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100 years ago: The Bishops and the crisis

17 August 2011

August 18, 1911.

THURSDAY, the 10th August, 1911, will rank with the outstanding dates in our national history, like the Conquest, the signing of Magna Carta, the murder of King Charles, the Plague and Fire of London. . . Lord Lansdowne’s choice . . . lay between two alternatives — to allow the Bill to pass, and to force the Government to carry out its threat of coercion. The latter course, which the Government did its utmost to avoid, thus encouraging the belief that the whole thing was a piece of bluff, would have appeared to Lord Lansdowne more outrageous than the Bill he had denounced in unmeasured terms. It would have meant the creation of some hundreds of new peers. So he and the bulk of his followers abstained from voting. At the last moment, shocked by the “levity” of Lord Halsbury, Lord Roberts, Lord Salisbury, and other light-hearted jesters, in choosing rather to see the House swamped with the new creations than to aid the Govern­ment in passing its measure, the Archbishop of Canterbury an­nounced his sudden intention of voting against the [Lansdowne] amendments in order that the Bill might go through. With him went the Northern Primate and 11 Bishops — some two or three because they approved of the Bill, the rest convincing themselves, by means of some method of logic unknown to us, that, if a measure you cordially detest can only be carried either by means that would make those who wished to carry it odious or by your aid, you should vote for it. We are glad to see that the argument that drove the 13 prelates into the Government lobby led Lord Halifax, who at first was an ab­stentionist, into the other. We notice that the Bishop of St Asaph is one of the signatories to Lord Rosebery’s ten reasons against the Bill, reasons to be inscribed in the journal of the House of Lords. The tenth of these reads thus: “Because the whole transaction tends to bring discredit on our country and its institutions.” But the Bishop of St Asaph recorded his vote in its favour.

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