoid offending the susceptibilities of anyone on the opposite side. I intend to leave the question of processions severely alone if I can, but I do not admit that the opening up of this question will increase religious differences. I am an Irish-Catholic. We fought this question out years ago in the Labour party at the Trade Union Congress and I want to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that, unintentionally, he has grossly exaggerated the spread of these religious differences amongst the working classes. He is very much mistaken if he thinks the giving of plain, common justice to any denomination will increase religious differences amongst the working classes. I claim for the Labour party that they have been a real solid instrument in removing religious differences for the past 20 or 25 years. We have lately had returned to the House two Members from Liverpool who sit on these benches. I remember the time in 1906 when I fought the same constituency, and my life was not safe because I happened to belong to a denomination to which most of the electors were opposed. Yet, under the growing influence of the Labour party, one of these constituencies has returned a Catholic where at that time no Catholic would have had a chance. I remember a humorous incident that happened in Londonderry. The permission of the Mayor, who happened to be a Catholic, had to be obtained to hold a procession round Derry Walls, and he advised them, in view of the religious differences at that time, 15 years ago, to hold the procession outside the city, and they agreed. When they went back to get their drum—an Orange procession without a drum is a blank failure—they found that someone had kicked in the head of the drum. They went to the Irish National League, who lent them their drum on the condition that after their celebration they left it at a certain pub, and they said, "We will be waiting for you." That is the spirit that used to exist, but that is gradually dying away. I want to submit that the plea of the hon. Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. O'Connor) is a sound one. The Irish Catholics are fined doubly. They have to pay for the provided schools and for their own schools as well. It is not unfair to ask that, even in the present state of the law, some assistance should be given them. The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Scrymgeour) may be reassured by the fact that contributions from the pub are better spent on building schools than in the pub. I do not cave of what nationality a man is or at what shrine he worships. The religious feeling of any country is the greatest national asset it can have.


I think I was personally referred to by the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Ferguson) when he said that certain Members who had come here with very large majorities, if they took up a certain side on this question, would not return to the House. I am not given to challenging or, I hope, to boasting, but I am prepared to-morrow to go back to my Division and fight him on this issue.


Come to my Division and fight me.


I am comparatively new in politics but I would fight the hon. Member to-morrow on this issue and defeat him in my Division by at least two votes to one. Mine is not a Catholic Division but it is a sensible Division. I was born in the Protestant faith and I still retain it and I am not ashamed of it. I remember, in my school days, on St. Patrick's day we used to cut sticks and our function seemed to be to smash as many heads as we could. In Glasgow even the children have got beyond that stage and what is not good enough for children ought to be contemptible for grown men. I think the answer of the Secretary for Scotland was evasive. It was not intentional, but that is what it appeared to convey to me. The police say the reason for stopping this is because of the traffic. The people who have to do with the traffic are the people who grant the permits. In Glasgow, when we held a Labour or Socialist demonstration, we have to ask permission from the magistrates, and they are the body who have to decide whether we are going to cause congestion or hold up traffic. If they grant the permit it is equivalent to saying the procession will not interfere with the normal traffic of the town. Here the county council, which is responsible for the maintenance of good government, say: "We are granting you a permit. It will not interfere with the traffic. It will not annoy the rest of the city." They grant it, and when the chief constable could not get the county council to say it would interfere with the traffic he hauled out an old obsolete Act as his last defence. The Act ought to be administered in Soot-land as it is in every other part of the country. On 12th July, in my native city, the Orange people demonstrated. They were decent, well-dressed, well-behaved people, and if the authorities in Glasgow, or the Secretary for Scotland, had hauled out some obsolete Act to keep them from demonstrating I should have protested in the same way. They have a right to demonstrate provided they do not cause obstruction.


That is an entirely different thing. There is no hindrance to the Hibernians walking out.


In Glasgow there is no hindrance, but in this case there is an hindrance. The Secretary for Scotland has no need to repeal the Act. I think with the application of common-sense this procession could have been held. Xo one has ever complained. I am sure the hon. Member for Bothwell never had any complaint from the Protestant section of the population. I think the interference with traffic is one of the poorest excuses the Chief Constable could rake up. He has given in to a lot of local bigots. In- stead of being big enough for his trust he has given in to small-minded people.

It being a Quarter-past Eight of the Clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS under Standing Order No. 8, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put.