HC Deb 16 June 1852 vol 122 cc803-6

I rise, Sir, to put a question to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department, of which I have given him notice, and trust the House will allow me to preface it with a few words of explanation. I see in this morning's papers, as of course every Member of this House has seen, a Royal Proclamation, which is addressed to the clauses in the Roman Catholic Relief Act, which were introduced into that Act from some very old Acts. Those1 clauses wore directed against the habit of Roman Catholic ecclesiastics wearing the dress of their order in public. Those clauses have lain dormant ever since the passing of the Roman Catholic Relief Bill. The Government of the Duke of Wellington did not press them. The Government of Earl Grey did not press them. The Government of Lord Melbourne did not press them. The Government of Sir Robert Peel did not press them; and this, I believe, is the first announcement of the intention to put them in force. I observe in a morning journal which is conducted with great ability, and which usually defends the acts of the Government, and is supposed to be the organ of the present Government-—I allude to the Morning Herald—the following remarks in reference to this proclamation:— This is an act by which the Government, in the immediate prospect of an election, dares to offend a large class of religionists. We need not say that Sir Robert Peel in his whole life was never once guilty of such a piece of manliness. What earnest Protestants have to do is to take care that those who are prepared to carry out their views do not suffer from their manliness in so doing. Now, Sir, having reference to the approaching elections—having reference to this announcement on the part of the Government organ, and having reference to the other facts I have stated, I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman; first, Is it intended to publish in the Dublin Gazette that proclamation, and thereby give it the same effect in Ireland which it will have in England? [Mr. HUME: A Proclamation does nothing.] The hon. Member for Montrose says the Proclamation does nothing; I am quite aware in this case it has no legal effect. [Lord NAAS: Hear, hear!] I think it clear the noble Lord opposite does not understand the distinction. There arc cases in which Proclamations are necessary, as in the Crime and Outrage Act, which we were discussing yesterday; but this Proclamation is intended simply to prevent the public being taken by surprise in the reviving of a dormant Act of Parliament. Now, I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman, is it the intention of the Government to give the same publicity to this Proclamation in Ireland as in England, by inserting it in the Dublin Gazette? And that being done, is it the intention of Her Majesty's Government, with that manliness and sincerity for which they get credit in the newspaper I have quoted, to direct the Attorney General in Ireland, whom I am glad to see opposite, to prosecute the Roman Catholic ecclesiastics in that country for doing that which they have been permitted, without observation or punishment, to do since the year 1829, by every Government? or is this merely a set-off to the dropping of the Maynooth debate?


Sir, before I answer the two questions which have been put to me by the hon. and learned Gentleman, I think it right to state, on the part of the Government, that I am not responsible, nor is the Government responsible, for any particular observations contained in any particular newspaper. I think it also right to state that the hon. and learned Gentleman has not accurately, because not fully, stated the law with reference to this subject. The statute of George IV. was intended to apply to two matters: first, to Roman Catholic ecclesiastics wearing the habit of their order in public; and, next, to Roman Catholic ecclesiastics exercising the rites and ceremonies of their religion in any other place than in their usual places of worship, or in private houses— that is to say, they were not to exercise those rites or ceremonies in any public place. I have thought it right to state this much as to the objects of that law, which Her Majesty's Government think it their duty to enforce. I will now proceed to answer the questions of the hon. and learned Gentleman. First, he asks, are we going to publish a similar proclamation in the Dublin Gazette? My answer to that is, that two months ago the Government heard of a procession of Roman Catholics in Ireland in which a Roman Catholic bishop took part. The moment we heard of that procession—which I believe was an entirely new thing, we sent an intimation, I may call it a friendly intimation, to that bishop, pointing out to him the provisions of the statute of George IV., and expressing a hope that lie had taken part in that procession in his ecclesiastical dress inadvertently, and without any intention of violating the law, and stating that under these circumstances we should take no further notice of the proceeding: but we, at the same time, expressed a hope that the law would not be violated in future, because, if it were, we should feel it our duty to put it in force. Since that time the Government have not heard of any offence having been committed against this law in Ireland; and, not having heard of any such offence, we do not wish to give a more special warning in Ireland than that which has been expressed to all Her Majesty's subjects generally in the Proclamation already published. No notice, therefore, will be given in the Dublin Gazette, unless a similar occurrence to that I have just mentioned should take place, after the private warning which has already been given or suggested to the Roman Catholic ecclesiastics in Ireland. With regard to the second question of the hon. and learned Gentleman, namely, whether we are going to enforce the law, which he says has lain dormant since 1829, I first of all beg leave to state that the law has not lain dormant. But a fact had come to the knowledge of the Government of a very peculiar nature, namely, that the Roman Catholics were going to renew those religious processions along the public highways which had been done away with for three hundred years;— these were the very words as taken down in evidence, and it was further stated, that they were going to do this by marching from village to village with banners and emblems of their faith in honour and celebration of the Feast of the Virgin Mary. The very procession to which this proclamation more particularly relates moved, for four miles along the high road. It consisted of about one hundred and fifty persons, some carrying banners with emblems of the Roman Catholic faith inscribed on them, others bearing crucifixes, while others carried images of the Virgin and the infant Jesus. Now, I have no hesitation in saying that such a procession as that must and did give much annoyance to many of Her Majesty's Protestant subjects; and the Government, therefore, did think it right, and do think it right, to prevent the violation of the law by any such processions in future. Further than this, I must go on to state, that in the instance to which I have alluded, actual danger did exists of a breach of the peace. I am therefore sure that both the House and the country will approve of the course which the Government has taken, and will concur with them in declaring', in the words of the Proclamation— That while we are resolved to protect our Roman Catholic subjects in the undisturbed enjoyment of their legal rights and religious freedom, we are determined to prevent and repress the commission of all such offences by seeing that the law shall be observed; for, if it he not, it must necessarily draw down punishment upon those who, after this warning, shall wilfully infringe it. It must be obvious that those processions, if they were allowed to continue, instead of allaying religious differences, would very materially increase them, and would, I fear, frequently terminate in very serious breaches of the peace.