HC Deb 11 June 1835 vol 28 cc655-63
Mr. Ormsby Gore

presented a Petition from certain persons of the town of Oswestry, in the county of Salop, against the appropriation of any part of the revenues of the Church of Ireland to any other than strictly Ecclesiastical purposes. The petitioners further prayed that the oath now taken by Roman Catholic Members of Parliament on taking their seats might be so altered, that they should be incapacitated from voting on questions relative to the Church. They further urged that by their present oath the Roman Catholics swore not to disturb the property of the Protestant Church in the United Kingdom, as by law established, and that therefore they were precluded from voting on questions affecting the property of the Church.

Mr. William S. O'Brien

said, he really thought that those Gentlemen who, on the presentation of such petitions as these, gave a cheer, and thereby conveyed their assent to the sentiments contained in such petitions, ought to come before the House and propound some resolution respecting the oath taken by the Irish Roman Catholic Members, rather than pursue their present mode of conveying the sentiments of their constituents in that House, on a question of vital importance to numerous representatives. He remembered the Debate on the Roman Catholic Relief Bill in that House, and he also recollected that when a proposition was then made that Roman Catholics should not vote on questions connected with the affairs of the Church, it was scouted; and for his own part, if he were a Roman Catholic, he would not take a seat on those terms. He entreated hon. Gentlemen who avowed their advocacy of them to bring the whole subject fairly before the House.

Mr. Sheil,

though he agreed with the Chair that these discussions should be avoided on the presentation of a petition, yet he must, at the same time, as one of the Members of that House to whom this petition referred, express his disapprobation of it, as it conveyed almost an accusation of perjury, upon a large number of the Members of that House, against not less than thirty-five persons, who were exposed to that imputation. He trusted that the House would feel that such indulgence ought to be extended to him, whilst he shortly remonstrated against the course which had been adopted; and whilst he called upon those who assented to the opinions of the petitioners, to take, he would not say a bolder course, but one of a more candid character. He would not be caried away into a state of excitement, or use a tone of language which should display any acrimony; but, in a spirit truly Christian, he called upon hon. Members on the other side of the House, who had recourse to this expedient to excite a feeling against the Roman Catholic body, at once to bring forward a Bill to have the oath taken by the Roman Catholic Members explicitly determined. Will you do so?" said the hon. and learned Member. ["Hear!"] "The hon. Gentleman cries 'hear, hear.' He assents, then, to the justice of the observation as applied to a large portion of this House." When I gave notice of a motion on the Irish Tithe Bill, the hon. Baronet the Member for the University of Oxford, intimated that he would, when the matter was brought forward, offer an affront to the Roman Catholic Members of that House—(an affront it was, I will maintain)—by moving that the oath taken by them should be read. Let that hon. Gentleman bring in a Bill. "We put one interpretation on that oath, you put a different one on it. And what right have you to brand us with the crime of perjury, because we differ from you in our interpretation of the oath?" The first person who had commenced this charge against the Roman Catholics in that house was the hon. Member for St. Andrew's, and he wished that hon. Gentleman had been as explicit in his threat as he had been in pledges which he had given elsewhere. He repeated that first person who had re-introduced the subject of the Roman Catholic oath, who had put a construction of his own upon it, and had attached a strong censure upon a portion of the Members of that House, was the hon. Gentleman who was then sitting beside him. When that hon. Gentleman came in he was not charging him with a violation of a pledge in which his honour was deeply concerned; but he wished (as we understood) he might explain the oath, though not with the same latitude, but with the same conscientious feeling with which that hon. Gentleman had explained his pledge. He hoped he should be pardoned if he felt excited; he meant it not offensively, but with a view to the truth, he challenged any hon. Member to bring in a Bill.

Sir Robert Bateson

said, that having been one of those Members who had dared to cheer, as an independent Member, and as a man not ashamed of what he cheered in that House, he must protest against the tone and language of the hon. and learned Gentleman, which were neither courteous nor parliamentary. In his opinion, freedom of language and freedom of debate were alike the privilege of every hon. Member; and he would tell the House, and the hon. Member too, that he had conscientiously cheered, because he agreed in the sentiments which were em- bodied in the petition. He did not contend, nor had he ever said, or presumed to say, how far the consciences of hon. Members were to be regulated; but he certainly was not ashamed to tell the hon. Gentleman his opinion was, that if he took the oath prescribed for Roman Catholics, he should think himself precluded from taking a part in discussions on matters connected with the Established Church, with regard to the appropriation of its revenues, or its management. He might be wrong, but such was his conscientious belief; and such being the case, he had cheered, because he applauded the sentiments of the Petition. He did not nor had he ever charged hon. Gentlemen opposite with perjury. He had never used any such unchristian-like language. It was his wish to be on good terms with all his Roman Catholic brethren.

Mr. Finn

asked how it had occurred that this question of the Roman Catholic oath had never been brought under discussion until after the thirty-five Catholic Members decided the fate of the late Administration? On the discussion of the Vestry-cess, no question was raised upon it. But the fact was, that there had been a majority of ten on the Speakership, of seven on the Address to the Crown, and of twenty-seven on the Irish Church Resolution, which caused the dismissal of one Administration and restored another to power; and this was the secret of this animosity. The right hon. Baronet, who conducted the Roman Catholics' Disabilities Renewal Bill, when called upon by Sir Charles Wetherell to exclude Roman Catholics from voting on Church questions, answered that he did not wish to see the Roman Catholics in that House placed on a different footing from others with reference to their power to exercise their opinions and votes upon all occasions; and that right hon. Gentleman had never receded from that declaration; and though he had been taunted with having become a convert to Roman Catholic Emancipation, he had never meddled with the oath. He would mention an instance of the partial manner in which this subject was treated. Mr. Blount some time since published in the Morning Chronicle, an excellent letter on this subject, and that letter, which ought to have set the matter at rest, had never appeared in the Tory papers—such as the Morning Post and the Morning Herald. Such was the honesty of the Public Press.

Mr. Andrew Johnston

hoped, after the personal allusion which had been made to him by the hon. and learned Member for Tipperary, the House would allow him to say one word. He had felt it his duty, during the last Parliament, to bring the oath taken by the Catholic Members before the House on two several occasions, and it was reckoned of so much importance, that, if he recollected well, the hon. and learned Member for Dublin brought forward the subject by a special motion on that occasion. He (Mr. Johnston) then stated, that he had the freedom to express his opinion on this very important question, and he agreed with the hon. and learned Member for Dublin, that if there was any doubt in the matter, the oath ought to be removed from the statute-book, so that no wrong interpretation might be put upon it by the country, or by the Roman Catholic Members of the House. He must, however, make this further observation; he did not admire the taste of the hon. Gentleman in bringing forward a matter in which he (Mr. Johnston) had been concerned. He could not see what reference the one question had to the other. But he would say, if he was to be bearded in that House upon a dispute which he had had with his constituents, he would call upon the hon. Member for Tipperary, if he was to be taunted on every occasion, he would call upon him, as he had called upon hon. Gentlemen opposite, to bring the matter before the House, and he would be ready to give an answer to any accusation which might be made. He had already offered his case to the House, and was quite willing to bring it before the House, if the House would allow him.

Mr. O'Connell

said, he must do the hon. Member for St. Andrew's the justice to state that when he brought this subject forward he did it with courtesy of language, and from a strong sincere religious feeling; he differed from that hon. Member, but both were equally sensible of the solemn obligation of an oath. He (Mr. O'Connell) felt it his duty, then, not to let the matter rest, although the Attorney-General put the same construction upon the oath as he did. He thought it better not to suffer the question to rest, and had brought it before the House, in the shape of a motion to alter the oath. He was met by an almost unanimous declaration of the House, He considered what they had to say; if his interpretation of the oath was a wrong one, he then called upon the House to expel him; he called upon the Government to come forward and say whether he had misconstrued the oath, and to decide the question for ever; for if, indeed, it was such an oath as had been described, he would remain as he had done before for many years beyond the Bar of that House. The hon. Baronet, the Member for Londonderry (Sir Robert Bateson), had mistaken the meaning of the hon. Member for Tipperary. He did not taunt that hon. Baronet with cheering, but for not bringing forward a specific motion, instead of making an insinuation by his cheer. He thought that the hon. Member for Londonderry was not a wise theologian; he doubted his skill on that question. That hon. Baronet seemed angry at the language used towards him, though he did declare his own opinion that were he in the situation of the Roman Catholics in that House, he should think himself perjured; and yet he thought this was perfect Christian charity. The petition stated that the Roman Catholics swore not to use any privilege with which they might be invested for the purpose of weakening or overturning the Protestant Church as by law established. What was the meaning of this privilege? Did it come under the privilege or right to vote? Did it do so on the interpretation of the House? Let that question be decided. He would say, as a lawyer, that it did not. The contrary might be the interpretation of the House; if so, let them have the law clearly defined. The petition went on to say, that Roman Catholics ought not to vote on questions appertaining to the revenues of the Church; that was to say, that revenue and religion were synonymous terms. Such things might be in the opinion of the Londonderry theologians. His opinion was that religion was one thing, revenue another; the one was from God, the other not. Instead of the two being synonymous terms, nothing could be more contradictory. He would ask, would the Protestant religion end, if the revenues of her Church were lessened? But he had too much respect for the religion of many of his nearest and dearest friends and relatives not to spurn the idea that by the Protestant religion was meant pounds, shillings, and pence. If a question arose in that House upon the Thirty-nine Articles of the Protestant Church, upon the pro- priety of reducing them to nineteen, as had been done in America, he perhaps might not vote. But why did they encumber the Protestant religion with these revenues? Religion and revenue were separate things, and why should not the Church be rid of such unholy means? Devote the surplus revenue to the purposes of education. What was wanted more than to provide for the spiritual wants of the members of the Establishment? There was now a traffic in things which did not belong to the altar of God. Dr. Boyton had said that those Protestants who did not support the Church Establishment in Ireland were slaughtering the milch cow which supported the younger sons of the aristocracy.

Mr. Charles Russell

protested against hon. Members having motives imputed to them. The hon. Member who had presented this petition had abstained from giving any opinion of his own on the subject; and all he had said was, that he believed the persons who had signed that petition to be highly respectable.

Lord John Russell

was understood to suggest the inconvenience to public business by protracting this discussion.

Mr. Ormsby Gore

regretted this discussion, nor did he intend to have said any thing which should militate against the good feeling of the House. He had been taunted for having brought, forward this petition, which was adverse to the interests of Ireland. Ireland was the country of his forefathers; and he would not yield to any one of the 100 Members for Ireland in his attachment to, and anxiety for, the welfare of that part of the kingdom. He would state, which he was sure would not be disputed by the hon. and learned Member for Dublin, that in the debate upon the passing of the Catholic question, words relating to the security of civil and ecclesiastical property, which had been proposed to be inserted in the oath, were omitted; and the ground taken by those who opposed their insertion was, that as civil property was guarded, so was ecclesiastical property; and the right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel), in opposing the proposition of the learned Member who brought forward such a Resolution, stated that it would be raising a distinction between ecclesiastical and civil property. Surely the hon. and learned Member for Dublin would not contend that, according to the words of his oath, he had a right to upset civil property. It was not for his party, nor for those who sat on that side of the House, to explain the oaths taken by hon. Members; it was they who had a doubt upon their minds respecting it who should bring in a Bill. With regard to what had fallen from the hon. Member for Kilkenny, he would say, that hon. Gentleman was mistaken in supposing that "they had never heard of the oath until the Catholic Members had been the means of changing the Ministry." He rather thought that such a supposition was contradicted by what had fallen from the hon. and learned Member for Dublin; and who stated, that he had already called the attention of the House to this subject. This proved, then, that the matter was not for the first time introduced since the late change of the Ministry. He could not sit down without again adverting to what had been said of himself, in reference to his connexion with Ireland. He had various properties in Ireland; and he had Roman Catholics as well as Protestants upon his estates. His tenantry were of both religions, and he defied any human being, whether he was an Englishman or Irishman, to point out an instance in which there had been a difference of treatment exhibited to either of them—where there had been eviction of Roman Catholics to place Protestants in their stead—and where he did not give to the old tenants that which he conceived to be their undoubted right, to remain on that land where their forefathers had been for generations before he was born. He flattered himself that he had as respectable Roman Catholic tenants upon his estate as any Gentleman in that House.

Mr. O'Connell,

in explanation, observed it was quite true what the hon. Gentleman had stated with respect to the omission of the words "Civil and Ecclesiastical property" in the oath; but he wanted to know, would it be contended that he had not a right to legislate upon civil property—that he could not give a vote upon the administration of civil property? Was he to be precluded from voting upon tle administration of corporation property—upon fines and recoveries? Why, if he were to be precluded from voting upon civil as well as ecclesiastical property, he could have no business to do as a Member of that House—[Cries of "Spoke."] He had spoken—let them, if they could, answer him.

Petition laid on the Table.