HL Deb 11 July 1871 vol 207 cc1398-401

(The Lord Chancellor.)

House in Committee (according to Order).


said, that when he introduced the measure about to be repealed in 1851, he did so because it was then his impression, and that of the country in general, that a great change was to be inaugurated, which made it necessary to assert the Queen's authority in some effective and formal way. The Act accordingly asserted that authority, and imposed a pecuniary penalty upon those who assumed territorial titles without the authority of the Crown; but he took care to insert a provision that the penalty should not be sued for except with the consent of the Law Officers of the Crown—thus preventing the institution of vexatious informations and prosecutions, and providing that the law should not be enforced unless the Queen's authority was openly set at defiance. He considered that the Act had fully answered the end for which it was intended. There had been no ostentatious assumption or assertion of such titles, and no persons had suffered from its enactment, for no penalties had been sued for, and the Act for the purpose of inflicting fines remained a dead letter; and while the authority of the Queen had been asserted, no suffering had been incurred. At the present time—more especially as the Irish Church had been disestablished, it was quite right that these penalties should be repealed. He could not, however, assent to the assertion made in the Preamble, that titles of this kind were only regarded as "titles of office." This was not the view of the Roman Catholic Bishops, or of airy Roman Catholic lawyer in this country; for they had repeatedly asserted before Committees of both Houses that the only persons having spiritual and real jurisdiction over the inhabitants of the places to which the titles referred were the Roman Catholic Prelates, and that the person calling himself Bishop of London, for instance, had no proper jurisdiction over London, it being part of the diocese of the Archbishop of Westminster. If, however, the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack thought it proper to state in the Preamble that such titles were only assumed by Prelates as titles of office relating to their connection with their own adherents, he saw no harm in it. It was only adding another fiction to the thousand fictions already existing in the English Law; and as there were a Thousand-and-One Arabian Nights, there might as well be a thousand-and-one legal fictions. If any person thought it conduced to his dignity or authority to assume a title which, according to this Bill, was not assumed by any proper authority and which rested on no legal basis, no great harm would be done by such an idle assumption, any more than by a man styling himself Duke of Westminster without possessing any legal claim to such a title. The reasons which existed in 1851 for passing the Act having now passed away, he gave his willing assent to its repeal.


said, that though when the noble Earl introduced the Bill in the House of Commons he entirely concurred in its provisions, and gave it his support, subsequent circumstances had proved to him that the Bill was in operation a mere nullity, and that it would be advisable that it should be repealed. The Bill had proved inoperative, for not only had the prohibited titles been publicly assumed, but no penalties had been inflicted or even sued for; and though in one sense it was true, as stated by the noble Earl, that nobody had suffered, it was urged by accredited representatives of the Roman Catholics in both Houses that the Act was most offensive to their feelings. Feeling the statute to be obnoxious to many and useful to none, he obtained the appointment of a Select Committee of their Lordships to consider the matter; but his view, though supported by a considerable minority of the Committee, was not adopted by the majority, and the Act would probably remain unrepealed but for the fact, which could not have been foreseen at the time of its passing, that some Bishops of our own persuasion would come under its provisions. Since therefore the Act did no good to one party, and inflicted pain on others, he thought the time had come when it should be repealed.


said, he was glad to think that he opposed the Act in 1851 at every stage, deeming it wholly unnecessary and little creditable to a country where religious liberty prevailed. It had proved a brutum fulmen; but though the penalties had never been enforced, it had done great mischief in Ireland.


said, it would be unmanly if he did not avow that when the measure was first proposed it had his hearty concurrence. He had at that time no anticipation of holding office; but afterwards, as Solicitor General, he had charge of it in the House of Commons. He then supported the Bill because he regarded it as a properly-timed and desirable measure; for a certain distinguished person, a subject of this realm, acting under the authority of a foreign Power, had introduced a change in the entire system of management of the Roman Catholic Church in this kingdom. Until the issue of the famous Letter from the Flaminian Gate the different districts were under Vicars General, who usually bore the name of a place wholly unconnected with the locality, and had special charge of the Roman Catholics within the districts, no mention being made of governing the districts themselves. In that Letter a person professing to act under a foreign authority announced that he governed whole districts—an assumption of power which would never have been tolerated before the Reformation or long after it, our Statute Book being full of Acts repressing such a power. Therefore, he thought that a distinct declaration of the law was required. He should have been content with a mere demonstration and declaration of the law, and he admitted that the paltry penalty of £100 was a great mistake, though it was borrowed from the Emancipation Act of 1829. In his opinion, it was expedient to make a legislative declaration of the law in order that our Roman Catholic brethren should know the exact position in which they stood, and that the Pope, who was then and had ever since been on terms of amity with us, should not be misinformed as to the state of public opinion, but should be told what the state of our law was, and how far he was infringing it if he authorized such assumptions. At the present time it was right to recite the exact state of the law, and the assertion in the Preamble objected to by the noble Earl was inserted, not as a statement of fact, but of law, so that it might be understood that as "titles of office" these titles were not prohibited, but that the assumption of any jurisdiction or authority within these realms was prohibited as heretofore.


said he was at a loss to know why the noble and learned Lord consented to the repeal of the Bill, seeing that the Pope had recently claimed greater authority than he had done at any former period.

Bill reported without Amendment, and to be read 3a on Thursday next.