HC Deb 27 May 1835 vol 28 cc173-86
Mr. Shaw

had several petitions to present in reference to the Established Church, and the danger to which the Protestant religion was at the present crisis exposed in Ireland. He held in his hand one signed by upwards of 1,500 Protestants residing in the county of Louth; others from the Bishop and Clergy of the dioceses of Leighlin and Ferns, and of Killaloe and Kilfenora; all earnestly protesting against the principle of appropriating Church-property to secular purposes, and praying protection for the Protestant religion and Church in Ireland as established by law and guaranteed by the act of union. The petitioners expressed their alarm and dismay at the prospect of the principle of proportion which it is threatened to apply to Protestantism in Ireland, as a mockery of all legislative engagements, and a flagrant violation of the most solemn national contract. The Protestants in Ireland justly regarded it as a premium on their extirpation, and the petitioners respectfully but firmly expressed their opinion, that if that principle were carried into effect, the chief bond of union between Great Britain and Ireland would be dissolved, and that the overthrow of all English interests in Ireland, and the final separation of the countries, would follow as an inevitable consequence. He did not desire to provoke a general discussion of the question on the presentation of these petitions, but hoped the House would allow him to correct some misstatements on mere questions of fact which had been made on the subject to which they related, and he would do so by reading the answers in the words of those from whom he received them, at the same time bearing testimony to the high respectability of the writers—for he made it an invariable rule never to bring forward a fact, or to rely on a document in that House, without being fully assured of the respectability and genuineness of the authority from whence they came. The first statement to which he would allude was one made by the noble Lord the Secretary for the Home Department (Lord John Russell), in his opening speech on the question of the surplus revenue (as the noble Lord called it) of the Irish Church. The statement of the noble Lord was, that there were but two thousand Protestants in the diocess of Killaloe. He (Mr. Shaw) would read the answer to that statement from the letter of the vicar-general of the diocess, who, with himself (Mr. Shaw), only imputed to the noble Lord that he was misinformed. It was in these words:—"I have made the closest inquiry into the actual number, and instead of 2,000, I can state them officially to be 18,265." The next was the case of Tullamore, in the King's county, and referred to a statement of the same noble Lord.

Mr. Dominick Browne rose to order. He believed it was disorderly for persons out of that House to refer to any statement made in debates in that House.

Mr. Shaw

was surprised at the interruption: strictly speaking it certainly was irregular for any persons out of that House to quote the words of an hon. Member used in debate, for the purpose of reasoning upon them, as indeed reporting them at all was in strictness out of order; but he had never before heard an objection made in that House to a correction of the misstatement of a fact. If he was driven to it on a point of mere technicality, he might give the facts as a speech of his own, but he much preferred giving them on the authority and in the words of those who could speak to them of their own personal knowledge. Well, then, with the leave of the House, he would read an extract from a letter written to him by the resident rector of Tullamore, in reference to the statement of the noble Lord (Lord John Russell), as to that parish; it was as follows;—"His Lordship is reported to have made use of as a fact upon which he built his theory of the state of the Irish branch of the Established Church, the parish of Tullamore, which he sets down as by composition at 470l. per annum, and containing 120 Protestants; now the sworn return delivered in to the Commissioners of Inquiry for 1831 rates the churchmen at 1,254; and I regret to say, that my income has been equally mistaken, though the exaggeration lies on the other side, it being little more than one-fourth of the sum set down to me." The third case was that of a statement made by the hon. Member for the county of Cork (Mr. O'Connor), and since quoted by the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) in a speech at Exeter. He would read the statement from the report sent him:—"The hon. Member (Mr. O'Connor) adverted to the non-residence of the Irish Protestant clergy, and declared that the rector of his own parish he had never seen. The curate lived out of the parish, the clerk resided at a distance of fourteen miles from the church, and the sexton sold spirits without a licence in the churchyard." The answer of the Rev. Mr. Hall, the curate, was as follows; "For seven years last past I have been curate of, and constantly residing in, the parish, with the exception of four months, during which I left a substitute perfectly approved of by the Bishop; and until last year, Mr. Laird, the senior curate of the parish, was boarded and lodged during those years by different members of Mr. O'Connor's own family. With respect to the clerk, he has been nearly six years appointed, has resided in the parish all that time, and performed the duties of parish schoolmaster in the most efficient and exemplary manner. And the sexton is a pious, honest, and industrious man, who neither during the six years that he has been appointed, nor at any period of his life, ever sold spirits with or without a licence." Surely the House must desire to have such misrepresentations, though made in error, corrected as speedily as possible. Much mischief, however, was done by their circulation in the mean time, and by hon. Members making such statements calculated to influence the public mind on light grounds. With regard to the question of residence to which the last case had reference, he (Mr. Shaw) was as anxious for the enforcement of residence and the removal of every real abuse in the Established Church as any man could be; but he regarded the Resolution of that House, which the petitioners so strongly deprecated, not as intended to improve or reform the Irish Church, but as having the mixed object to overthrow the late Government on the part of many who voted for it, and of the great majority of the remainder, to take the first step in a principle which would tend to the destruction of all union between Church and State in both countries.

Lord Francis Egerton

presented petitions from Salford and Manchester, signed by 10,500 persons, expressing their alarm at the present situation of the Irish Church, their regret that the measures proposed by the late Government had not been carried into effect, and praying the House for protection to the Church Establishment. The petition was signed by many respectable Dissenters, and also a Roman Catholic gentleman named Travers.

Mr. Mark Philips

felt it necessary to offer a few observations upon the petition which had just been presented by the noble Lord, more especially as the House would be shortly called upon to carry into effect the resolution that had been agreed to relative to the appropriation of the surplus revenue of the Irish Church. He knew not what exertions might have been made to obtain signatures to the petition in question, nor did he mean to call in question its authenticity in any way; but this he would say, that the signatures bore a very small proportion to the population of the town from which it came. He was glad to find there was so small a number representing such sentiments as were contained in that petition. He would beg leave to refer the House to the opinion expressed by his right hon. Colleague who had since accepted the office of President of the Board of Trade. At the late election, the right hon. Gentleman had expressed his opinions pretty freely, and he would say that the result of that election spoke the deliberate conviction on the minds of the population of Manchester upon this subject. Allusions had been made to one gentleman who had signed it, who was a Roman Catholic and a large landed proprietor. He did not mean to cast any imputation upon that gentleman, or any other; but he believed he was the owner of considerable Church-property—and if he was the owner of Church-property, and he considered it in danger, he should certainly feel it his duty to enter his protest against any measure which he thought calculated to produce that effect. The circumstances attending the getting up of the petition were such as that it could not be considered a petition from the town, and he (Mr. M. Philips) would enter his protest against its being received as expressing the sentiments of the people of Manchester.

Mr. Finn,

as a Roman Catholic, would enter his protest against the assertion that the Roman Catholic Members of that House had violated their oaths. The petitioners called upon the House to frame an oath to prevent the Roman Catholics from interfering with Church-property; but if they (the Catholics) were not to be believed upon their oaths, what was the use of making forms to bind them. Were there ever such stupid, such sottish propositions submitted to the House? What had kept the Roman Catholics out of that House for 140 years but their sacred reverence for the obligation of an oath? This was a fact which all the illiberality, cant, hypocrisy, and spirit of plunder which had prevailed in Ireland had never been able to refute or disprove. He challenged hon. Members to produce the same regard for the obligations of an oath among the various sects of England. He would state one fact to the House bearing upon the subject—a Protestant Gentleman, the Member for Ennis, when he had come to that Table to be sworn, had revolted from the oaths about to be administered to him as a Protestant Member, and took the oaths as a Roman Catholic. He, (Mr. Finn) would not for the first position which fortune, station, or empire could confer on him, take the oaths which the Protestant Members of that House were called on to take, and in which their Roman Catholic brethren were stigmatized as idolators. He believed that those persons who assailed his religion were a disgrace to the name of Protestant or any other religion. They reviled the religion of their neighbours, forgetting that pure principle of charity without which there was not, nor could be, any religion. He spurned the base attempt of the petitioners to obtain the opinion of that House upon the Roman Catholic oath, or to induce it to frame another. The question had been a fruitful one for every bigotted individual to pour out his rancour against the Roman Catholics—it had formed a subject for every vile renegade print, for every apostate and unblushing print, which, the more broadly and universally the seal of public reprobation was stamped upon it, the more liberally did it pour out its rancour and malignity against his religion. There was a deep feeling of conviction amongst the peasantry of Ireland, that the injus- tice, the miseries which they suffered, arose from the parsons. There were, he knew, many men of great worth amongst them, but there were others who made it their sole business to diffuse bad feeling, and to excite discord, amongst the people of Ireland. Look at the Dean of St. Patrick for instance, a man who received 2,500l. a-year from his benefice. He had read a speech, an authenticated speech, of that Rev. Gentleman, in which he denounced the Roman Catholics of Ireland as heretics, murderers, and persons utterly incapable of faith or truth. And this was the manner in which this rev. recipient of 2,500l. a-year abused the people from whom he derived his income. Was it surprising, then, that the people of Ireland should feel a sense of injustice at supporting a Church, the Ministers of which thus slandered and insulted them, and that they should feel a deep attachment to their own clergymen, their friends in the hour of need, and their faithful counsellors in the hour of distress? He despised, from his soul, the cant—he was afraid of giving expression to his feelings; but when language of this kind was held in that House, he could not contain them. He called upon the right hon. and learned Recorder to bring forward a distinct resolution upon the subject. When he brought forward in that House a Motion that in every parish where 500l. a-year was the amount of the benefice, the Protestant working clergyman should get 100l. a-year, how many supported that Motion?—thirty-three. And of those who were now anxious to retain the superfluities of the Church, not one of those zealous Friends of the Church supported his motion. He could inform the right hon. Gentleman, that the Churchwas as likely to suffer from its over-zealous Friends as from its bitterest enemies.

Captain Berkeley rose to say one word. It had been stated by the hon. and learned Recorder of Dublin, that those who differed from him upon the subject of the Irish Church, voted upon that occasion because they wanted to put the late Ministry out of office, and to destroy the Church Establishment. [Mr. Shaw: I said the majority] He did not wish to boast that he had as great a regard for the established Church as the hon. and learned Recorder—for himself, he believed that the hon. and learned Recorder's regard did not surpass his own; but all he rose to say was, that so far as any imputations were cast upon him as one who did so vote, life would tell the hon. and learned Recorder that such imputations were neither founded on truth, justice, or charity.

Mr. Shaw

had said that a great many had joined in that vote for the purpose of overturning the Church. Many had said, at least some hon. Members had said, had professed, that their object was to overturn the Church. Many, no doubt, differed from this, But he considered that the great majority had joined in that resolution in order to destroy the connexion between the Church and state in both countries.

Mr. Brotherton

A petition had been presented from the place which he represented, and he begged leave to offer a few words. It was not his intention to disprove the respectability of the parishioners, but he must say that the number of signatures to the petition out of so large a constituency was not a Very great portion. It appeared to him that this was not a question of religious principle; but simply a question bf money. If the established religion were the Christian religion.—a religion founded on justice, seeking to procure peace and good will, it was a bad compliment, at the best, to that religion, to say that it would be overturned unless it were supported by the money of the country. He must say, that in voting for the resolution proposed by the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Home Department, he (Mr. Brotherton) did not vote with a view to put down the established Church, or to do anything having a tendency to weaken the religious feelings of the country. His object was to promote peace and tranquillity in Ireland, to do justice to those who had too often suffered great injustice, and to promote the interests of this country, by endeavouring to promote good order in that part of the empire, and also to prove his respect for religion by standing up on the behalf of justice and humanity, rather than by exciting improper and acrimonious feelings amongst the people of Ireland.

Mr. Ruthven

was surprised at the pertinacity with which these petitions were presented. He had some hope that the noble Lord (Egerton) who had presented one of these petitions would have had the delicacy of not pressing it upon the House, as a more unjust, audacious, and slanderous petition he had never read. They were told that some respectable names were attached to the petition, and that one of them was that of a gentleman of great respectability. If such a person's name was attached to the petition, it disgraced him as a gentleman and a man. They were told, as an excuse, that this gentleman derived his income from Church-property.

Lord F. Egerton

The name of the gentleman to whom the hon. Member alluded was not attached to the petition in question.

Mr. Ruthven

If there were any Other Gentleman of respectability amongst these petitioners, he would say that he had disgraced himself both as a citizen and a private gentleman. Such a petition ought not to be allowed to lie on the Table. The language of petitions to that House ought to be clear, distinct, and not liable to be misunderstood. They ought to know what the petitions applied for. It was not to be tolerated that Members of that House should be spoken of in such language as that used in the present petition. What did the petitioners mean by Irish agitators? That House should not allow petitions containing such vague charges to be presented in this manner. It was a practice that was too often resorted to, and was only calculated to create ill-feeling among the Members Of that House, and the people at large. He would state with respect to the assertions of the right hon. Member, that they were not applicable to him, and they were not founded in truth. The petition which had been read conveyed enough to show how suspiciously all such documents ought to be considered. It contained language which ought not to be countenanced by the House, and he trusted, therefore, it would not be received.

Colonel Evans

said, that he was not one of those who conceived it his duty to look very scrupulously at the language contained in petitions—he was anxious to throw the door as widely open as possible to the right of petitioning. He was not, therefore, for rejecting these petitions, though certainly they were couched in very unjustifiable language—he alluded especially to the petitions from South Lancashire and Durham. If he was not mistaken, one of those petitions charged a portion of that House with perjury, and the other charged the majority of the House with high treason. Did it mean to charge His Majesty's Ministers, and those who supported the course they had adopted, with that offence? If it did not distinctly convey a charge of that nature, the petition was a most senseless one.

Mr. Wilson Patten

was understood to say, that no charge of high treason was preferred in the petition referred to, that from South Lancashire. The petition was most respectably signed by members of the established Church and by Dissenters, and it had been got tip without any undue exertions.

Lord Francis Egerton

said, that he had always looked upon it as a principle adopted by that House to allow the greatest possible latitude to petitioners. There must be very strong reasons to justify the rejection of a petition, such as that it contained calumny or slander against an individual, or that it was contrary to the forms of the House. He would beg to say, that if any portion of the petition contained a charge of high treason against anybody, much more against that House, he would not present it. But he thought a forced construction had been put upon the charge contained in it. It was, certainly, couched in strong language. He understood it to designate the measure as an act of treason against the King and Constitution of the country. But that did not mean treason in the legal sense of the word—namely, levying war against the King; it was merely a figurative expression. It was not language, perhaps, that he would have used had he drawn up this petition, but he felt it did not exceed the language used in other petitions to that House, and that he was bound in duty to his constituents to lay their sentiments before Parliament.

Mr. Grote

would only make one observation on the subject. Much was frequently said by gentlemen opposite as to the ferocious language employed by Radicals and the working classes. That reproach was often cast at the supporters of the popular side. He would defy, however, any Member opposite to point out a petition coming from those parties which abounded in such calumnious assertions, and that imputed the very worst possible motives to others, as this petition from the Conservatives of South Lancashire did, and also the petition from Durham. It was true great latitude should be allowed in petitioning, but it was right that the same character should be applied to violent language, whether it came from the ultra-Pious or the ultra-Radical.

Mr. Arthur Trevor

would not have pre- sented the petition from Durham if it was open to the charge brought against it by the hon. Member. It was true it contained strong language, but it referred to a subject of solemn and sacred importance, and the petitioners had a right to employ language as strong as the rules of society would admit in characterizing the measure in question. They heard much of the persecution of the Catholics; was there no persecution against the Protestants? The proposed measure was a direct invasion of their property. He had several other petitions to present from the county of Durham on the same subject, but as he had not read them; he could hot say whether they were couched in the same language as that in the petition he had just presented. As he did not, however, see the hon. Member for that county present, who differed from him (Mr. Trevor) on this subject, he would abstain from presenting them now. He hoped that the hon. Member for Kilkenny (Mr. Finn) would believe that he did not wish to cast the imputations which he conceived were contained in the petition on the Catholic members. He was not responsible for the language of the petition, although he concurred in the sentiments of the petitioners, as to what they conceived the measure contemplated by the noble Lord would be, and he fully agreed with them in regarding it as an act of sacrilegious robbery and spoliation.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that, most assuredly, no one could describe the petition as not going far enough in its language. Indeed, the expressions made use of appeared to him to be outrageously violent, calumnious, unfounded in truth, and uncalled for. Yet, though possessing all these unprepossessing qualifications, he was, by no means, prepared to say that its language was altogether unparliamentary. Though many Members of that House were therein grossly attacked with calumnious insinuations, yet, as the petition did not exactly describe the persons whom it vilified as Members of Parliament, it was hardly competent in the House to object to it as a matter of form. It would be best to treat it with the compassion of contempt, and at once allow it to be received. It was at least worthy of notice as a rich specimen of the extent to which bad taste and lying might be carried; and Heaven forbid that the freemen of South Lancashire should be deprived of their right of lying, though they certainly seemed to exercise the privilege to a most outrageous extent. He would at once say, let their lies and the petition which contained them lie quiet on the Table. It was satisfactory, however, to find that the hon. Member who introduced the petition did not coincide with its subscribers in the charges which it contained.

Mr. Trevor

begged to say, that he had only expressed himself as not participating in the charge of perjury which it had been alleged that the petition set forth, though for his own part he had been unable to discover any such charge.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that if certain Members of the House were not directly charged with perjury by the petitioners, there was, at any rate, set forth a very unequivocal sort of insinuation to that purpose; and he would put it to the hon. Gentleman's good taste and judgment whether this latter method of attacking those Members was not ten times more base and cowardly than a direct charge? There was a method of meeting a direct charge put in an honest and manly way, but there was none of answering a charge when made in the contemptible shape of an insinuation. If any hon. Members agreed with the petitioners in their sentiments on this subject, he wished they would get up and make a decided and positive charge, instead of leaving the matter to be brought forward in the shape of these contemptible and cowardly insinuations, fit only to form part of the ribaldry of certain newspapers. In reference to one subject alluded to by the petitioners, he would observe, that he should be most glad if some hon. Member would bring forward the subject of the Catholic Oath in the practical shape of moving that it be abolished. For his own part, though, of course, he had taken the oath, there was one part of it which he did not like—he referred to the words "Protestant Government." He could not understand what was meant by calling this Government a Protestant Government, when, in fact, there were only three offices to which Roman Catholics were not eligible. He had concluded, however, that it meant the "existing Government," and in this sense he had taken it; and he had more than once explained to the House that this was his construction of the words, and had called upon any hon. Member who could prove him to be wrong in it, to move his expulsion. In the course of last Session, the "existing Government" had expressed their entire concurrence in the meaning he had adopted, and no hon. Member had had the courage to take up the challenge he had thrown out. As to the Motion of the noble Secretary for the Home Department, he saw nothing in the oath he had taken which should prevent his voting for it, for he saw nothing in it to injure the Protestant Church; on the contrary, the measure proposed appeared to him eminently calculated to preserve that Establishment. He should have voted precisely the same way if it had been the Catholic Church which was in possession of revenues so disproportioned as the revenues now in question were to the extent of the recipients of its spiritual instruction. He would have done so from a conviction that the scandalous robbery, the gross peculation, and disgraceful love of the mammon of the world, which necessarily arose out of such a state of things, would inevitably infringe upon, and destroy all respect for, true religion, and its ministers, feeding, fattening, gorged, on the plunder of Protestants, who, under the supposed circumstances, would constitute the overwhelming majority. He would have done so as a Catholic anxious to remove the causes which he should hold as tending to prevent Protestants from considering the truths and embracing the principles of the Catholic faith. Why should not the Protestant Members look at the question in a similar point of view? To what did they attribute the fact, that during all the past ages Protestantism had made so little way in Ireland, believing, as they did, that faith to be the true one, and knowing, as they did, that truth in almost all cases was omnipotent? Must they not consider that their religion has not had fair play? Must they not feel that a very natural prejudice had been created and continued against it by the excessive and overgrown wealth of its clergy, and the nature of that wealth, and by the injustice and oppression which the Irish nation suffered in their political degradation. If other reasons could be assigned why the Catholics did not become Protestants, they were, probably, "prejudice or ignorance." Now, in the first place, that people knew that the whole of the Church-property in Ireland had been originally given for Catholic purposes, such as the education of Catholics, the maintenance of the Catholic clergy, the celebration of mass, prayers for the dead, releasing souls from purgatory. ["No, no!"] Surely the hon. Member who cried "No, no!" could not be so totally ignorant of history as not to know that such was the nature of the original endowments? At any rate, the Irish people knew it, and this knowledge in no slight degree aggravated their sense of the injustice under which they suffered. It might, perhaps, be said, too, that the Catholics did not become Protestants because of their ignorance. Now, what was the object of the noble Lord's proposed Bill? First, of course, that the spiritual wants of the Protestants in Ireland should be fully taken care of. Surely this was all that was necessary for them! Oh no: it was not the actual spiritual wants of the Protestants there that the opponents of the Bill confined their aspirations to;—what they wanted was the pounds, shillings, and pence of the establishment. Oh shame! he would exclaim, upon those who looked upon religion, not as a pure feeling between man and his Creator, but as a mere vehicle for realizing paltry pelf, and enriching themselves with the mammon of the world. But, admitting that it was the ignorance of the Catholics which kept them from becoming Protestants, surely no hon. Member could conceive a more advantageous or glorious mode of bestowing the surplus of the Church of Ireland's revenues than in freeing the Catholics from the deplorable ignorance described, and thus enabling them to appreciate the superior claims of the Protestant faith. All he asked was, that, after educating the Catholics, they would give both religions a clear stage and no favour, and God defend the right. It had been said as much as that the oaths of the Roman Catholic Members were of no force as regarded the approaching subject, for that there were decrees of the Popes against taking oaths prejudicial to the interests of the Church, and absolving Members from perjury who forswore them. But this point had been misrepresented. The decrees in question did not acquit a man of perjury who had made oaths and violated them, but declared the perjury to consist in the taking of oaths prejudicial to the interests of the Church—not in breaking them. In the Catechism which he had learnt from, perjury was defined the breaking of a lawful oath, and the making an unlawful one. The same authority which forbade the one, had a right to prohibit the other. That the Roman Catholics abhorred the taking an oath against their consciences, was put beyond the doubt of all but the most unblushing calumniators, by the fact, that for so many years they had been kept out of Parliament solely from their conscientious feeling in this respect. In conclusion, he hoped the hon. Member for Durham would before long make some Motion on the subject of this oath. As to the ribaldry of South Lancashire, or the lies of Durham, they excited nothing but his contemptuous compassion.

The Petition was laid on the Table.