HC Deb 12 October 1831 vol 8 cc592-4
Mr. Ryder

presented a Petition from Westham, Hailsham, and other places, praying that Protestant soldiers might not be compelled to attend or take part in Roman Catholic ceremonies.

Mr. O'Connell

called the attention of the hon. Member to the language of the petition. He hoped that it was not insulting to the Catholics of the empire. He hoped that an inquiry would be made into the subject-matter of this petition, as he was opposed to all violations of the freedom of conscience, either among Catholics or among Protestants.

Sir John Newport

said, that the language of the petition, in designating as impious the ceremonies of the Catholic religion, went, he thought, a little further than the House would tolerate. He should certainly oppose the printing of such a petition.

Mr. James E. Gordon

thought, that the House ought not to be too lynx-eyed with regard to such petitions.

Sir Robert Inglis

said, several petitions had been presented which contained such expressions against the Church of England as no hon. Member ought to tolerate. As these had been received, he thought they ought not to be very scrupulous on the other side.

Mr. Hunt

said, the hon. Baronet had objected to one petition being received because it contained the words "bloated clergy;" he therefore ought to be the last man to object to this petition.

Mr. Robinson

said, it was not an argument in favour of the present petition, that others containing offensive expressions had been printed.

Petition laid on the Table.

Sir Robert Bateson

presented a similar Petition from Coleraine. This petition had been got up in consequence of the inhabitants having heard that two British officers had been dismissed from the army because they refused to assist at certain Catholic ceremonies at Malta.

Mr. James E. Gordon

said, he had been gratified with the remarks of the hon. member for Kerry, as the practice complained of was against that liberty of conscience which all persons must desire to see promoted.

Mr. O'Connell

said, if the hon. member for Dundalk would move for the appointment of a Committee to investigate the business, he should be happy to second his motion. He (Mr. O'Connell) considered it a most grievous case, that two officers should have been expelled from the army for refusing to violate their consciences. He should have felt it a most serious grievance if Catholics had been subject to similar treatment in a Protestant country; he therefore hoped the matter would be brought fully before the House.

Mr. Wilks

considered the case as one of extreme grievance, and one which every man, whatever his religion was, ought not to tolerate. The officers had only desired to be exempted from violating their consciences, and had been, consequently, dismissed from the army and deprived of support.

Mr. Frankland Lewis

said, an explanation had been given on this question on a former occasion, and, to the best of his recollection, it was, that the officers were not called upon to participate in the religious ceremony as individuals, but only for the performance of military duty: they were not called upon in the slightest degree to recognise the religious part of the ceremony, and were dismissed from the army for military insubordination.

Mr. James E. Gordon

said, if the right hon. Member would examine the evidence, he would find that the offences of these officers was, a refusal to perform a military duty connected with the elevation of the host, and other ceremonies of the Catholic religion.

Mr. O'Connell

observed, that the circumstances occurred at the festival called Corpus Christi. All the Catholics of the place knelt down, but the soldiers were only required to present their arms or to salute. These officers were of opinion that to salute was an act of idolatry, and they were dismissed the army for obeying their consciences in preference to a military order. These were admitted facts, and some inquiry ought therefore to be instituted to show how far military duty was to interfere with a man's conscience.

Mr. Ruthven

said, he considered that the officers were merely called on to perform a military duty, and they chose to mix their religious feelings up with that duty. To allow this, was not a good way to keep up discipline in the army. He considered that every man, whatever his opinion might be, should pay at least decent observance to the religious ceremonies of the country where he happened to be.

Sir Robert Bateson

said, he should move that the petition be printed, for he remembered, when a similar petition had been before the House some time since, he had not been satisfied with the explanation then given by the Secretary at War. He believed there was some doubt about the propriety of soldiers assisting at religious ceremonies in the minds of some officers, he therefore hoped the Government would attend to the subject.

Mr. Frankland Lewis

regretted that there was no member of the Government present to give the necessary explanation; he, therefore, entreated hon. Members to suspend their opinions until they heard from the proper authority what were the actual circumstances of the case. With respect to the general question, however, he was of opinion soldiers ought to perform whatever military duties were imposed on them by the proper authority: but if they were called upon to bear part in a religious ceremony, so as to express an opinion, they should most certainly be relieved from that necessity.

Petition to be printed.