HC Deb 09 July 1845 vol 82 cc277-91

The Order of the Day having been read for a Committee of the whole House on the Roman Catholic Relief Bill,

Mr. Watson

said, as the measure had advanced to its present stage without any discussion of its principle, he wished to state the grounds on which he asked for the assent of the House to it. Its object was to repeal the remaining penal laws affecting the Roman Catholics. He had no wish to touch the safeguards of the Church; but he proposed to abrogate a variety of penal enactments in various Statutes, passed in former times, when antipathy to the Roman Catholics was the prevailing sentiment. The present measure was introduced along with the Act of last Session in the House of Lords, and passed the Committee there; but the Session being so far advanced, it was considered that only those clauses should be left in the Bill which could pass without any objection whatever. Various Members of the Government, and among them the Lord Chancellor, expressed their approval of its provisions; the only objection being, that it did not go far enough, and that a more complete Bill should be brought in to repeal those penal laws affecting the Members of various religious persuasions, which were a disgrace to the Statute Book and to the present age. The right hon. Baronet appointed a Commission, which during the present Session made a most valuable Report on the laws affecting all classes of religionists. It might be said, that this Bill did not go far enough, because it did not apply to other Dissenters. He felt strongly this objection; but once affirm the principle that penal laws directed against a form of religion were unjust, and the rest was a mere question of time. The first class of measures which he proposed by the present Bill to repeal, were those affecting persons acknowledging the religious supremacy of the Pope. The Report stated, that they ought to be repealed; and none of the Relief Acts at all affected the penalties imposed by those measures; unless the parties should have taken the oath prescribed by the Relief Act, 10 Geo. IV. The Acts of 1 Elizabeth and 5 Elizabeth, imposed the penalties of premunire, forfeiture of goods and imprisonment in the first instance, and of high treason in the second; the offence still remained, and might be disposed of before a justice of the peace. Another class of Acts related to persons introducing bulls and rescripts of the See of Rome; the next comprised Acts relating to abnegation, which were recommended to be repealed by the Criminal Law Commissioners; the next were those relating to education, which, among other provisions, enacted that no Roman Catholic should be allowed to engage in the business of instruction without a license from an archbishop or bishop of the Established Church. He now came to the class of laws called the Relief Acts, and should propose to repeal the penal clauses contained therein. The first of them was the Act 1 George III., which required all persons wishing to avail themselves of its provisions, to take the oaths within six months, and excluded certain persons from any benefit under the Act. The 13 George III., also expressly excluded persons therein specified from the benefit of the Relief Acts. The repeal of those two Statutes was recommended by the Commissioners. He now came to another class of those laws, the only one to the repeal of which he expected that any objection would be made. The Relief Act of 10 George IV., contained three clauses which he proposed to repeal; the first forbidding ecclesiastics of the Roman Catholic Church to take their episcopal designations from sees which gave the Protestant bishops their titles. This clause answered no good object whatsoever; and, in his opinion, ought to be repealed. The next clause he asked to repeal was that prohibiting them from wearing the sacerdotal garments out of their churches. On this subject the Criminal Law Commissioners had given no recommendation; they stated that, with regard to several other penalties and disabilities still remaining, as these underwent much deliberation by the Legislature at the time of passing the Act 10 George IV., they refrained from offering any opinion. As to the clauses respecting titles and garments, he thought they were merely vexatious enactments, and ought to be repealed. The truth was, that very little consideration was given to them; they were introduced into the Relief Bill, and passed without reflection. The last clause was one to which he attached very great importance, and was of an extremely penal nature, applying to the regular clergy. By this provision, those members of the regular clergy who were in this country at the time of the passing of that Act, might remain and exercise their functions, which, in the case of most of them, consisted partly in the education of youth. But the Act provided also, that no Roman Catholic ecclesiastic, of the Jesuit, or any other monastic order, should come into this country, except by license of the Secretary of State, and that only for a period of six months at a time. If they remained here afterwards, they were liable to transportation; and if any person were educated in this country as a Jesuit, or bound by any religious vow of any monastic order, the person who so educated him, was liable to transportation for life, and the person so educated to banishment for life. These clauses, he found, on examination, though inserted in the Bill, had received no discussion whatever; but they were offensive to a highly respectable class of clergymen. The regular clergy were equally good citizens with the secular clergy, and as fit to be under the protection of the law; they dedicated themselves to education. Yet we had a penal enactment subjecting these persons to banishment for life; and when the present race died off, no one would be permitted by law to reside in the country. If they became disturbers of the law, they would be justly liable to punishment; but so long as they conducted themselves peaceably, they had as much right to education as the youth of the Roman Catholic persuasion, or any other class of persons. He expected to receive for this Bill the support both of hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House, and of Her Majesty's Government, who had declared their assent to the principles on which it was founded by passing the Dissenters' Chapels Bill, and the Maynooth College Bill. He did not introduce this as a solitary measure, but as one of a class of measures which should be passed to carry out the principles asserted in the Act of last Session, that all penal laws, affecting persons with punishment for the exercise of their religion were bad, and contrary to the principles of the Constitution. He was aware that to this Motion he might expect some opposition from the hon. Baronet the Member for the University of Oxford; but he hoped that hon. Gentleman on consideration would see that there could be no real reason for objecting to the provisions of the Bill, as he had described them. If we asserted our religion and Constitution to be supported by penal laws, we should deny them to be founded on the rock of truth. It became us to rely, for the maintenance of the Protestant religion, upon its truth, and to extend to others the same toleration which the law secured for that form of Christianity. He hoped, therefore, to obtain the unanimous consent of the House to this Bill. The hon. and learned Gentleman concluded by moving that the Speaker do now leave the Chair.

Sir J. Graham

complained of the lateness of the hour at which the hon. and learned Member brought on his Motion, and also that it had been introduced at a time when none of the Law Officers of the Crown were present. He had on a former occasion reminded the hon. and learned Member, that with reference to the principle of the remission of the penal laws there was no difference of opinion among Her Majesty's advisers in either House of Parliament—that the principle of the necessity of repealing those laws was, he thought, distinctly admitted by the Bill which had been sent down from the other House last Session: but that the consideration of those Statutes involved the utmost nicety of the law. The Government, feeling the force of this circumstance, referred the subject to certain learned Commissioners to report upon these Statutes in detail. To the Report of these Commissioners the hon. and learned Gentleman had referred; but when he had added that his Bill, in its present form, had received the support of Her Majesty's advisers in the other House of Parliament, he thought the hon. and learned Gentleman had gone a little too far. The most important part of the measure was the portion which went to repeal certain clauses of the Relief Act of 1829. He apprehended that he was right in saying that the Bill of last year contained no provision for the repeal of these clauses—[Mr. Watson: It contained the provision as it passed the Committee of the House of Lords.] If he was not much mistaken, the Lord Chancellor had distinctly stated, that no support might be expected from the Government in passing that portion of the Act. The Commissioners in this Report stated, that so far from these provisions against the regular clergy being penal, they were recent enactments, forming a part of the policy deliberately adopted by the Legislature as necessary safeguards when passing the Relief Bill; and he was not aware that either House of Parliament, had on any occasion, either directly or indirectly, expressed their assent to the repeal of these measures. Some of the Statutes referred to were repealed in toto, others were repealed in part, and on the whole he thought it would be highly inexpedient to take them into consideration in the absence of the Law Officers of the Crown. The Government had, as he had stated on a former occasion, called upon the Commissioners to prepare the draft of a Bill embodying the substance of their Report. He had reason to know that the Commissioners had attended to the recommendations of the Government on the matter, and that a Bill was now in an advanced state of preparation, which he trusted to see brought before Parliament next Session.

Mr. Redington

begged to remind the right hon. Baronet, that Wednesday was the only day of the week on which an Order of the Day could be brought forward by an individual Member, and that the complaint as to the hour at which the Motion had been made was, therefore, not very well founded. He did not think his hon. and learned Friend would be doing justice to this Bill, if he did not persevere in pressing it upon the consideration of the House. It was a Bill which went to repeal some of the most odious disabilities that could possibly affect any human being, and which were, he considered, a disgrace to the Statute Book as long as they were suffered to remain upon it. He had heard of complaints being lately made in another place of certain persecutions that were said to have taken place under the laws of Scotland; and the Secretary of State reminded those who had brought it forward that they had only very lately repealed such bad laws themselves. Now, it would appear from that statement that everything necessary had been done already to purge the Statute Book from penal enactments, though evidently such was not the fact. He thought that the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth ought not to have allowed fifteen years to pass since the passing of the Emancipation Act, without adopting measures to repeal these laws. Much had been said lately about the Jesuits. He was not ashamed to say that the Jesuits were a most worthy, most efficient, and most exemplary society of men; and he would venture a comparison between them and the most learned body in Europe, in every branch of literature and science. He also bore testimony to the efficiency and piety of the members of the other religious bodies, and asked if it was not a disgrace to their laws that a man who had effected so much public good as Father Mathew, should be proscribed, and should subject himself to the penalty of transportation every day that he carried on his misson? The Government had dared prejudices in small things, and he would call upon them to adopt the same course on the present occasion in respect to all penal enactments, no matter whether they had been 15 years or 500 years on the Statute Book.

Sir R. Inglis

said, he did not complain of the hon. and learned Gentleman bringing forward his measure; but he did complain that, having been allowed to pass through two stages without any discussion upon its merits, he had refused to inform him (Sir R. Inglis) on what day heintended proceeding with it, on being respectfully requested to do so. The hon. Gentleman now brought forward the Motion for going into Committee on the Bill at twenty minutes after eleven o'clock; and at that late hour the House was called upon to pronounce a decision on one of the most important subjects brought before them during the Session, and which was now first submitted to their deliberate consideration. The Bill proposed to repeal the Act of Supremacy—the Act prohibiting Jesuits from crowding into the country—the Act which prevented Roman Catholic bishops from assuming the titles of the sees of the Established Church; and it also, he apprehended, went to remove the restrictions which prevented Roman Catholic processions from taking place publicly through the streets of every city and town in England. He had understood from a right hon. Baronet, that Her Majesty's Ministers had had under their consideration some of the laws which the present Bill proposed to repeal; but whether such repeal originated with them or with the hon. Member, he viewed the fact with deep regret. Notwithstanding the applause bestowed upon the Jesuits by the hon. and learned Member who spoke last, it could not be denied that in public opinion, or in public prejudice (call it which people would), there were two terms of reproach which were always connected with the assumed profession of the parties; and to be like a Jew or like a Jesuit was always a designation of disfavour. To the Jesuits, he believed, was to be attributed the present unhappy condition of Switzerland. Regarding the Bill as a repeal of the few remaining protections of the Protestant Church, he could not but oppose it; and for that reason, he moved that it be committed on that day three months.

Mr. Newdegate

seconded the Amendment.

Mr. Sheil

said, that the hon. Baronet, the Member for the University of Oxford, ought to be the last man to object to monastic institutions in this country. As to the intercourse between this country and Rome, it seemed to him much better that it should be open and avowed, than that a sort of backstairs illegitimate intrigue and liaison should be carried on by Mr. Petre with that lady, who, in the opinion of Protestants, did not bear the best reputation. The hon. Baronet had asserted that Jesuits and Jews were coupled in public prejudice; but at least one Member of the Government might be found who would advocate the cause of the latter. The next statement of the hon. Baronet was, that the Jesuits had caused the disturbances in Switzerland; but he must have forgotten that Mr. Strauss had been Protestant Professor of Theology at Zurich. [Sir R. Inglis: And had been expelled.] Tardily expelled. He would not at this time of day discuss the merits of the Jesuits: he thought that their services in the cause of civilization had been long acknowledged: quæ regio in terris nostri non plena laboris was their motto, and every clime and every age had shared in the benefits they had conferred, although it was true that they were not the owners of 40,000 acres in New Zealand. For himself he had been educated by Jesuits, and he had never heard from one a sentiment that was not consistent with piety, patriotism, humanity, and liberality: he therefore took this opportunity of bearing his humble testimony to the obligations they had conferred upon mankind. It would be well if the education of the Roman Catholic gentry in Ireland were always entrusted to the Jesuits; for he defied any man to show a single book from the Jesuit press that contained a sentence or a sentiment inconsistent with genuine Christianity. He contended that the members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy placed on the Commission under the Charitable Trusts Bill, had not been fairly treated. True it was that Dr. Murray, Dr. Crolly, and Dr. Denvil had been termed archbishops and bishops, and had been allowed precedence of the Earl of Devon, but they had neither local habitation nor name, for it was not stated of what places they were archbishops and bishops. This was an inconsistency which had given offence to the whole Roman Catholic body.

Mr. Newdegate

said, that he had not been prepared to address the House, and he should not have presumed to second the Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Oxford, if he had not been deeply impressed with the importance of the subject. This Bill proposed to permit the Roman Catholic hierarchy to assume the titles of certain sees, and, among other things, to permit the conducting of their processions in public. Now matters of mere name or title, and processions, however much they might inflame that feeling of indignation which certain measures of Her Majesty's Government had excited in the minds of the Protes- tant people of this country, were, after all, trifles, as compared with the final proposition of this Bill, which was to remove those clauses of the Relief Bill of 1829, which related to and prohibited the institution of regular monastic orders, particularly that of the Jesuits, that most rigid and most ambitious order of the Roman Church; a sect, which embraced in its institution the most dangerous and worst elements of a secret society, whose history had been marked in every country where they had been tolerated, by scenes of confusion and disorder. What was the latest intelligence of them? That they had been commanded to remove from France; and this very spring they had set Switzerland in a blaze by grasping at the education of her freeborn sons. The right hon. Member for Dungarvon had endeavoured to vindicate the order from the imputations which their whole history entailed upon them, and had stated, that having been educated among them, he had never known illiberal opinions, or principles adverse to free institutions, inculcated by them. Of the advantages in education, for which the right hon. Member was indebted to the Jesuits, the House had constant proof, and he (Mr. Newdegate) fully believed the right hon. Member, that he had never known improper or dangerous principles inculcated by them; for it had ever been the policy of that order only to sow such seed in minds they found adapted for its reception; and he was convinced that the mind of the right hon. Member would have rejected such instruction, and that his teachers knew it: such had ever been the system of the Jesuits. The House might have sufficient evidence from documents in the British Musuem; but did these facts need such illustration? He appealed from all history to the occurrences of the present day on the Continent, as evidence of character of this sect: and it was with deep regret he had heard from her Majesty's Secretary for the Home Department, that a proposition for removing the only safeguards against the propagation of this sect in Great Britain should receive his consideration. He (Mr. Newdegate) hoped that the right hon. Baronet would not be blind to the circumstances connected with this sect at present throughout Europe. For his own part he entered his solemn protest against the introduction of any measure, the effect of which could be only to give countenance to the Jesuits; and he called upon those statesmen who had supported the Bill of 1829, to justify their actions then, by their conduct now.

Sir James Graham

wished to correct a misconception of what he had said on a former day; he had not said that Government was ready to take into consideration a measure to repeal certain clauses in the Relief Act of 1829. On the second reading of the present measure, he had expressly claimed that Ministers should not be considered pledged upon the question. What he had said was, that the Commissioners had been directed to prepare a bill strictly limited to the recommendations in their Report; and in the other House the Lord Chancellor had stated that the Government was not at all pledged upon the subject.

Mr. M. J. O'Connell

was anxious that Ministers should pledge themselves to resist what was now required, because he was sure from experience that very soon after they had pledged themselves upon any question they gave way. If they now pledged themselves to maintain the absurd exclusions of the Bill of 1829, he had more than a hope that they would abandon them in the next Session. The truth was, that the clauses had only been inserted to satisfy the conscience of that exemplary, religious, and moral monarch, George IV.; and his reign being at an end, people could now consider what they were really worth. The onus was upon the opponents of the Bill to show that these outrageous laws should remain on the Statute Book, which could not be enforced. He hoped that his hon. Friend would go to a division, to see who was for and who was against it. His own opinion was, that all restrictions upon religious belief were as unjust to men as they were insulting to God.

Mr. Bickham Escott

felt disposed to oppose the Bill, because the Government had asked time for the consideration of the subject, so as to bring in a measure. He believed that the Bill was founded on the principles of justice and sound policy; and he considered the Acts alluded to, to be a disgrace to the Statute Book. If he heard that it was the intention of Her Majesty's Ministers to do away with those enactments on account of religion, he would not vote for the Motion; but if that was not the case, he should give it his cordial support.

Sir R. Peel

stated, that last Session he had brought in a Bill for the repeal of certain Acts which affected a certain part of Her Majesty's subjects. At that time it was intimated to him that he was not justified in giving relief to one class, and giving no relief of a similar character to another class. The whole subject was so complicated, and involved in so many Statutes of an ancient date, that he stated he would refer it to Commissioners to consider those laws. The Commission was composed of very eminent men, and their Report on the subject was not in the possession of the Government until the last week in May, and he had not seen it until June. Now, from the complicated state of public business connected with the various departments, and also from the necessity of considering the measures to be submitted to the House, and also from their sitting in that House from eight to nine hours a day, for four or five days in the week, it was utterly impossible to give full consideration to all the subjects that might come forward. The question of these laws had also reference to persons keeping schools, who were not Roman Catholics, but Dissenters from the Establishment. The Government felt that an impartial view should be taken, and that the measure should comprise all classes; they had, therefore, desired the Commissioners to prepare a Bill on the subject of these ancient Statutes. He could not pledge the Government more than to say that they would give the fullest consideration to the measures which should be proposed by the Commissioners. The enactments of the Bill of 1829 were of a very different character, and he was not able to make any promise or any pledge on the subject. No doubt, as had been stated, there would be considerable opposition out of doors to any proceeding on the subject. He fairly owned that there were many enactments which should not be continued; and he had no hesitation in saying that he was ready to encounter opposition on the subject of the removal of these enactments from the Statute Book. He could not pledge himself to any particular clauses of the Bill of the hon. and learned Gentleman; but he could assure him that the subject should receive the fullest consideration. He was now speaking of the ancient enactments, and did not refer to those which were imposed when the Ca- tholic Relief Bill passed. He hoped, after what had passed that the hon. Gentleman would not press the measure.

Lord John Russell

considered that the Bill involved two very separate questions. The first was, whether they should consider with a view to their repeal certain ancient enactments. On this part of the subject, after what had fallen from both the right hon. Gentlemen opposite, the House should be satisfied with their declarations. It certainly would at that moment be difficult for the Government to say what clauses of the Bill of the hon. and learned Gentleman should be repealed; he therefore would suggest that this part of the subject be left to them. The other question was of a very different character; he alluded to that part which referred not to any old restrictions, but to those imposed by the Act of 1829, he meant the disallowing clauses in the Bill, introduced by the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government. The question was, whether they were prepared to make alterations in this law. This subject might have been referred to the consideration of the Commissioners, or it might, without this, have been considered by the Government as a question of policy, in the Amendment of the law of 1829. They had done neither, however. They now stated that there would be no reference to this Act in the measure they intended to propose. He, for one, was prepared to go into Committee on those clauses of the Act of 1829. He did not say that he was at once prepared to repeal all those clauses, but he was willing to go into Committee to deliberate on the subject. He believed that they might repeal those disallowing clauses which prevented a Roman Catholic bishop assuming a title held by a bishop of the Established Church. He could not conceive any good ground for the continuance of this restriction. With respect to the question of the Jesuits and the regular orders, he did not think that the Act of 1829 was satisfactory; but he should like to look into the laws of other countries in Europe; and above all, into those of Catholic countries, on the subject of these religious orders. As a general principle, he should say, do away with all these restrictions; but if they found that in Catholic countries there were some regulations as to the registration of the members of an order, or similar restraint, he should say that it was a fair subject to go into Committee to deliberate upon, although he would not pledge himself for the immediate repeal of all these restrictions. As for going into Committee that evening, it was a subject for the hon. Gentleman's consideration: but if he divided the House, he would vote for the Motion.

Mr. Watson

said, that he should certainly take the sense of the House, as he did not conceive that he had been treated well by the Government.

The House divided on the Question, that the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question: — Ayes 47; Noes 89: Majority 42.*

Committee put off for three months.

House adjourned at a quarter past one o'clock.