HC Deb 18 February 1825 vol 12 cc541-4
Mr. Spring Rice

presented a petition from the Catholics of Limerick, against the bill. The petitioners declared, that the Catholic Association had contributed, in the greatest degree, to the tranquillity of Ireland. In the prayer of the petition, he most heartily concurred.

Sir J. Newport

presented several petitions in favour of the Catholic Association. The English members, he said, might satisfy themselves that the bill would not affect Ireland merely; but would establish a principle on which the liberties of Englishmen might, at some future period be invaded. The measure was called temporary; but it was evident that it would be co-existent with the unjust denial of Catholic rights.

Sir T. Lethbridge

said, he had been commissioned to present the petition of about 3,000 inhabitants of the city of Wells, and its vicinity, stating their alarm at the proceedings of the Association, and that, although they were friends of religious toleration to its utmost extent, they were averse to granting political power to papists: they contended also, that the tendency of the proceedings of the Association was, to bring about a revolution in the country, and they prayed, therefore, that measures should be persevered in for putting it down. In that prayer he entirely concurred, and he was quite sure, that if the bill were not passed, the table would be covered with petitions from all parts of the kingdom, expressing the fears of the inhabitants of the dangers likely to arise from the continuance of the Association. He saw nothing in the pro- posed measure likely to violate the liberties of the subject, and it should therefore have his cordial support. As a motion, was about to be made for hearing certain members of the Association at the bar, he would only say, that, if it were carried, he should put in his claim on behalf of other Associations to be also heard. It would surprise him much if the learned gentleman were successful, especially as, not three sessions since, he had supported a proposition of a directly opposite nature.

Mr. Brougham

wished to take that opportunity of putting the House in possession of some information regarding the petition which the hon. baronet had presented. The mode in which a petition had been got up, and the arts used to obtain signatures to it, would not influence his vote on the question of receiving it; since it was the undoubted right of the subject to petition. That under consideration was one of the very few on behalf of the foolish clamour of "No Popery," and "the church in danger," and a few anecdotes respecting it would serve to shew the weight the invaluable document deserved. His information upon this subject came from a gentleman of consider-able rank in the neighbourhood of Wells, and not very likely to misrepresent the facts. The petition had been sent forth from the office of an attorney, the agent of the hon. baronet. He did not say that the petition was prepared by the attorney in his capacity of agent, but it certainly issued from the office, or perhaps, more properly, officina of a respectable solicitor, who happened also to be the agent of the hon. baronet. His correspondent further mentioned, that this individual had interested himself in the matter as agent also of the Wells' party, which was raising the cry of "No Popery!" to serve an electioneering purpose against the present members, Messrs. Tudway and Taylor. It appeared that this agent had ridden many miles to get signatures to the petition. In one instance, "said the writer of the letter," he stopped at a school close to my gate, and asked the master of it to get him all the names he could, without even giving him a copy of the petition. The schoolmaster to oblige him, agreed to do it, and forthwith put down all the names of the scholars who could not write, and induced those who could write to affix their signatures. Some of the boys afterwards went home bragging that they had signed for brick and mortar. According to the electioneering cant, "brick and mortar" was a nickname for the party opposed to the sitting members. Having thus addressed himself to persons of one period of life, the agent thought fit to call in the aid of individuals of a more advanced age, and accordingly next repaired to a knot of old women, whom he frightened by telling them that the Irish Catholics were coming over to cut their throats. Notwithstanding their importance in the state, the signatures of these venerable matrons could not be taken, but their assistance was employed against their husbands, who, though they entertained no apprehensions themselves, yielded to the soft persuasion of the gentler sex, and were thus prevailed on to sign their names to the petition. Others had been informed that they were signing for the church, which was threatened with danger; but he believed that none of the canons of Wells, nor well-educated persons, generally, had taken any trouble upon the subject, leaving it only in fact to "brick and mortar." No doubt, other petitions might be got up, and other arts used to get them signed; but it could not always happen that such evidence of the practices of a party could be procured. He was conscious that no petitions ought to be treated with disrespect. He would receive, hear, and print them, if it were only for the sake of securing a fair hearing to those millions, who would soon address the House on this subject for themselves.

Sir T. Lethbridge

felt great surprise at the contents of the letter from which the learned gentleman had derived his information. He was not aware of any unworthy practices in getting up the petition; and it was rather extraordinary that the learned gentleman had not given the name of his correspondent. It might be found that his anecdotes were derived from no better authority than a country school-master, or, perhaps, one of his pupils. The petition which he had just presented had been signed, to his knowledge, by magistrates and clergy, and by some of the most respectable yeomanry in the neighbourhood of Wells.

Mr. Brougham

fully acquitted the hon. baronet of all knowledge of the proceedings to which he had adverted. The letter was written by a person of rank, fortune, and high connections, and not by a school-master.

Mr. M. Fitzgerald

presented a petition from Kilnemana, in favour of the Catholic Association. It was signed by persons of rank and of great landed property, and, among others, by lord Kenmare, who was descended from ancestors distinguished for their devoted loyalty. Several of his near relatives, after having bled for their country in her battles, had returned to Ireland on the peace, and had put themselves at the head of their tenantry to preserve tranquillity. The appearance of the name of this nobleman to a petition in favour of the Association, was a proof that it possessed the general confidence of the Roman Catholics.

Sir F. Burdett

said, that he had been intrusted with a petition from several members of the Catholic Association, praying a hearing at the bar against a penal enactment which affected all their fellow-subjects, and inflicted upon them an unmerited stigma. As the subject was about to be discussed, he should content himself with saying, that justice to the petitioners, and even to the House, required that before sentence were passed, the parties accused should be heard.