After what has fallen from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, I fully recognise that the prolongation of the discussion may be inconvenient, but what has been said gives me a right to say what I have to say. I must first of all apologise for speaking, as I do, as a Catholic. No one of the English Members who happens to be a Catholic represents a Catholic constituency, and anyone who emphasises his religion tends, and perhaps naturally tends, to offend, or, at any rate, to confuse the issues within, that constituency. There are very few of us, I think altogether there are only four, and each of us sits for a constituency necessarily with a big majority of Protestants, but I desire to remind the House, as in the old Debates on the Education Bill some years ago, that unless a Member who happens to be a Catholic, though sitting for a Protestant constituency, can voice Catholic opinion in these matters, that opinion will be dumb and not represented at all. I think I may say with respect to the House that, when I speak on these religious matters, I do represent one very large section of opinion, namely, the Catholics in South Lancashire. If we had proportional representation in this country, one quarter of the representatives of industrial South Lancashire would be Catholics, and, if they were, the effect on the House would, I think, be very different from that which it is when one or two Catholic Members rise.It is in the nature of Protestant opinion and Protestant training and Protestant ethics to think that the change of words is very important, but I do not think that any of us of the community of Catholics regard the question of language as being of supreme importance. The language is offensive, it is old-fashioned, it is violent, but that is not the point we regard; and the more we travel, the more we read, and the more we know of men, the more we are convinced of this. We regard Europe 869 as divided into two camps. There is that ancient tradition, that concrete form of the old civilisation which we call The Faith, and there are the opponents of The Faith. That is the line of cleavage in Europe. Were you to abolish all forms of Declaration whatsoever, and were you to make it as it is in modern Persia, and I think in every German State, a punishable offence to insist upon religious differences, it would still be true that it would remain the great line of cleavage in modern Europe. I think the future, possibly the near future, but more likely the remote future, will prove that that type of analysis is just, and that the great division between modern men of Europe is those who are with, and those who are against the Catholic Church. On that account I sympathise with their point' of view and the opposition which is being made against this proposal.
Although the change of words does not seem to me a matter of very considerable importance, there are points of view from which this proposal is important. The first was very well emphasised by the Leader of the Opposition when he pointed out that the Crown is in a peculiar position in the Empire. It is but an historical accident that this House and the House of Lords in this Island have to decide upon a matter of this sort. It would be more logical and just and more representative if all parts of the Empire were to concur in such a decision. You are deciding with regard to an office that is one link, and the only link, between the various parts of a highly heterogeneous community. But within the white subjects of that community there is no doubt that the Catholic Church, with its political, temporal, economic, and social forces, represents a totally different proportion to what it does in England. It is true that in England our community is a small one. It has been persecuted in the past. It is not growing, or, rather, it is not growing rapidly. But it is not so in Canada, Australia, and other parts of the Empire; and if you have self-government in those other portions of the Empire, with an Imperial Parliament representing those various parts, then the protest against this present form of Declaration would be voiced in a very different way to that in which it is done to-day.
The second point, and it is one of importance, is this: Are you so sure that the mass of opinion, even in England today, is of that anti-Catholic type which many speakers have represented it to be? 870 Let us remember that this House is composed in the main part of well-to-do men and for the rest of what are generally called the middle-classes. I admit that the middle-classes of our society are anti-Catholic, and that among them the Protestant feeling is strong; but I ask the House to consider whether it is true of our present society in our great industrial towns and of our masses of casual labourers that the anti-Catholic feeling exists to that extent? Are hon. Members representative when they speak in the terms of at least two generations ago. I must confess that in all great bodies of working men I have mixed with, or heard, or had the honour of addressing, I have not found that the old religious passions were the things chiefly alive among them. I have found in my own community, largely on account of the Irish admixture, the religious feeling was intensely strong, but that matters, economic and social, carried far greater weight and, if I may say so with respect, it seems necessarily on account of the constitution of this House, a body of men coming on the whole not from the popular classes, that they have their quarrels rather exaggerated. We saw that in the Education Bill Debates, and we are seeing it in this Debate to-day.
There is just one third principle I want to deal with, and I have a certain hesitation in bringing it forward, because to-day so few men hold it—I mean the principle of Liberalism. If you are a Tory, and adhere to the philosophy which once gave that word a certain meaning; if you desire to adhere to the old traditions of State; if you consider the State rather in its historical aspect than in its present aspect; if you are contemptuous of certain individual rights and of what we, as democrats, believe to be the rights of majorities, then you can logically say that England is a Protestant country with its Established Church and its historic traditions. But the position of Conservatives maintaining the old barriers, even against the instinctive religious claim of the Crown, you cannot, if you are a Liberal, uphold—I do not know whether the House will believe me or not; it is rather a personal point; but those who did me the honour to hear me speak on the first Education Bill will, I think, admit, and it is equally true of those who agreed and voted with me—that I did not commit myself to any other principle in those Debates than what used to be the democratic principle that no citizen and no official of the State must be troubled with 871 regard to his religion or philosophic opinions. That used to be with our forefathers a commonplace. I do not believe there was a leading man in the generation of great English Liberals, from the time of the Reform Bill down to the death of Mr. Gladstone, who would not, in principle, have endorsed what lies behind this proposal. You have no right, according to that doctrine—a doctrine no longer popular and held by only a few eccentrics —the doctrine of Liberalism—you have no right to impose religious tests upon any member of the community whatsoever. I confess that a paradoxical love of that doctrine, on that ground more than any other, will make me vote in favour of the proposal of the Prime Minister, which does impose a religious test, although somewhat modified.
Mr. PRIMROSEIn considering this enormous change which the Government propose to bring about—a change which I think far exceeds the expectations Members had previously to to-day entertained—we should remember one or two things. We should remember in the first place that Mr. Gladstone said that this Declaration was necessary as a corollary of the Coronation Oath. I hope sincerely I shall not be accused of intolerance when I say I am going to oppose this change as far as I can. The Prime Minister, in the course of his most interesting speech, told us that the Sovereign was the only person who made the Declaration, but from a letter I saw in "The Times," which I should not like to pit against the Prime Minister's knowledge, I gather that all the bishops are required to make it, and, perhaps, it is not very much therefore to ask that the King should make it in his position as Head of the English Church. What people who oppose this Declaration want is a change in it, and not its abolition, but in the substitute proposed for it there is nothing new to what is already contained in the Coronation Oath. The Prime Minister said that when it was framed it was not intended that the Sovereign should take it, but from eleven years after it had been constructed it has been found necessary that the Sovereign should take it. I think it would be a great pity if we now abolished it and thus removed one of the safeguards of our Protestant Succession. The Member who has just sat down read us a lecture on religious toleration. I have not been 872 privileged to read his books, but I am told that, in one of them, he has written in a style of some hostility against a race with which I am very proud to be connected. I should have hardly thought he was a man to lecture on religious toleration. I can only imagine, when my ancestors were compelled to follow the occupation of making bricks without straw, his ancestors were of those who imposed on them that uncongenial and laborious task. I thank the House very much for the attention with which it has listened to me, and I hope it will regard with jealous care this attempted interference with one of our national possessions.