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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 81

Chapter X. — Their Hatred of Religious Equality

page 60

Chapter X.

Their Hatred of Religious Equality.

No one can pretend to be astonished that the Lords should have wrecked the Education Bill by insisting upon the maintenance of religious tests in the educational branch of the Civil Service. "Let dogs delight to bark and bite," said good old Dr. Watts, "for 'tis their nature to." And on the same ground, if the House of Lords exists, and so long as it exists, they will insist upon religious tests. It is the law of their being. "It's the nature of the beast." They have always done it, and they will go on doing it to the end of the chapter. The impudent assertion that they have not insisted upon tests, when they insisted upon rendering it practically impossible for any one to become a schoolmaster in half the schools of the country unless he was willing to teach the Church of England Catechism, is a dishonest subterfuge which imposes upon no one who does not wish to be deceived. It would be more manly to admit the fact and justify it as best they can. To the House of Lords religious tests and the imposition of civil disabilities as the corollary of such tests are part of the nature of things. Every removal of religious tests has seemed to them, and still seems to them, to be flying in the face of the will of the Deity. It is as foolish to be angry with them for acting in accordance with their hereditary instinct as it would be to scold a duck for taking to the water or a sow for wallowing in the mire. If they have been consistent in nothing else, they bave been consistent here. It would be as easy to amputate a backbone as to exorcise the spirit of irreligious arrogance, irreligious ascendency, irreligious intolerance, from the House of Lords.

The Peers have always been the persistent, steady, and unwavering opponents of every recognition of the claims of Nonconformists to an equality of rights and privileges with Churchmen. On one occasion, and on one occasion only, have they shown themselves more Liberal than the House of Commons. In 1877 they surprised everyone by voting in favour of destroying the monopoly of the graveyard, of which they had previously been the stoutest champions. It was but a momentary aberration. In 1880, when the Burial Bill came before them, they showed all their old [unclear: anxiety] to minimise a concession which could no longer be withheld; but [unclear: hat] even for a single session the Upper Chamber should upon a question [unclear: of] religious equality have been in advance of the House of Commons is an [unclear: unexampled] phenomenon, deserving, if only from its rarity, to be mentioned [unclear: t] the beginning of any retrospect of the action of the Peers on this subject, [unclear: it] is the solitary exception that proves the rule.

A debate which took place in 1834 upon a proposal to repeal the law which then disgraced the Statute Book, forbidding the holding of religious page 61 meetings attended by more than twenty persons in private houses, illustrates the position from which the Peers approached such discussions The proposal to allow unlicensed private persons, without taking any [unclear: oath] or subscribing to any declaration, to hold service in their own houses scandalised their lordships, and the Bill was rejected without a [unclear: division]. The Bishop of Exeter laid it down to his own satisfaction, and [unclear: apparently] to that of his fellow-senators, that the Bill was opposed to the Twenty-third Article of the Church of England, which declared that "it was not [unclear: lawful] for any man to take upon himself the office of public preaching," and as the whole Thirty-nine were "part of the unalterable Constitution of the realm," the Bill was manifestly unconstitutional and merited the immediate rejection which it received. The Bill was primarily intended for the [unclear: relie] of members of the Church of England, but its rejection indicated [unclear: clearly] enough the hopelessness of inducing an assembly which held such [unclear: views] to do justice to Nonconformists. They had passed the Bill repealing [unclear: the] Test and Corporation Acts with reluctance before the Reform Act, but [unclear: the] Bills which were the natural and legitimate corollaries of that measure they rejected year after year without the least compunction.

The same year that the Bishop of Exeter had asserted that the Thirty nine Articles were an unalterable part of the British Constitution the Duke of Wellington laid down the law that the King's Coronation Oath compelled him to reject every proposal to allow Nonconformists to be educated at Oxford and Cambridge. The Duke's reasoning was somewhat [unclear: peculiar] By the Boyal Coronation Oath the King was "bound to see that in [unclear: the] universities the true doctrines of the Gospel, the doctrines of the [unclear: Church] of England, were maintained and taught, and nothing else." To admit Dissenter would be to give him a chance of gaining a seat in the [unclear: governing] bodies of the universities, which would imperil their exclusively Church [unclear: o] England character, and so "overturn every principle contained in the King's Coronation Oath." When the leader of the majority in the [unclear: Lord] held such a doctrine as this, the fate of the Bills sent up by the [unclear: Common] in favour of freeing the national institutions from sectarianism might [unclear: be] foreseen. The first Bill opening the universities to Dissenters was [unclear: sen] up to the Lords in 1834 by a majority of 164 to 75. It was rejected [unclear: by] the Peers by a majority of 102 to 85. Twenty-two bishops voted in [unclear: the] majority, only two in the minority. Twenty years later the Peer reluctantly accepted a Bill enabling Dissenters to take degrees at [unclear: Oxford] and study at their own private halls, but the concession was [unclear: carefully] limited by amendments shutting out Nonconformists from all office hitherto reserved for Churchmen qualified by a university degree.

The struggle for the opening of the national universities freely to [unclear: all] the youth of the nation did not begin until many years later. In [unclear: 186] the House of Commons declared by a small majority that the[unclear: sectarial] monopoly of the national seats of learning should cease. In 1865 [unclear: they] repeated this declaration, but in neither case was the Bill sent up to [unclear: the] Peers. In 1866 the Commons carried the second reading of the [unclear: Tes] Abolition Bill by a majority of 114, but the lack of time proved fatal [unclear: ta] the further progress of the measure. In 1867, however, after the [unclear: Bil] had been read a second time without a division in the House of [unclear: Commons] it came on for second reading in the House of Lords on July 25th. [unclear: The] Bishop of Peterborough reminded the Peers of the duties they owed [unclear: ta] "God and the Church," and the Bill was flung out by a majority of [unclear: 7] to 46. Four bishops voted in the majority, and two on the other side. In 1869 the Bill was sent up again, only to be rejected by a majority [unclear: o] page 62 two to one, three bishops voting in the majority. In 1870 their lordships, being again confronted by the demand for justice, condemned the Bill by a majority of 14, but shelved the matter for another year by referring the question to a Select Committee. In 1871 the long fight came to a close by the complete surrender by the Lords of nearly every position which they had previously undertaken to defend. True, however, to their hereditary instinct, they added amendments exempting the heads of colleges from the provisions of the Bill, imposing a new test upon tutors, and preventing governing bodies of colleges from making liberal alterations in their statutes. The Commons summarily disagreed with these amendments, and the Bill went back to the Lords. Lord Salisbury proposed they should insist on his new test for tutors, but the Peers rejected his proposal by 128 votes to 89, and the struggle terminated at last in the complete triumph of the popular party. But even in the hour of victory it was impossible to forget that the Lords had been able to retard for five years a reform the Commons had sanctioned as far back as 1864.

As with University Tests, so with Church rates. In 1858, after many years' discussion, the House of Commons sent up the Bill abolishing Church rates to the House of Lords by a majority of more than 60. The Bill was hotly debated, and, after a lengthened discussion, it was rejected by the Peers by the decisive majority of 187 votes to 36, 24 bishops voting against it. In 1860 the Bill was again sent up, this time by a smaller majority. The second reading was carried by a majority of 29, but on the bird reading it dwindled to 9. The Lords threw out the Bill by 128 votes against 31, 16 bishops voting in the majority. In 1867 a new Church Rates Abolition Bill was read a second time by a majority of 76. On the 8th of August the Lords threw out the Bill by a majority of 82 to 24, [unclear: 7] bishops voting in the majority. In 1869, after the Bill had been referred [unclear: o] a Select Committee, the Lords gave way, and the measure, the success of which they had declared would be fatal to the Church, was placed on the Statute Book with their consent, but without any of the fatal consequences which they had predicted.

The clerical monopoly of the national burial grounds, after being repeatedly condemned by the House of Commons, was maintained by the House of Lords down to 1880. In 1876 16 bishops and 132 temporal peers voted for the monopoly, and only one bishop and 91 peers against it. In 1880 they reluctantly gave way, the Bishop of Lincoln declaring that if the Burials Bill became law, "it will be an Act for the burial of the Church of England herself, not indeed as a Church, but as a national establishment of religion." The Peers did their best to render the Bill abortive. They [unclear: restricted] its operation to parishes where no cemeteries exist; they excluded [unclear: rom] its provisions the consecrated section of cemeteries; and otherwise [unclear: ought] to cripple the Bill. The Commons made short work with these [unclear: mendments], and restored the Bill to something like its original shape. But although the Lords did not succeed in defacing the measure, their [unclear: mendments] remain on record to prove how unwillingly they surrendered [unclear: to] the nation the national graveyards which had been monopolised by sect.

The struggle for Jewish emancipation was even more protracted than [unclear: whose] waged over the opening of the universities or the abolition of Church [unclear: ates]. Even the little Bill admitting Jews to Corporations was rejected in [unclear: 841] by a House substantially identical with that which accepted it [unclear: without] a division in 1845. The history of the Jewish Disabilities Relief [unclear: Bill] can best be told by placing the majorities in favour of the Bill in the page 63 Commons side by side with those against in the Lords. The following is the record:—
Date. Commons—For. Lords—Against.
1833 137 50
1834 30 92
1830 17 withdrawn
1848 97 85
1851 25 30
1853 51 49
1857 140 32

In 1858 the contest between the two Houses, which had been carried on for a period of twenty-five years, came to a close. The Lords, after a vain attempt to mar the Bill, gave way, and the Jews at last were admitted to the full privileges of citizenship from which they had been debarred for a quarter of a century by the veto of the hereditary Chamber.

In dealing with Dissenters, at every stage of their existence, from the cradle to the grave, the Lords have uniformly endeavoured to brand them with some sign of inferiority. The Dissenters' Marriage Act of 1836 was only permitted to pass on condition that all those who dispensed with the services of the clergy should submit to the ignominy of having their banns read before the Board of Guardians.

The Lords amended the Poor Law Bill in 1834 so as to deprive the Nonconformist minister of a statutory right of access to the workhouses, and the first conscience clause passed by the Commons was rejected by the Peers. Fortunately the Commons insisted, and the Lords reluctantly consented to its restoration.

Permission to substitute an affirmation for the oath in courts of justice was resisted session after session, until piecemeal concessions first to one and then another of the sects rendered it possible at last for the courts of justice to receive the evidence of any citizen without insisting upon his being sworn. They attempted by an amendment of the Municipal Bill to reimpose the Test Act in order to exclude Nonconformists from any share in the administration of charitable trusts; and it is not ten years ago since the House of Lords rejected scheme after scheme of the Endowed Schools Commissioners, in order to proserve to the dominant sect a practical monopoly of intermediate education.

It is thus obvious that the House of Lords, in wrecking the Education Bill of 1906, were but doing as their fathers had always done before them. The question arises whether, when so vicious a strain is so persistent in the breed, it should be allowed to propagate its kind? Any scientific stock-raiser would make short work of any variety which so invariably reverted to a faulty and vicious type. Has not the time come when a legislative House which seems unable to expel the virus of mediaeval intolerance should suffer merciful euthanasia at the hands of the nation?