HL Deb 29 April 1909 vol 1 cc663-6

rose to ask His Majesty's Government what course they had decided to adopt in regard to the Royal Declaration. The noble Duke said: My Lords, in December last the noble Earl the Leader of the House, in reply to a Question by my noble friend Lord Braye, said that the Government had for some time had in anxious consideration whether any solution could be arrived at in regard to the question surrounding the Royal Declaration, and he stated that they had hopes that at some not distant tine they might be able to bring forward something which would prove a satisfactory solution. The noble Earl added that were they able to do so he had the fullest confidence that noble Lords on this side of the House would be in accord with the Government in their desire to remove what was so very deep-felt and heart-burning a grievance to so many loyal subjects of the Crown. Four months have passed since then, and I am sure the noble Earl will not be surprised at my now asking what course His Majesty's Government have decided to adopt in regard to this question. I am specially anxious to do so at the present moment because a Bill has been introduced into another place dealing with this among other subjects; and although, of course, I do not invite the noble Earl to discuss here anything connected with a Bill in another place, yet the fact of there being a Bill before Parliament does undoubtedly give an opportunity to His Majesty's Government of dealing with the question. Therefore I feel that the situation is one which cannot be allowed to remain as it is. I earnestly trust that the noble Earl will be able to give us some assurance that the careful consideration which for some time past, as we have been told, the Government have been giving to the question is now about to bear fruit in some measure that will remove this great grievance—a grievance which, I think, many who are not Roman Catholic subjects of the Crown also feel to be a disgraceful enactment, and which bristles with questions that ought to be set at rest. I beg to ask the Question standing in my name.


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Duke for having postponed for some little time his Question on a subject which he and many others, I know, in this House regard with deep anxiety, and I only wish that I could give a reply which would be more satisfactory to the noble Duke, In considering this question of the Royal Declaration there are two classes of persons whom at no time we can hope to satisfy. At the one end there are those who will not be content unless the Declaration is abolished altogether, or an absolutely colourless Declaration is substituted for it; at the other end there is a class of persons, like the other, I should hope, not a very numerous class, so enamoured with the phraseology of the existing Declaration that they cannot bear to see it altered in any particular. Between these two bodies there exists, I believe, the very great majority of the people of this country who would desire to see enacted, or at any rate be prepared to express themselves content with, some new formula which would make the position of the Sovereign on the solemn occasion of his first meeting his Parliament perfectly clear in relation to this matter, but at the same time would be entirely devoid of those expressions which are so offensive to many millions of His Majesty's subjects and which must be, as we feel, most painful to any Sovereign to utter. Experience, I am sorry to say, has shown us how difficult it is to find a formula of that kind, because within that large class, representing, as I have said I believe it does, the great majority of the people of the country, there is a wide diversity of opinion as to how far the formula ought to go in the direction of stating that the Sovereign repudiates or does not accept the Roman Catholic faith; and before there can be any real hope of arriving at that formula it is necessary to consult with men of very different shades of opinion. That we have done, so far as time has permitted, and I cannot pretend to the House that the result so far has been very encouraging. At the same time, speaking for myself, I do not despair that in process of time some such formula may be discovered, but I regret to be obliged to inform the noble Duke that in our opinion there is no prospect of our being able to propose any legislation on the subject this session.


My Lords, I hope I am not out of order in expressing profound disappointment at the reply to which we have just listened. I do not wish to be ungracious, but if that was all we were to hear to-day why were we told what we were told four months ago? The noble Earl made a statement in December, for which we thanked him at the time, in which he asked those of us who are interested in this question not to take any action pending the deliberations of the official advisers of the Crown. We have complied with that request, but the deliberations of the official advisers of the Crown appear to have been very protracted. No doubt there were many persons interested, but the Government have had four months in which to interview them, and it will be remembered that the noble Earl said at the time that the Government had then been giving consideration to the matter. The Government admitted that the question was one of great importance, and one calling for action. I really feel that our hopes were raised; but after all this, we are now simply told that any hopes we had allowed ourselves to entertain were futile. We are told that although the Government may be glad to do something some day, at present they can do nothing. I cannot help in the strongest way protesting against treatment of this kind. I can assure the noble Earl that his reply will cause profound disappointment and dissatisfaction throughout the Catholic body. We have held our hands since the statement made on behalf of the Government in December, but I do not feel that' can pledge myself as to what action my co-religionists may feel it necessary to take in the future. For myself, I am disappointed and indignant that no further assurance can be given.


My Lords, I should like to say a word in support of what has fallen from the noble Duke. I am certain that the reply which we have heard from the Leader of the House will cause very great disappointment to large numbers of His Majesty's subjects. It seemed to me, in listening to the noble Earl's statement, that the Government were going the very best way to avoid any action, because he said that their proceedings consisted in going about asking the views of people of different opinions—in fact, attempting that which is generally agreed upon as the impossible, namely, trying to please everybody. I should have thought that the Government, if they had the courage of their opinions, might have stated some definite policy after having made up their minds as to what was fair in the matter, and then have trusted to the reasonable people in the country to support them. To go about it in the way described, trying to please everybody, is to adopt a policy foredoomed to failure; and it is evident that the Catholics of this country will have to wait indefinitely for the removal of what they regard as an intolerable grievance.

House adjourned at twenty minutes before Five o'clock, till Tomorrow, half-past Ten o'clock.