HC Deb 03 May 1819 vol 40 cc1-6
Mr. Bastard

presented a petition from the county of Devon against the claims of the Roman Catholics. He said, he concurred fully with the petitioners in the opinion, that any farther concessions to the Roman Catholics would be dangerous to the Protestant ascendancy. The hon. member presented a similar petition from Exeter.

Mr. Newman

said, he had heard it reported that it was his intention to give a vote upon the question at variance with his former opinions. Ever since he had taken a seat in that House he had always joined the Protestant side, and should do so upon the present occasion, unless he heard arguments much stronger than those in general use, to show the propriety of granting the Catholics that for which they petitioned. He, at the same time, wished it to be understood, that if he thought the Catholics were not protected in their property and religion in the fullest manner, he should be the first to propose securities for their protection.

Lord Ebrington

rose not to detract from the weight of respectability which attached to the character of the individuals who signed the petition from the county of Devon. There were, however, some circumstances connected with that petition with which he felt it his duty to make the House acquainted. How long the county meeting where the petition originated had been in contemplation, it was impossible for him to say; but he could positively state, that no public notice was given to the county, until the 20th of last month, when an advertisement appeared in the Exeter papers, calling the meeting on the 23rd. He did not mean to say what the sense of the county of Devon was on the Catholic question, but of this he was confident, that the sudden manner in which this meeting had been called, was not calculated fairly to ascertain it. He imputed no blame to the high sheriff, knowing him, from his character, incapable of acting in any way but as a sense of duty prescribed. He did not insinuate any disrespect against those who signed the requisition, for their names were unknown to him, as he believed they were to the county at large, since he had never seen them published in any of the newspapers, according to the usual practice on such occasions. Of the 900 petitioners, many he knew to be most respectable, and he was fully disposed to believe that all were so; but he must also be allowed to say, that the very great majority of the nobility, gentry, and freeholders, had neither sanctioned the meeting with their presence, nor the petition with their signatures; and, whatever might be their opinions respecting Catholic emancipation, he did not believe that they concurred with those who at the meeting appeared as the framers and proposers of the petition. His own sentiments on the important question were already declared. Did he entertain the opinion that concessions to our Catholic fellow-subjects could endanger our Protestant establishment, he would be the last man to give them his support; but thinking, as he did, that all those who shared in the burthens of the country ought to participate in the blessings of the constitution, he felt it to be as wise in policy as it was just and sound in principle, to remove the disabilities under, which so many laboured on account of their religious belief.

Mr. Courtenay

did not mean to deny the respectability of the individuals who signed the petition from Exeter, but he should observe, that the names affixed to a petition from the same place in favour of the Roman Catholic claims, which he should presently present, were not less respectable. He fully agreed with the latter petitioners, that it was unjust and impolitic to deprive any body of men of their civil rights in consequence of their religious opinions. Instead of thinking that any danger would arise to the church or state from the repeal of the laws affecting the Roman Catholics, he thought it would add considerably to the strength of the country. For those of his constituents who thought otherwise he had a high respect; but he differed from them very much. There was, in fact, a great difference of opinion on the subject in every part of the country, and this was a reason why every member should come to the discussion of the question with an unbiassed mind, and unfettered judgment.

Mr. Houblon

presented a petition from the archdeacon, clergy, and laity of Colchester, against any farther concessions to the Roman Catholics.

Mr. Western

said, that he differed very widely from those of his constituents who had signed the petitions against the claims of the Roman Catholics. This he regretted, as he respected them highly; but he had the satisfaction to think, that he agreed with some of the most enlightened statesmen that ever graced this country. He would not yield to any man in attachment to the constitution; he hated what was once known under the name of popery as much as any man; he regretted that such an ascendancy should have been gained over a great portion of Europe as once existed; but with these feelings strong in his mind, he could not subscribe to the principle which would visit upon the children the sins o their ancestors.

Mr. Cartwright

presented a petition from the dean and chapter of Peterborough against the claims of the Catholics.

Mr. Western

rose to express his doubt of the constitutional propriety of the clergy coming forward in a body against a general right. The clergy certainly could not have a stronger interest in questions of this kind than any other class of his majesty's subjects individually, but their appearance in a body was formidable, and had an unconstitutional tendency. They looked like a separate and distinct class coming forward to give an influence. The subject was one that was connected with political rights and liberties, and the clergy ought not to come in their collective capacity to assume a political influence.

Mr. Peel

said, it was quite impossible for him to hear such doctrine, without entering his most solemn protest against it. Was it possible for any man in that House to support the doctrine of the hon. member, that it was unconstitutional for the clergy to approach that House as petitioners? Where did the hon. member learn this doctrine? In what books had he read it? He was surprised to hear such sentiments from that side of the House (though he did not mean to assume that any one but the hon. member held such opinions), which on every occasion professed to wish for the utmost freedom of discussion. How could any man say that the clergy had not a right to petition that House? What! was it not enough that they were excluded from a seat in it? Were they now to be excluded from approaching it with petitions couched in the most respectful terms? From the warmest friends of the Roman Catholics he had never before heard the right of the clergy to come forward denied. What, he would ask, was to preclude them from coming forward as a body? Did not the House every day receive petitions from individuals in their corporate character? What, he could wish to know, was there in the law or the constitution of the county to preclude the clergy from coming forward in whatever way they pleased?

Mr. Methuen

was extremely happy to have heard from the right hon. gentleman sentiments so perfectly in accordance with his own, but which had borrowed an additional charm from the animated language in which those sentiments had been clothed. He could not sufficiently mark his dissatisfaction with, or rather abhorrence of, the doctrines laid down by the hon. member for Essex. Nothing could be more unconstitutional, as well as illiberal; for if there was one body whose re-presentations should be entitled to more respect than another, that distinctive favour was certainly due to the tried worth and highly-respectable character of the established clergy.

Mr. Western

contended, that he had been completely misunderstood, if not misrepresented. He did not mean that their petitions should be excluded from that House; his objection went to their addressing the House upon a subject of this delicacy in their corporate capacity. Would it be judicious to encourage applications respecting grievances from various classes of men in their corporate capacity? For instance, would it be for the interest of the independence of that House, that there should be presented a petition from the army as a body, upon the subject of its grievances?

Mr. Plunkett

said, there was an evident misapprehension existing. The clergy had, he said, petitioned against the claims, under the impression that the interests of the Protestant church were in danger; they considered that a question of religion, which he regarded as one of great civil policy, and certainly they had a right to petition in a collective, as well as in an individual capacity; but it perhaps would have been advisable to have abstained from taking so active a part as they had taken upon the occasion.

Lord Milton

said, he should certainly not coincide with the observations of his hon. friend, the member for Essex, if he thought they were directed against the reception of petitions from clergymen as individuals; although he had a doubt, whether or not their petitions, as a body, ought to be received. Although the House might receive a petition from an individual officer, if they were to allow a petition to be presented to them by the 1st regiment of Guards, they might as well abdicate their functions at once. The petitioners called themselves members of the church. The whole community were just as much members of the church. The petitioners were, in fact, the servants of the church.

The several petitions were ordered to be on the table.

Sir George Hill

said, he had a petition to present against the claims of the Roman Catholics, which did not yield in respectability to any that had been brought before parliament on that subject. It was from as independent a body of constituents as any that returned a member to that House. It was from the freemen, citizens, and inhabitants of the city and liberties of Londonderry. It was subscribed by the mayor, the sheriffs, the bishop and the dean, as well as by the clergy of the Established and Presbyterian churches, by all the principal merchants and resident gentry, and very numerously by the middle ranks of society. In short, it possessed every quality to give it merit and favour with the House. Its language was conciliatory, but in firm opposition to any alteration which could in any degree endanger the Protestantism of the throne, of the parliament, or of our religion. These were the sentiments of his constituents, and with them he entirely concurred; but they were not only the sentiments of the citizens of Derry, but of the Protestants of the North of Ireland, with which he had as good reason to be acquainted as any member. He was convinced, at the same time, that this and similar petitions had been thought peculiarly necessary, and had been voted and forwarded in consequence of the unauthorised declaration of some persons in Dublin, who being advocates of the Roman Catholics, had presumed to arrogate and announce a support of those claims by Protestants, which was not sanctioned. Such boasts, together with the taunts of the Roman Catholic press, had produced this and other petitions of the same tendency.

Many other petitions on the same subject were presented, and ordered to be on the table.