HC Deb 02 May 1827 vol 17 cc499-504
The Marquis of Chandos

said, that he had been intrusted with a Petition from Olney, Buckinghamshire, against any further concession to the Roman Catholics; and he could not refuse to avail himself of the occasion of stating, that if any thing like consistency existed among the present ministers, they must unite themselves, in order to carry the Catholic Question. He, for one, was determined to do all in his power to defeat that object; as he could place no confidence in the impartiality of a government which had a Roman Catholic advocate at its head. He was satisfied that the new cabinet would do its utmost to procure concession. In the meantime, it remained for the people of England also to act. In the county to which he belonged, the feeling against Roman Catholic concession was strong and general. Much alarm prevailed on this subject; and the dislike of a Roman Catholic administration was by no means confined to narrow limits throughout the country. He had no doubt that petitions would not only be poured in to both Houses of Parliament, but laid at the foot of the Throne, against the continuance of such a government. He would never consent to such an innovation on the constitution, as the admission of Catholics to office: the breach would be irreparable; and if now made, many of those who assisted in the undertaking would have to deplore their success. He had been anxious to declare his sentiments; and he entreated the country to come forward in a manner so decisive as to drive the question of emancipation for ever from the doors of Parliament. Though an humble individual, he trusted his voice would be heard, and his call obeyed. Never, as long as he lived, would he quietly consent to Catholic emancipation.

Mr. Hume

doubted much the assertion of the noble lord regarding the general distrust of the government, merely because it had at the head of it an individual who had supported the claims of the Roman Catholics. If the noble lord and his friends were a criterion of the state of the public mind, certainly the terror and dissatisfaction were great, but did not threaten any very disastrous consequences. He hoped that there was sufficient generosity in the people of England to prevent them from refusing, at that time of day, an equal participation of rights, merely on the score of religious differences. He had too high an opinion of the great mass of the people not to be persuaded, that even if the supposed dislike existed at all, it would shortly be overcome. Whatever change had occurred in the government, the opinion last night delivered by the first lord of the Treasury was no doubt correct; and if so, the peril was not in any respect increased. It was, besides, happily not in the power of any first minister of the Crown to change the constitution of the country. Whatever the right hon. gentleman in his wisdom might determine, and whenever he might again bring forward the subject, he wished him success; and he hoped that, in choosing his time, the right hon. gentleman would consult what was due to his own character and honour, and the welfare of Ireland.

Sir C. Burrell

expressed a hope, that if any concessions were made to the Catholics, they would be accompanied by such securities for the Protestant Church and Hierarchy as would allay the fears which might be entertained for the preservation of religious and general liberty in this country. Any minister, let him be who he might, who should come down to that House and propose a relinquishment of the securities necessary for the preservation of the Protestant Church, would do an act which was unworthy of a minister, and disgraceful to a public man.

Mr. Bright

deprecated the attempt to treat this question as one of a religious nature solely. It was nothing of the sort. The deeply-rooted aversion to the Catholic religion which existed in this country arose from a strong conviction, that the prevalence of that religion always was, always had been, and always would be, inimical to civil liberty. It ought ever to be remembered, that the feeling against the Catholic question was not in the slightest degree connected with a spirit of religious persecution. He was desirous that every man should worship God in the manner most agreeable to his own conscience; but, at the same time, it was necessary to guard against the influence of a religion calculated to infringe upon civil rights and privileges. Those were the principles which actuated the great majority of the people of this country, and therefore they contemplated with just dismay the alteration which had lately taken place in the government. The time was come when it became the representatives of great and populous places to speak out. One advantage had accrued from the late change in the administration, ominous as it was in other respects: he meant the advantage which the Protestant cause had obtained in acquiring a leader of such experience and ability as the late Secretary for the Home Department, who had emancipated himself from the trammels in which he had long been held, induced by a conscientious sense of duty to resign the office which he had filled with so much honour, and endeared himself to the whole country. He called upon that right hon. gentleman to come forward manfully, and maintain his opinions; and he was confident that he would be backed by the country, and that an end would soon be put to the Catholic question. Catholic emancipation, which was said to be the sine quâ non of the pacification of Ireland, would, he believed, have but little effect that way. It was the low state of civilization in Ireland (if he might be permitted to say so without offence), the oppressions under which the lower classes laboured (which the late Secretary for the Home Department had laboured so strenuously to remove)—these were the causes to which the unfortunate condition of that country was attributable. The lower classes were completely ignorant of the measures which parliament had adopted for their benefit. If gentlemen, instead of exciting discontent in Ireland, by continually pressing on that one odious question, would make the lower classes acquainted with the daily and hourly exertions of parliament in their favour, a happier result would await their exertions. Since he had had the honour of a seat in that House, there was no subject which had occupied so much attention as the situation of Ireland. The greatest anxiety was always shown to improve the condition of the people of that country. He had felt it necessary to deliver his sentiments, on account of the great change which had taken place in the government. The sentiments which he had expressed were those which he had always entertained. He conscientiously believed, that the natural tendency of the Catholic religion was alien from, and prejudicial to, the civil liberties of the country in which it existed; and on that ground he would always oppose emancipation.

Sir J. Newport

said, that as the hon. member had thought proper to give his opinion on the state of Ireland, he trusted he would permit him who had been four-and twenty years in that House, and for fifty years intimately engaged in connexion with that country, and might therefore be presumed as competent to form a correct opinion of the state of affairs there as the hon. member, to state what he felt on the subject. He had lived long among the people of Ireland, and he might say, without subjecting himself to the imputation of arrogance, that he had devoted his life to their amelioration. He would, then, tell the hon. member, that the degradation of the people of Ireland had, in a great measure, grown out of the proscription of the great body of the people. Whilst the people were excluded from the benefits of the constitution, the evils which prevailed in Ireland would augment, year after year. It was impossible to look at the condition of the people of Ireland without feeling the most sincere regret at the effect which had been produced in that country, by the misgovernment which had been continued, he might say for centuries. When it was found that all the measures for which the hon. gentleman took so much credit to the House, but for which he (sir J. N.) was disposed to give it very little credit at all, because they had been forced upon its attention by circumstances which had placed Ireland and the empire in peril, had failed to produce a beneficial effect, might he not be allowed to presume that something more was wanting? His firm conviction, which had grown with his increasing years, and had now followed him almost to the grave, was, that it was in vain to seek for the restoration of public safety and happiness in Ireland by any Palliatives; it was necessary to alter the foundation on which the whole rested, to make the people of Ireland free, and to give them all the same interest in the constitution which was at present possessed by only some of them. Unless that course was pursued, this country would soon reap the bitter consequences of the present system. It had been said, that the great body of the people of Ireland, the lower classes, took little or no interest in the Catholic question. Their conduct at the late general election had disproved that assertion. Again he would repeat, that the people of Ireland would never be satisfied until they were placed on an equality with the people of England, with respect to the enjoyment of civil rights.

General Gascoyne

said, that a more extraordinary assertion than that made by the right hon. baronet, namely, that all the evils of Ireland were attributable to the want of emancipation, he had never heard. With respect to that question, he believed that the idea of its being likely to be carried would spread alarm throughout the country. The people at large were decidedly adverse to concession, and the fact would be proved beyond contradiction, should the present ministry find it expedient to resort to another election. The interest in the Catholic question referred to by the right hon. baronet, prevailed not among the lower orders, but among a better informed and more wily class—he meant the priests—who would not feel much complimented by being placed by the right hon. baronet in a sphere so degraded.

Lord Milton

said, it never had been contended, that the removal of the disabilities which pressed upon the Catholics would be a cure for all the evils which afflicted Ireland; but certainly it had been stated, and he thought truly, that the existence of the disabilities was the original cause of those evils. The gallant general seemed to think that the opinion of the people of this country was decidedly adverse to the Catholics; but the very fact of his colleague being favourable to emancipation showed that this was not the case. The representatives of English counties and great towns were almost equally divided on the question: and that being the case, now that the government had been changed, the prospect of success with regard to the question of emancipation was, he thought, materially improved.

Mr. A. Dawson

thought there was no rational ground for supposing, that the Catholic question would be immediately carried on account of the change which had taken place in the ministry. The removal of an individual from one office to that of prime minister, could not, as it were by magic, change the sentiments of the two Houses of parliament. He thought that at present there was no cause for exultation on the one hand, or alarm on the other. He was sorry to hear the successful issue of the Catholic question spoken of as a breach of the constitution. Such a topic should not be introduced incidentally on the presentation of a petition. The best way to preserve the constitution was to enlist in its support the descendants of those men who had procured for us Magna Charta. There was nothing in the heart or mind of a Catholic which would dispose him to object to the principles of a free constitution.

Mr. Duncombe

was satisfied that the great majority of the inhabitants of England were hostile to further concessions.

Mr. H. Seymour

said, there could be no doubt that the great majority of the people of this country was opposed to the Catholic question. Even if that question should be carried through the House by means of the brilliant talents which at present supported the government, it would be found impossible to rain it down the throats of the people of England. He declared his intention to support the administration, until that question came to be discussed.

Mr. Portman

thought it unfair to the House and to the administration, to endeavour to set up a cry which was most likely to inflame the public mind, connected as it was with a question of religion. There seemed to be an intention to place in opposition with each other, two right hon. gentlemen who had last night displayed so much moderation and kindness towards each other. The most becoming course which the opponents of the Catholics could pursue was, to bring the question fairly forward, with the assistance of the late Secretary for the Home Department, whose secession from office he sincerely regretted.

Mr. O'Neil

defended the Catholics of Ireland from the imputations of violence and seditious feeling, which some gentlemen had cast upon them. It had been said, that they came with the semblance of entreaty to the House, but that they carried a petition in one hand, and a dagger in the other. He denied that there was any foundation for these charges.

Ordered to lie on the table.