HC Deb 26 April 1825 vol 13 cc172-6
Sir W.W. Wynn

presented a petition from the Clergy and Inhabitants or Wrexham, praying that no further concession might be granted to the Roman Catholics. The hon. baronet declared his own opinion to be strongly in favour of the measure before the House for the relief of the Catholics; a measure to which he had always been friendly, but which, after what had fallen from an illustrious duke in another place yesterday evening, he was exceedingly anxious to see adopted with as little loss of time as possible; lest, by some unfortunate contingency, the country might be placed in the painful and dangerous situation of finding the sovereign directly opposed to the two Houses of parliament on one of the most important questions that could agitate the public mind.

Sir T. Lethbridge

said, that he considered the declaration alluded to as a source of the greatest consolation to the House and the country. He had read the evidence taken before the committee, and he considered it all ex-parte evidence. The House could not legislate upon evidence which was only on one side of the question.

Sir John Brydges

said, that he congratulated the House and the country on the patriotic, open, and manly declaration made last night by an individual, a most illustrious member of the Upper House. [Cries of order, order!]

The Speaker

informed the hon. member, that it was entirely out of order to allude to any discussions that might have taken place in the other House of parliament. It was impossible to anticipate any thing irregular; but it was desirable, that any thing of the kind, if mentioned, should not be proceeded in.

Sir John Brydges

said, that he had adverted to the subject as other hon. members had not been stopped. Not having been a member of that House when, at any former period, this question had been brought before it, he wished briefly to state his opinion of the measure, in order to justify the vote he should give upon the occasion. In doing so, he should not take up the time of the House by going at large into this momentous question, which had been so fully discussed, but advert generally to what had fallen from some honourable members who were friendly to the measure, in order to weaken, in some degree, any false impression their statements might have created, The burthen of the arguments they had used seemed to have arisen from an impression on their minds, of the necessity that existed, in these enlightened days, of a liberal policy being pursued in matters of church as well as state; that because monopoly in trade and commerce was recommended to be done away with, the same policy should be adopted in matters of religion; and that the Catholic, equally with the Protestant subject should be admitted to civil power, and the privileges of the constitution. No man was more an enemy to monopoly than he was; no man more sensible of the impropriety of interfering with another's faith than he himself; and, as he would be done by, so he would do to others, he would resist, to the utmost of his power, any further concession to the Roman Catholics which would afford them greater facilities than they at present possess to make converts to their religion. From what had fallen from many honourable members, it seemed, that they considered the guards and enactments which had been so wisely framed by our ancestors for the preservation of the established religion as so many obsolete statutes, and that the sooner they were abolished the better. He was himself no bigot; he respected every man who did his duty, be his faith what it might; but, he never would consent to substitute the blessings of the pure Protestant faith for the weak and disgusting mummery of the Roman Catholic religion. He was aware that hon. members would say, that they did not desire to interfere with our established religion; that they sought only that that part of the empire (and they stated this to be a very considerable portion of it) which was debarred, at present, by religious disabilities, should be admitted to an equal participation in the civil privileges of the state, with those who professed the Protestant faith. His answer to that was, that though they might not be desirous to interfere with our religion as at present established, yet he was satisfied, that, if the Roman Catholics were once admitted to power in temporal affairs, they would never rest until they had destroyed the Protestant, and substituted the Catholic religion in its stead. The history of all ages told us it must be so: human nature pointed it out, and it was folly to think it could be otherwise, One of the many deceptious arguments that had been used was, that six out of seven millions of the subjects of the realm ought not to be deprived of those advantages possessed by the rest; thus asserting, that a majority of six to one was in favour of this measure. But, it ought to be recollected, that this six to one was in Ireland only; and that, if the whole empire was consulted, it would be found that far more than six to one were against granting emancipation to the Roman Catholics. Assertion, however, was no proof; and he disbelieved that any numbers at all, approaching to six millions, were desirous of emancipation: in fact, he believed, that the mass of the population were indifferent upon the matter; and that there would be few voices raised upon the subject, were they not goaded on by a democratic faction, the curse of Ireland, which would not permit the people to be quiet. Ministers had rendered essential service to Ireland, by removing the barrier duties between the two countries; but did it follow that they were to remove the barrier of our religion? God forbid it! It gave him sincere satisfaction to witness, within these few days, the hundreds of petitions that had been laid upon the table against further concessions to the Catholics. It was a proof that the apathy which had prevailed no longer existed. It was unimportant whether they had personal signatures, or were vouched by crosses or other marks, as all were equally the tests of their authenticity; and should the hon. and learned member for Winchelsea be more successful than he had been the other evening in the charge he made against the petition from Grantham, still, he said, it was immaterial how they were vouched, so as the voucher was genuine, and was that of the petitioner whom it purported to be. Assertions had been made by hon. members, which he could not let pass unnoticed. He was astonished and ashamed that any British senators could so far forget their situations as to argue, that it was expedient—nay, that it was necessary—that this House should yield to the demands of the Catholics, for, if not, they would take them by the power they possessed, notwithstanding the opposition of the legislature. Sooner would he perish, limb by limb, than yield to such unworthy menaces; and, he trusted, there was virtue and firmness sufficient in the House to do its duty fearlessly, and not yield that to intimidation, which their honest judgments told them they should not grant; not to regard that accustomed croaking tone of the right hon. baronet, the member for the city of Waterford, who for so many years had warned the House, that, if the rights of the Roman Catholics (as he was always pleased to term them) were refused, the empire would be overwhelmed with anarchy and confusion; but which, notwithstanding these forebodings, he congratulated the House, had not taken place. In conclusion, he implored hon. members to dismiss from their minds, all bias from party considerations, and neither from favour or affection on one hand, or from fear on the other, be induced to give any other vote upon this vital question than such as their best judgments should prompt from the conscientious dictates of their hearts. As for himself, he was so satisfied that, if the Catholics were admitted to power, the Protestant establishment must be overwhelmed, and our glorious constitution annihilated, that he should feel it his duty to give his support to the amendment of the hon. member for Corfe Castle.

Mr. Wells

presented a petition from Maidstone, against any further concessions to the Catholics. The hon. member expressed himself inimical to any further grants to the Catholic body.

Mr. Robarts

said, that, although the petition was carried at a very respectable meeting of the inhabitants of Maidstone, he was able to state, that a vast number of the people in that town entertained opposite sentiments with respect to religious toleration. He had formerly been adverse to what was commonly called Catholic emancipation, but, after having heard the speeches of the Attorney-general for Ireland, and of the Secretary of state for foreign affairs, his views had been entirely changed, and he much regretted that he had ever voted against the Catholic claims. So firm were his sentiments upon the subject, that as long as he should have a seat in that House, no consideration whatever would induce him to withhold his support from the measures intended to relieve the Catholics from their political disqualifications.

Mr. John Smith

regretted that his hon. friend who presented this petition should oppose the claims of the Catholics, as the question was rather political than religious, and both his hon. friend and himself had had personal opportunities of wit- nessing the mischiefs inflicted upon land by the withholding from the Catholics their political rights. From what his hon. friend had witnessed in Ireland, he could not but be of opinion, that it was absolutely impossible to tranquillize that country without making concessions to the Catholics. He was convinced that very many petitions were presented to that House by members who did not take the trouble to read them. One petition recently presented upon this subject from Buckfastleigh, in Devonshire, had gone so far as to state, that the Catholic question was supported in that House only by those members who "were always seen in the van of those who are arranged against the welfare of our holy constitution in church and state." Now, what member would have presented such a petition, if he had been aware of its contents? One petition from St. Saviour's, Southwark, openly charged the Catholics with "insulting and persecuting their Lord God." Could any thing be at once more ridiculous and blasphemous? Similar words were to be found in two petitions from parishes in the heart of London. They were totally unworthy of beings removed from the lowest state of brute nature, and the petitions ought not to have been received by that House.