HC Deb 05 February 1828 vol 18 cc109-13
Mr. A. Dawson

said, he rose to present several petitions in favour of Catholic Emancipation, to which he wished to draw the particular attention of the House. The petitioners complained that they were, in violation of the Treaty of Limerick loaded with civil disabilities; and they contended for the right to follow the dictates of their consciences, in matters of a religious nature, without thereby incurring any disqualification whatever. In reference to this subject, he begged leave to state, that he, in common with many others, felt considerable surprise and disappointment, in consequence of no notice having been taken in his majesty's Speech of the situation of Ireland, or of those feelings on religious subjects, which not only agitated that country, but had obtained ground in England. It was said by the noble lord opposite, that the omission was of no consequence, as nothing had occurred in Ireland since the last session that called for any mention of that country. But he would state that this was not the fact; for matters of the deepest importance to the welfare and happiness of Ireland had occurred since that period. What could be a more important feature in the history of Ireland than that with one accord, and from one extremity of the island to another, millions of people had assembled on the same day, and at the same hour, for the purpose of respectfully petitioning the legislature for justice? This, it must be admitted, was a most important event: it showed the fixed determination of one portion of our empire to press their claims on the attention of the legislature. If this were a time of war—if this country were threatened with invasion—would not the legislation attend to this call? And, would they now slumber on their posts? Would they now allow ministers to satisfy them, by saying that there was no necessity to take notice of the situation of Ireland? Four millions of people had attended those simultaneous meetings, of whom not less than one million were capable of bearing arms. They might make a field-marshal premier—every member of the cabinet might be a field-marshal—but, in his view of the state of the country, it would give the legislature more dignity in the eyes of foreign nations, if they gave peace and tranquillity to Ireland. The Protestant Dissenters of England were united as one man, in calling for relief from civil disabilities; and both the Protestant and the Catholic Dissenters bottomed their request for relief on the same ground; namely, that every man had a right to worship God according to the dictates of his conscience, and to exercise his judgment freely in matters of religion.— The hon. gentleman concluded, by presenting sundry petitions from Louth, in favour of Catholic emancipation.

Mr. G. Lamb

presented a petition of the same nature from the Roman Catholics of Dungarvon. When he last presented a petition on this subject from his constituents, he had expressed a hope that that would be the last time that they would find it necessary to come forward with a similar petition. But he could not now cherish any such expectations; seeing that, since that time, an event had occurred which presented a bulwark against the claims of the Roman Catholics; namely, the appointment of a prime minister who was decidedly hostile to their demands. It was, however, gratifying to him to observe, that the Catholics had never removed their eyes from the great object which they had held so long in view: it was pleasing to contemplate the fact, that they had not slackened their zeal in endeavouring to attain their just rights; and he hoped they would continue to pursue the same course, until they secured those rights which belonged to them, as citizens and subjects of a free state.

Mr. H. V. Stuart

presented a similar petition from the Roman Catholics of Newton Barry. He said, that his constituents, and the Catholics at large, deeply deplored the change that had taken place in his; majesty's councils. He begged leave in at few words to explain what his feelings were with respect to the present ministry. Some there were who thought a ministry ought to be supported, if they enabled the country to pursue a successful commercial career; some would give their support to an able financial ministry; and others would found their adherence to the ministry on the ground of the ability which they displayed on subjects connected with our foreign policy. Now, though these were important considerations, yet they yielded in his estimation, before the consideration of the conduct which any government intended to pursue on the subject of the emancipation of the Roman Catholics. He hoped ever to steer his political course by that question alone. On the way in which it was treated would he form his opinion as to the character of the ministers of the Crown. Were they the best financiers, the most able diplomatists, the most profound masters of political economy; were they perfect in every other science that should distinguish ministers; still, if they were opposed to the cause of the Roman Catholics, he should disgrace himself, and belie his long-formed opinions, if he did not say that such men, the friends of exclusion and the enemies of civil and religious liberty, were not fit to govern a free country. It had been his fortune to change seats in that House on two occasions; but though he had changed seats, he had not changed sides or opinions. The government of the earl of Liverpool opposed the claims of the Catholics, and he therefore lifted up his voice against it. The government of Mr. Canning was decidedly in favour of that measure, and therefore he thought it to be his duty to support that government. Those two governments had passed away, and another had succeeded. The new government he must judge of by the same test; and having done so, he felt himself called on to oppose it.

Mr. D. W. Harvey

wished, when any gentleman representing a borough or a county in Ireland rose to present a petition on this subject, that he would enable him to collect, if possible, what he had never yet been able to do with reference to the Catholic question. After describing, with an eloquence peculiarly their own, the distressed situation of their country, those gentlemen always came to this conclusion, that there was no other mode of shedding light on that benighted country, that there was no other way of restoring tranquillity to seven or eight millions of people, except by granting Catholic emancipation. If it were proved that such was really the state of the case, he would abandon any particular feelings which he himself entertained on the subject, and concede the measure. But the statements to which he had alluded were, he believed, not only groundless, but pregnant with mischief. It was desirable that the state of Ireland should be changed from one of wretchedness and horror to one of tranquillity and happiness: but to say that the concession of Catholic emancipation was the only means by which that object could be effected, was to practise a delusion on the people whom those gentlemen wished to serve. The hon. member who spoke last said, he disdained every qualification in a ministry, unless that ministry were friendly to the Catholic claims; he would not support the present administration in making any financial reductions, because they were hostile to those claims. Now, if he were called on to give his support to an administration, that support should be most readily given to men who evinced a desire to look with a steady, undeviating eye to the expenditure of the country, for the purpose of relieving it from the burthens under which it at present groaned.

Mr. Spring Rice

said, he had heretofore cautiously abstained from any discussion on this question, and he should not have been induced to take a part in it now, if it had not been for the extravagant misrepresentation of argument and of reasoning, in the speech of the hon. gentleman who had just sat down. If the Irish members could at all participate in the opinions of that hon. gentleman, they would forfeit all claim to the respect of that House. He would not, however, adopt the hon. member's representation of his (Mr. Rice's) feelings and his arguments; and he was sure there was not one of the representatives of Ireland who would not disclaim that representation, if it were necessary. The members for Ireland could speak for themselves; and if they wanted a mouth-piece, they certainly would not select the hon. member for Colchester. There was one point on which he wished to touch, which was not important as proceeding from the hon. member, but which did derive importance from its having been adopted by other individuals. The hon. member said, that if it could be proved to him, that the physical evils which afflicted the people of Ireland would be removed by granting Catholic emancipation, he would be willing to join with the friends of that question, and assist in procuring it. Now, he was ready to join any hon. gentleman, at any time, on that particular issue. He would rest the whole of the argument on that very point. He was prepared to prove, by argument and evidence, that the miseries of that unfortunate country arose out of the abuses of the law, occasioned, not only primarily but exclusively, by this peculiar cause. His hon. friend opposite (Mr. G. Dawson) might differ from him on the point of granting the claims of the Catholics, but he would agree with him that there was no one question of greater importance. His hon. friend might advocate positive resistance to those claims, but still they both agreed, that the question was one of the utmost importance. Neither was the subject unconnected with financial economy in Ireland. By doing justice in that country—by reducing the establishment—by altering the tithe-system—they would produce retrenchment. That would be a large, a wise, a liberal, economy, although the honourable member for Colchester might take a different view of the question. The hon. member for Colchester said, he would come down early and late to support a system of economy. The hon. member would, perhaps, vote for some miserable reduction, by which the country would not be benefitted. Principles, such as the hon. member had thrown out, rendered it necessary, in 1798, to keep up an establishment of a hundred thousand men —a larger army than the duke of Wellington commanded on the continent of Europe—and to raise by loan (the interest of which they were now obliged to pay) the sum of ten millions, over and above the ordinary supplies. If a different policy had been pursued, this army of a hundred thousand might have been spared—this loan of ten millions would have been rendered unnecessary. Such was his idea of economy, in contradistinction to that of the hon. member—an economy connected with higher feelings, and better views, than the narrow economy of that hon. gentleman. He called on the House to go on in the work of justice with respect to the Roman Catholics; and he trusted, when their case came to be argued, that the legislature would take the representatives of Ireland as witnesses or advocates, rather than the hon. member for Colchester.

Ordered to lie on the table.