§ Mr. Langdale
said, that he hoped the courtesy of the House would permit him to bring under their consideration a subject which principally related to himself. A report had appeared in the public press of what took place, he would not say where, in which his name had been mentioned—in which his conduct had been brought forward, and from which it would appear that he had attracted an amount of censure under which it was impossible that be should rest, without, at least, taking some notice of it. He trusted, under these circumstances, to the courtesy of the House to allow him to say a few words in his own defence and vindication, the more especially when the attack made upon him related to the regard he paid, or was supposed not to pay, to the solemn obligation of an oath. In the reported speech where the censure he referred to was pronounced against him, it was stated that the best criterion of the meaning and intention of the oath was to be collected from the animus with which the promoters 366 of the Catholic Relief Bill brought that measure forward. Now, as it appeared to him, that animus was to be ascertained, not from any views that might at present be taken of that subject by the noble Lords and right hon. Gentlemen who were concerned in passing that bill, but from the sentiments expressed by them at the time. Let it be seen what the Ministers of that day said on the subject. If they saw what the bearings of the question were, then they could now come to some conclusion as to what were the views of the Parliament of that day respecting the sense in which the oaths of the Members of that House were to be taken. The first notice of this subject he found was to this effect—that the oath was not to be considered as applicable to the Catholic in his legislative capacity, as the Speaker said, "that other, better, and more favourable notion was formed by an hon. Gentleman (as by courtesy he was styled), the brother of a noble Lord, he meant the hon. Mr. Langdale." For his own part, he was willing that the oath should be interpreted according to one criterion—namely, the animus with which it was introduced. The right hon. Baronet, whom he was glad to see opposite, introduced the bill with certain observations. He said, that if the measure were to be adopted by the Catholics, it would be in the sense in which be proposed it to the House. He would read from "Hansard's Debates" that part of the hon. Baronet's speech which especially referred to the Roman Catholics being in Parliament. The right hon. Baronet alluded to a motion made by Mr. Wilmot Horton. He (Mr. Langdale) would mention that the right rev. Prelate must have been aware of this before he alluded to it, yet he said it did not apply to the matter. The House would see whether it did or not. The right hon. Baronet said—Another proposal has been made, by a right hon. Friend of mine (Mr. Wilmot Horton), made from the best motives, and supported with an ingenuity, ability, and research, worthy of the motives and of the character of its author. My right hon. Friend has proposed, with a view to calm the suspicions and fears of those who object to the admission of Roman Catholics to Parliament, that the Roman Catholic Member should be disqualified by law from voting on matters relating, directly or indirectly, to the interests of the Established Church. There appear to me numerous and cogent objections to this proposal. In the first place, it is dangerous to establish the precedent of limiting by law the discretion by which 367 the duties and functions of a Member of Parliament are to be exercised. In the second, it is difficult to define beforehand what, are the questions which affect the interests of the Church. A question which has no immediate apparent connexion with the Church, might have a practical bearing upon its welfare ten times more important than another question which might appear directly to concern it. Thirdly, by excluding the Roman Catholic from giving his individual vote, you do little to diminish his real influence, if you leave him the power of speaking, of biassing the judgments of others on the question on which he is not himself to vote; and if, by a jealous and distrusting, but ineffectual precaution, you tempt him to exercise to your prejudice the remaining power of which you cannot, or do not, propose to deprive him. I believe there is more of real security in confidence, than in avowed mistrust and suspicion, unaccompanied by effectual guards. For these reasons, I am unwilling to deprive the Roman Catholic Member of either House of Parliament of any privilege of free discussion, and free exercise of judgment, which belongs to other Members of the Legislature."*Such was the language held by the right hon. Baronet, as the Minister of the Crown, in bringing forward the great measure of Catholic relief. Now, he (Mr. Langdale), would ask if language such as that were for the first time heard there, would not the natural and necessary inference be, that in taking the oath, he did so with the full power to exercise his discretion as to its interpretation? There was one other point to which he wished to draw the attention of the House, and it was one point only. It appeared by the reports of the debates that after the introduction of the bill, an argument had been raised in the Committee on the subject of the Roman Catholic's right to vote on a question of the entire subversion of the Church; and Sir C. Wetherell, in replying to this had given his opinion of the oath. Let the House see the opinion of Sir Charles Wetherell, delivered on the third reading of the bill.
§ The Speaker
asked the hon. Member if it was his intention to submit a motion to the House? He had not yet mentioned any, and it was extremely inconvenient, as there was no motion before the House, to proceed with a subject which might lead to a protracted debate.
§ Mr. Langdale
would, then, conclude with a motion, but he thought it extremely hard and painful to a Member if he were*Hansard (New Series), vol. xx, p. 758.368 not allowed to justify himself when a direct charge was made against him. If a general charge were made as general charges had been, however painful it might be, he would not notice it; but when he was brought before the public by name—when his opinions were controverted, when they had not been fairly stated, it was a little hard that this attack should be circulated round the country, that he should not be allowed in his place in that House to vindicate himself. He would not detain the House for any length of time. He had been comprehended in a grand sweeping charge of perjury; and if even there were an occasion in which a Member should be allowed to justify himself against the charge, it was when the House had so recently recorded on its journals, that the charge of perjury was of so painful a nature, that the Speaker had been ordered to reprimand the person who made it. What was the opinion of Sir Charles Wetherell on this subject? He referred to some notice of motion of the hon. Members for Colchester and Montrose, for what was deemed the actual destruction of the Church, and what was his argument upon it? "Do you mean to tell me the Catholic would be acting against his Parliamentary oath if he sanctioned such a measure?" This was the recorded opinion of Sir Charles Wetherell. The second accusation in which his (Mr. Langdale's) name had been mentioned by the right rev. Prelate was in these words: "But there was another mode of construing the oath imposed by the Catholic Relief Act. It had been assimilated to the declaration made upon taking office, which was binding upon all Protestants. This, he believed, was also a notion of Mr. Langdale, who referred to the obligation which all Ministers were under upon taking office to declare that they would not exercise their influence to weaken the Established Church." Now, he did state this also, and he believed that it was a very statesmanlike view to take of the matter. It was only in the preceding year that the Dissenters' grievances had been redressed, and he (Mr. Langdale) thought that the right hon. Baronet had stated that the oath which was right for the Dissenters in one instance was to be recorded by the Catholic in the other. It was true that it was called an oath in one instance; but the words of the Dissenters' declaration were nearly similar; they were 369 —"I do solemnly and sincerely, in the presence of God, profess, testify and declare that I will never exercise any authority or influence to injure the Church as established by law in England, or (and here the declaration went much further than the oath) to disturb the said Church, or the bishops or clergy under their charge, in the rights to which they may be entitled." Did the right rev. Prelate deny the right of voting on Irish Church matters to the Dissenters? He wondered whether the hon. Gentlemen opposite would support him in such a denial if he ventured to make it? But the right rev. Prelate would say, that they were only pledged to support the Church of England, and that the words did not extend to Ireland. The right rev. Prelate had said—"But Mr. Langdale did not advert to one particular, which was of great importance to his argument. It was this: that the declaration he referred to was expressly limited to England, and had no application whatever to Ireland. Their Lordships very well knew that the declaration, as far as it went, only bound the party making it to preserve the Church as it was now established in England. It did not bind the party making it to any peculiar tenderness towards the Church in Ireland." He (Mr. Langdale) would like to know whether it had not been represented, Session after Session, that what affected the Church of Ireland affected the Church of England also, and that what injured one injured the other also? And when the right rev. Prelate ended with preferring a charge of perjury against some of his fellow subjects, the rev. Prelate appeared to him to be endeavouring to get rid of the weight of the argument by a subterfuge which was unworthy the Established Church. It was admitted, then, that the declaration was binding as against alterations in the Church of England; but here he met the right rev. Prelate—if they were not to meddle with the Church of England they were in the same boat. Had there been nothing done to affect the Church Establishment in England? Had there been no alteration with respect to that church? There had been a diminution of bishoprics; there had been an alteration in the see of Chester. The suppression of some sees had been recommended by the heads of the Church itself, and the temporalities of the Church had been taken away; and all this had been done by men who, according 370 to the right rev. Prelate, were as much bound by their oaths with regard to England as was any Roman Catholic. Were these accusations, however, new to them? Was this the first time that they had heard any charges about being bound by oaths? What was the case during the reign of George 3rd. with regard to the coronation oath and the relief of the Roman Catholics? George 4th. did concede the Roman Catholic claims, and either did or did not violate that oath. If Catholic Members were bound, was not the King bound by his coronation oath? The King swore by that oath "to preserve to the Bishops and clergy of this realm"—let the House remark that the word realm generally, and not England only, was used—"and to the Church committed to their charge all such rights and privileges as shall appertain to them." The right hon. Baronet the Member for the University of Oxford had said in his place that it was a mockery to talk of Roman Catholics violating their oaths if the King could do this. It was so. On this point the right hon. Baronet was perfectly consistent when he maintained the same doctrine with regard to the Roman Catholics which he had held respecting the King. George 3rd would not sanction the claims; but George 4th did what a learned Member of the bar said he could not do without violating an oath. William 4th did the same; and an hon. Member had got up in the House and said that if he did it he would violate his oath. Were not hundreds accused of perjury under the same circumstances? The archbishop of Canterbury had sanctioned some of the changes referred to, and was he to be drawn before the public and to be at once charged with the violation of an oath? Was it not proper that each should be allowed to put his own individual interpretation on his oath, and to vote fairly according to what he in his conscience believed to be right? He (Mr. Langdale) would not detain the House longer. He hoped that he was not in the habit of using strong language towards any individual; if he were shown to have used an offensive word towards the highest or the lowest person, he would be the first to retract it; but he would be wanting in the feelings of a man if, when a question of this sort was brought forward—when he was publicly pointed at by name with having violated his oath, he did not refute it. He thought 371 that he was called upon, in justice to his own character—which was as dear to him as was the right rev. Prelate's and as well as to those whom he represented—for, if the accusation were true, he would be unworthy of the confidence of his constituents to make the observations which he had done; and he considered that he had not trespassed unnecessarily upon the attention of the House. He regretted that charges of this description had been made by the individual—by any individual; but when they came from a person whose sacred character ought to be a pattern of charity to all, he must say, that he thought it indeed derogatory to the dignity which he should sustain. He bore willing testimony to the zeal and to the high character of many of the Prelates presiding over the Established Church. He might, as he did, conscientiously differ from them on religious points; but knowing some of them in private life, he roust say, that there was nothing in their character generally which did not produce in him the greatest respect; but when he found a right rev. Prelate raking up accusations the most painful, he almost blushed to bring them before the House. The answer to the charge was, that the Roman Catholics had been for years and years, through their respect for an oath, excluded from Parliament. The right reverend Prelate denied this, by saying that there were certain oaths which a Roman Catholic did not dare to swear; he did not dare to swear his disbelief of transubstantiation, and that he dare not abjure his religion, but that, with respect to anything else, there was nothing to exclude him, and that the only merit of the special oath was, that it contained a disbelief of transubstantiation. But what he (Mr. Langdale) had said before, he repeated, that the Catholics were conscientious in refusing the oath, and bore grievous disabilities on account of their unanimous feelings. The accusation which had been made against him, was in effect, that he had been guilty of "treachery aggravated by perjury," and he must say, that, considering the charge, and considering the individual, he could designate it by no other title than as "a falsehood aggravated by duplicity."
§ Mr. Langdale
Of course. The hon. Member then moved that The Morning Post of the 2d March should be 372 laid on the table of the House. The word falsehood he had used to show his utter detestation of the charge of perjury brought against him and others, and he had not the slightest intention of applying it personally.
§ Sir E. B. Sugden
felt bound to say a few words, in consequence of having been present when the right rev. Prelate made the observations alluded to. He could assure the hon. Member, from what he heard himself, that his impression was—that his own impression of the words was, that the expressions were used with marked and real courtesy towards the hon. Member. He must state that the hon. Gentleman had fallen—
§ The Speaker
thought that there should be some substantive motion before the House. The hon. Member had thought it necessary to enter upon some explanation, which the House had consented to hear, but if the matter were to be prosecuted further, they ought to have some substantive motion before the House.
§ The Attorney-General
If it had not been for the observations which had fallen from the Chair, he would wish to have said something with respect to that part of the right rev. Prelate's speech in which he had been referred to.
§ The Speaker
said, that the right hon. Gentleman was undoubtedly in possession of the House, but that if it pleased the House to prosecute the inquiry some substantive motion should be made.
§ Sir E. B. Sugden
said, that nevertheless he should withdraw all intention of saying another word on the subject then, reserving himself for another opportunity.
§ The Attorney-General
begged to be permitted to say, that the speech of his to which the right rev. Prelate, the Bishop of Exeter alluded, had been delivered upwards of twelve months ago; and that if the right rev. Gentleman had any explanation to demand or complaint to make respecting it, he should have done so at an earlier period. What the right rev. Prelate stated was to him a matter of little concern, for he felt that his honour required no vindication or defence against that right rev. Gentleman's attacks.
wished to take notice of one statement made by the right rev. Prelate. It appeared from the paper alluded 373 to, that the right rev. Prelate had quoted four questions as having been put to him (Mr. O'Connell), and four lengthy answers attributed to him in reply, and that the right rev. Prelate stated that he had no other authority for them than that of the Earl of Winchilsea, who had quoted them on a former occasion. He did not mean any disrespect to that noble Lord in saying that this statement which he had endorsed over to the right rev. Prelate was not to be found in evidence. He would be glad to know where that noble Lord had discovered it, for it was totally without foundation.
§ Viscount Howick
He hoped he might be permitted to say one word. ["Hear," and "No."] He had a right to say, that in the same speech of the right rev. Prelate expressions had been attributed to him as having been used by him in that House which were totally unlike any thing he had ever heard. There was not the most remote or faint resemblance to them in any speech he had ever delivered.
The Morning Post was ordered to be laid on the table.