Hilaire Belloc bought King's Land (in Shipley, Sussex), 5 acres and a working windmill for £1000 in 1907 and it was his home for the rest of his life. Belloc loved Sussex as few other writers have loved her: he lived there for most of his 83 years, he tramped the length and breadth of the county, slept under her hedgerows, drank in her inns, sailed her coast and her rivers and wrote several incomparable books about her. "He does not die that can bequeath Some influence to the land he knows, Or dares, persistent, interwreath Love permanent with the wild hedgerows; He does not die, but still remains Substantiate with his darling plains."

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Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Hilaire Belloc M.P. - Contribution to the Roman Catholic Disabilities Removal Bill, House of Commons, 14th May 1909.


The object of this Bill is to repeal certain penal enactments affecting only Roman Catholic religious communities of men in Great Britain and Ireland, and to place the members of those communities in the same position, in respect of the right to acquire property, as that now occupied by the members of all religious communities of women. 

There is but little real division of opinion in this House upon this measure, but I may be excused if I take a somewhat different attitude with regard to the Bill than any speaker has yet taken. That attitude is this: Were I asked as a member of the general public to attend a public meeting in favour of the Bill, I should attend such a meeting as a Catholic, and I should speak in favour of the Bill, but I should say that on the face of it, only on the face of it, it was a matter of title, and a matter to me somewhat indifferent. I am not at issue with the Noble Lord, who spoke so strongly with regard to the words in the oath of the King at the time of the Coronation. They are, to my point of view, a blasphemy, but they have an historical place; their presence in the ritual of the Coronation is, historically, perfectly easy to understand: It is the custom of things which have a strongly rooted historical origin to continue beyond the time in which they might be of practical use. Personally I confess that things of this sort do not greatly move me. If a judge does not wear his wig in hot weather it does not matter. At one time the wig conferred social position, and I should say the same with regard to the wearing of the sword. And in reference to this declaration, it is something like a historical relic, and it does not move me so strongly as many other matters concerning my faith.
In regard to the Lord Lieutenancy and the Lord Chancellorship, it does seem to me that in reference to the latter there is a hardship, because the Bar is a profession not only very much favoured by members of my community, but it is almost the only profession in which it is not even grievously handicapped. The House may not like to hear that, but it is the truth. It is quite possible in the near future some other man of eminence may rise to the position of Lord Russell of Killowen, and, owing to an historical accident, may find himself debarred from the highest legal position. As to the Lord Lieutenancy, I do not hold the same views. It is not an office to which many men aspire, and no one would like to say how many more years it is likely to last. Things are moving so fast with regard to Ireland ever since the land settlement. It is a mere technical matter, and if you did abolish it the first thing the English Government would do would be to send a kind of Catholic who, from what I know of Irishmen, would not be very popular. I think you had better have things as they are now. The Lord Lieutenancy is a very small matter, and only concerns a little group of very rich men. The Catholic Church in this society, as in every modern society, has to meet the forces against it with very different weapons than the repeal of ancient constitutions. My reasons for voting for this Bill, though I have been emphasising the unimportance of some of its details, are very grave ones. In the first place, for a reason which has become less popular and may sound a little doctrinaire, I do not see how a man, consistently democratic or liberal, can help voting for the Bill. If I heard of a community of two or three millions of people in England or Scotland, and if I heard that their opinions were permeating the social life of the community and there lay against it specific disabilities such as do still exist against those of my faith, I would vote, whether I was a member of the Communion or not, for the removal of those disabilities.
That is the spirit in which Mr. Gladstone acted, in which Mr. Asquith acted in former years, that is the spirit in which I would imagine John Bright would have acted. I could imagine no old name in the Liberals of the past in which this principle has not been accepted. I can imagine no man who would have repudiated the principle underlying this Bill. That is probably a small point as modern thought goes, but to me a very grave one.
I would just say, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for the Cricklade Division, whom I have respected for many years, I can give him the origin of the phrase which he quoted. It was supposed to have come from a militant Catholic, who never said anything of the sort. I can further tell him what the doctrine of all Catholics is as to toleration, and must be, and I give it on no less an authority than St. Thomas Aquinas. Where you have a united society holding one united philosophy, whether Catholic or not, there is a civic right to attempt to extinguish the beginning of changes which will disturb the old tradition of the State. That is the Catholic position, and it is the position in every land of Catholic theology and Catholic philosophy. The conception that you can take an existing minority—if it be any reasonable minority—oppress it and attempt to destroy it, when its established rights become a regular part of the State you will find repudiated by all Catholic authority whatsoever, and I will give you the best possible example. During those centuries in which the Church had control there was the small and intensely antagonistic body of the Jews, and in every Catholic country they were left their authority. Whether the duty has always acted upon, that is the principle upon which every Catholic is told to act.
The conception that the Catholic Church denies religious liberty is simply a conception drawn from the sixteenth century. Take the case of the Catholic priest as against the Huguenot at any time between the sixteenth century and the French Revolution. In England for the Catholic priest death was the penalty, and in France a much milder punishment for the Huguenot, and at last no punishment attached to the Huguenot party in France. The Jesuits do not differ from any other order, except that their organisation is a little more rigid, and as far as I know there is no female order corresponding to them. The Jesuit was at one time the light army endeavouring to reconquer for the faith parts of Europe that were lost. It was very largely successful in the German case; but the Jesuit to-day is an order in the Catholic Church precisely as the Dominican or Franciscan or any of the other orders.
The second reason that would cause me to vote for this Bill, quite apart from my religion, is that if there is one thing which should impress itself on the statesmanship of any responsible Englishman at the present moment it is the necessity in every point you possibly can of securing the support of Ireland. I do not believe that there is any Englishman with any knowledge, certainly not any responsible English statesman, with any knowledge of the perils in which England is likely to find herself in the near future, who does not think the support of the Irish race is a matter of supreme importance to England. That note is running through both political parties as strongly as it can at the present day. You have here a matter which, in a temporal sense, and as a matter of expediency, is entirely an Irish matter. Those Catholics resident in these islands who are not Irish are a mere handful. If the majority of them were not very wealthy, they would be an insignificant handful. It is the Irish race that forms the bulk or kernel of Catholic feeling throughout the Empire—in England as elsewhere. But you must remember that the oath to which objection is taken, the disabilities of religious orders, and all these points, on account of the Act of Union, apply to Ireland precisely as they apply to England. I would even go so far as to say that, if they did not apply to Ireland as they apply to England, those Members who have opposed the Bill, eloquent and excellent as many of their speeches and arguments have been, would have had a stronger case. If they could have spoken for a united Protestant nation there would have been much more force in what they said. If any man says that this is an attempt to destroy what is already dead, or that there are points in this Bill which need not be mentioned, because the restrictions attacked are already obsolete, I would ask him to remember what happened in London last autumn. There was then brought up against the Catholics a legal point, and a restriction was imposed with regard to the proposed procession in connection with the Eucharistic Congress. Whether it was wise or unwise, if you could do it in that vitally important instance, where you prevented the chief subject of our faith appearing publicly, you would be able to do it with regard to religious orders. I have seen the religious flame lit on two occasions, each time calling itself by a different name, and, under certain circumstances, nothing would be easier than to raise a popular outcry against the presence of the numerous religious orders which have taken refuge in these islands, and the prejudice already existing might leap into flame. If it did, I believe the most drastic provisions of these laws, which are now said to be obsolete, might be called into operation, precisely as similar provisions were enforced last autumn. On these grounds I shall vote for the Bill.

Source: Hansard

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