HC Deb 29 March 1822 vol 6 cc1387-90
Mr. Canning

rose, for the purpose of giving a notice, to which he begged to call the attention of his right hon. friend the attorney-general for Ireland. Gentlemen who had been present during the debates of last year, on the bill for the relief of the Roman Catholics, might possibly do him the honour to recollect, that in one of those discussions he had insisted strongly upon the state of the law affecting Catholic peers, and had intimated his intention of bringing that part of the subject forward at a future time: he had since repeated this design more privately to gentlemen on both sides of the House. Nothing could be farther from his wish than to interfere, in any degree, with the larger and more general measure, which, if brought forward, he would promote to the best of his abilities: but, on the expediency of bringing it forward at the present moment, he offered no opinion. As the session was advancing, and as to postpone the notice until after the holydays might even endanger the entertaining of the subject at all, he took that opportunity of stating, that on the 30th April he would move for leave to bring in a bill to repeal so much of the act of the 30th Charles 2nd as debars Roman Catholic peers from exercising their right of sitting and voting in the House of Lords. It was due to the noble persons whose interests were concerned, to declare solemnly, and upon his honour, that he had had no communication with them, upon the subject of the present notice.

Mr. Plunkett

said, that the particular measure noticed by the right hon. gentleman formed a very principal part of the great question which, last year, he had the honour of bringing forward. With regard to the general measure, if the expediency of reviving the subject depended upon himself—if he were called upon to say, whether it ought to be brought forward during the present session, or early in the next, he should feel much difficulty in expressing an opinion. He did not say, that he was not inclined to a particular opinion, but precisely he could not take upon himself to say that he had formed one. It had been intimated to him, that the Catholics of Ireland intended again to confide to his hands the presentation of their petition. He had expressed to them how deeply he felt himself honoured by being intrusted with so valuable a charge, and had told them that he should certainly take the earliest opportunity in this session of laying their petition before the House, and of calling its attention not only to the importance but to the urgency of the measure for which it prayed. As to what might be the wishes of the Roman Catholics of Ireland, he declared he could not with certainty speak. On the propriety of introducing the subject at present, he thought that no individual could arrogate to himself the right of' forming a conclusive judgment: it could only be arrived at after a full communication with the friends of the measure, in England and in Ireland, in that House and out of it. For the Roman Catholics of Ireland he thought he could say, that they would be governed by the sentiments of those whom they deemed their sincere and zealous friends. If those friends thought it advisable to bring it forward, it should have his warm, cordial, and unalterable support. As to the noble persons interested in the notice just given, he was glad that his right hon. friend had given that notice without any communication with them. No man in the community could feel an objection to their claims having the priority. They were the last who were deprived of their rights and dignities; and all would allow that they had a strong claim to be the first to be restored to them.

Mr. Tierney

believed, that but one opinion would be felt as to the notice of the right hon. gentleman. From the attorney-general for Ireland, he wished to know whether he had made up his mind upon the fitness of introducing the measure for the relief of the whole body of Catholics; or whether his ultimate opinion was to depend upon the sentiment entertained by the friends of the measure, in England and in Ireland, in the House and out of it? No doubt it was fit to collect the judgment of the various parties, but he would recollect that time was rapidly passing away, and unless a notice were given before Easter, it must be brought forward at so late a period of the sessions, that full justice could scarcely be clone to it. He felt no hesitation in saying, that he did not see from what quarter an objection could come. After the success of last year in that House, and the limited number by which it was rejected elsewhere, nothing could be more encouraging than the prospect at present afforded. The right hon. gentleman was now certainly in the way of knowing things of which he (Mr. T.) was ignorant; but the least he could do was, to make up his mind on this important question.

Mr. Plunkett

said, it would afford him great satisfaction, could he give a more explicit answer to his right hon. friend. He had not been able yet to bring his mind to any definite conclusion, though he was not conscious of having omitted any means of informing himself upon the subject. The sentiments of the Roman Catholics with whom he was connected would, of course, mainly govern him; and he had every reason to believe that they were not at present anxious to press the matter forward. He felt that he should not do right if he now entered into the question as to the time when it might or might not be proper to introduce the subject; but he must be considered as exercising his own discretion on a matter so momentous: he had given it every possible attention, without being influenced by any indirect view, either public or personal. Whenever he found that it could be discussed favourably, he would not be backward to bring the question forward. He begged to remind the right hon. gentleman that this had never been considered an annual measure, to be brought forward session after session. It had been said, that the success of last year was a strong argument for persevering; but he could not bring his mind to any such conclusion. The nearer he approached to the final accomplishment of the object, the more tremulous was his feeling with respect to it. He did not think the state of Ireland at this time, such as to warrant the friends of the Catholics in pressing for an early discussion of their claims; and he really believed that the Roman Catholics had good taste and good feeling enough to abstain. Whether or not, philosophically speaking, the prevailing discontents in Ireland might be a reason for urging the question, was a point upon which he gave no opinion. He did not think it a desirable experiment, unless there was a moral certainty of success. If it were successful, nothing could certainly diffuse greater satisfaction; but if, on the other hand, it were unsuccessful, nothing was more likely to rouse and irritate the people of Ireland. He had only to repeat, that the present leaning of his mind was, that this was an unfavourable season for the discussion of the question.

Mr. Bright

observed, that the measure of which the right hon. gentleman had given notice, was one great step to the admission of the Catholics to political power, and should be resisted accordingly.

Sir J. Newport

said, that he looked at the Catholic question in a light directly opposed to the view of the attorney-general for Ireland. The state of that country seemed to him an additional reason for bringing forward the measure without delay, since, in his opinion, it would accomplish the permanent tranquility of Ireland. The question was not open to other individuals until the right hon. gentleman relinquished it, no other individual was warranted in interfering with it. He was opinion, that the Catholic question ought to be brought forward this session, and that no time ought to be lost.