by Norman St. John Stevas
WAS intrigued by some of the reflections on the side, made by Mr Auberon Waugh, on Catholics in political life, in his sympathetic profile of Sir Peter Rawlinson, the Attorney General, last month. Alas they are not by any means accurate and I feel impelled to put them right. I hope that Mr Waugh will not mind.
A propos o Sir Peter he states quite categorically
that he (Sir Peter) can never hope to reach the Cabinet
as Lord Chancellor because "Catholics are still specifically excluded from this post." Nonsense, Mr. Waugh. I have long looked forward to Sir Peter sitting on the woolsack and there is no legal reason "specific" or otherwise why he should not.
The canard that no Catholic may become Lord Chancellor has bang been current and was given a further lease of life by Lord Simon in 1943 when he said that he would advise a Prime Minister to pass enabling legislation before a Catholic became Lord Chancellor. But Lord Simon was wrong on this as he was on a number of other issues and no such legislation is needed.
His error probably was based on two misunderstandings. It is said that the Lord Chancellor is the "keeper of the Queen's conscience" and that all-important organ could not be left in Roman Catholics hands. That is a metaphorical point and not one of substance to which any conceivable importance could be attached nowadays.
The second misunderstanding arises from an erroneous interpretation of the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829. This Act removed the vast majority of civil disabilities imposed on Catholics but left some, including a bar to becoming Regent, and contained a proviso that is was not intended to allow any person "otherwise than he is now by law enabled" to hold a number of reserved offices which included that of Lord Chancellor of England. This proviso imposed no new disability but left things as they had been with regard to the reserved offices. Before the Act, the two barriers that excluded Catholics from public office were the necessity of taking the oaths of allegiance, abjuration, and supremacy, and of making a declaration against transubstantiation. The Emancipation Act did away with both these requirements for all public posts except for reserved offices. In 1868 Parliament substituted a new oath for all offices, including those reserved, which was in form acceptable to Catholics. The reserved offices were .still barred because of the necessity of making a declaration against
In 1867 Protestants, but not Catholics were relieved of the necessity of making the declaration and finally in 1871 the Promissory Oaths Act did away with the declaration altogether. Since then there has been no bar to a Roman Catholic holding the office of Lord Chancellor although in fact none has yet done so. Even before 1871 there was no disqualification as such. since any Catholic conk] take the post of Lord Chancellor if he was prepared to make the necessary statement, but of course in those days no believing Catholic could do any such thing. I daresay it might be different today.
In 1872 Sir Colman O'Loghlen M.P. sought to introduce a Bill into the Commons to open the office of Lord Chancellor to Catholics. The Attorney General, Sir John Coleridge, in a learned disquisition (Hansard Volume 211: columns 280, 283.) assured him that the Bill was not necessary since the office was open to Catholics, and the Bill was withdrawn. Sonic persons have argued that section 12 of the Catholic Relief Act 1829, the Statute Law Revision Act 1863, and sections of the Test Abolition Act 1867 complicate the issue but it is not so. Sir Peter is free at any time to descend upon the woolsack, God, the Queen and Mr Heath (especially the latter) willing. I do not know whether the Prime Minister reads the CATHOLIC HERALD regularly or indeed at all so that perhaps another of Sir Peter's admirers might send him a copy of this article just in case!
Catholic in the Cabinet
NOTH ER correspondent has maddeningly fore' stalled me in putting right another of Mr Waugh's errors namely that no Catholic has ever been a Cabinet minister in a Tory government. He failed, however. to repudiate the bizarre reason put forward by the author, namely that the Ulster Unionists would not like it.
In his letter Mr Michael Penty rightly pointed to the case of Mr Henry Matthews, Home Secretary in Lord Salisbury's administration of 1886. Mr Matthews owed his promotion to the patronage of Lord Randolph Churchill. The Scottish Protestant Alliance sent a resolution of protest against "the elevation of Roman Catholics to positions of power and trust in the British Empire" since "the avowed aim of the Papacy is to reduce Britain to the subjection of the Vatican."
Lord Randolph sent back a dusty answer expressing astonishment and regret that "persons professing to be enlightened and educated" could arrive at such "senseless and irrational" conclusions. Mr. Matthews got out of the tricky position of having to dispense Anglican ecclesiastical patronage by handing it over to the Prime Minister.
A royal revulsion
REING now in correcting mood I will put the author " of last week's leader right when in a mild but well merited rebuke to Prince Philip over his rather careless remarks on population policy he held up Queen Victoria, the Prince's distinguished ancestor, as a lover of "domestic human life." In fact the great Queen, or "the Blessed One" as she is known to her devotees, loathed childbearing and did not mince her words about it.
"What you say of the pride of giving life to an immortal soul," she wrote on June 15 1858 to her daughter the Princess Royal and future Empress of Prussia, who had announced that she was pregnant, "is very fine dear but I own I cannot enter into that: I think much more our being like a cow or a dog at such moments, when our poor nature becomes so very animal and unecstatic; but for you dear if you are reasonable . . a child will be a great resource".
She was a wise old woman, our late Majesty, and always remained so.