HC Deb 27 May 1811 vol 20 cc329-33
Mr. Secretary Ryder

moved the order of the day for the House going into a Committee on the Militia Interchange Bill.—on the question that the Speaker do leave the chair,

Colonel Stanley

wished; in consequence of a meeting of colonels of Militia, and lord lieutenants of counties, held this day, and their having appointed a Committee to wait on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to-morrow, that some delay might be granted, to afford them an opportunity of urging their objections to the Bill.

Mr. Tighe

stated of his own knowledge, that objections were entertained in Ireland against this Bill. The Irish militia were not precisely on the same footing with the English militia, that is, they were not the same kind of constitutional military force; besides, if the Irish were to be compelled to come over and bear arms in this country, they had a right to require that they should be allowed the free and undisturbed exercise of their religion. In requiring this, the Irish only asked of England to give them the same privileges she gave to the German troops now in this country. He thought some delay absolutely necessary, to communicate with their constituents on this subject. He should therefore move as an amendment, that this Committee be postponed to Friday, the 7th of June.

Sir J. Newport

followed on the same side, and stated that, according to notice, a Catholic meeting was to-morrow to be held in Dublin, to consider of the propriety of petitioning on the subject of allowing the Catholics the free exercise of their religion. If this measure, as was said, was intended to promote union, let it not be made the subject, of controversy. By the 1st of Geo. 1, chap. 13, it was rendered penal to carry arms without taking the oath of supremacy, and he could not see reason why a doubt on this subject should be suffered to remain on the mind of any one, when a single explicit clause in this Bill would do it away.

Mr. Grattan

was of the same opinion, and read part of a letter from the titular archbishop of Tuam to the effect, that the. Irish Catholics would oppose the measure, unless the free exercise of their religion was secured to them by law. This should, he said, be a matter of right, and not dependent on the will of any officer. The introduction of a clause to that effect, would promote recruiting in Ireland, and was beside the least objectionable, and most statesman-like mode of acting. It would also prevent the meetings projected in various parts, and he should, therefore, prefer having such a clause moved on the Report, though, in the mean time, he should vote for the delay.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

could see no cause for delay, as the House were already perfectly in possession of the object of any petitions that might be presented, and might as well consider that point now as hereafter. The free exercise of their religion was the object the Catholics had in view, and it appeared at once, that they must enjoy that under the present Bill, or it would be one law compelling to the breach of another. All that could be wished was the same freedom to attend to public worship in England, as they enjoyed in Ireland, and it was clear that they would have all they requested by this law, which virtually repealed all former acts on the same subject. But if any doubt remained, it would at once be removed by looking at the clause, which ordained that the militias of England, Scotland, and Ireland should enjoy all the same privileges and exemptions on their removal, to which they were entitled in their own countries respectively. With respect to attendance on divine worship, the same order from the Commander in Chief would be issued here, as that on which they were contented to rest in Ireland. He concluded by objecting to delay as unnecessary, as any future consideration might have its full weight in other stages, or on a recommittal of the Bill, if that was requisite.

Mr. Hutchinson

said, that the good sense in which the right hon. gent. seemed not to be wanting in his treatment of other questions, appeared to fail him altogether upon every subject relative to Ireland. If the present question had not been connected with Ireland, how could the right hon. gent. have observed as he had done upon what had fallen from his right hon. friend. His right hon. friend has said, that there would be no need of delay, if a certain objection was removed. That objection the right hon. gent. refused to remove; and yet be contended that his right hon. friend was bound by his own argument to admit the delay to be unnecessary. The avowed object of the Bill was to promote more effectually the union and harmony of the two countries. Did it tend to that object to compel the Roman Catholic to come to this country with a doubt, if not a penal restraint upon his religious rights? But it was said, that he would be put in the same situation in this country he was in his own, and that therefore he must be satisfied; but was he satisfied? was the Irish Catholic content under his present restrictions? Admitting, however, that the present Bill put him in the same state in this country as he had been in his own, but that he did not think it did so, was it too great a sacrifice to the religious feeling of the country to make a distinct clause, which would remove every doubt on the subject? If the right hon. gent., who had been himself so long an eminent lawyer, was sincere upon this subject, he was sure that he must wish to put it in as unquestionable a shape as possible. He would be above contending with what he might call the ignorance or prejudices of the Catholic upon this subject.

General Tarleton

characterised the measure as fraught with the greatest political and military advantages to the empire.

Sir W. W. Wynn

did not think the measure particularly expedient, and deprecated any hurry in carrying it through parliament.

Mr. Secretary Ryder

adverted to the Irish volunteering Bill of 1804, at which period Mr. Fox, having suggested the introduction into that Bill of a clause exactly similar to that recommended by the hon. gentlemen opposite, and having been told that by the clear construction of the law the Irish Catholic soldier would, on coming to this country, be maintained in the enjoyment of his own religion, acquiesced in the reply. He had authority from his royal highness the Duke of York, to state, that on the passing of the Bill, an order should be issued similar to that issued by the Commander in Chief in Ireland. If any doubt yet remained on the minds of the House upon the subject, he was persuaded that it must he removed on hearing the opinions of the law officers of the crown. He here read the opinions of the Attorney and Solicitor General, in which it was stated that by the provisions of the Bill, the Irish Catholic militiaman, on his transfer to this country, would be entitled to all the privileges with respect to religion, which he had heretofore enjoyed in Ireland, notwithstanding any act to the contrary which might now be in force in Great Britain.

Mr. W. Elliot

wished for an additional clause on the subject, or at least that the Regent should be advised to make a new article of war upon it.

Mr. Ponsonby

doubted whether Mr. Fox, having the subject completely before him, had ever withdrawn such a clause as that now proposed: if he had, he would doubt the accuracy even of Mr. Fox's judgment. He rose, not so much to speak to the question, as to notice, that an hon. friend of his would submit a motion on this point on the report, when they would have an opportunity of discussing it.

Mr. Herbert

said he would vote for any clause that would render the Catholic rights clear and explicit, but in the mean time, would not suffer that to induce him to vote against so excellent a measure.

The Amendment was negatived without a division, and the House resolved itself into the Committee.

Mr. Secretary Ryder

then observed, that to obviate any misapprehension of the subject, he was willing to move the insertion of words stating, that the Irish Catholic militiaman, when transferred to England, should be entitled to the same civil, military, and religious exemptions, as were enjoyed by him in Ireland.

The several clauses of the Bill passed through the Committee after a short discussion; and the House having been resumed, the Report was ordered to be received on Thursday,