Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Cardinal, the Prime Minister and the Catholic Relief Act 1926

Cardinal Bourne (in clerical dress) in public procession at The National Catholic Congress of 1929

On 13 - 17 September 1929, the Catholic Church in the United Kingdom and Ireland celebrated the centenary of the passing of the Catholic Emancipation Act 1829.

Cardinal Bourne (March 23, 1861—January 1, 1935) as Archbishop of Westminster from 1903 until his death, headed the celebrations in London. See Solomon, I Have Surpassed Thee: National Catholic Congress 1929

The homilist at the Opening ceremony on Friday 13 September 1926 was able to say:

"One hundred years ago, our faith was subject to all sorts of disabilities, it was despised and hated, it had to keep itself secret in order to live. Now we parade it before all the world, and scarcely anyone raises so much as a murmur of protest! What a change in the temper of the people of this country!"

One would not have been surprised if the Cardinal had found difficulty in suppressing a rueful smile: it had been a damn near thing !

Only a few years previously the Cardinal had played a major part in the passing of the Catholic Relief Act 1926. Without the passing of the 1926 Act, the celebrations in 1929 may not have been able to take place and probably certainly not in public legally.

The 1926 Act for most important purposes ensured legal equality for Catholics in the exercise of their religion in England, Wales and Scotland

The 1926 Act is now forgotten. In fact, if you look for it in the UK Statute Law Database, you will not find it. However there are one or two uninformative footnotes about it in the official text of the 1829 Act, which do not explain what the 1926 Act did.

However the passing of the 1926 Act became an essential matter and was bitterly contested at the time.

Why was the 1926 Act so important ?

At the turn of the century in 1900, most people assumed that Catholics did have equality.

It was felt and with reason that whatever disabilities which remained as a result of the 1829 Act were "dead letters" and of no practical significance.

However about this time a number of groups started to assert that the remaining penal provisions were not dead and attempted to breathe new life into them.

The main areas in which there were problems were:

1. Public processions of Catholics especially where the Host was exhibited and where members of the Catholic clergy dressed in canonicals.

2. The status of religious orders and their disabilities in law

Public processions.

In 1908, on the occasion of the Eucharistic Congress, the main procession of the Congress involving the procession of the Host around some streets in Central London flanked by clerical dignitaries was banned by the Government.

See 2008: A Centenary of a Eucharistic Procession

After this, it would appear that the Government was chastened by the amount of criticism which it received and it was felt that no Government would again attempt such a ban.

However religious tensions in the United Kingdom became more bitter especially as a result of the problems in Ireland.

After the First World War, religious tensions in Scotland and certain areas of England became acute.

In 1923 the Church of Scotland produced a highly-controversial (and since repudiated) report entitled The Menace of the Irish Race to our Scottish Nationality. It accused the Catholic population of subverting Presbyterian values and of causing drunkenness, crime and financial imprudence.

John White, one of the Church of Scotland leaders at the time and later a Moderator of The Church of Scotland, called for a "racially pure" Scotland, declaring, "Today there is a movement throughout the world towards the rejection of non-native constituents and the crystallization of national life from native elements."

On the question of processions matters came to a head in 1924. The police authorities prohibited the annual Corpus Christi procession in the village of Carfin, Lanarkshire on Sunday, 22nd June 1924

The police invoked the Catholic Emancipation Act, 1829, and informed the priests concerned that they would be prosecuted for wearing their vestments in public, as laid down in the Act. The details can be seen in the House of Commons Reports:

HC Deb 02 July 1924 vol 175 c1357W

HC Deb 08 July 1924 vol 175 cc1935-7

HC Deb 15 July 1924 vol 176 cc185-6

The status of religious orders

After the 1829 Act, monasteries and convents came under recurrent criticism and attempts at regulation and suppression.

See Convents and Monasteries in Victorian Britain

From a legal point of view, Sections of the Act of 1829 provided that "whereas Jesuits, and members of other religious orders, communities or societies of the Church of Rome, bound, by monastic or religious vows, are resident within the United Kingdom; and it is expedient to make provisions for the gradual suppression and final prohibition of the same therein " (emphasis added)

The intention of the provisions was that all monastic orders would become extinct in the United Kingdom as the then e x i s t i n g members died out.

The provisions had never been put into f o r c e , and Sir James Stephens in his History of the Criminal Law said, "These provisions ever since they have been passed have been treated as an absolutely dead l e t t e r "

However in 1902 the Protestant Alliance applied to the Metropolitan Police Magistrate at Marlborough Street for summonses against three well -known Jesuits under the Act of 1829, but the Magistrate refused to grant the summonses on the ground that the Information was too scanty. He also took into consideration the fact that the Act of 1829 had been, in p r a c t i c e , a dead l e t t e r . The case was taken on a mandamus to the High Court (Rex. v. Kennedy, Law Times Reports 1903; volume 18, page 557) and the High Court upheld the M a g i s t r a t e ' s decision on the ground that he had exercised a discretion in the matter which was given to him by law, and i t was not for the Court to i n t e r f e r e.

Unfortunately therefore members of the Jesuit Order and other orders in law had no legal right to remain in the United Kingdom.

The Church was quite content to let the matter rest there.

However Lord Birkenhead, in the case of Bourne vs Keene, in 1919,pointed out that religious orders are excluded from the Roman Catholic Charities Act, 1832. Accordingly, being still illegal bodies, gifts to them for the purpose of their work were illegal, and void and invalid.

The Inland Revenue authorities therefore refused to a charity carried on by an order the relief given to all other charities by the Finance Act, 1921.

No property could be held on trust for a religious order, and accordingly their property had to be held privately by beneficial owners, with the result that on the death of the holder Death Duties became payable.

This blow to exemption from taxation enjoyed by other charities and religions would have caused severe detriment to religious orders in the United Kingdom.

In Bourne v Keene, Lord Birkenhead, whilst he said that gifts for Masses were not to be for superstitious use, did also go on to say: "That is not to say there are now no superstitious uses or that no gifts for any religious purpose can be invalid."

The law needed to be reformed: it was a matter of justice that orders should be put on an equal footing with all other religious bodies

The First Attempts at Reform: 1924

Shortly after the banning of the procession in Carfin in June 1924, and the lack of Government action following on it, a member of the House of Commons introduced a Private Members Bill entitled "The Catholic Relief Bill" into the House of Commons on 5th August 1924.

It was a relatively simple Bill as can be seen from the Bill and the explanatory notes below.

It simply wanted to repeal sections of the penal statutes and those sections of the Catholic Emancipation Act 1829 which were obstacles to the practice of ordinary Catholics in their faith.

Private members bills (then and now) without the support of the Government did and do not pass.

Further attempts at Reform: 1925

In 1925, there was an attempt to get Government support for a new Bill. It seems to have had the support of the then Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin. He had his Private Secretary prepare a Memorandum on the Bill in Febrauary 1925. The memo is the one above.

It is sad to say that Cabinet support was not forthcoming

The main opponent seems to have been the Home Secretary of the day, Sir William Joynson-Hicks

As Home Secretary, he had a reputation for strict authoritarianism.

Popularly known as "Jix", he was seen as a reactionary. However it should be said that he was also responsible for piloting the Equal Franchise Act through Parliament in 1928, which allowed women to vote on the same terms as men.

In religious matters he was a very strong Low Church Evagelical Anglican. Prior to the First World War he had been a strong opponent of Irish Home Rule. He was a leader of the Evangelical laity and President of the National Church League

In 1927-28, he was one of the leaders of the movement against the revision of the Anglican Prayer Book which led to Parliament throwing out twice the proposed revision to the Prayer Book. See Wikipedia: The Book of Common Prayer: Further attempts at revision

However bearing in mind the composition of the Cabinet, there were others who perhaps were not well disposed to further attempts to liberalise the law.

Lower down in party ranks, there was some anti-Catholic feeling:

"Some party members of Protestant conviction, especially in north west constituencies, grew suspicious that there were Catholic sympathies in the higher echelons of the party. A Conservative Central Office agent for Lancashire and Cheshire, H. R. Topping, wrote to a Baldwin aide that there was ‘strong disapproval amongst individual members of the party’ regarding the bill, and that the ‘ultra Protestant atmosphere’ in some areas had already resulted in the loss of a few municipal seats. He suggested that, for many Low Church voters in Lancashire, ‘this was just the type of question which might prevent those who are wavering politically at present from definitely identifying with our party’.

Pembroke Wicks, a party worker close to Baldwin, feared that there might be a violent Protestant reaction in some quarters, most probably in areas such as Preston and Birkenhead. For some MPs in less sectarian constituencies, there was apprehension that their stance could equally lose them Protestant or Roman Catholic voters. Thus, religion was already a cause of heightened tension within the Conservative party by 1927. Protestant organisations were able to stockpile an arsenal of polemical ammunition to fire at the Baldwin administration, which was now open to the accusation of being ‘soft’ on the Catholic issue."

(From John G. Maiden,
The Anglican Prayer Book Controversy of 1927-28 and National Religion: Chapter Six; Nation and Religion: The Parliamentary Debates )

In response to the Prime Minister`s Memorandum, the Home Secretary also prepared a Memorandum. It is dated 6th February 1925. It is below. He was against Government support for the Bill.

Unfortunately it was the view of the Home Secretary which prevailed when Cabinet met on 11 February 1925. See the Cabinet Minute below

In 1925, the Bill was introduced again. Petitions were presented in favour of the Bill. But without Government support, the Bill was effectively killed off in 1925.

See the relevant House of Commons proceedings:

The Bill was introduced again on 2nd March 1925: See HC Deb 02 March 1925 vol 181 c40

Petitions presented were 3rd May 1925 See HC Deb 03 May 1925 vol 13 cc361-2 361

But to no avail.

It was only in 1926 that the tide began to turn.

1926: The Tide Turns: The Prime Minister backs Reform

Bassano (floruit 1902-1979).
Francis Alphonsus Cardinal Bourne (1861-1935), Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster.
Whole-plate glass negative, 19 November 1925
The National Portrait Gallery, London

After the Bill was sidelined in 1925, there was another attempt in Parliament to introduce the Bill.

This time the Bill was sponsored and introduced into the Commons by Alan Herbert (an Anglican) on 10th March 1926

See HC Deb 10 March 1926 vol 192 cc2305-8

The Bill passed First and Second Readings and then went to the next stage, Standing Committee at the end of March 1926, where it was expected to languish, wither and die off.

But from reading the papers, it would appear that something happened.

In accordance with the previous decision of 1925, the Home Secretary wrote to the Whips to say that the Bill would be blocked. However the Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin let it be known that he had no objection to the Bill. The Whips therefore did not block the Bill.

The Prime Minister then brought the matter back to Cabinet in April 1926.

There then followed a dispute at Cabinet level which lasted until the end of July 1926 as to whether the Government should support the Bill and if so on what terms and conditions.

Considering that this period covered the period leading up to The General Strike and its aftermath, it is noteworthy that what should have been a relatively uncontroversial Bill occupied a great deal of Whitehall time at the highest levels during a particularly serious and important time in the country`s history.

On 27th April 1926 the Home Secretary produced a Memorandum for the Cabinet on the issue. It is reproduced below. He set out his opposition to the Bill in the strongest terms.In particular he was against the provisions for public processions and those allowing religious orders.

The next day 28th April 1926 Cabinet considered the matter. Before the matter could be considered, Baldwin absented himself to attend negotiations involving the Coal Dispute which were threatening to escalate into a General Strike. In his absence Cabinet considered whether or not to support the Bill. The Home Secretary addressed the Cabinet no doubt in terms of the Memorandum which he submitted.

It would appear from the Cabinet Memorandum below that the discussion was lengthy. Apart from certain provisions which were definitely excluded, the Cabinet agreed to further consider the matter.

One does wonder if the absence by Baldwin was "diplomatic" and prevented him from coming into open conflict with his Home Secretary at such a crucial time.

There no doubt followed further negotiations and discussions. It is clear that Cardinal Bourne was involved with corresponding with the Prime Minister, Baldwin on the matter.

Certain agreements were reached. The provisions about religious orders and the taxation of these as charities appear to have been reached.

But it was clear that there were certain issues on which there could not be agreement. One of the issues was the issue of Catholic processions.

On 19th May 1926, Cabinet had a further discussion. Its position was set out in the Memorandum below. There were to be no processions, nothing to affect the law in Norther Ireland and nothing to allow a Roman Catholic to become Lord Chancellor. If there were, the Bill was to be blocked.

There were protests from Cardinal Bourne to the Prime Minister.

However it would appear that there was a section of the Cabinet who had drawn "red lines" about certain matters. If the red lines were breached, there would be a block on the Bill.

Further negotiations ensued.

On 23rd June 1926 the Prime Minister brought the matter before Cabinet again "as a matter of urgency". He advised Cabinet that some of the provisions which had been objected to had been removed. There followed another long discussion. It would appear that the opponents of the Bill were now trying to delay further consideration of the Bill and to "kick it into the long grass". It would appear that the Solicitor General, Sir Thomas Inskip also had reservations "about the detail" of the Bill.

The reference to Inskiip is quite interesting. He later became Lord Chancellor (Lord Caldecote) and during the Second World War, Lord Chief Justice. At the time he was Vice-President of the Protestant Truth Society.

He was one of the diehards who opposed the Bill throughout its passage. In November 1926 he wrote to Baldwin advising that the Government`s stance could equally lose them Protestant or Roman Catholic voters. (T. Inskip to Baldwin, 26 November 1926, Baldwin Papers, Vol. 52/P3, Roman Catholic Relief Bill, Cambridge University Library, 30-31) . When the Bill did eventually come up for a vote, he led thirty members, against the bill

Cabinet backs the Bill

In any event, Cabinet instructed the Home Secretary to enter negotiations with the promoters of the Bill and see if agreement could be reached.

On 30th June 1926, the Home Secretary on the instructions of the Cabinet met with the promoters of the Bill. He managed to achieve agreement with them to allow the Bill to go forward. They accepted the red lines. See the Cabinet Memorandum of 30th June 1926 below

Bourne holds out and presses for further Reforms

However someone obviously forgot to tell Cardinal Bourne. When he was told, he was not pleased. He wrote to the Prime Minister. He protested that there was still to be a ban on Catholic processions. He pleaded for justice and equality.

On 7th July 1926 Baldwin raised the matter again in Cabinet. He read out sections of the Cardinal`s letter protesting about the continued ban on Catholic processions. Eventually Cabinet agreed to allow a free vote on the question and support the Bill. Rather surprisingly Ministers were to be allowed a free vote on the question in the Commons. This breach of collective Cabinet responsibility indicates the degree and strength of opposition to the measure within the Government. The licence to opponents was highly exceptional. See the Cabinet memorandum below.

One would have thought that with the Government`s blessing, the Bill should have swiftly proceeded. However it was not dealt with until December 1926. It would appear that there may have been some rearguard attempt at seriously delaying the progress of the Bill until 1927. There was a heavy Government schedule of Bills but for some reason the placing of the Bill seems to have consistently moved down the list of priority.

The Bill goes through Parliament

In any event, the Bill along with other Bills appears to have gained priority and on 3rd December 1926, the Bill came out of Committee and was debated again on the floor of the House.

The important debates and divisions were:

Clause 1:HC Deb 03 December 1926 vol 200 cc1581-3

Clause 3:HC Deb 03 December 1926 vol 200 cc1584-95

Schedule: HC Deb 03 December 1926 vol 200 cc1595-642

For some reason opposition in the Commons was not great and the Bill went through the Commons that day.

Catholics could have processions with priests in high canonicals, amongst other things.

However the debates are interesting as they throw a great deal of light on the temper of the times.

The attempt to exclude the provisions of the Act from Scotland came to nothing, fortunately.

The Bill then went to the House of Lords. There it received the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the English Anglican bishops. No speaker dissented or opposed the Bill. It was passed that day without a division.

The House of Lords debate can be accessed here:HL Deb 10 December 1926 vol 65 cc1487-96

On 15th December 1926 the Bill received Royal Assent and became law.

The two indispensables: Cardinal Bourne and Prime Minister Baldwin

Amongst the many promoters of the 1926 Act who deserve praise for the passage of the Act, two stand out: Cardinal Bourne and the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin

Without either of them, there would have been no legal equality for Catholics in the 1920s.

Bourne had been Archbishop of Westminster since 1903. His public actions in the First World War as well as Catholic casualties in the Great War strengthened public toleration for Catholics.

His rejection of the idea of a Catholic University and a Catholic political party and his promotion of the idea that Catholics should mix with non-Catholics and not be separate encouraged toleration.

Protestants were alarmed by the successes of Anglo-Catholicism, which by the 1920s was the most dominant Anglican Church party. The fear of Rome was heightened by ecumenical conversations at Malines between Anglo-Catholic and Roman Catholic representatives from 1921-5. However Bourne was not at all encouraging towards the Malines Conversations.

On social issues he was a conservative. He was a blunt patriotic Englishman who seems to have seen things in simple black and white terms. On 9th May 1926, during the dying days of the General Strike, Cardinal Bourne declared in a sermon during High Mass that:

"It is a direct challenge to lawfully constituted authority and inflicts without adquate reason, immense discomfort and injury on millions of our fellow countrymen. It is therefore a sin against the obedience which we owe to God who is the source of that authority."

He obviously found an admirer in Baldwin. He shared similar characteristics with the rather 'plain blunt man' : Baldwin. His lobbying of Baldwin on the issue of the Bill was successful. One does wonder if any other Archbishop of Westminster would have been able to persuade Baldwin of the necessity of the measure despite all the other major problems affecting the Government: the onset of modern democratic politics, the rise of Labour, chronic economic depression, the General Strike, persistent newspaper attacks, imperial discontent.

From the above narrative, it is quite clear that without the support of Baldwin for the measure, the Act would never have been passed.

It had been blocked by the Cabinet. Yet he overruled the block and brought it back to Cabinet.

When his very strong Home Secretary succeeded in blocking the Bill again, it was Baldwin who brought it back again for further consideration until he got his way.

When Cabinet and the promoters of the Bill agreed on a way forward for the Bill, it was Baldwin who overruled his Home Secretary again (and his Cabinet) to get the issue of Catholic processions debated yet again by the Cabinet until the Cabinet agreed to allow a free vote by the Commons on the issue.

All of this was against his political interest and the interest of his party and its grassroots.

The three-times premier was the most important politician in interwar Britain.The reputation of Baldwin was high when he left office but plummeted during his lifetime with the onset of the Second World War. He was blamed for the lack of preparedness of the British forces to fight Hitler earlier and for the policy of appeasement. His critics, including Churchill and “Cato”, unjustly claimed that Baldwin had put party before country on this vital matter.

Why did Baldwin do it ? He was primarily a One Nation Conservative. Social cohesion was his philosophy rather than social divisiveness. His political speeches emphasised the theme of “England”. He articulated a pastoral, moral vision of England, which offered comfort and security to a nation scarred by war. His philosophy was of a moral policy and of a harmonious society. Before 1914, Unionists had been preoccupied by Ulster. The establishment of the Irish Free State and partition of Ireland in 1922 meant that Conservative policy had to look forward and put the old battles behind them. Baldwin wanted to construct an amorphous, broad-based coalition, going well beyond the frontiers of his own party. He was eager to transcend the divisions of class and interest reflected in party conflicts. He was intent on including all men and women of goodwill in a warm, purportedly non-political embrace. Baldwin sought to depoliticise government, to damp down ideological controversy and class conflict, and to convince the electorate that common sense pointed in one direction only and to insist that duties came before rights. His reward was nearly 20 years of Conservative hegemony.

It would be fanciful to think that perhaps Baldwin was motivated by personal considerations. His niece, Monica Baldwin joined an enclosed Roman Catholic convent in 1914. It was only in 1941 that she obtained a rescript from Rome and left the convent.