HC Deb 10 May 1825 vol 13 cc481-6
Mr. Doherty

said, that the right hon. the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, being unable to attend in his place that night, had requested him to present the petition which he held in his hand. It was the petition of the Protestant nobility, magistrates, and gentry, of the county or Galway, in favour of the bill now pending for the removal of the disabilities under which their Roman Catholic brethren had so long, and, in their opinion, so unjustly laboured. The House would judge of the respectability of the signatures to the petition, when he stated that amongst them were to be found those of the marquis of Sligo, and lord Clanricarde. He moved that the petition be brought up.

Mr. V. Fitzgerald

begged to assure the House that there was not a Protestant nobleman or gentleman of rank in the county, who was not decidedly favourable to the claims of the Catholics; and it was worthy of remark, that this petition came from a set of noblemen and gentlemen who resided in a county peculiarly Catholic, and who were therefore the better able to judge of the feelings and opinions of the Catholics by whom they were surrounded. He was happy to have an opportunity of adding his feeble testimony to what had been said by his hon. friend, in presenting the petition.

Mr. Doherty

said, that as that was in all probability the last petition from the Protestants of Ireland before the decision of the question, he was anxious to say a few words upon the whole number of petitions which had come from Irish Protestants, either for or against the question. He was the more anxious to do this, as the Irish Protestants were the best able to appreciate the propriety and expediency of such a measure as that to be discussed that night. Against the bill no more than nine petitions Lad come from Irish Protestants. Of these nine it was not his wish to say much, but he must observe, that four of them came from parishes in a county not the most likely to view the subject impartially, as, unfortunately, party spirit and party feelings were two prevalent there. On the other hand, he found that seventeen petitions had been presented from Irish Protestant bodies in favour of the bill, making a majority nearly equal to the whole number on the other side. He was aware that the number of petitions in its favour was small compared with the entire Protestant population; but the House must bear in mind, that if the feeling of the great body of Protestants had been against the measure, the majority of petitions would have been infinitely greater the other way. He was one of those who had ever thought it impossible to conciliate the Roman Catholics without also conciliating the Protestants. This, it appeared to him, they had now the power to do; and if the House in its wisdom should think with him, he called upon them to do both by carrying the bill now before them.

Mr. S. Rice

observed, that the feelings of the Protestants of Ireland were daily and hourly becoming more favourable to the interests of their Catholic brethren. The feelings of the Irish representatives were decidedly in its favour; and if the present bill were lost, it would be lost in consequence of British feelings and British interests being opposed to it. He implored the House to weigh seriously the alarming consequences of such an opposition. It would be looked upon as nothing less than applying the axe to the root of British connexion and British intercourse.

Mr. Butterworth

could not agree with hon. members, that the feelings of the Protestants of Ireland were in favour of the Catholic Relief bill. He had received letters from Ireland, which informed him, that the feeling was strongly the other way, and that several of the signatures to the Protestant petitions in favour of the Catholics had been obtained through fear and intimidation.

Mr. V. Fitzgerald

begged, as an Irish gentleman, and an Irish representative, to put his personal knowledge and experience in opposition to the communication made to the hon. member for Dover. He took leave to give the utmost latitude of denial to the statement, but most of all, to that part of it which said that the signatures of Protestant gentlemen had been obtained through menace. If the Protestants of Ireland were opposed to the bill, instead of sending seventeen petitions in its favour, they would have covered the table with petitions against it. He assured the House, that the feeling in its favour was daily increasing in Ireland; but chiefly amongst those who were best calculated to form a correct opinion upon it.

Lord Althorp

was glad that the hon. member had put his personal knowledge in opposition to the anonymous information of the hon. member for Dover. It was to him somewhat singular, that they should now have heard of that information for the first time. The hon. member must have been aware that a Committee had been sitting up stairs, and that he might, if he had so pleased, have called any number of witnesses before it. He would not take upon himself to say, that the Protestants who signed the petitions in favour of Roman Catholics had done so through intimidation; but he would say, that the Protestant gentlemen who gave their evidence before the committee, had not been in any way intimidated, and he appealed to every member present, whether they were not decidedly in favour of the bill? He could not help thinking, that the hon. member had been misinformed, and that the answer given by the right hon. member opposite, was that which the House ought to rely upon.

Mr. Sykes

said, that the hon. member had made his statement from a letter which he had not read, and upon an authority which he had not named. He was bound, in fairness, to read the letter and name its author; in order to give the House an opportunity of judging whether the writer was not some worthless character, undeserving of credit or attention.

Mr. Robertson

said, that he had always supported the Catholic Relief bill; but, if it was to be coupled with the Disfranchisement bill, it was a question with him how far its supporters on former occasions were bound to advocate it under such circumstances.

Mr. Butterworth

said, he had not made his observations lightly, nor without consideration. He had not gone upon the evidence of a solitary letter. Being anxious to satisfy himself, he had sent a circular to all parts of Ireland; and the answers were such as he had described. Such being the case, he felt it his duty to communicate his information to the House. He had not, it was true, made his inquiries of members; as they were likely to be under particular obligations to their constituents [hear, hear! and a laugh].

Mr. N. Doherty

said, that as the hon. member had made his statement upon the authority of letters without a name, he trusted that he, too, might be allowed to state that he had received letters—many letters—from men of high rank and professional character in Ireland, men who had heretofore been opponents to this bill, earnestly praying that it might pass into a law. From men, too, who certainly had not been solicited by him to give their opinions: and he must take leave to say, that opinions thus spontaneously expressed, were, to say the least of them, of as much weight as those elicited by the hon. member's circular. He could not pretend to say what were the precise terms of the hon. member's inquiries; but he trusted the hon. member had asked, whether the Protestants of Ireland were favourable to the Catholic cause, and at the same time, expressed a hope that they were so.

Mr. M. Fitzgerald

assured the House, that the Protestants of Ireland were not to be intimidated; and it was but a poor compliment paid to them by the hon. member for Dover, in his over zeal for the Protestant religion, to say that their signatures had been obtained by menace. The hon. member had sent his circular, and had detailed to the House the answers returned to him. If any hon. member were to open a shop in this country for the reception of tales of bigotry and hypocrisy and intolerance, there was no doubt but he would find ample contributions to it. The hon. member had avoided applying to Irish members for information, because, forsooth, they might be under obligations to their constituents.—Why, he for one was under many obligations, to his constituents, and he assured the hon. member, that those constituents were as essentially Protestant as his own could be: and, it was because they were so, that they wished to remove the disabilities under which the Roman Catholics laboured. The Protestants of Ireland were not to be intimidated; neither were they to be cajoled. He hoped the House would reject those calumnious and malicious reports which originated in the worst feelings, and were circulated for the most despicable of purposes.

Mr. Peel

presented a petition from eleven magistrates and 28,000 inhabitants of Manchester and Salford, against further concessions to the Roman Catholics.

Mr. Phillips

said, that this petition was not to be taken as expressing the sentiments or the inhabitants of Manchester generally, but of a certain party, who had not dared to call a public meeting. All sorts of contrivances had been used to obtain signatures to it. It had even been exposed in the public streets, and a gentleman was now in the lobby of the House, who had seen boys affix their names to it. Constituted as the magistracy of Manchester was, consisting of persons of one political faith only, he did not expect that they would set an example of superior liberality in principles, opinions, or practice. Some of them, indeed, had been zealous advocates for the establishment of Orange Societies in Lancashire, in order, if possible to introduce into that county the religious animosities that at present disturbed Ireland. Application had been made by the leaders of the Anti-catholic party to Methodistic and Calvinistic ministers, to receive the petition into their chapels; but in the Methodist chapels only, he was happy to say, had signatures been appended. In fact, the document deserved no other epithet than that of a "hole and corner" petition. Since it had been got up, application had been made to the boroughreeve to call a public meeting, to consider of the propriety, of petitioning parliament in favour of the Catholic claims; and after five hours discussion, it was resolved in the affirmative by a majority of at least three to one. He rejoiced that the town of Manchester had set this exam- ple of liberality to the rest of the kingdom. He thought that a great change had taken place in the feelings of the mass of the people upon the question of Catholic rights, and he had said, that the inhabitants of Lancashire, formerly hostile, were now indifferent; but, he had little expected that in the course of two days and a quarter, three times as many signatures would have been subscribed to the petition in favour of the claims, as had been procured by all kinds of artifices in the same space against them. Such was the fact, and the petition which his noble friend (lord Stanley) was instructed to lay before the House, contained more than 8,000 names. The petition in the hands of the right hon. Secretary, in fact spoke any thing but the sentiments of the people of Manchester at large.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, that it had been his practice to present to the House the various petitions intrusted to him without comment; as none of them had been prepared or subscribed at his instance or suggestion. In justice to the petitioners who had now confided the statement of their sentiments and wishes to him, it was, however, absolutely necessary for him to say a few words. Of course he knew nothing personally; but he was instructed positively to deny the allegations of the hon. member. The petition did not profess to be more than "the petition of the undersigned inhabitants of Manchester and Salford," and it did not arrogate to itself to express any thing more than the opinions of those who had subscribed it. When the hon. gentleman said, that it had been got up by those who had not dared to call a public meeting, he ought to have added the reason why a public meeting against the Catholic claims had not been convened. The promoters of the petition had applied to the boroughreeve for the purpose of having a meeting; and when that gentleman addressed the assembly, which was subsequently called, with a contrary object, he had done the present petitioners the justice of saying, that it was by his advice that a public meeting had not been held: the consequence was, the private meeting at the Bridgewater Arms, in deference to the opinion of the boroughreeve. He had also been informed, that several sheets had been withheld by the petitioners because they were found to contain the signatures of boys. In order, if possible, to procure the rejection of the petition, or at least to injure it in the opinion of the House and the country, he had been desired to mention, that certain individuals, unfriendly to its objects, in some instances, had succeeded in getting the signatures of boys to the petition. This fact might, if necessary, be established. Whatever objections might be urged to it, the petition undoubtedly spoke the sentiments of 28,000 inhabitants of a town, in importance second only to the metropolis.

Sir T. Lethbridge

observed, that between two or three thousand signatures had been left in Manchester, which could not be subjoined to the large roll about to be laid upon the table. At the public meeting, it was true that a petition in favour of the claims had been voted, but the fact, he understood, was, that the benches had been so filled by Roman Catholics, that the Protestants could not obtain admittance in order to hold up their hands to the contrary. He was convinced that the strongest possible feeling animated the inhabitants of Manchester generally, against the bill.

Mr. B. Wilbraham

saw no reason why the other magistrates of Manchester should be stigmatized, because some of the body might have wished for the establishment of Orange lodges in Lancashire. They were all satisfied that concession at that moment would be dangerous.

Lord Stanley

objected to the signatures of the magistrates, who had put their names to the petition in their magisterial as well as in their private capacity. Those individuals had hitherto not mixed themselves with political questions, and he therefore saw with more pain and regret that they stepped forward on this occasion, to oppose the further progress of a bill which was necessary for the tranquillity of Ireland, and for the safety of the empire. But for the subsequent public meeting, and the resolutions then adopted, the petition presented by the right hon. Secretary would have appeared to be the petition generally of the inhabitants of Manchester and Salford. The noble lord then presented a petition from certain inhabitants of the town of Manchester, convened in public meeting, in favour of the Roman Catholics.

Ordered to lie on the table.