HL Deb 19 July 1901 vol 97 cc966-70

I rise, my Lords, to present a Bill drawn up in pursuance of a Report made a short time ago by a Committee of this House upon the Royal Declaration required to be made on the accession of the Sovereign. The Bill is almost exactly in the terms of the Report; there are only two slight modifications. During the debate in the House a few days ago it was noticed by some of the Roman Catholic peers that the words "adoration of the Virgin Mary" were not in their view theologically correct, and it was evidently felt to be a matter of some importance that these words should be corrected. I can only say that the fault is not ours; it is the fault of our ancestors in the time of Charles II., who drew up the Declaration in this form. I should have thought myself that, if they knew anything, they knew something of mariolatry.


Titus Oates?


Titus Oates was not in Parliament. I do not know how they came to make so great a blunder. However, what we have done is to leave out the words to which the Roman Catholic peers objected. Then there was another objection taken—that, on account of the vague grammatical structure of the sentences, we had used language which, as was observed in the course of our recent debate, would make it possible for the Pope himself to make the Declaration. I always thought myself that this was a somewhat hypercritical mode of construing the Declaration; but, however, when the blot was pointed out it became necessary to remove it, and we have added the words "in which I believe" after the words "are contrary to the Protestant religion," making clear the declaration of his belief on the part of the Sovereign making the Declaration. I do not see that this was a very necessary change, but still notice having been taken of the blot, it is right to make the correction. These are the only changes we have made, though, as your Lordships are aware, other changes have been asked for. There are some peers who have asked for the abolition of the Declaration altogether. To that I can only say that it is not a matter worth discussing at this moment, but so far as His Majesty's Government are concerned, and I believe a very great majority in both Houses of Parliament are concerned, there would be strenuous opposition to the abolition of this time-honoured Declaration. A further question, which I admit is not nearly so important, is whether the mode of expressing the King's refusal to be bound by the Roman Catholic religion is made in the most suitable and felicitous terms. As to that I believe, and I have only learned it lately, some of the Roman Catholic peers think it would be more satisfactory if there were no Declaration of the kind, but simply a repudiation of Roman Catholic adhesion on the part of the Sovereign. My Lords, I will only say about that that I am not quite sure that the precise set of motives and considerations which have guided Roman Catholic peers in their observations expressing their desire may not operate in a precisely inverse fashion upon the minds of Protestants in this and in the other House of Parliament. Until I hear the matter discussed I will not express an opinion on the point. I am bound to take the form of the Declaration as it has come down to us, with the correction of what were obvious defects, and I think it would be wiser to make as few changes as possible. Upon that, however, when we arrive at future stages of the Bill we shall be able to ascertain more clearly the opinion of the House. I beg to move that the Bill be read a first time.

Bill to modify the Declaration required by the Bill of Rights to be made by the Sovereign, presented by the Lord Privy Seal (M. Salisbury.)

Moved, That the Bill be now read 1a.—(The Marquess of Salisbury)


who had given notice to ask His Majesty's Government what course they proposed to pursue in consequence of the Report of the Committee appointed to consider the Declaration of the Sovereign against Transubstantiation, said: The noble Marquess the Prime Minister has anticipated the question I intended putting to him. I am glad the Bill has been brought forward, and that the Government are going to modify the Declaration. When the Report of the Committee was discussed on a former occasion the Government intimated that they would be prepared to consider any Amendments that might be brought forward. I think it would be more proper that these Amendments should be considered at a later stage of the Bill.


My Lords, I agree with the noble Marquess that the Second Reading is the proper time for discussion. But, as my position was somewhat different from that of the other Members of the Committee, I should like to say two or three words. I rejoice that His Majesty's Government have thought it right to introduce a Bill on this matter, and I am also glad to hear that the alterations have been made to which the noble Marquess referred. I deprecate any attempt to materially alter the form of the Declaration. On the Committee I did not entirely agree with the form, and I had considerable sympathy with those who desired to exclude all references to doctrine; but, considering the very strong feeling which exists in the country in favour of maintaining the ancient Declaration to secure that it shall always be a Protestant on the Throne of England, I came to the conclusion that it was impossible to alter its form beyond that recommended by the Committee. I trust that, when the discussion comes on, material alterations will not be pressed, and that we shall be content with the old Declaration as amended by the omission of the strong expressions which to my mind were justly offensive to Roman Catholics.


Can the noble Marquess tell us when the Second Reading will be taken?


I propose to ask the House to take it on Tuesday.


My Lords, I think that would be allowing a very short interval for the consideration of a question upon which the people of England have not yet made up their minds. The House should not proceed hastily, nor is there need, for the reigning Sovereign has already made the Declaration. Recalling the circumstances of the discussion a short time ago, I hardly think we shall be in a position to come to a wise decision on this important question. I would be thankful if the decision could be postponed to next session. Many peers are now away from town, and will be unable to return to the House by Tuesday. Delay would be an advantage.


I hope the Government will not yield to the appeal of the right rev. Prelate. If we are to deal with this subject at all we should deal with it at once. The session is already far advanced, and if we were to postpone the consideration of the matter for some weeks it would mean its postponement till next year. I hope the noble Marquess will adhere to his decision to take the Second Reading on Tuesday next.


I am bound to say I do not think there is much foundation in this case for a plea of delay. We have had this matter before the House for a month or six weeks, and it has been perfectly well known what the points at issue would be. Roman Catholic peers have been urging us to deal with the matter for some weeks past, and obviously you cannot delay the Bill now without putting it off to next year. It is a subject of a disturbing and exciting character, and should not be left over for an unnecessarily long period.

On Question, agreed to.

Bill read 1a accordingly; to be printed; and to be read 2a on Tuesday next. (No. 171.)