§ LORD HERRIES
My Lords, in rising to move the motion standing in my name I wish to say, in the first place, that con- 370 siderable dissatisfaction, to make use of a mild term, has been aroused in the minds of the Roman Catholic subjects of His Majesty by the words used in the Declaration from the Throne which His Majesty was bound by statute to make on the occasion of his first opening Parliament. I wish to dissociate at once His Majesty the King from any responsibility for those words. I could not but admire the tact which His Majesty showed in the manner in which he read the Declaration, the low tone being evidently intended to make the words as little as possible offensive to ears of the Roman Catholics who were present on that occasion. At the same time, I must say this: that the Declaration itself, drawn up as it was two centuries ago, is not the sort of Declaration which might be expected from the King of Croat Britain, Ireland, and the Colonies, wherein there are at least twelve millions of Roman Catholic subjects. My noble friend Lord Braye has, I believe, introduced into the House a Bill with the object of abolishing this Declaration: and, if this Declaration used by the King on the opening of Parliament could be swept away in that manner. I should be only too glad to welcome such a Bill; but it appears to me that we are more likely to arrive at the desired end by a Committee of both Houses, composed of the leading members of both political parties, who would meet together and devise some means by which the Declaration in its present offensive form could be abolished, or at least so modified as to meet the objections which we, the Roman Catholic subjects of His Majesty, feel to it.
I regret very much indeed the absence of my noble friend Lord Kimberley, not only for the cause which we all deplore, but also because we are always glad to see him in his place as Leader of the Opposition, in which capacity he show's so much tact, ability, and good feeling. The noble Earl many years ago had charge of a Bill for the abolition of such a Declaration by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and I should like to quote a few words from his speech. On that occasion Lord Kimberley said—He had himself been called upon to make that Declaration before the Irish Privy Council in the presence of a large number of 371 persons of the Roman Catholic faith, and he must say he had never in his life made a Declaration with more pain than when he was required, before men holding high office and for whom he had the highest respect, to declare the tenets of their religion to be superstitious and idolatrous.If that was the effect of the Declaration on one who was at that time Lord Lien-tenant of Ireland, how much stronger must have been the feelings of His Majesty the King when he knew that what he was saying in that Declaration was attacking the tenets not only of a few friends around him, but of twelve millions of his most loyal subjects? I feel confident that it was with great pain that His Majesty made the Declaration. This Declaration was not framed in order to be taken by the King of this realm. It was framed at a time when Titus Oates was at the zenith of his power, when by a series of perjuries, which are unexampled in history, he had induced the whole country to believe that there was a plot among the Roman Catholics to upset the religion of the country, and when numbers believed that when James II. became King the country was to be made Roman Catholic, and the whole of the Protestants of the country were to be burned. This is history, and I ask your Lordships whether, at the time Titus Oates was publishing these perjuries, the country was in a proper state of mind to impose a Declaration of this sort. This Declaration—which is known to your Lordships, and which I will not defile my lips by reading—was made with the object of driving Roman Catholics out of the House of Peers and out of the House of Commons, and it was obligatory upon them from 1678 until the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829. I think we may judge of the state of mind of the people who framed that Declaration when we remember that it was made obligatory, not only if the King was of age and was therefore able to know for himself what was right and what was wrong, but should the King succeed as a minor, he was obliged to take it at the age of twelve years. That is to say, a little boy, or, in the case of a Queen, a little girl, might be brought—and this is even within the. range of possibility now—to the Throne, and be compelled to take the Oath that tran-substantiation was not to be believed in. 372 How on earth could the child know what was the meaning of transubstantiation? I dare say that it is not known to all of your Lordships. How. therefore, would a boy or girl be able to take an oath contradicting a doctrine of that sort? For 150 years this Oath was the means of keeping every Roman Catholic out of the House of Peers and the House of Commons. Does that not show that no question of dispensing by the Pope, no question of mental reservation was sufficient to enable them to sit in this or the other House? I could point to a number of Roman Catholics who were put to death who could have had their fortunes and their lives saved by taking this Oath. I think, therefore, that this Declaration which is put into the mouth of the Sovereign, by which he is made to insinuate that Roman Catholics in taking oaths are capable of mental reservation, is an insult to Roman Catholics.
I quite agree that the fundamental laws of the country cannot be lightly-changed, and it is for that reason, perhaps more than any other, that I thought, before any alteration was made, there should be a Joint Committee of both Houses, who should carefully consider the words of the Declaration. We must remember that there is a great distinction between these fundamental laws. Any law that affects the succession I must be unalterable. But with regard to the other provisions in the Bill of Rights and the Act of Settlement, that is not necessarily so, and it has never been considered so. In fact, some of the provisions of the Act of Settlement were repealed within a few years of their first being passed. allude, in the first: instance, to the clause by which the Sovereign of this country was not allowed to leave it without the permission of Parliament. As we may imagine, that could not be allowed to remain long, and the clause was repealed during the reign of George I., who naturally wished to visit his kingdom of Hanover. There was another clause by which members of the Privy Council were obliged to give in writing their opinions on matters that referred to them. That was repealed. I mention these to show that minor provisions of the Bill of Bights and the Act of Settlement have been altered. It is a 373 principle of our Constitution that we should not be governed by our ancestors, but should govern ourselves, and we are quite prepared to do so. The Empire was very different in the days of William and Mary from what it is to-day. In those days we had not the colonies that we possess now. and we had not Canada, which contains 43 per cent. of Roman Catholics. When we are so dependent on our colonies, when we have had such an outburst of loyalty from all parts of our colonies, is it right that this Declaration, which affects so many of our colonies, should remain in its present form?
Is it necessary for the existence of the Church of England in this country that a Declaration in these words must be made? The Protestant succession to the Throne and the position of the Church of England are, I contend, sufficiently safeguarded by the Bill of Rights. I am aware that the Church of England is the Church of this country, and it is quite right that those who belong to the Church of England should retain the King as a member of that Church. I do not wish to do anything to weaken the hold of the Church of England on the King, but surely the Protestant succession and the position of the Church of England as the Church of this realm can be secured without insulting the conscience of Roman Catholics and introducing words into the Declaration made by the King which attack the most cherished convictions of his Roman Catholic subjects. I suggest that there is a way out of the difficulty, and for that reason I ask your Lordships to agree to the appointment of this Committee to consider the subject. As regards the constitution of the Committee, I see no reason why Roman Catholics should be represented upon it. Our purpose is not to prevent members of the Church of England from obtaining guarantees that the King shall remain a member of the Church of England, but that the offensive words should be removed, and I trust entirely to the impartiality and good feeling of your Lordships to ensure that result. I believe that in the other House it was promised that Roman Catholics should be on the Committee. Of course, we have nothing to do here with what takes 374 place in the other House. I am only speaking as to what I think would to the best plan to pursue with regard to the constitution of the Committee as fixed by your Lordships, I feel sure that if you will agree to this motion it will be the means of satisfying the consciences of your Roman Catholic fellow-subjects, and I am confident that it will not be in any way injurious to the Church of England. If you look to the history of the country during the last century you will see that there has been opposition to every favour which has been granted to Roman Catholics. I would ask, Have there been any bad results from the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1820, or from the relaxation of the rule which prevented Roman Catholics from being officers in the Army and the Navy, and which prevented them from occupying the chief offices of the Crown? I submit that there have been no dangerous results, and I ask your Lordships to agree to this Committee, the result of which will, I hope, be to remove those expressions from the Declaration which we consider are not only of no advantage, but are most offensive to the Roman Catholic subjects of His Majesty.
§ Moved to resolve, "That it is desirable that a Joint Committee of both Houses be appointed to consider and report upon the Declaration which the Sovereign is by Statute compelled to make upon oath after his accession to the Throne."—(The Lord Herries.)
§ LORD BRAYE
I regret that when a fortnight ago I brought this subject before the House the noble Marquess the Prime Minister gave a very discouraging-answer. A few days after we were informed that the House of Representatives of Canada had passed, by an overwhelming majority, a resolution to the effect that this Declaration was offensive. In the meantime I ventured to introduce a. Bill into your Lordships' House directly dealing with the subject, and it was read a first time. The Bill is a very short one, but it aims at abolishing altogether the objectionable words in this Declaration. At the present moment I do not wish to press the Bill, but at the same time I am unwilling to withdraw it altogether. There 375 fore I will leave it on the Table of the House and watch the result of the Committee which, I understand, will be granted. I must say that I would have preferred to have an expression of the House directly upon the Bill, as I fail to see the necessity of referring the matter to a Committee. If, however, the result is the same I shall be quite content, and I am sure the appointment of the Committee will be welcomed by all Catholics in the Empire. This statute is polemical. This is not the place to enter into acute theological questions. Theological difficulties and controversies enter, as we know, into political questions, but since the principle of the Revolution has overspread the whole of Europe the tendency is that theological questions should be withdrawn into the sphere of churches and theological assemblies. Therefore I refrain from entering into the subject-matter of the Declaration. Rut I would i mention that the doctrine of tran-substantiation and the honour paid to the Mother of Cod arc the two test doctrines 'which have divided Europe for more than three hundred years. This Committee will probably not report until July, and it is quite possible, although I sincerely trust such will not be the case, that the present Sovereign may die in the meantime. I therefore hope the Committee will expedite their labours and come to a conclusion as soon as possible, as otherwise Parliament could not prevent this Declaration being taken again. I will now call attention, in a very few words, to the Bill which I ventured to lay—
§ LORD BRAYE
If I am out of order I will not refer to the Bill I introduced ! the other day. I would only say that it does not deal with the Coronation Oath, but only with the abolition and cancelling of the specific Oath. This is a free country, and if the King disbelieves in the Roman Catholic religion he is at liberty to declare his disbelief.
§ *THE EARL, OF PORTSMOUTH
— who had given notice to ask (1) the Lord Privy Seal whether he will lay upon the Table of the House the 376 terms of the proposed reference to a Committee of the language of the Declaration made by the King according to the Constitution on the occasion of his opening his first Parliament; (2) is the language of the Coronation Oath also referred to a Committee; (3) what is to be the constitution of the Committee?—said: My Lords, perhaps I may, for the convenience of your Lordships, say what I have to say now, instead of putting to the noble Marquess the question standing in my name, which was placed on the Paper before the motion of Lord Herries was handed in. The speech of my noble friend Lord Herries has answered two of the points of my question, and it is now quite clear that the Coronation Oath is not to be referred to this Committee; and as to the constitution of the Committee, I have no doubt we shall in due course know that from the noble Marquess. My only reason in rising to address the House is to draw a distinction which I think has been rather lost sight of by the two noble Lords who have spoken. I agree entirely with those noble Lords that the words of the statutory Declaration which refer to the Sacrifice of the Mass in the Roman Church as "idolatrous and superstitious" are most offensive, and naturally offensive, to Roman Catholics, and I think they are most unnecessary; still, I hope your Lordships will bear in mind what the noble Marquess himself, I am sure, is fully conscious of, that you cannot deal with a question of this kind, touching questions of religion and religious controversy, without incurring the very serious danger of arousing a great deal of religious excitement; while the language referred to is deserving of condemnation as applied to Roman Catholics, it is felt by a large number of people to be important that His Majesty should state that he himself does not believe in transubstantiation, because there is a large school of thought not within the pale of the Roman Catholic Church, but within the pale of the English Church itself, which is in favour of that doctrine. I should be the last person to wish that any words should remain in the Declaration which could be naturally and fairly interpreted and accepted by Roman Catholics as an insult to then-religion. I hope, therefore, that the 377 terms of reference, which the noble Marquess will no doubt lay upon the Table, will be perfectly clear, as I cannot imagine anything more likely to cause uneasiness and distrust in the country unless the exact points which the Committee have to consider are plainly set out.
My Lords, this question is not quite so simple as it has been made to appear. There are a certain number of His Majesty's subjects who feel strongly that alterations are not desirable in this direction. They do not want for one moment to interfere with individual liberty, hut there are. they say, certain possible dangers which may be incurred if the Book of Common Prayer is tampered with. The Thirty-nine Articles include a good many strong statements as to the Mass and other Roman Catholic doctrines. There are others who feel that the liberty given to Roman Catholics in this kingdom ought to be reciprocated by Roman Catholic countries. The noble Marquess knows cases in which such intolerance prevails in other countries that it is difficult to protect Protestants, who are constantly molested and have their property interfered with. Those who are in authority in Rome and elsewhere do not give the same liberty with regard to holding property and other matters as is given in Croat Britain. We do not call the Reformation a revolution, as the noble lord called it: we prefer to call it a reformation. We believe that it is not quite right to say that all religions equally bring liberty and progress, and we believe that our national progress has had something to do with the liberty of conscience which we hold so dear. With regard to the question of strong language, those of your Lordships who take the trouble to read the daily newspapers will have seen that strong language is not used by one side alone. We had some strong language lately from Cardinal Vaughan in a pastoral in which he asked his co-religionists to use their political influence in a certain direction, and they have done so to some purpose. We were told that this question was not going to be opened, and that the country was not to be disturbed by these discussions. Many people, therefore, regarded with dismay the surrender in the House 378 of Commons and the circumstances under which this Committee was promised, especially as in this House we had had an assurance that we would have a quiet summer without these controversial matters with reference to the King's Declaration being raised.
We hoped that we should not be disturbed by discussions on this question. We believe that there are principles involved in the proposed alteration which are very far-reaching and important. There are many who feel strongly on the other side with reference to what is now being agitated in this House and elsewhere.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, this debate has wandered somewhat widely from the point, and I do not intend to follow its erratic course. Many historical and theological questions have been dealt with from various points of view, but it does not seem to me necessary that we should at present examine them. In the same way I do not propose to go into the question how far there is an exhibition of intolerance abroad, and whether there are any proceedings which from that point of view we might condemn. I think I heard a certain pastoral of Cardinal Vaughan referred to in terms of severe condemnation. I have not seen the pastoral and I do not know what it contains, but I am certain that any question with regard to it does not arise upon the subject which we have under our discussion now, for nobody has ever proposed that now or at any later period the Sovereign of this realm should be compelled to recite the pastorals of Cardinal Vaughan.
I confess that until I heard the speech of the noble Lord who has just sat down I thought that upon the substance and essence of this matter there was very little difference of opinion. Until the contrary is proved, I shall assume that, with quite infinitesimal exceptions, we all of us regret very much that language of such indecent violence has ever been placed by statute in an oath which is required to be taken by the Sovereign of the realm. It is a matter of deep regret. 379 But it does not follow that the damage that is done can be removed simply by repealing the enactment. You never can retrace your steps at so little cost as that. From what we have heard to-night and what we have heard elsewhere we know very well that if this House did—I do not say it will not do so—come to a decision to modify or repeal the Act in question there would be a great many people, perfectly sincere, though not very wise, who would say that you were giving some support to the doctrine of transubstantiation. Therefore it behoves us to move cautiously in this matter. I entirely repudiate the idea, however, that I have ever held out any assurance that the matter should not be meddled with. I only pointed out the great difficulties that attended it, and. in view of the material obstacles to legislation on difficult questions which exist elsewhere, I felt myself unable to hold out any confident hope that we would be able to deal with the question in the present session. I do not desire now to hold different language. The future will reveal to us what it is has to bring.
At present the difficulties are still very great; but certainly the most effective manner of dealing with those difficulties is to inquire into them; and, therefore, when it was intimated on the part of Lord Herries that he wished to ask for the reference of this question to a Committee, I assented at once. I thought a Committee would be a very suitable means of examining into it. But in doing so, I do not bind myself to accept the terms of the motion of the noble Lord, because I think that the motion as it I stands now would be exposed to some of the misunderstanding that I have already pointed to. There is no doubt that this Declaration has been imposed on the Sovereign for the purpose of securing that arrangement which for brevity I shall call the Protestant succession. That is the object of the Oath. If we remove the Oath and do nothing further, I think there will be a very large number of people who will think you have not treated the matter as sufficiently important, and have not paid sufficient regard to the dominant considerations which for centuries have led the nation to cherish the Protestant succession. That is a difficulty which, 380 of course, is inherent, and by the mere fact of retracing your steps you are always believed to be doing and intending to do something further than the mere negative of the course you took before. Therefore if the noble Lord proposes the motion in this form I shall be compelled reluctantly to oppose it; but if he would be willing to allow me to add a clause of this kind—or. if he does not like to commit himself to language which might not be agreeable to him, would allow the Government to move it with the addition which I am about to propose—there would be very little difficulty in setting on foot the investigation he desires.
The words I should like to add are these—And whether the language can be modified advantageously without diminishing its efficacy as a security for the maintenance of the Protestant succession.I am rather disposed to agree with the noble Lord, without being in any way bigoted, that it would be better if the Roman Catholic Peers stood aside from the Committee and allowed their fellow Peers to judge in this matter, as I think they would be somewhat embarrassed in dealing with it. I know that if we do this we shall have to confront the somewhat anomalous arrangement that the Roman Catholic members of the Lower House might be members of the Committee. I hope the Roman Catholic members of the Lower House may not be too sensitive, or they may think it implied that we thought their consciences less susceptible than those of the Roman Catholic members of this House. However, that is for them to decide. I think the Joint Committee should be an ordinary one, composed of five members from each House. With respect to the Coronation Oath, I should like to have an opportunity of examining it—I have not its terms in my mind—before deciding whether it should be included in the reference; but I do not see any reason, in the nature of things why the Coronation Oath should not be dealt with by this Committee. If the noble Lord leaves it to the Government, I shall move it on Thursday, and at the same time put down the names of the Peers we should propose to contribute to the Joint Committee.
§ LORD HERRIES
I have been appealed to by the noble Marquess, who appears to be ready to accept the motion on condition that the words which he has read to your Lordships are added. I thought that in proposing the motion I had made it as wide as possible, and I presumed that the Committee would see that those guarantees which the noble Marquess seems to think necessary were carried out. But as the noble Marquess prefers that in the reference to the Committee these words should be added in order to make that quite certain. I have no objection to their being added, although I do not propose them myself.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Will the noble Lord withdraw his motion now. and allow me to move it in its amended form on Thursday?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
On Thursday next I shall move. "That a Joint Committee of both Houses be appointed to consider the Declaration required of the Sovereign on his accession by the Bill of Bights, and to report whether its language can be modified advantageously without diminishing its efficiency as a security for the maintenance of the Protestant succession."
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Subject to examination of its terms. I do not think that the motion as amended would take in the Coronation Oath; that would have to be a separate reference.
§ Motion, by leave of the House, withdrawn.