HC Deb 15 April 1845 vol 79 cc685-92
Mr. Ferrand

rose to move— That the Petition of Members of the Dublin Protestant Operative Association and Reformation Society, and other Protestants, praying the House forthwith to institute an inquiry into the conduct of the Right Honourable Sir Robert Peel, Baronet, M.P., and, if the premises of the Petitioners be correct, to impeach him for high crimes and misdemeanors against the Laws and Constitution of the Realm [presented 11th April], be printed; as it was his intention to bring it before the House on the Third Reading of the Maynooth College Bill, if it went to so advanced a stage.

Colonel Rawdon

said, he had entertained hopes that the hon. Member for Knaresborough would not have pressed his Motion for the printing of that petition. What, he would ask, would be the consequence, if the House agreed to the Motion of the hon. Member? The result would be, that on the following morning the petition to which it referred would be on the breakfast table of every Member of that House. He begged the House to recollect the Act of 1829, by which the Roman Catholics were emancipated, and to remember that so long after the Act of Emancipation had been carried, they would, if they agreed to the Motion of the hon. Member for Knaresborough, place before Roman Catholic Representatives a petition containing such allegations as that to which the Motion had reference. What did that petition contain? He begged pardon of the House for occupying its attention whilst he read a sentence from that document— The Petitioners have learned with regret that a law has been introduced into your honourable House by the head of the Government, the object of which is to inculcate in public seminaries Popish doctrines, which are false, idolatrous, and Anti-Christian. Anti-Christian! Where was the feeling of charity which ought to predominate in the breasts of Christians, if they consented to stamp the religion of their Roman Catholic fellow Representatives with the charge of idolatry contained in that petion? It might be in the recollection of the House that the greatest authority on that subject, after the Speaker, namely, the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire, had expressed his doubts as to whether they ought to receive the petition in the first instance; and the hon. Member waved his doubts only in consequence of the interposition of the right hon. Gentleman, against whom the charges contained in that petition were levelled. The House, must, of course, pay the greatest respect to the feelings which had induced the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamwortb to interpose; but they could not at the same time forget that the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire had opposed the reception of the petition in the first instance. It was not a matter of necessity that the petition presented by the hon. Member for Knaresborough be printed. If he wished to bring the Prime Minister to condign punishment, as the petitioners prayed—if the hon. Member wished to imitate Mr. Burke in a measure of impeachment, he believed the printing of this petition was not a necessary preliminary. The petition could be referred to a Committee up stairs, according to the custom of the House, and if the Committee considered there was matter of import, they might order it to be printed. He relied on the good sense and generous feeling of the House; he thought this was not a party question, and he felt convinced that no man of charitable feeling in that House, or out of it, could sanction the words "false, idolatrous, and anti-Christian," as applied to the religion of more than half of their fellow-subjects. Had hon. Members seen the letter relating to the petition signed by the hon. Member for Knaresborough? He would not insult the House of Commons by mentioning its language; but he felt convinced that there was hardly another Member of that House would write such a letter as that which the hon. Member for Knaresborough had written. He disclaimed all personal offence, but would fearlessly and fully express his opinion on this matter. The terms of the letter showed clearly the animus which existed in its writer. In a word, he considered it would degrade the House of Commons in the eyes of the nation if, by ordering this petition to be printed, they in some measure stamped it with their sanction. If the petitioners really intended to impeach Sir R. Peel, the hon. Member would be perfectly justified in carrying out their wishes. But as the Representative of what was termed in Ireland "Protestant Armagh," he must object to the wording of this petition. He would therefore move a direct negative to the Motion.

Mr. Redington

said, there could be no doubt that the petition contained a foul calumny against the Catholic religion—it was a foul libel, which was formerly sworn to by Members of that House, and similar expressions were now contained in the Coronation Oath. He thought, therefore, that under these circumstances the House exhibited too much squeamishness with respect to the petition presented by the hon. Member for Knaresborough. He was of opinion that it was a disgrace to the Sovereign of these realms to make her swear to such expressions.

Sir R. Inglis

supposed the next measure of Her Majesty's Government would be a measure to do away with the passage referred to by the hon. Gentleman who spoke last, especially as his remarks had been so loudly cheered by the other side. But he rose for the purpose of calling the attention of the House to the practice of the House, that when a petition was ordered to lie on the Table, it was almost a matter of course that it should be printed with the Votes, when an hon. Member declared his intention of making a Motion upon it. That was the usual course, without any reference to the language of the petition, and upon that ground alone he should vote for the Motion of the hon. Member for Knaresborough.

Sir James Graham

said, that he certainly regretted the passage in the petition which the hon. and gallant Officer the Member for Armagh had brought under the notice of the House. He regretted that any petitioners should have used language so painful and so offensive towards a large portion of Her Majesty's subjects. It was not on the present occasion that he should feel under the necessity of entering into a discussion upon that point, much less was it any part of his duty to enter upon the present occasion into a discussion upon the terms in which the Coronation Oath was couched. As to the point of order, he agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Oxford. He thought it was a general rule of the House, subject to exceptions in some peculiar cases, that when one hon. Member pledged himself on presenting a petition to bring it under the special notice of the House in the shape of a Motion, it was, as a matter of course, to be printed with the Votes. The question then arose whether there was anything so special in the circumstances of this petition as to prevent the operation of the usual rule? He had said that the language of the petition was of an unusual kind, but he did not think that the language was such as to take it out of the general rule. Then came the question as to the allegation, that the First Minister of the Crown had been guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors — was that allegation a reason that the House should refuse to print the petition? Now, the hon. Member for Knaresborough had said that he should make that allegation the subject of a Motion. Was he right? [Mr. Ferrand: I have given notice of the Motion I intend to make.] If the hon. Member meant to found upon the allegations of the petition a Motion against the First Minister of the Crown, neither his right hon. Friend, nor any Member of Her Majesty's Government, would offer the slightest opposition to the printing of the petition.

Mr. Ferrand

said, he had given notice last night of a Motion, which it was his intention to bring forward on the third reading of the Maynooth College Bill. The Motion was to the effect that the Charitable Bequests Act was a violation of the Act of Settlement, and a contravention of the Oath of Supremacy. He intended to found his Motion on the allegations contained in the petition; and i he were able to prove that the Bequests Act was in contravention of the Oath of Supremacy, and a violation of the Act of Settlement, he should consider what it would be his duty to do further with reference to this subject.

Lord John Russell

Sir, the hon. Gentleman does not seem to me to have answered the question by merely stating that it is his intention to bring forward the Motion of which he gave notice last night; the question having been whether he intended to bring forward an express Motion directed against the First Minister of the Crown. I do not quite agree, in my view of the subject, with the right hon. Gentleman opposite; for I do not consider it a matter of course, that according to the rules and Orders of the House, even if there were an express Motion to be grounded on it, that the petition should necessarily be printed with the Votes. Although I conceive that in ordinary cases and on ordinary questions there would be no objection to the printing of a petition on which the Motion of an hon. Member was to be founded. This, however, is a peculiar case—it is not an ordinary petition—it is one accusing the First Minister of the Crown of high crimes and misdemeanors, and asking the House to proceed to his impeachment. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir J. Graham) says, that if a Motion is to be founded on the petition, he and his Colleagues wish to give every facility to the hon. Member in bringing forward his Motion. I have not a similar feeling on the subject to the right hon. Gentleman who made that statement, or to the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government; and for myself I think that the House ought to consider it, in the first place, as a Motion against the First Minister of the Crown. I cannot, Sir, consider a Motion on the third reading of the Maynooth College Bill, directed partly against that Bill and partly against an Act of Patliament, which had last year received the assent of the Sovereign, the Lords, and the Commons, describing that Act as a violation of the Act of Settlement, and a contravention of the Oath of Supremacy—I cannot consider that as coming within the notice of a Motion impeaching the conduct of the First Minister of the Crown. In the next place I am of opinion that the printing of the petition, although it would not show that the House meant to go further, yet it would imply that there was something plausible and reasonable in the petition, and that it was not altogether frivolous and absurd in its allegations. The petition seems to me, from listening to an hon. Member the other night, to consist of two parts; one part being that which was objected to by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire, as directed against the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth with respect to his conduct as a Member of this House—with regard to Motions made, and to Bills introduced as a Member of this House—and I think that is not a sufficient reason for printing this petition. The other part is an allegation that the right hon. Baronet, in fulfilment of the Charitable Bequests Act, had placed Roman Catholic Prelates in a certain precedence in an Order in Council approved of by Her Majesty, and that this was a violation of the Act of Settlement, and in contravention of the Oath of Supremacy. That appears to me to be a most frivolous allegation; it is not sufficiently plausible to be the ground of any such proceeding as that which has been alluded to, and I could not, therefore, be disposed so far to give the sanction of the House to the petition as to consent to its being printed. The hon. Member states, that on the third reading of the Maynooth College Bill he will move that a violation of the Act of Settlement has been committed by the provisions of an Act of Parliament, which the House of Commons agreed to, this House having a perfect right to agree to such an Act, or repeal another, if it thought fit; and, as I think that Notice of Motion does not justify us in agreeing to the printing of the petition, I should, if no one else agreed with me, support the view of the hon. and gallant Member for Armagh, and give my decided negative to the Motion, that the petition be printed.

Mr. S. Crawford

regretted that sentences which were insulting to their Roman Catholic fellow-subjects should be contained in any petition presented to that House. He should be as reluctant as any man, although opposing the grant to Maynooth, to do so upon any grounds which could be offensive to the principles or opinions of his Roman Catholic fellow-subjects. If the question should come to a division, he should feel bound to vote against the printing of the petition.

Mr. Liddell

said, that in consequence of the reference made by the hon. Member for Dundalk to the Coronation Oath and the oath of abjuration, and his charge against the House of being unnecessarily squeamish with regard to the language of this most injudicious petition, to say the least of it, he had procured the oaths mentioned, and (having read passages from them to the House) he contended that there was nothing in them to sustain the arguments founded upon them by the hon. Member.

Mr. Redington

said, he still adhered to the opinion that Her Majesty on accepting the Crown of these realms did declare the worship of the Virgin Mary to be damnable and idolatrous.

Mr. T. Duncombe

said, the object of the House, in requiring a Member to give notice of a motion for printing a petition, was with a view to oblige him to make a specific Motion on a subsequent day, not in connexion with any Bill before the House, because in that case he might move that every one of the petitions presented against the grant to Maynooth should be printed to-morrow, because he chose to call attention to them on the third reading. It was, therefore, clear that the hon. Member for Knaresborough must make a Motion in reference to this petition unconnected with the grant to Maynooth; and if he did so, he did not see that the House had the power of refusing it. The only exception in the case of printing a petition was, that when printed it should be confined to the use of Members, and if there was anything objectionable, or libellous, or calumnious in this petition, it would be better that it should be printed — as other petitions which were so honoured—for the use of Members only. With reference to his hon. and gallant Friend behind him, he must say that if he wished to give publicity and importance to the petition, he had taken the most effectual way of doing it; for whether the Motion was agreed to or not, he believed he would still find the objectionable passages of which he complained on his breakfast table. Some kind Friend in Dublin had favoured him (Mr. Duncombe) with a copy of the petition a few days ago, and he felt no great apprehension from it. He did not believe there was any great harm in it. There was a strong feeling that the right of petitioning was encroached upon by that House, and therefore, they ought to be very cautious in refusing any petition, however objectionable or offensive to the feelings of any individual it might be. If, therefore, the question should come to a vote, he should vote for the printing of the petition, on the ground that the hon. Member meant to make a distinct Motion with reference to it.

Mr. Ferrand

said, it was not his intention to make a distinct Motion, and as he saw the sense of the House was against his present Motion, he should not press it.

Motion withdrawn.