HC Deb 28 March 1821 vol 4 cc1489-95

On the order of the day for going into a committee on the Bill,

Mr. Hutchinson

said, that as the House had come to that stage when the enactments respecting the Roman Catholic clergy were to be considered, it became his duty to speak his opinion respecting them. Though he might offend some of the friends of the measure by the warm expression of his feeling, he assured them that nothing could be more foreign to his intention than to change the tone of the debate. He had been surrounded by several friends, deprecating the line which he had intended to pursue; he had received anonymous letters, cautioning him as to the injury he might do to the mea sure, and one even assuring him that he would injure his individual interest in the great city which he had the honour to represent. As to the latter threat, he had always assured the Catholics that he had never conceived himself entitled to their peculiar thanks, and that in supporting their claims, he felt he was supporting the interests and strength of the empire. Now, though he felt gratitude for the temper in which the present measure had been discussed by the opponents of the Catholics, and, though lie approved of the bill for removing disabilities, he must deprecate the enactments, which were called securities, with which it was now to be accompanied. He thought it right that the House should not call for any securities: it was his firm conviction that they were not necessary; but if they were necessary, were there no others to be found than penal enactments against the Catholic clergy? The friends of the measure agreed, indeed, that the bill gave no security if there wag any real danger; they agreed that It was highly penal, and would offend the Catholic clergy; but, said they, do not make any opposition to it, for, however penal it may be, if it is now passed to satisfy some unfounded apprehensions, an enlightened House of Commons will hereafter repeal it. His objection to the first clause was, that it imposed a compulsory oath on all Catholic clergymen—not only those who might hereafter enter into orders, but those who were already in orders. It Was, as to the present Catholic clergy, an ex post facto law. What the punishment consequent on refusal was to be, did not appear. It might be transportation for life, or 14 years, or imprisonment for life, or any other heavy penalty. He wished to know on example in which any oath was in this ex post facto manner imposed to be taken. Many persons had great objections to take an oath on any occasion—not only Quakers, but often Protestants. Had they a right to say to persons, who had already entered into a certain profession, "You shall take a certain oath, in order that the duke of Norfolk may sit in the House of Lords, and his son in the House of Commons?" The House was not aware in behalf of how important a body of men he was speaking, when he raised his voice in behalf of the Catholic clergy. There could not be a more respectable, or more powerful body, or one that exercised its power more beneficially; and nothing could be so mischievous as to place them in this invidious situation, that justice should not be done to the nobility arid gentry of their persuasion, unless they (the clergy) consented to degrade themselves. There were in Ireland four Catholic archbishops, 25 bishops, 200 parish priests, 800 curates, and between 2 and 300 regulars. They were the most ancient clergy of either island. The only parallel to the oath now imposed upon them, was that imposed after the revolution in France, for the refusal to take which, the clergy was subjected to deportation, the consequence of which was, that they fled to all parts of Europe. The hon. member for Bramber had a strong impression that the establishment of the order of Jesuits in England Should be resisted. He could inform the hon. member, that that order did not exist in England or Ireland canonically. The pope had objected to it precisely on the ground that it was objected to by the British government. He should not urge his objection further. He had received no instruction from the clergy of Ireland, except a letter from Dr. Murphy. The bishops were, he understood, calling together their clergy in their several provinces. He would ask the noble lord, who had displayed his talents never so conspicuously as in these discussions, what the effect would be, if the clergy should decide not to take the oaths? If the Catholic clergy had decidedly approved of the measure, he might have been silent, though he disliked the principle; but as what he had heard from them on the subject was disapprobation, he could not for any set of men play a trick with his conscience, or with the people of Ireland, but must express the disgust and abhorrence which he felt for these enactments.

Lord Castlereagh

was at a loss to know on what grounds the hon. gentleman would represent this measure, as harsh or derogatory, or why, in the discharge of his duty, he had given so odious a view of it. He could not regard the character of these clauses as penal in a high degree; indeed, scarcely as penal at all. They were rather, he contended, clauses of liberation; and gave an existence to them which they never had enjoyed before. Formerly the Catholic clergy of Ireland, and, strictly speaking, at the present moment, in their communications with the see of Rome, were in the constant habit of incurring penalties under the existing law, which might effect, not only their personal security, but their lives. He therefore looked at this as a measure of indulgence rather, which permitted that intercourse, with the sole provision of observing the terms of a certain oath, which being done, the communication became, in a measure, legalized instead of an offence. He contended, that it was the duty of the House to pass this measure without consulting the particular sentiments of individual clergymen, if members entertained, with himself, a conscientious belief of the beneficial advantages it would confer. He had the authority of the head, of the Catholic church for saying, that there was no solidity in the objection taken on the other side: thus he was legislating with the pope at his back [a laugh.] The general practice of Europe showed that we bad a right to expect these securities. He hoped that the hon. gentleman would not lend his authority to raise scruples which ought never to beexcited in the mind of any reasonable man. He was confident that there was enough of sound principle and solid judgment among the Catholic clergy, to induce them to coincide in the decision of the head of their church. He could only say, in conclusion, that if he thought these provisions degrading to that body, he should not only be an unwise, but a base minister to recommend them.

Dr. Phillimore

spoke in favour of the proposed securities, because, among other reasons, the faith of the House was pledged to enact those securities in conjunction with the bill of Concession; therefore, if the one were rejected, he should feel himself bound to vote against the latter.

Mr. Peel

adverted to what was called the irritation and unpopularity excited among the Catholics, in consequence of the proposed securities; and begged it to be understood, that no part of that irritation or unpopularity could be ascribed to him, or to those who had acted with him upon this subject, as they had nothing to do in proposing or framing such provisions. Those provisions, indeed, originated solely with the advocates for concession. At the same time, he thought it right to say, that the party with whom he had the honour to act, was not at all disposed to make common cause with such objections as had been urged that night against the provisions alluded to, or to obstruct the measure under consideration, by contributing to excite irritation against it, upon such grounds as had been stated.

Mr. M. Fitzgerald

argued, that while the House endeavoured to satisfy the alarms of the Protestant, it ought to take care not to trench upon the feelings, consciences, or even prejudices, of the Catholic. His objection to the oath in the bill was, that in the present measure no benefit was conferred on the clergy; while a security was demanded from them for a privilege granted to the laity. In the present deserted state of Ireland, deprived of its resident nobility and gentry, many parts of the country depended for tranquillity upon the unbought zeal and good principles of the Catholic clergy. With regard to the nomination to Catholic benefices, he was decidedly hostile to any interference that placed that nomination in the hands of a Protestant government. On this point he referred the House to the great authority of Mr. Burke, whose incontrovertible arguments were applicable to all times and to all circumstances. Upon the whole he was disposed to think the measure, properly regulated, a real act of union between the two countries.

Mr. Canning

felt himself called upon to declare, that unless the securities proposed were acceded to, he could not reconcile it to his sense of duty to vote for the enactment of the concessions. The Protestants, by agreeing to those concessions, had sacrificed much of interest, as well as of prejudice, and, was the House to be told that the Catholics would not in return sacrifice any thing? But it was clearly understood from the outset of these measures, that both should be adopted for the purpose of satisfying the Protestant as well as the Catholic; and was it possible to suppose that, after the measure of concession had made such progress, it could be seriously intended or desired to violate that understanding by opposing the measure of securities? If any man could meditate such a step, he was sure that failure must be his fate: for who could be found to sanction an attempt to deprive the Protestant of that price which it was agreed he should be paid for conceding to the wishes of the Catholic? For his own part, he trusted that the conduct which he had uniformly pursued with regard to this measure, placed him above the suspicion of participating in the slightest degree in such an act of treachery. He had done enough, he hoped, to prove that he was most sincerely desirous of effecting the emancipation of his Catholic fellow-subjects from the restrictions under which they laboured; but, if a successful attempt should be made to detach from the bill those clauses, which would have the effect of reconciling the Protestant part of the community to the measure, from that moment, with the same hearty sincerity with which he had sacrificed every consideration to do justice to the Catholics, he would altogether reject the bill, which, passed in that mutilated state, would be a fraud upon the Protestants.

Sir G. Hill

said; that if lie were really disposed to procure the rejection of the measure, he thought he could not more effectually promote such an object than by supporting the proposition of the member for Cork. With regard to the necessity of enforcing the two main securities for the maintenance of the Protestant interests, he would read to the House the words of a distinguished statesman. "In granting an extension of the civil rights of the Roman Catholic body; due provision must be made for the inviolable maintenance of the religious and civil establishments of the United Kingdom. Much must be done for mutual conciliation, much for common safety. Many contending interests must be reconciled, many jealousies must be allayed, many long-cherished and mutually destructive prejudices must be eradicated." Such were the sentiments of a distinguished member of the other House, which, in his opinion, over-balanced all the arguments he had heard against the necessity of securities. He declared, however, that if the present bill should pass, no member would be more anxious than himself to reconcile all parties to the measure.

Mr. Martin,

of Galway, said, that if there was one county in Ireland more likely than another to return a Catholic representative to that House, it was the county he represented. That consideration, however, would not prevent him from supporting both the bills.

Mr. Baring

said, that, in his opinion, it would be better not to insist upon the oath being taken by those at present in holy orders. There might he many conscientious persons, by whom it might be considered as a severe penalty; but the same argument would not apply to those who might take up holy orders in future, because they would then take them with a knowledge that they would be afterwards obliged to conform to the present act.

Mr. S. Rice

expressed his conviction that the feeling of all the well-disposed Catholic population of Ireland was favourable to the bill. The hon. member read a letter from a Catholic of the highest character, in which the Catholics were stated to be thankful to the legislature for the kind concessions which were extended to them. He should support the second bill, not because he apprehended danger from the Catholics, but because he wished to remove the fears and apprehensions of the Protestants.

Mr. P. Moore

said, he had been engaged in a very extensive correspondence upon this subject; and he believed that it was in a great measure owing to his exertions that the bill, was this year brought before the House [a laugh]. From the information he had been able to collect, general unanimity prevailed among the Catholics with respect to this bill, though there might be some ardent spirits still at work, who would neither he reconciled to that nor any other measure.

Colonel Bagwell

was convinced that the; measure would be gratefully received by the Catholics of Ireland, and that it would promote the tranquillity and security of the country.

The bill then went through the committee, and was ordered to be reported to-morrow.