HC Deb 30 June 1823 vol 9 cc1341-8

Lord Nugent moved the order of the day for the further consideration of the report upon this bill, with the intention of recommitting the bill. The House then resolved itself into the said committee. Upon the chairman reading the first clause,

Mr. Bankes

regretted the necessity he was under of opposing this bill, because he felt that its object was, to confer political power, and not a mere qualification for office. He could not see the distinction between the franchise of electing and that of being elected. If parliament chose to extend to the Catholics the one, they ought also to grant them the other, and at once concede the privilege of representation. The hon. gentleman then cited the authorities of dean Swift and Burke, to prove that it was absurd to suppose, that one political concession could be made by such a government as ours to Roman Catholics, without all other concessions in church and state following as matters of course. He understood it to be a favourite proposition with some hon. gentlemen, that the numbers of those professing, and not the truth of the doctrine, ought to determine what the religion of a state should be. According to that proposition, therefore, the religion of the state in Ireland ought to be Roman Ca- tholic, seeing how numerous were its followers. But, was it meant, to be said, that no attempt was to be made to advance the Protestant faith, merely because of the comparative paucity or Protestants; or were greater facilities to be given to the Roman Catholics to advance theirs? The whole argument, however, stood in a singular dilemma. On the one hand, the numbers of the Irish Catholics (and they had of late certainly increased), and on the other, the paucity of English Catholics, were adduced in support of the claim for an extension of their privileges. Now, the evils of the enormous population of Ireland were on all hands admitted; but he would appeal to hon. gentlemen, whether any one thing so much tended to create those evils, as the fatal measure of increasing the forty-shilling freeholders in Ireland, a measure which had caused infinite and ruinous subdivisions of property? The hon. gentleman then alluded to the notorious existence in Ireland of an establishment of the order of Jesuits—a sect renowned in all history for their energy, their zeal and their perseverance in the work of proselytism—an order the more dangerous for being generally appointed to superintend the education of youth, and the destructive tendency of whose tenets had caused their expulsion from every territory in which they had settled. The fact of their re-establishment in Europe, and more especially the alarming fact of their existence in the sister kingdom, ought to induce the House to pause, before they did any thing which should encourage the hopes and foster the pretensions of the decided enemies of the Protestant church. For the concessions which the House was now called upon to make, he had heard no one adequate reason adduced. Against them he saw many, and should give his decided opposition to the bill.

Mr. Hudson Gurney

thought the speech of the hon. member for Corfe Castle had little relevancy to the bill before the House. His argument went to the danger of granting to the Catholics an increase of political power. Now, the number of Catholics which by this bill would be admitted to vote was so very inconsiderable, that the influence of Catholics over elections could hardly perceptibly increased by its passing Mr. G. said that he had once been in a borough where one. Catholic had been prevented from voting, but where the in- fluence of a Catholic lord in the neighbourhood had been sufficient to decide the return. In counties it was much the same. Catholic landlords of ancient families and ancient possessions had great influence; but the votes they would carry were votes of Protestants. As to the anomaly of persons being able to vote for members of parliament who were disqualified from sitting in that House, it was the case with the whole body of the clergy; and he did not conceive that his hon. friend opposite, the member for the University of Cambridge, could be greatly shocked with this equal inconsistency.—Mr. G. regretted that the noble lord had been prevailed on to except Scotland from the operation of his bill. The Catholic Heritors there were very few, but of the highest respectability. The words of the act of Union which had been quoted, appeared to him to bear as much upon the question as the union between the Scots and the Picts. And, at least as one proof that the spirit of John Knox was not to be attributed to the whole church of Scotland in these days, it was a curious fact, that, after the failure of the negociations at Chatillon, when the plenipotentiaries, assembled there, put in their demand to the French government that the pope should be restored in entire liberty to his full powers, the instrument was signed but by one Catholic, and by two Scotch Presbyterians.

Mr. W. Peel

supported the bill, but protested that he would not go one iota beyond its provisions, in the way of concession.

Mr. J. Smith

said, he well knew that the hon. member for Corfe Castle was generally opposed to all concession, under any circumstances, to Roman Catholics. Now, if he (Mr. S.) were called upon to point out any one body of men, whose political and moral conduct had been for ages most irreproachable, he should turn to the English Roman Catholics. He was extremely averse to inflicting any penalty-upon men for their religious opinions: and he could easily instance the folly of such a policy. He had the pleasure of knowing a great many individuals among the society of Friends, called Quakers: a body of men more excellent, more upright, and of greater correctness in all their dealings, could not be named. This character was generally admitted to them; and yet he wondered how they had existed so long in this country, seeing how opposite their maxims of policy and religion were to our own, and how much Roman Catholics had suffered from a similar cause. Their doctrines were at total variance with the first principles of civil society; for it was part of their creed, that when they were smitten on one cheek, they were to offer the other: and when an enemy came, that they were to make no resistance: yet for a man to speculate on this passive principle would be a somewhat dangerous experiment. He remembered an instance, in which an ostler in an inn-yard, supposing he might be so with impunity, had been extremely insolent to a Quaker, whom he abused in the most vehement terms. The Quaker, with much deliberation, observed to him—"Though I am forbidden to strike thee, it may be good that I should cool thy passion;" and so saying, he deposited the refractory ostler in a horse-trough full of water; having held him there for about five minutes, he let him go, with this admonitory remark:—"Friend, I hope that thy heat hath now left thee." As preposterous as was this fellow's speculation on the habits of the Quaker, were the prejudices entertained against those whose religious observances did not accord with our own. It was upon their conduct, and not upon their principles, that he would try the English Catholics. Their conduct had been uniformly such as entitled them to the protection of the House; and he therefore felt it his duty to support the present measure.

Mr. Secretary Peel

, although opposed to the general measure of Catholic Emancipation, was ready to support the bill before the House. Nothing which had fallen from the hon. member for Corfe Castle had convinced him, that there was any danger in the measure; or that he should compromise, by voting for it, any principle which he had heretofore professed. He could not see by what process, upon granting the elective franchise to the Catholics, he was at all bound to grant them the further right of sitting in parliament. In fact, the two. privileges, as it seemed to him, had no connexion at all with each other. The hon. Members for Corfe Castle said—" This measure gives us in England a class of men who may make members of parliament, but who cannot become members of parliament themselves." Why, what was there new in this From the different rights to attaching to different kind of property, there were already thousands of men in the country, who could vote for members of parliament, and yet could not sit in parliament themselves; and vice versâ, there were many who were competent to sit in the House, who had not, nevertheless, the qualification for voting. Again, as the hon. member for Newtown (Mr. H. Gurney) had stated, there were the clergy of England, a whole body of individuals who were excluded by law from being elected to parliament, although they possessed, or might possess, the elective franchise. As for danger in the present measure, he saw none; and he denied that it bound its advocates to support any ulterior measure. The Catholics of England were few in number; and even taking Lancashire, the county in which their party was strongest, he did not believe that they would have influence enough to return a single member to parliament. There was nothing in the ancient law of the country, to oppose the grant of this cession to the Catholics; nothing anomalous in granting it. The law of exclusion at present was one of the very worst character. Its enforcement depended upon the pleasure of individuals, who could never make use of it upon public grounds, or upon principle; because the individual who barred the Catholic from voting was always the party against whom he was going to vote. If the exclusion were to continue, he would prefer seeing the veto made absolute, to leaving the law in its present state; but, as he thought that one admission could do no possible mischief, and that much advantage would accrue out of that community of feeling between Catholic and Protestant which the bustle of an election would produce; he should give his hearty support to the measure.

General Gascoyne

entertained the highest opinion, personally, of the English Catholics; but looked upon the measure before the House as part only of a new system. He could not help regretting the support given to it by the right hon. Secretary, and thought that the opponents of Catholic Emancipation generally would differ from him decidedly in opinion.

Dr. Lushington

supported the bill, and warmly expressed his feelings in favour of the Catholic generally.

Lord Binning

was happy to join in an act of rather tardy justice. He wished that the Catholics of Scotland had been included in the measure. As the exclu- sion of that class, eo nomine, was guaranteed by the act of Union, he had not pressed for their admission, lest the bill before the House should be lost. At the same time, although he would touch the Union, and matters connected with it, with all the caution and respect which he felt for it as a Scotchman, still he could not think it right that it should be permitted to perpetuate against any class a course of injustice and oppression.

Mr. Gooch

said, he knew many Catholics who were loyal and respectable men; but he must oppose the removal of the restrictions placed on them.

Mr. Smyth

said, that he had come down to the House, intending to vote against the bill, but had been converted by the speech of the right hon. Secretary, and should support it.

Mr. G. Bankes

said, that the suggestion of the noble lord (Binning) sufficiently proved that the concessions to the Catholics were not to stop at the present measure. He heartily wished that the right hon. Secretary might not live to regret his assent to it.

Mr. W. Smith

saw no possible danger to be apprehended from the bill; and hoped to see the time when its own feeling of justice would carry the House to ulterior measures.

Mr. Butterworth

declared, that he could not consent to the measure then before the House. If parliament granted the boon now called for, it would be the first step towards making still greater concessions to the Catholics. They would not rest satisfied here, but would demand still greater privileges. To prove the truth of his assertion, he need only refer to the fact, that when the elective franchise was extended to the Catholics of Ireland, they soon began to claim more extensive privileges. He could not agree, that those rights contemplated by the bill should be granted to them, because he considered the principles of the Catholics not to have undergone any change. The fears which were formerly entertained of the Catholics were as well founded now as they ever were. The same intolerant spirit still prevailed amongst that sect. So much were the intrigues of particular orders among them dreaded, that the Jesuits had been suppressed in every part of Europe. In the late settlement of the kingdom of the Netherlands, the monarch wished to extend the privileges of the Protestants; but the Catholic bishops complained against the adoption of any such measure, as trenching on the prerogatives attached to their religion. He was a sincere friend to religious freedom, and therefore he opposed this bill.

Mr. Hume

rose to protest, in the strongest manner, against the species of argument made use of by the hon. gentleman who had just sat down. Such observations were unfit for any man to make; but as the hon. gentleman was himself a sectarian, and enjoyed all the benefits of toleration, he was doubly criminal in harbouring sentiments so intolerant. The hon. gentleman had expressed his dread of the Jesuits; but he would tell the House, that there was a class of Protestant Jesuits who were much more to be feared. The church establishment had much greater reason to apprehend danger from the sect to which the hon. gentleman belonged than from the Catholics. There was not a point that could be favourable to their interest, or by which they thought they could undermine the established church (notwithstanding all their declarations of devotion to it), that they did not, most assiduously, endeavour to gain. He looked upon the Methodists to be the Jesuits, above all others, from whom the church of England had most to apprehend. It was quite clear to him, from the observations made by the hon. gentleman, that it was impossible that he could have a particle of tolerant spirit in his breast. The whole of his speech breathed nothing but persecution. He again asserted, that the government ought to look after the Metholists, instead of the Catholics. For the last fifty years they had shown themselves most anxious in making proselytes, and most assiduous in their hostility to religious liberty; and he must say, that he believed no Roman Catholic had ever expressed Such intolerant opinions as the hon. gentleman had uttered that night.

Mr. Butterworth

said, there was no necessity for him to defend himself against the attack of the hon. member. The sect to which he belonged was highly complimented by the censure of a gentleman who had defended the principles of Carlile in that House.

Mr. Hume

said, if the hon. member attended to facts, it would be much better. He had never defended Mr. Curlile's principles. The statement was not true [Hear].

The Chairman said, that the hon. mem- ber was undoubtedly proceeding in a strain of personal invective.

Mr. Hume.

—If the hon. gentleman stands up and asserts that which is not true, I have a right to contradict him. I declare that the hon. member has made an assertion with regard to my conduct which is not true.

The committee divided: For the motion 89. Against it 80. The bill was then reported.