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Speech Archive

Leader's speech, Cardiff 1895

Earl of Rosebery (Liberal)

Location: Cardiff


This speech from Lord Rosebery closed the National Liberal Federation held at Cardiff on January 18th, 1895. The conference itself was, The Times reported, somewhat lacking in enthusiasm and not very well attended. Rosebery’s speech was delivered in a building erected specially for his visit. Covering an acre, its roof and sides of corrugated iron, it was gas-lit and, according to The Times, ‘the whole of the walls lined with baize and decorated with bunting’. Within a few months Rosebery’s premiership would itself turn out to have been only temporary. In the chair for the occasion was Mr. Robert Bird Chair of the Cardiff Liberal Association (he is referred to by Rosebery at the start). Immediately prior to the speech a resolution was moved by a Dr. Spence Watson. Seconded by D.A. Thomas MP, and unanimously carried, it expressed the confidence of the meeting in Rosebery and his ministers, rejoicing at the prominence the ministry was giving to the issue of Welsh Disestablishment. The speech is not one that might be described as ‘sparkling’. It takes some care and time to explain the situation in Parliament and to be frank about the limitations placed on the government. Rosebery makes fun of the opposition (the now unfamiliar term ‘raree show’ refers to a kind of fairground peep show) but, unsurprisingly given the location and context, the core of the speech is a discussion of disestablishment. Here the speech becomes quite dense, developing what Rosebery calls a ‘cool and abstract’ approach. He reaches back to the Reformation, tries to work through some of the subtleties in the relationship of state, nation and church and seeks systematically to refute opposing arguments. He also, strikingly, employs an extraordinarily long quotation from Bishop Thirlwall (some of which is not reproduced in The Times report of this speech). At the end of the speech Rosebery makes reference to various other matters - the control of the liquor traffic, the need to make it cheaper and easier for representatives of the working class to enter the House of Commons, further franchise reform – but overall the speech, despite being given to a national convention, is clearly intended for a Cardiff audience. The Times recorded (on Jan 19th) that, having finished and received much applause, Rosebery rose from his seat and asked the audience to ‘give me the ease of listening to a Welsh song’. Mr. Abraham MP then led the ‘vast audience’ in singing Bydd Myrdd o Ryfeddodau ‘the repeat of which was given half a dozen times, Lord Rosebery standing the whole time’. The song is a funeral hymn.

Mr. Bird, ladies and gentlemen, - I am deeply grateful to you for this resolution, and for the manner in which it has been proposed and seconded. The proposer is known to all England as, though not in Parliament, much more important than most members of Parliament as being President of the National Liberal Federation; and as for the seconder, I fold the returning prodigal to my arms. Gentlemen, I should be vain and I should be mistaken if I took more than a very small part of this resolu­tion as being devoted to myself. The task of legislation, the hard work of the Government, falls mainly on my colleagues in the Commons, and among those colleagues who have all done strenuous and admirable work, we must all enthusiastically give the first place to the Chancellor of the Exchequer who has laboured so brilliantly and so effectively for the Government, and who in so doing has left so perma­nent a mark on the financial legislation of the country. Now, gentlemen, this meeting, I suppose, represents that break-up of the Liberal Party which is so frequent a theme of Conservative orators, and lately of Mr. Balfour himself. But in any case it is difficult to feel that this is not a memorable occasion, for we meet on the battlefield. We meet on the field where the first blow is to be struck, for, as you know, your great Welsh measure is the first that we put in the front of our pro­gramme. But, gentlemen, if it be memorable to you it is much more memorable to me. It is more than six and twenty years since I first visited Cardiff - since I was last in Cardiff - when I came to the coming of age of my old college friend, Lord Bute. Well, one feels almost like a Rip Van Winkle when one reads the figures of the progress that you have made in the meantime. When I was last here you had a popula­tion of 40,000. I come back and find you with a population of 150,000. When I was last here your rateable value was about £150,000, and it is now over £860,000. And as for your shipping, I cannot get the figures of the year when I was here in 1868, but ten years before that your shipping amounted to a million and a half tons, and now it amounts to no less than 15 million tons. Such progress resembles the progress of one of the American cities of the West. It is a proud and pleasing reflection for the inhabitants and the citizens of Cardiff to see so rapid a progress, combined with so material and splendid a result.

The Functions of the Federation

But, gentlemen, this visit is memorable to me for another reason, and it is this: It is the first time that I have been privileged to address the National Liberal Federation, and on such an occasion I cannot help asking - What are the purposes and functions of that Federation? I take it that your first and your most important function is this: To thrash out the various issues that lie before the Liberal Party. For that purpose you must discuss many questions, and you must look far ahead. That task is comparatively easy, because you are bound and circumscribed by no limit. You might, if you choose, survey the whole field of human endeavour, and mark out in each department what to promote and what to avoid, and no one could blame you. But after this task of thrashing out, there comes a ranch more delicate and difficult operation, and that is, the operation of winnowing - an opera­tion which has to be performed before every Session by that committee which you call the Cabinet, and which is subject to all those influences which Mr. Thomas has so graphically described. Now, gentlemen, the Cabinet have to select from a vast field the Bills which they think should be brought forward in the Session. This is always an arduous task, but it is especially arduous for the present Government. We have inherited a vast programme of measures of first-rate import­ance. That has been inherited by us, not simply from various meetings of the Federation and various declarations of our leaders, but also from the inherent necessities of the case, because it has been our task to adapt to existing circumstances the new state of things created by the Reform Bill of 1884, to accommodate the new wine of that Reform Bill and the new spirit to the old bottles of the Constitution; and I venture to say that that is a very arduous and a heavy piece of work. Now, this programme as it stands now, without any addition, would require many energetic years in which a strong Government, supported by a united and powerful Liberal Party, would have to do their best to carry into effect. But what is sometimes forgotten is this - that we cannot pass all the measures of this programme simul­taneously; that we cannot bring them all into line, and that we cannot order a simultaneous advance like the last charge of our army at Waterloo without limiting the Session to a barren record of first readings.

The Campaign against the House of Lords

I would further ask you to remember that in addition to this pro­gramme we have entered upon a long foreseen and inevitable cam­paign, a campaign which has been coming nearer to us day by day, and year by year, until we can no longer honourably avoid it - I mean the campaign against the House of Lords. That campaign alone would tax the energies of the Liberal Party at its best, because it cannot fail to be long, it cannot fail to be arduous, and you will need all your energies to surmount the difficulties which it involves. This, then, is our position as regards objects. What is our position as regards means? Remember, gentlemen, that very few measures of the first class can be carried through in a single Session, even by a Tory Government. Well, you laugh, but a Tory Government has in one way much greater facilities for the business of legislation than we have, because whereas we have to deal with two Chambers, one of which is permanently hostile, the Tory Government has only got to deal with one. That being the case, we have to consider whether, with the barrier of the House of Lords permanently placed against Liberal legislation, we shall give the House of Com­mons an opportunity of passing Liberal measures, though certain that they must meet with disaster elsewhere, or whether we shall bow our neck to the yoke of the House of Lords and only introduce those Bills which we think their lordships are likely to pass. (‘Never!’) Gentlemen, it is a very easy thing to say ‘Never,’ but if you do not consult the susceptibilities and the attitude of the House of Lords the Liberal Government stands a very good chance of ending its Session as a barren Session, and that, in my opinion, is one of the intolerable disabilities, and one of the intolerable degradations which make our campaign against the House of Lords inevitable.

Bills of the First Class

I say then that the task of winnowing is difficult. But we know also the bewildering amount of oratory which every Bill of the first class entails. It almost seems to me as if an enormous amount of debating and speaking is considered the due of a Bill of the first class, very much in the same way as an Indian prince of very high rank is entitled to a greater salute of artillery than a prince of lower rank, and, I must confess, I much wish that some of our Bills of the first rank could in respect of debating be treated as Bills of a lower rank. We know, then, that a great multiplicity of speeches and of repeated speeches is considered necessary to every Bill of the first class. And we know the creaking and the groaning of the old constitutional machine when it is turning out any great measure. We know also the number of complicated stages through which, by the wisdom of Parliament, every measure has to be sifted and strained before it can hope to arrive at any good result; and therefore you must bear in mind, when our pro­cess of winnowing is going on, that there are only very few measures of the first class that we can hope to pass even through the House of Commons, and fewer still to pass the House of Lords. I do not think that the country and the Liberal Party are sufficiently alive to the con­siderations that I have laid before you; for, whilst this process of winnowing is going on, all Cabinet Ministers are subject to a bombard­ment of correspondence - and I venture to say that the correspondence of even Cabinet Ministers on this point would yield in multiplicity to that of our excellent Welsh whip, Mr. Ellis, but we, at any rate, are bom­barded by appeals, some of them menacing, some of them coaxing and cajoling, but all of them extremely earnest, and praying that the par­ticular hobby of the writer shall be made the first Government Bill. Well, gentlemen, from our correspondence we might gather that each article of the programme was equally urgent and supreme, and each article of the programme equally incapable of postponement.

Pleas for the First Place

Any delay in pushing forward each measure that has been recorded in what is called the Newcastle programme implies, we are told, the alienation of all the earnest and thoughtful members of the Liberal Party - in fact, the backbone of the Liberal Party. And I have come to the conclusion that the Liberal Party is extremely rich in backbones. I do not suppose that it can have too many backbones, but my correspondence makes me feel that there is a multiplicity of backbones in the Liberal Party, all preparing to be alienated if certain measures are not pushed forward. Well, I frankly tell you that I do not believe all this; I do not believe that the earnest and thoughtful Liberals are always ready to take this kind of action. I believe that the earnest and thoughtful Liberals watch the political barometer, and the courses and currents, sometimes even in silence; and would even go so far in the extremity of their forbearance as to give some measure of confi­dence to the Government in laying out the plan of campaign. After all, the Government, owing to these means and to others, has exceptional means of information, and the Government has more to lose than any other body of men by miscalculation: for they have the responsibility, and on them will be laid the blame. These then being the difficulties of our position in the process of winnowing, I think it much better to lay them frankly and freely before this assembly which includes the National Liberal Federation - a body which, at any rate, may claim to be distinctively composed of earnest and thoughtful Liberals - for I believe that there is no policy so fatal as that which is popularly, but I believe wrongly, ascribed to the ostrich, which, when it sees the pressing peril, is supposed to bury its head in the sands, and to have thereby thought to have got rid of the danger when it passes out of its range of vision. These are our difficulties, but these are the difficulties of wealth and affluence, wealth of ideas and affluence of energy, and they are difficulties in their nature nearly akin to sources of strength, and it is only that they may be mitigated in their power that I lay them before this assembly tonight.

‘A Fraudulent Raree Show’

The difficulties of our opponents are very different in their nature. Those are not their difficulties - the difficulties of an affluence of ideas and a superfluous wealth of energy. Their difficulties are those of sterility and barrenness. If it would not be disrespectful to them, I should like to say that their present condition reminds me of a fraudu­lent raree show at a country fair. You are invited to step up. There is the big partner with the big drum, there is the junior partner with the pan-pipes, and there is the handy young man from over the way with a bushel of programmes ready to hand to every passer-­by. So, sir, the bewildered voter or the bewildered passer-by is enticed by these promises to enter the tent, and is somewhat disap­pointed to find nothing inside.

The Last Tory Programme

What, indeed, is the last programme that was laid before us by the last Conservative leader who has spoken? It was Mr. Balfour, at Manchester, who gave it you, and he said that there were three points - cardinal points - of their policy. The first was the mainten­ance of the Empire. I should like to know in what respect this Government has fallen short of its duties in respect of the Empire? The next was to have Socialist legislation, without the last syllable and to call it social legislation. Well, I should like to know what Conservative Government is likely to do as much as we have done in the way not merely of social legislation but of social administration. And the last task of the Conservative Government would be the preservation of institutions from destruction. What institution is it that we propose to destroy? Why, gentlemen, we have distinctly announced that we do not propose to touch the House of Lords, we only propose to adjust the relations of that body with the House of Commons.

We should be told, I suppose, that we propose to destroy churches - but we do not propose to destroy churches, though we do purpose to remove two churches from the position of unjust predominance which in our opinion they ought not to occupy. If then, I may draw any deduction from Mr. Balfour’s speech it would be this, that the process of winnowing with the Conservative party will not be a difficult one, but with us, on the other hand, it is what the French call an embarrassment of riches. Now, gentlemen, that process of winnowing is still going on, and I therefore cannot state to you tonight what the exact results of it may be. But on one or two points I may state quite plainly what the position may be assumed to be.

A Business Programme

In the first place we are anxious that the programme of business for 1895 should be a business programme. We are anxious, therefore, to announce at the commencement of the Session in the Queen’s Speech only those measures which we see a reasonable prospect of passing. I myself think that it is quite rational and proper for a Government with a small majority, and for which both its friends and its opponents prophesy but a short lease of existence - as was our case in 1892 - I quite admit that for such a Government it is proper in their first Queen’s Speech not so much to limit themselves to what is practicable from a business point of view, as to lay before Parliament what they hope to effect if only life and health be given them. But I think if life and health be given, if life be prolonged and health be given, it is objectionable to repeat that process - because the Government are pledged to the policy, and it is unnecessary on each occasion to repeat those pledges. What we have then to do is to lay before Parliament a list of those measures which we think can be, and should be, passed in the current Session. To do more than that is to confuse the public issues and the minds of the people at large - so I ask you to remember, when you come to read and to hear that document, that the principle and basis on which it is framed is that of being a busine ss statement of a business programme.

Welsh and Scotch Disestablishment

My second point is this - that that limitation of the Queen’s Speech does not affect you. You stand first on the list - I am not sure that that announcement would be received so warmly in every part of the United Kingdom. I am afraid that in my own native country of Scotland there are some heartburnings at the precedence given to Wales. They are heartburnings expressed in a genial and friendly spirit, but they are still heartburnings of that nature which Mr. Thomas has so graphically described. Now, gentlemen, I do not think that that complaint is unnatural, but, on the other hand, my fellow countrymen must remember what is our position. It is impossible for us to pass two Disestablishment Bills through the House of Commons in one Session, mere especially when we remember the certain fate which awaits both of them in the House of Lords. All we can do, having given precedence to Wales, for reasons which I explained to my fellow countrymen at Glasgow, all that we can do is to give a clear and tangible proof that our policy in respect to Scottish Disestablishment is tangible and unchanged. Well, I promised at Glasgow that I would endeavour to effect that, if it could be done without any sacrifice of Parliamentary time. To do that I only see one possible course. There is a Bill of Sir Charles Cameron’s, an excellent Bill, which has been drawn for the purposes of Scottish Disestablishment. A Government would no doubt prefer - because, I take it, it would be a more proper and a more dignified course - to introduce a Bill of their own, but if, as I think must be the case, the Government are unable to do this, and if no better method of giving effect to their wishes arise, they will be prepared to adopt Sir Charles Cameron’s Bill as their own, and so to lay before the Scottish people, before a dissolution occurs, a practical measure of Disestablishment in its broad scope (reserving the right of freedom as to details) which they in due course, if life and health once more be given them, will be prepared to present to Parliament.

The General Question of Disestablishment

We now come to the general question raised by both Scotland and Wales with respect to Disestablishment. It seems to me that there are three points of view from which Establishments may be regarded. There is, first, the clear, hard, logical school, which regards all prefer­ence given by the public or the State, or the public in its character of the State, to any form of faith as injudicious, derogatory and degrad­ing both to the State and to the Church. It holds that there should be absolute religious equality, and that each church should be supported by its own adherents. That is a general proposition which it is difficult to dispute, and which, if we were beginning with a clean slate, there would probably be none found to dispute.

A Question of ‘National Option’

But, as we are not beginning with a clean slate, there is a. second school which regards the question of Church Establishments as a question of national option. It holds that it is a question for the decision of the nation which is affected, and that if it be really the national wish to recognise religion in the shape of Establishment, there is nothing absolutely immoral in the carrying out of that wish. It is quite possible that a Church may be happier, freer, more power­ful, if you will, without the fetters of Establishment. But if, on the other hand, the mass of the nation holds to a Church Establish­ment as it exists, and does not wish to disturb it, this second school, of which I have spoken, holds that there is nothing immoral in a nation carrying out its wish. When you recollect in how many worse ways money may be spent by the public, it is perhaps not an unreason& shy;able proposition. You might, for example take the case of Spain, where the nation is practically at one in its religious creed, and I do not think that even the most zealous Disestablisher would say that there is anything absolutely incongruous or immoral in the wish of the Spanish nation to give some support to ministers of religion, whom all equally obey. Well, my creed on this point is very simple indeed, and it applies to much more than to Church Establishments.

The ‘Church’ and the ‘Establishment’

To my mind, the Church and the Establishment are two perfectly distinct matters. The Church is too high for me to discuss tonight; the Establishment is not too high. An ecclesiastical establishment, like other establishments, must rest upon the deliberate will of the people, or it rests upon nothing. That I believe to be sound doctrine. That was the doctrine and basis on which the Irish Church was dises­tablished. It was a missionary church that converted nobody. It was an alien church that alienated everybody. It kept for a minority what was meant for the nation. And so, coming as it did as a stranger to Ireland, and repudiated by the mass of the nation, it passed away. You know another Church Establishment which embodies these characteristics - and which in like manner is doomed. I may be asked, in reference to this doctrine, do churches, does religion, does the Christian faith rely upon the chance will and vote of the majority of the people? That is the question I shall be asked by people in whom warmth of heart hardly compensates for confusion of head. My reply is simply, No! The Church does not rely on such a majority - but the Establishment does.

The ‘Church’ and the ‘State’

Now, we hear much in these days about the State. This, that, and the other is to be provided by the State; as if the State were a beneficent fairy with a private gold mine at its disposal. Gentlemen, you know as well as I do that the State for all those purposes is only the nation under another name. If the State, that is the nation, is to provide any of these things, it is the nation, that is the State, which will have to pay for them; and if it is the State, that is the nation, which is to establish and countenance a religion, it is the nation, that is the State, which will have to support it. Well, under these circum­stances, when you consider the matter in this cool and abstract way, when you remember that an establishment can only exist by the will of the State, and that the State only means the nation, the talk of an establishment long continuing against the will of the nation is as if you spoke of water running permanently uphill. There are no doubt temporary circumstances - circumstances temporary in their nature - which enable establishments to exist for a longer time against the will of the nation than they otherwise would; those I will discuss in a moment.

The Cry of ‘Robbery and Sacrilege’

Besides these two schools of thought from which Disestablishment is regarded, there is a third, with which you are familiar in the Princi­pality, which regards Disestablishment as robbery and as sacrilege. I have never understood what the application of these words may be. As to robbery, if the State, that is, if the nation, chooses to apply funds for one purpose I suppose it has an equal right to divert and set them apart for another. It is what the State is constantly doing. It is what the Charity Commissioners do, I will not say daily, but certainly monthly and yearly, and have been doing for the last thirty years. What it has done with these endowments the State, I suppose, may do with another. We all remember what the State did once with these endowments. How it took them at the time of the Reformation and banded them from the old Church, not all of them to the Reformed Church, but to the barons, great and small, to the adherents of the Court, to the laity, many of whom are ardent Conservatives now, but who in their blind enthusiasm for Church Establishment have not, so far as I know, proffered any restitution of this alienated money. Gentlemen, the State took them and then assigned them, and that in my phraseology was an act of national option, which may be repeated at any moment. If, therefore, I am correct in my reading of these endowments, and if my statement as to the Reformation is correct, it is not wise for the defenders of the Establishment to rest too much on the rights of property, because if the right of indefeasible property rests with anyone it rests not with the Reformed Church, but with the Roman Catholic Church. But we shall be told that that is a question of robbery, a wrongful diversion from one Church to another, but that if you intend to secularise this property, it is nothing less than sacrilege.

Bishop Thirlwall and ‘Sacrilege’

Well, sacrilege is a hard word. I will not attempt to give you my own opinion on the point, but I remember hearing Bishop Thirlwall, one of the greatest bishops of our generation, make a speech in the House of Lords on this subject, and I shall make you no apology for reading an extract from it. ‘I must own,’ said Bishop Thirlwall, ‘that in this sense the phrase, "robbery of God," grates upon my ear. It seems to me to correspond to a view of the Deity which is neither Christian nor even Judaical, but heathenish. When I open the Old Testament I find several passages, familiar, I have no doubt, to your lordships, in which the Jewish people are severely reproved for cherish­ing the vain and superstitious notion, common to the heathen nations around them, that material offerings might be accepted by the Most High as supplying some want of the Divine nature. My lords, when I read those passages, when I read others in the New Testament, in which the sacrifices with which God is well pleased are described, together with the nature of a pure religion or worship, I am led to the conclusion that no material offerings are so acceptable to the Almighty as those which are most beneficial to man. Let me suppose a case not wholly imaginary to illustrate my meaning. A wealthy and muni­ficent gentleman builds a magnificent cathedral in Dublin. A wealthy and munificent lady builds a public market in London. My lords, I believe that each of those acts was, in the intention of the donor, an offering to God, and I believe each of them to have been an equally acceptable offering to Him. But let me suppose that a fund had been bequeathed to be appropriated at the discretion of a trustee to one or the other of those purposes, I should like to know on what principle the decision of that trustee - if he were worthy to exercise so important a trust - ought to depend. I think I shall have the assent of your lordships when I say that his decision ought to depend not on the superior sanctity of the destination, but on the local need or the general usefulness. It is not a question between God and man, but between one kind of gift beneficial to society and another. My lords, the word “sacrilege”’ has been heard very often of late in this House, and I must say its use reminds me of some instructive pages in the history of the early Christian Church. The cry of “sacrilege” was raised against St. Ambrose; and it was raised by a party with which, I am sure, neither any of my right rev. brethren, nor the noble lord the chairman of committees (Lord Redesdale), feel the slightest sympathy - the Arians. And on what ground was this cry raised? Why, be­cause St. Ambrose had sold the sacred vessels of the church of Milan in order to apply the proceeds to the profane purpose of ransoming prisoners who had fallen into the hands of the Goths. My lords, in my opinion, that was not the least meritorious or the least holy act of that holy man’s life. And observe, what does it imply? It implies that - in the opinion of one who was undoubtedly a very sincere Christian, and not at all a Low Churchman - circumstances might arise in which Church property, even while it continued to be capable of serving its original purpose, might be rightly and fitly diverted to another and a wholly different use. I am not saying that in this case such circumstances have arisen, but what I say is that the possibility of such circumstances arising, if that be admitted, at once transfers the question to the broad ground of general expediency and common utility. It shows that such expressions as "sacrilege" and "robbery of God" applied to this subject are as irrelevant and misapplied as they are irritating and offensive.’ I think I need say no more on the question of sacrilege. 

Ireland and Disestablishment

But we are also told that Disestablishment unchristianises the State; that it removes the recognition by the State of Christianity in religion, and in that way unchristianises the State. Well, all I can say is this, that if that be true the State must be in a very bad way. If a State is in reality Christian, it certainly does not need the outward symbol of an Establishment to prove it, and if a State is not Christian an Establishment is merely an hypocrisy and a sham. Why, gentle men, how about Ireland? We heard all these prophecies about Ireland and all these statements about Ireland, when the Church was Disestablished. Has Ireland ceased to be Christian? Has Ireland lost the vigour of either of her Churches - the Church to which the mass of the people belong, or the two other Churches, Protestant Churches, which are in the minority? These Churches were never so vigorous. Never did Ireland so richly deserve her old title of the island of saints. And at this moment she is not satisfied with her own development within her own borders, but she has lately sent out, perhaps with more zeal than judgment, one of her Protestant Archbishops to consecrate a Protestant Bishop in Spain. I argue then that a Church which relies on Establishment stands by that confession self-condemned. A Church may very well argue that it is better off for having material and independent sources of revenue at command. No one can blame its champions for defending these revenues as long as they can, so long as their arguments are not carried too far either in scope or in style.

The Essence of a Church

But though I understand the pain which Disestablishment causes to many excellent and devout people, they must remember this, that no great reform can be carried out without great pangs, and great wrenchings, and great searchings of heart, and great lookings back - aye, and as the result of looking back, as we have experienced in the Liberal Party, a considerable number of pillars of salt. But to contend that these material supplies or the privilege of seats in the House of Lords are necessary to the life and the vigour of a Church is to make a fatal confusion between the essence and the incidents of a Church. The essence of a Church is spiritual; the inspiration, the tradition, the gracious message, the Divine mission, the faith that guides us through the mystery of life to the mystery of death - all these were produced in poverty, in a manger, in the cot of the carpenter. They flourished under persecution. Nothing can be so remote from their essence and their spirit as the wealth, or power, or dignities of this world. Establishment and endowment at most represent the gifts of the laity to the temple - the ornaments, the rich essences, the corn and wine and oil which depend for their merit on the willingness and enthusiasm of the offerers, but which lose all value and all significance when they are wrung out against the will of the people.

Is the Welsh Church an Alien Church?

Then, gentlemen, the question arises: Is the State Church in Wales an alien Church? I know that some of your pastors and masters are very fond of chopping figures on this question. They spend a good deal of time in that, and their powers of calculation are so marvellous that they seem to be a kind of spiritual Babbages, although I confess I am not always able to follow them in their computations. Every man who is not for us is reckoned against us. Every man who does not vote at a Parliamentary election is reckoned as a zealous, though silent, defender of the Church - as one who in his zeal preferred to remain by his own fireside to encoun­tering the discomforts of the polling-booth. So, also, every per­son, every man, woman, or child, who is not a member of one of the four great Nonconformist bodies in Wales, whether he be a Roman Catholic or belong to some other Dissenting body, is reckoned as a sheep in the fold of the Establishment. Now, these are mysteries to me. I hope they serve the cause of truth, but I, at any rate, shall not discuss them. So far as I am concerned, they do not concern me; they in no wise affect my opinion on this question. For me, I am content to take, as we do in most other cases, the Parliamentary repre­sentation as a test of feeling on this question, and Parliamentary representation, you will remember, elected mainly, or even solely, on this question of Church Disestablishment. Whatever may have been the imperial issues presented to the Welsh people since 1880, no one, I think, will contend that any has taken precedence or even occupied so large a part of the mind of the electors as this question of the con­tinued existence of the State Church in Wales. Then, if we are allowed to take the Parliamentary representation as a test of the real strength of the State Church army in Wales, we come to those remarkable figures - and they are the only figures with which I will trouble you. What is the result of the last four General Elections? In 1880 you had four defenders of the State Establishment. In 1885 you had four. In 1886 they rose to the magnificent total of five. But I am sorry to say that at the last election they had undergone a humiliating reduction to three. Well, gentlemen, I do not know that I am to take these figures as the permanent view of Wales upon this question. (‘Yes!’) Oh, you say ‘Yes,’ but you have to watch the signs of the times.

The Methods of Church Defenders

You are not perhaps aware that a great constitutional party, under the guidance of a great constitutional Duke, dealing with a great constitutional question, in a great constitutional way, have met together in a London palace to organise funds and to select candidates for the battle that is about to take place on the question of the Established Church in Wales. A subscription was opened, and while there were some munificent contributions, I will not hurt the feelings of the promoters by hinting at what I am informed was the result of the popular subscription. Now, gentlemen, I agree with you in laughing at all that. It is chiefly remarkable for the light which it throws on the view which a great constitutional party takes of the great constitutional rule - that peers should in no way, direct or indirect, interfere in Parliamentary elections. This at any rate is clear - that a Church Establishment in Wales is an alien Church - and that if you had to deal with that Church Establishment in a National Council of Wales, that Church Establishment would be lost in a week. Well, I contend that a Church in that position is not so placed that it can ever benefit the nation among which it serves or the Church itself, or even the cause of religion itself. It tends to alienate each day the people still further from the Church, and it may even tend, in the heat of party passion, to give some minds a disgust for religion so protected and so endowed. Then there is this further curse upon an Establishment in this position, namely, that those who have to defend it against the nation which repudiate it are forced to impugn the nation itself; they are forced to do that which Mr. Burke with all his genius declared to be impossible for him to do, namely, to draw an indictment against the nation. On the other hand also, they are forced to appear in the invidious and disagreeable light of defending not the spiritual, but the material claims of their Church. And in that way these ministers of a religion which is meant, ordained, to bring peace among nations and goodwill among men, are the unhappy and involuntary, and, I doubt not, the unwilling, agents for bringing, not peace, but strife to the nation in which they live.

Why the Church Survives

But you may ask how, if the State Church is so alien, does the nation tolerate it; and if the Establishment depends on the will of the nation that surrounds it, how is it that the Establishment manages to survive? I am afraid there are two causes for that. The first is the House of Commons. If your 34 members were left alone to settle this question, as I have already said, you would make short work of the Church Establishment. But unfortunately you have only a small representation in the House of Commons, which comprises 670 members, and therefore your turn for legislation comes but seldom. It is hard for the 34 - and I again appeal to Mr. Thomas - it is hard for the 34 to direct the attention of the other 636 members to what concerns those members in so slight a degree. And it is hard for the representatives of the other 37 millions of population which are com­prised in the United Kingdom to give the first and the foremost place to a measure which affects only a million and a half.

The Government’s Welsh Record

I may remark, however, in an aside, ‘You have not done so badly under a Liberal Government.’ I will only refer, in a word, to the sterling services which Mr. Acland, who, I think, is more than half a Welshman, has rendered to Wales and to Welsh Education. Then you have a Land Commission, which is not merely a pledge of policy, but a good Land Commission in itself. And lastly, you have had the first position given to your Church Bill during the next Session. So, I do not think the Liberal Government has done badly, or your 34 mem­bers either. But what is the result of this calculation? That the Church Establishment which you repudiate is kept in existence, when a Tory Government is in, entirely by English votes. Irishmen vote with you for its Disestablishment; Scotsmen vote with you for its Disestab­lishment, and the maintenance of the Establishment of Wales is con­fided not merely to the three valiant beings of whom I have spoken, but is really supported by English members of the House of Commons, who represent places south of the Humber. And while you are badly placed, my native country of Scotland is worse placed, because you sometimes get a Bill which applies to you in common with Eng­land, but we in Scotland are so situated by law and character, and by language, perhaps, that we invariably require a separate Bill for our­selves. Domestic legislation then bids fair to stand still sometimes, both in Scotland and in Wales.

‘A Large Measure of Devolution’

But this leads me to a point on which I must say a word. I, for my part, would gladly see both these ecclesiastical questions settled in Scotland and in Wales. That would be much more satisfactory to all parties concerned, both to you who are affected by these Establishments, and to those members of the House of Commons who are not directly affected by them. After all, there are no questions which are so local or lie so near to inhabitants as these ecclesiastical questions. If you pass the Tweed northward, you leave Episcopacy and you go into Presbyterianism. If you cross the Marches into Wales you find Epis­copacy indeed in a somewhat frail condition, but you find Nonconfor­mity as a predominant fact, and if you cross the Channel into Ireland you will find largely predominant there the Roman Catholic faith. I think therefore I am justified in saying that in these four kingdoms or princi­palities which constitute the United Kingdom there are no questions so local as these ecclesiastical questions. The more I see of our politi­cal system the more I am convinced of this, that in a large measure of devolution, subject to Imperial control, lies the secret of the future working of our Empire. Daily also, in my opinion, that devolution comes nearer and nearer. For the last few years much of the work of Parliament has consisted in handing over business to local representa­tive institutions. You have now representative bodies as before in towns, in counties, in villages, and in parishes; as the people get more and more familiarised with this idea, the easier you will find its exten­sion; and only in some further devolution, subject as I have said to the Imperial Parliament, will you find it possible to work that vast and com­plicated organisation which is called the British Empire. It has been by such a system of devolution that we have been able to found, out­side these kingdoms, the greatest Empire that the world has ever seen, and we shall find in the same principle the solution of many, if not most, of our difficulties inside. In that respect the cause of Ireland stands first but not last. The Liberal Party, in my opinion, will never find its full strength until it has enlisted all the power and sympathy and freedom which it would gain in every part of the United Kingdom by the systematised devolution of local business to the localities themselves. Well, that is as much as I can say on that head.

The House of Lords

But there is another and more permanent barrier which opposes itself to your wishes in respect to Welsh Disestablishment. I need not mention to this assembly the attitude of the House of Lords. You know how it treats Welsh matters; how it treats those Welsh popular schemes of education which have been sent up to it during the past two Sessions. I have no time tonight to deal with the House of Lords - and there really is not the slightest necessity for my doing so. In the first place, I have said freely and frankly in speeches, which you may have read, at Bradford, at Glasgow, and at Devonport, all that is in my mind on that subject; and, in the second place, it is not necessary to say it to you, because it is not necessary to preach to the converted. So long as things are as at present the cause on which you have set your heart has no chance of passing the House of Lords. It would be rejected by the House of Lords by a majority of exactly the same proportion as that by which your Welsh represen­tatives would pass it if it were left to them. Well, gentlemen, the House of Lords is indeed the supreme question of the hour, and all that I will say upon it tonight is this - it is the supreme question of the hour because it covers and underlies simultaneously so many of the ques­tions in which you are interested. All I will say on it to­night is this - that as treated by our opponents it is a mysterious question. When it was first raised the House of Lords was a sacred institution, on behalf of which they were prepared to shed the last drop of their blood. But the gyrations of the Tory Party on that ques­tion have since been very remarkable. The constitution of the House of Lords is now universally allowed to be faulty and defective, while at the same time it is described as a necessary bulwark of property, and the last observation is that it is a necessary bulwark for the de­fence of popular rights. Yes, gentlemen, its latest apologist, and a very intelligent man he is - Professor Albert Dicey - calls it the pro­tector of the rights of the nation. Besides that, its function, as it seems, is to test the mandates that are given to the Liberal Party by the country, and to refer all Liberal Bills, and, if possible, all Liberal mem­bers back to the constituencies that returned them. I have not, I be­lieve, exhausted its functions, but these have become in the course of discussion so multifarious and so remarkable that I am sometimes beginning to wonder where these functions begin and where they end. And - but I must warn you here that I am speaking ironically - I am sometimes led to wonder if it is not the House of Commons that really ought to be done away with. But at any rate you may ask me this: why is it, if this question is so supreme and so important, that you do not submit your resolution at once to the judgment of Parliament, and then to the judgment of the people? I will give you only one reason for that, and that reason is sufficient: because if it is submitted to the judgment of Parliament it must at once be submitted to the judgment of the people, and that its submission to Parliament involves an instant dissolution.

‘I Want to get Something More Done for the People’

But before this good Parliament is sent about its business I want to get something more done for the people. Your Welsh, your Scottish questions - your Welsh, my Scottish questions - even Irish questions only interest, as a rule, a comparatively small section of the community, but there are other and further measures which interest every section of the community and I for one should see with regret the Liberal Party seeking re-election without attempting to deal with them. I put first, not in order, but for convenience, the question of the control of the liquor traffic, which is so burning a question all over the country. Well, then, there is another question. I regard it as a great discredit to Parliament that while we have democratised the suffrage, and while we boast of our anxiety that representatives of the working classes shall be seen in abundance in the House of Commons, we have not made their entry any cheaper or any easier than it was before we made that change. I for one should deeply regret if we met the constituencies again without having made an attempt to deal with that question. And lastly - I do not by any means exhaust the questions, but I take the three that come first to my mind - last of all there is that question which is popularly called ‘One Man, One Vote,’ without which that democratic suffrage to which I have alluded is in many constituencies little better than a mockery and a sham. Gentlemen, you may ask me how before a dissolution we are to get all these. My reply to that is that your fate is in your own hands. It lies with you to give the force and the impulse, and the propelling power which alone can enable a Liberal Government to pass Liberal measures. I, for my part, do not ask you for enthusiasm. I do not even desire it. Enthusiasm is a quick-burning flame, it is a feverish humour which is apt to die out as quickly as it rose, and leave behind it nothing but ashes and reaction. But what I do ask is this, that, while we do your work inside Parliament, you shall give us your cordial, your hearty, and your strenuous support outside Parliament, that you be not led away by every empty wind of vain doctrine, by every breath of gossip or of doubt, that you do not give yourself over to political sloth or political scepticism, but that you stand by the Government that is willing to stand by you. This support we ask, and indeed claim, at your hands, and I believe in the coming Session, and for the rest of this Parliament, and at the general election when it comes, we shall abundantly receive it.

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