HC Deb 19 February 1824 vol 10 cc252-66
Mr. Grattar

rose to submit a motion to which he could not anticipate any reasonable objection. It was merely for some returns as to the names and religious profession of certain individuals filling particular offices in Ireland; and his motion was, in effect, concurrent with that of which a noble lord had recently given notice. The house were well aware that, in 1793, an act was passed, declaring Roman Catholics, as well as Protestants, eligible to all offices and posts in Ireland, with the exception of such as were therein byname excepted. Now, the immediate object he had in view was, to show how this statute had been acted on, and who had been omitted out of its operation since 1793. And he really did believe that these returns would go far to demonstrate what was the real cause of the political evils which had so long afflicted Ireland; for they would prove, that, out of the many offices which the act declared Roman Catholics competent to fill, there was hardly one to which a Roman Catholic had been admitted. If it had not been for this most unjust and invidious sort of exclusion, Ireland would not have been agitated by half the troubles which had befallen her; and such an evasion of the act of 1793 was productive of more harm than all the penal statutes that oppressed her. At all events, if Parliament were to repeal the latter to-morrow, the repeal would scarcely effect greater benefit to that unfortunate country, than the due observance of this equitable act would ensure to her. Of 74 trustees of the Linen board, not one was a Catholic. The directors of the Bank of Ireland had the management of a great portion of the Catholic property, and yet not a single director was a Catholic. He would move "That there be laid before this House, a return of the names of the persons holding the following offices or appointments in Ireland; distinguishing those who profess the Roman Catholic Religion—barristers, commissioners of bankrupts; barristers, commissioners of insolvent court; barristers, commissioners of inquiry into fees, &c. of courts of justice; barristers, taxing officers of law courts; barristers, counsel to the crown for the six circuits, for the assizes of 1823; barristers, counsel to the customs, excise, commissioners of stamp duties, and other government offices; barristers, magistrates (with salaries) of police of the city of Dublin; barristers, commissioners of appeals in revenue causes; chief magistrates under the insurrection and constabulary acts; trustees of the Linen board; general inspectors of prisons; governor, deputy governor, and directors, of the bank of Ireland: scholars of Trinity College; commissioners for distributing the grant to the lord lieutenant, for promoting education; commissioners of general board of health; commissioners of inland navigation; commissioners for auditing public accounts; commissioners of customs; commissioners of excise; commissioners of stamp duties; commissioners for paving and lighting the city of Dublin; commissioners for erecting fountains in the city of Dublin; commissioners for preserving the port of Dublin; commissioners for wide streets in the city of Dublin; crown solicitors; clerks of the crown; clerks of the peace."

Mr. Goulburn

said, it had not been his good fortune to be in the house when notice of this motion was given, and it was only by accident that he had seen it in the paper. But, as it stood there, it was by no means so detailed as the motion now submitted by the hon. gentleman; for it was there described as a "return of the names and religious persuasions of all persons connected with the general administration of justice, receipt and management of the revenue, the general manufacture and education of Ireland." He thought that every body, upon reflection, must see a sufficient reason for his refusing these returns. It would be the first time that this house, by an order of its own, had ever thought fit to call on certain bodies in the community to make a return of the religious persuasion of the various persons of whom they were composed, or of those of the officers they employed. Hon. gentlemen must be aware, that even in the case of the common population returns, which it was considered expedient to make at stated periods, an act of parliament was always passed to authorize the degree of power necessary to be exercised, in order to get such returns prepared. Yet, in a motion of this inquisitorial nature, it was thought sufficient that an hon. member should merely come down and move the returns as matter almost of course. It had, indeed, been the policy of the legislature to require, that the candidates for certain offices in the state should make a profession of faith before they were allowed to enter upon them, but such a test was never required of those who had already entered, and were in the enjoyment of offices. This would be a principle quite new to our constitution, and one which he would ever oppose. The motion called for the return, not only of grand jurors and petty jurors, but also of all persons connected with the adminis- tration of justice. Now nothing could be more unreasonable than that, in such returns, should be included individuals whose services were purely honorary, and without emolument. He had no objection, however, to a return that should be confined to those who had already taken the test oaths. In the stamp and other departments, there was no necessity for inquiring into the religious persuasion of the officer; and, during his own connexion with Ireland, had he made it a rule to forbear, in cases of such appointments, from inquiring at all into the religious or political opinions of the party. On the grounds he had stated, he should resist the motion.

Lord Althorp

said, that when the House considered, that five-sixths of the people of Ireland were Catholics, and that scarcely one of them had been appointed since the year 1793 to those offices which, by the law, they were eligible to fill, they could not suppose it was the mere effect of chance. Much more fair was it to say, that it was the effect of that exclusive system which had been so long acted on in Ireland, and which had produced so many misfortunes. The right hon. gentleman had said, that he never considered the religious opinions of persons whom he appointed to offices; but, if that principle had been acted upon in Ireland, how could the House possibly account for the fact, that so very few Catholics had been appointed to offices of emolument in Ireland. The right hon. gentleman had said that the motion would, if granted, lead to the exercise of inquisitorial power. Now, there was nothing inquisitorial about it. Was it not perfectly notorious who were Catholics and who were Protestants? The object of the motion was one of considerable importance. In Ireland, the returns moved for might not be of so much importance, because there the exclusion of the Catholics was perfectly well known; but in England the fact was otherwise, and it was of great importance that those returns should be laid on the table of that House, in order to show to the people of this country the real extent of the Catholic grievances. For his own part, he was not at all aware, until he had made particular inquiries, of the small number of Catholics who had been appointed to offices of honour or of emolument in Ireland. The returns would tend to shew how few were excluded by law, and how many were excluded by prejudice. Such was the wretched state of Ireland, that her people were considered a degraded caste; and so they were likely to continue, as long as the penal laws remained what they were. The returns would shew this country the importance of Catholic emancipation. They would also shew how Ireland was really governed. He could not see any fair objection to the motion.

Mr. Hobhouse

said, that the noble lord had in a great degree anticipated the observations which he intended to have made. The object in view was, to ascertain whether the act of 1793 had or had not been carried into effect. How could the House come at that fact, save by the returns which his hon. friend had moved for? The House had a right to be acquainted with the fact, whether Roman Catholics had or had not been admitted to those offices to which, by law, they might have been appointed. He had the act before him—he saw the offices to which Catholics might have been appointed. On the other hand, he had a document, under the hand of a gentleman of respectability, stating that Catholics were not admitted to any one of those offices.

Mr. Goulburn

Without meaning any disrespect to the gentleman who made the statement, I must say, that it is not the fact.

Mr. Hobhouse

resumed: The right hon. gentleman might be right: the question was one of importance; conflicting assertions were made; and the returns which had been called for could alone show who was right. The noble lord had said that nineteen out of twenty of those appointed were Protestants; and an hon. friend below him, had stated, that they amounted to 49 out of 50. As to what the right hon. gentleman had said, that that House had no right to inquire as to who were Protestants, or who were Catholics, was it not the daily practice of that House to make inquiries? Would the right hon. gentleman take upon him to say, that the persons who held offices in Ireland would object to answer the question as to their religion? No, they would answer with alacrity: these inquisitorial horrors existed only in the imagination of the right hon. gentleman. The object of the motion was, to show, how completely the religion of a man operated as a bar to honour, and to emolument. The people of Ireland were, like the people of England, and like every other people in the world, fond of influence and of honours, felt the bitterness of degradation and unjust exclusion. The House had a right to become better acquainted with the system carried on in Ireland. It was the expressed wish of the sovereign, on his visit to that country that no difference on matters of religion should prevail—that no unjust preference should be given. Had that wish been carried into execution? Did no unworthy preference prevail? These were points which the returns now moved for would establish one way or the other. The fact, he believed could not be doubted, that a very insignificant party, compared to the population at large, engrossed the honours, the influence and the emoluments of Government. Of the offices in the law, which were open to the Catholics, there were eight open to Catholic barristers, and 13 other offices connected with the administration of justice; and yet not one of those offices was filled by a Catholic. When the House reflected upon the fact, that Ireland had, from the dawn of her history, displayed great talents; that her people, naturally ardent and aspiring, cultivated the science of eloquence; that at the Bar some of the most eloquent of its members were Catholics—they could not fail to see the injustice and the impolicy of that exclusion. Forty-nine out of fifty offices in Ireland were filled by Protestants. What, then, with that fact before them, could the House think of that equal participation—thateven-handed justice—which ministers were so much in the habit of boasting of having dealt out to the people of Ireland? The right hon. gentleman had objected, that some of the appointments were merely honorary; but the Irish, like the rest of the world, thought something of the honour, as well as of the more substantial emoluments of office. The excuse which the right hon. gentleman had given for his opposition to the motion, was at least a very suspicious one; and, without meaning any thing personally disrespectful to him, surely it was not quite the true one. The fact was, the right hon. gentleman did not like that there should be laid on the table of the House a record shewing that not one Roman Catholic had been admitted to any of those numerous offices to which they were equally competent with Protestants, under an act of Parliament. How many Roman Catholics there must be, the right hon. gentleman very well knew.

Mr. Goulbrn

said, he really did not.

Mr. Hobhouse

.—Then, if the right hon. gentleman did not know, he ought to inquire how many Roman Catholics were employed by the government in any official appointments in Ireland. Could any knowledge be more necessary for the secretary for Ireland? The return now moved for would shew, that all the boastings of parliament, as to what they had done for Ireland since 1793, were vain; that they had only kept that predominating party in power, which claimed not only power, but arms also, exclusively. To that party arms had been given, which never would be laid down but with their power; and, indeed, it was only last session, he believed, that one of their petitions from Londonderry honestly set forth, that having won their rights at the era of the glorious revolution, by the victories which their ancestors had gained under king William, they could not be expected to surrender the arms with which those rights had been won. Having never before spoken upon the subject, the House would pardon him for trespassing upon their attention. It was his opinion, that Englishmen could not too often enter into the discussion of Irish affairs. They should consider Ireland as an integral part of their country, and watch with common solicitude over her interests and her rights. He hoped the right hon. gentleman would not persist in objecting to the motion; if he did, undoubtedly it would be renewed; the House must have the returns. He hoped that that part of the government who professed more liberal views towards Ireland would act a candid and manly part, and would not resist the production of returns which would place in a striking point of view, the effects of that deplorable system of misrule which had been so long upheld. To expose that system would be to insure its downfal. Was it to be endured, that the people of Ireland should be for ever treated with insult and injustice?—If such a system were persevered in, could they expect the friendship of Ireland? He did not say that they would not receive it, but of this he was sure, that they would not deserve it. He hoped the right hon. gentleman would reconsider the grounds of his objection, and would' be guided by the opinion of his more liberal friends.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, he could see no reason why the motion should be granted, embracing, as it did, a principle which would call upon every man holding a situation in a public office to state what his religion was: he would therefore concur with his right hon. friend in opposing it. He rose principally for the purpose of setting the last speaker right in one point, and to assure him that there did not exist in his majesty's government any disposition to exclude the Roman Catholics from their fair proportion of patronage in the offices to which they were by law eligible. He would mention two instances in which Roman Catholics had been appointed to situations: one of them, Mr. Troy, to that of inspector of customs at Liverpool; and the other, Mr. Mahon, to the office of commissioner of stamps; and he believed that the noble lord at the head of the Treasury did not know whether they were Catholics or not. This of itself would show that there was no disposition to exclude Roman Catholics from office by any previous inquiry as to their religion.

Mr. Hume

said, that the instances stated by the right hon. gentleman were only exceptions to the general rule. He was glad the right hon. gentleman had stated the fact, because it went to shew that appointments made by the Treasury here were more likely to be regulated by a fairer standard than appointments made in Ireland. What he wished was, to have power taken out of the hands of that faction in Ireland, who were always ready to abuse it. On a former occasion he had stated in that House, that few, if any, Catholics were appointed to offices of emolument in Ireland. The right hon. secretary for Ireland had said, he was wrong; but it now turned out, that the right hon. gentleman knew nothing at all about the matter. His charge was, that the people of Ireland were irritated and offended, because the few were preferred, and the many were neglected. He would ask whether the opposition that was given to the motion, was not likely to confirm the suspicions which already existed? The right hon. gentleman had talked of inquisitorial power. Was it inquisitorial, to ask a question which would be answered voluntarily and with pleasure? He could have wished that the conscience of the right hon. gentleman had been equally tender, with respect to the various acts of oppression which he (as the organ of government, had carried into effect in lreand—acountry which suffered under more than Turkish degradation. [Hear!]. Yes, it was his firm opinion, that the Greeks were not so much oppressed—so keenly insulted—as were the miserable people of Ireland. The state of Ireland was one which demanded inquiry, and with a view to that inquiry, information was sought. Upon what ground of justice could it be refused? Did the right hon. gentleman and his friends think that refusal could fail of exciting disgust and irritation? If the demand of his hon. friend was unreasonable, he would not have supported him. That part of the ministers who entertained liberal views towards Ireland, had commenced a new and promising era: he hoped they would persevere in it, and that their liberality and good sense would induce them not to refuse hearsay information as to the state of that country. He could assure them, that if the motion were resisted, it would not be the last time it would be brought forward.

Mr. Agar Ellis

thought the motion ought to be acceded to by the secretary for Ireland, if it were only for his own satisfaction; for as he did not seem to know the proportion in which the offices were divided between Protestants and Roman Catholics, he ought not to refuse that which would give him correct information on the subject. It ought not to be suffered to go forth to the Roman Catholics of Ireland, that no motion tending to give them the same advantage as their Protestant fellow-subjects, in situations to which they were alike eligible, could obtain the sanction of that House.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, it was unfortunate for the inference drawn by the hon. member for Aberdeen, that the two Roman Catholic appointments spoken of were not originally made by the English government. They were originally made by the Irish government, and in the late arrangements by the Treasury, they were continued. So that it was unfair to infer, that these were exceptions to the general rule of the Irish government. With respect to the motion before the House, he would say, that if the object was, to show that the Roman Catholics had not their fair share of patronage, the present mode was a bad one. Let the object be fairly stated; let it be shown, if it could be shown, that Roman Catholics, being in other respects equally eligible in point of qualification were excluded solely, because they were Roman Catholics, and let the onus of answering such a case rest with the government. But, he could not think of endeavouring to come at such an object, by adopting a principle which would say to every man in a public office, "Are you a Roman Catholic, or are you a Protestant?" But, suppose it could be shown that the greater portion of the appointments to public offices took place in favour of Protestants; still, seeing that the great mass of property—he would not say all—was in the hands of Protestants, he could not see anything unfair in it; unless it could be shown, that Roman Catholics with superior, or even equal, qualifications, were refused to make way for Protestants. If such a case could be made out, let it be fairly brought forward; but no tangible object could be gained by bringing forward the question in its present shape. An allusion had been made to the Linen Board. There were 74 members of that Board; it might so happen that they were all Protestants; but then it should be recollected, that the Linen trade was almost entirely confined to the north, which was the Protestant part of Ireland; a fact; which would go pretty clearly to explain what had been stated with respect to that Board. But the return which the hon. gentleman had moved, even if granted, would be insufficient; for it ought in fairness to state, not whether Protestants were appointed to offices, but whether Protestants had been unfairly selected, and in what instances Protestants were preferred to Catholics of superior qualifications. He was surprised that the hon. gentleman had not carried his motion farther, in order to ascertain the particular faith of various occupations and professions. For instance, he might wish to know of what religion were the ironmongers in Ireland, and whether the majority of the barbers were Protestant or Catholic. There was, in fact, no end to the inquiry, if it were once commenced.

Sir J. Newport

said, he could very easily imagine the object of those who maintained the fitness of exclusion, and thereby kept Ireland a divided people, in resisting this motion. They wished to hoodwink the natives of England, by making them believe that the question was of small importance, because it only applied to the offices included in the act of 1793. As long as the odious distinction was preserved, the act of 1793 would be inadequate; and it was very important to show that at this moment, with very few exceptions, the Roman Catholics were not in possession of any of the advantages then conceded. The right hon. gentleman who spoke last, had taken great credit for the appointment of two Roman Catholics; but, under what administration had those offices been filled up? This was a very material inquiry, when so much stress was laid upon the matter. The truth was that both Mr. Troy and Mr. D. Mahon had been selected by the government of 1806 [Hear, hear! from the Opposition benches, and "no, no," from the Ministerial]. He maintained it as a fact: he had good reason to know it, and was prepared, if necessary, to prove it. But, giving to the present ministry whatever credit was due for this proceeding, at all events, it filled up but two appointments with Catholics, while all the rest were indisputably Protestants. It only showed the distress of the present government, when they were obliged to resort to these two instances; with which, however, in truth, they had had nothing to do. The object of the hon. mover was, to prove how fallacious was the statement of the noble earl, at the head of the cabinet, when he declared, that he anxiously desired to see Roman Catholics participate in all the benefits of the constitution, to which, by the existing law, they were entitled. This assertion ought to be put in comparison with the fact; and that purpose would be accomplished, if the documents now required were laid upon the table. It might be very true, that the trustees of the linen board were needless; it might be very true, that no talent was wanted to render a man fit for the situation; yet those individuals possessed an honorary rank in the country, and enjoyed, besides, great influence and patronage. As to property, were not such men as lord Fingal, and sir E. Bellew, fit to be appointed trustees of the Linen board? The Roman Catholics of Ireland had watched the progress of the late lord Avonmore; they had seen him, by birth only the son of a woolcomber, rise to be Chief Baron of the Exchequer, and a peer of the realm. Why should they not enjoy the same opportunity of advancement? Why were they not allowed the opportunity of distinguishing themselves, and of illustrating their names and families? At present, insult only was heaped upon them: they were excluded from their rights; and, what was still more grievous, they were told that they ought to be contented and happy in their degradation. It was impossible that the people of Ire- land should not be acutely sensible of all they endured, and take no interest in the prosperity of that state, whose wants they were compelled to supply, but whose benefits they were not permitted to share.

Mr. Secretary Canning

said, that the latter part of the right hon. baronet's speech had turned upon topics, in some of which he felt with him, though he did not think the present moment exactly suited to their discussion. The last topic, as it went to show the interest which the humblest individual might feel in the question of eligibility to the highest office, and that therefore the hope of such office should not be shut out from any, was one which addressed itself to the feelings of all, and the principle of which he had often exhausted himself in upholding. But, the subject of discussion was not now, whether new privileges should be granted—whether all the offices of the state, from the highest to the lowest, should be open to Roman Catholics? On that point he perfectly agreed with the right hon. baronet. What he had always sought on behalf of the Roman Catholics had been eligibility; but, the motion now under consideration went to actual election. What he had so long contended for was, that there should be no bar between the Crown and its subjects—that there should exist no religious disqualifications; but he had never conceived that the effect of accomplishing that object would be to point the attention of the Crown to one class only, and to make it a crime in the administrators under the Crown to distribute office fairly and impartially. The advocates for the Catholic claims asserted, as a general principle, that all the king's subjects were equally eligible, but that statutes had supervened, limiting unjustly the power of the Crown to reward meritorious services. The object, therefore, was, to remove those disqualifying statutes; and as the hon. member for Westminster had said, in reference to a passage of great beauty, to enable the rays of the royal bounty to shine equally upon all. It was singular, therefore, that the right hon. baronet did not see that the mode of inquisition he wished now to be set on foot was directy contrary to the principle on which the Catholic question had been promoted, and to the usual policy of parliament on all subjects of the same nature. By the law of the land, certain persons, not Roman Catholics, could not be employed in offices of the state. What was the remedy? An annual indemnity bill. But, did the House ever think of instituting an inquiry to ascertain who were benefitted by that indemnity? Was not the true policy of parliament not detection, but concealment? The same policy had been adopted with regard to the Catholic question. The endeavour had been, not to make a distinction, but, as far as possible, to confound it, and to unite all under one denomination. Far, indeed, were the friends of concession from wishing that any man should be required to declare whether he was a Catholic or a Protestant. What, then, was the motion intended to do, but to put this very question? and to such a question, he would, under no circumstances, consent; since, though innocent in the outset, it might hereafter be applied to purposes of the worst description. Let the House consider how the matter stood a few years ago. Until 1819, no Roman Catholic could attain certain rank in his majesty's army; and many a pathetic appeal before that date had been made to the House on the bitter proscription to which so many millions were subjected. Supposing a motion of this sort had been then made, what would have been its effect? If carried, it would have subjected to punishment many Roman Catholics who had hitherto served in the army, by connivance. Thus the application now made was contrary to the policy of indemnity; contrary to the whole policy of toleration; and founded on a radical misapprehension of the state of the laws regarding the Roman Catholics. Laws had been superinduced to control royal benevolence—laws which he wished and had laboured to remove in toto: but whether they were removed entirely, or only in part, his wish had been, and ever would be, that all parties should be united, instead of perpetuating the memory of offensive distinctions.—He objected to the present motion on another ground. As long as this kingdom was a monarchy, and the executive government had the distribution of offices under the Crown, it was not discreet in the House to inquire into the exercise of patronage unless crime or fault were imputed [Hear, from the Opposition]. He ununderstood that cheer; and he undoubtedly agreed, that it might be morally wrong for a government not to employ men of a particular religious sect. But here a distinction was to be taken; and he maintained that such was not the sort of moral wrong which ought to be investigated by this parliamentary inquisition. If the practice of naming Protestants only existed, it might be founded upon error and prejudice; but that error and that prejudice could not be corrected and removed by the proceedings of the House, but should be left to the slow and sure operation of time. He did verily and entirely believe, that, in the present Irish government, there existed a strong disposition to admit to a fair share of patronage, and to the service of the state, all who were qualified: aye, a disposition quite as strong and as genuine as, during that boasted administration to which the right hon. baronet had so often triumphantly referred, and which he naturally enough thought was the best, the most enlightened, and the most liberal that had ever blest the nation with its counsels. To institute an inquisitorial proceeding like that now recommended, was not calculated to inspire either respect or confidence. The two offices filled by Catholics had not been brought forward with any other object than to contradict the position on the other side; and if, on the part of the present authorities in Ireland, there was a desire to admit Catholics, as "well as Protestants, to places of honour or emolument, it was very certain that it was not likely to be increased by motions I of this kind, which could only augment differences where they existed, and create them where they did not. In the conscientious belief, that if this proposition were carried, it would be a firebrand thrown among those, at present too ready for conflagration; he should give it his determined opposition.

Mr. Hutchinson

said, that during the present session, endeavours had been made to shew, by details, that Ireland had been badly governed, and that the Roman Catholics were a persecuted race. Its warmest friends might, perhaps, at this moment, despair of success in bringing forward the general discussion; they might despair of inducing ministers to alleviate the miseries of Ireland, by promoting conciliation; and therefore were resolved, as far as was possible, that the House and the country should be in possession of all the information connected with the subject. For this purpose various motions had been and would hereafter be made, to shew, that the benefits intended by the law, were withheld by the practice of the government. If the, present ministers did not determine to overcome their prejudices, and to give to persecuted millions their due weight in the constitution, the storm would at last inevitably burst and overwhelm valued institutions in the ruin it would occasion. The infatuated people of Ireland would, in time, see their interests: they would unite, and compel the minister to be just to their claims, or they would separate themselves entirely from Great Britain. He yet hoped to see the wounds of Ireland healed by concession; for despair of redress and protection might at length drive the people to dangerous extremities.

Mr. Grattan

said, that he had not brought forward his motion with more ceremony, because he really thought that, as it was only the consequence of papers already moved for by a noble lord (Althorp), it would not be resisted. He should divide the House, and not content himself with receiving merely a ministerial negative.

The House divided: Ayes 11, Noes 38.

List of the Minority.
Browne, Dom. Lamb, hon. G.
Cavendish, lord H.F.C. Monck, J. B.
Ellis, G. A. Newport, sir J.
Hamilton, lord A. Wood, M.
Hobhouse, J. C. TELLERS.
Hutchinson, hon. C. H. Althorp, viscount.
Hume, J. Grattan, J.