HC Deb 26 February 1827 vol 16 cc651-3
Mr. Abercromby

said, he had a petition of some importance to present from the English Roman Catholic Land-holders. It was signed by the earl of Shrewsbury, lord Stafford, and several other distinguished persons, and prayed the attention of the House and the government to a subject well worthy of their attention. It was probable that not many members of that House were aware of the fact, that Roman Catholics had been subject, for many years, to pay a double land-tax; so that if a Protestant was called upon to pay four shillings in the pound, a Roman Catholic was required to pay eight shillings. That unequal distribution of the burthen had been first imposed in the reign of king William, and had remained unaltered down to the year 1794, when it was expressly intended, by the acts passed at that time, to relieve them. Those acts had, however, in their operation, become totally ineffectual to the purpose for which they were intended, and upon proceedings lately had in the Exchequer, the Attorney and Solicitor General, acting in strict accordance with the duty which their situation imposed upon them, had succeeded in shutting out all redress through the means of a court of law. He believed there was no one who pretended to assert that, because the Roman Catholics could not conscientiously subscribe to the belief of the Established Church, they were therefore to be called upon to pay a double proportion of the tax levied upon land. It was clear that the legislature, in the year 1794, did intend to grant the Roman Catholics a relief from the situation in which they were placed; and he therefore contended, that the intention of parliament ought to be strictly carried into effect. But, even supposing that there was a mistake upon that point—that they were wrong in the construction of the act—and that the intention of the legislature of that day was not to relieve them from the difficulty in which they were placed, then he would say, that if it appeared that any Roman Catholic, or Dissenter from the Established Church, was subject to a tax so odious, so monstrously oppressive and unjust, as that of paying a double tax on land on account of his religious opinions, parliament ought not to lose one moment in granting the I redress which the petitioners now prayed. It was impossible for any one to look at the nature of the tax, and not to say, that it was a monstrous grievance. One of the petitioners, the earl of Shrewsbury, had actually paid, since the year 1794, no less than 30,000l. for that additional tax alone. And was it not an injustice of the most reprehensible nature, that a nobleman, of approved loyalty and of unquestioned devotion to the interests of his country, should be mulcted in so large a sum, merely because he continued to maintain the respect for that religion, in which he, in common with his forefathers, conscientiously reposed his faith? He did not mean to suggest any course at present. He would merely move, that the petition be received and printed, hoping that the government would see the propriety of calling upon the omnipotence of parliament to put an end to a practice which exhibited the most odious injustice. He saw the Attorney-general was about to rise, and he begged, then, as he said before, to disclaim any intention of imputing to him a desire to go beyond the strict line of his duty upon the occasion to which he alluded.

The Attorney-General

said, that the bill of 1794 was intended to allow all persons, who chose, to exonerate themselves from the land-tax, within a certain time; and those persons who had not taken advantage of that permission within that certain time were now precluded from any relief. He would admit, however, that upon general principles, the petitioners ought to be relieved; although there was an utter incapability to grant that relief to those who had availed themselves of the terms of the act of parliament.

Mr. Secretary Peel

, although he continued to think as he always had thought, that it would be impolitic to grant any further political concessions to the Roman Catholics, yet his opinions upon that subject could not prevent his giving his hearty concurrence to any measure which would have the effect of relieving them from what there could be no question was a direct heavy burthen imposed upon their religious belief.

Ordered to lie on the table.