HC Deb 05 June 1811 vol 20 cc455-9

On the third reading of this Bill,

Mr. Parnell

expressed, on the part of the Catholics of Ireland, some apprehensions as to the security afforded to them by the Bill for the free exercise of their religion, on account of the very few places of Catholic worship in this country. He proposed a clause for appointing Catholic chaplains to the regiments.

Mr. W. Fitzgerald

contended, that the Catholic soldier had been protected in the exercise of his faith, in consequence of the order of the commander in chief.

General Mathew

was of opinion, the Catholics could not exercise their form of worship in many of the counties of England for want of Priests. He believed that the regiment of Tipperary, composed as they were, nine-tenths of Catholics, would not be secure in their worship.

Colonel Bagwell

having the honour to command the regiment alluded to, wished to state, that he had communicated with the officers of his regiment upon the subject, and desired them to state, for the information of the soldiers, the debates upon the measure. The result of that communication was an unanimous desire, on the part of the regiment, to extend their services to England, satisfied that they would experience protection in their worship in the fullest degree.

Sir John Newport

supported the clause.

Lord Castlereagh

considered that the religion of the Catholics was perfectly secure without the clause of the hon. gent. which would not, if adopted, give any additional security.

Mr. Ponsonby

insisted, that the Bill being compulsory, parliament were bound to insure protection to their religious rights, which the order of the commander in chief did not insure, because that order was revocable at pleasure.

Mr. Secretary Ryder

denied that the Bill provided for the exercise of worship by an order of the commander in chief otherwise than as acted upon in Ireland. The right hon. gent. stated, that five or six other regiments, in addition to the Tipperary, had offered their services, convinced that in England they should be perfectly secure.

Mr. Hutchinson

supported the clause, and Mr. Bankes opposed it.

Sir J. C. Hippisley

contended, that the object of the proposed Clause was not the appointment of Roman Catholic chaplains to the several Irish regiments, as was apprehended, but to secure to the Roman Catholic soldier the free exercise of his religious opinions, not only by the permission of attendance, at reasonable times, at the service of his own communion, but to secure him also from a compulsive attendance at the service of the Established Church; and this latter provision he pressed most seriously on the attention of the House, as it militated much stronger against the feelings of Catholics to be compelled to attend such a service, than to be prevented from assisting at their own. The canons of their church; the reserpts of sovereign pontiffs, and the injunctions of their bishops and pastors, were uniformly opposed to their appearance at places of worship of another communion, and these regulations are enforced by the practical censures of their church. If it be contended that Catholics do not complain to their commanding officers, it does not follow that they do not. feel:—complaint on the part of the private soldier, we must be aware, might often expose him to serious difficulties.—The clause moved by his hon. friend was in fact a part of the memorable bill introduced in 1807, by a noble earl (Grey) who now enjoyed a seat in another House, and we know that the only avowed objection taken to that bill was the unlimited extent of a provision to empower his Majesty to grant military commissions to any of his Majesty's liege subjects, who should take and subscribe to the proposed oath and declaration. The enactment in favour of religious freedom of worship was proposed to be secured, not only by permission to the soldier, of whatever religious communion, dissenting from the church of England, to attend, at seasonable times, the public service of his own communion, but also that he should not be compelled to attend the religious service of the establishment; and those provisions were likewise secured by exposing any commissioned officer acting in violation of them, to be suspended or dismissed from his Majesty's service, by the sentence of a court martial.—The hon. baronet said, he wished to be understood as making no complaint that general orders had not been issued on reasonable application made to the proper officer, with a view to obviate the recurrence of such complaints. He knew, indeed, that four such general orders had been issued in the western district alone, by direction of his royal highness the Duke of York. Those general orders, however, had only a temporary operation, otherwise indeed the repetition could not have been urged.—Sir J. H. said he would not take up the time of the House, by adverting particularly to the great mass of testimony he had received on this head, and which was of the most unquestionable authority. He would barely mention, that since the discussion of this question in the present session, although the general orders had been pleaded to an officer commanding in a northern part of the kingdom, he did not think himself competent to grant permission to the Catholic soldiers of his corps to attend their own chapel, without a special recurrence to the general officer commanding the district, and having obtained his sanction, and permission accordingly given, to attend the service of their chapel, they nevertheless were afterwards marched to the established church with the rest of the regiment. It was unpleasant, sir J. H. said, to state in the House the names of the officers acting under the same influence of habitual practice, but he had no objection to state the several facts, and the authority on which they stood, to his Majesty's ministers.* *Sir J. H. immediately after his speech communicated several letters, &c. to Chancellor of the Exchequer on this subject.

Sir J. H.

said, that the facts respecting the Roman Catholic chaplains, had been much misconceived. Those chaplains who were appointed to the four regiments of Irish brigade, on the Irish establishment, were commissioned in consequence of a particular provision of the legislature, authorizing the reception of those corps, the officers and men being wholly Catholics, into his Majesty's service. The case of the Glengary regiment, which he had repeatedly mentioned in that House, was very differently circumstanced—it was a regiment raised in Great Britain, and under the ordinary provisions of the Mutiny Act; yet his Majesty's ministers did not scruple to recommend the appointment of a Roman Catholic priest as chaplain to that regiment, whose commission was signed by his Majesty, and gazetted in 1794.—This fact is the more remarkable, as in 1798 the law officers of the crown gave their official opinion, "that advising his Majesty to grant a commission to a Roman Catholic, is a misdemeanor which may be the subject of parliamentary animadversion, supposing it not to be an offence directly punishable by any proceeding in the ordinary courts of justice."

In the present instance, in the Irish militia regiments not avowedly and exclusively Catholic, though a very great majority were of this description, unquestionably it would be a very conciliating measure, to countenance the use of a small tract, or manual of devotion, which had been expressly drawn up, by the authority of the Roman Catholic prelate of the London district, and recommended to the use of the Catholics serving in the fleets and armies of Great Britain. An ardent hope was expressed, in the introduction to that work, that, by the authority of the legislature, and a just attention to the conscientious feelings of so numerous a body of his Majesty's subjects, Roman Catholic seamen and soldiers, they would be exempted, by law, from attending the service of the established church; and also, that they might be assembled in some convenient place, with the permission of their officers, and some one among them selected to read the form of prayer indicated in the manual. The general injunctions introduced in this little tract, as applying to the duties of allegiance, as well as social conduct towards those of a different communion, and particularly the explanation of the doctrines and practice of confession and absolution, are points certainly worthy of reference, especially as they are continually misrepresented, and most injuriously to the general interests of the state.

The House then divided, for the clause 21; against it 56; majority against the clause 35. The Bill was then passed.