HC Deb 21 February 1853 vol 124 cc352-7

said, he rose in pursuance of notice to put a question to the noble Lord the Member for the City of London as to the opinions and intentions of Her Majesty's Ministers on that much-vexed subject—but by none more vexed than by the noble Lord himself—the Irish Church Establishment. He trusted the answer would be frank, ample, and explicit—not only free from evasion and official reserve, but containing a full and comprehensive exposition of the views and intentions of the Ministry with respect to this most important subject; and as, under ordinary circumstances, it might be considered that he expected more than he had a right to claim in calling for so complete and comprehensive an avowal, he would venture to show that the circumstances of the case warranted him in demanding such an explanation, and that the noble Lord's position, under those circumstances, called on him to afford it. He thought he would accomplish, his task if he was able to prove—first, that the answer would affect not only the political tranquillity but the social peace and happiness of a large portion of Her Majesty's subjects; and, secondly, what the noble Lord himself might not regard as a secondary consideration, that it would also materially, if not vitally, affect the Government itself. No one could express the strength of his convictions on the question of the Irish Church half as forcibly or as well as the noble Lord had done on a former occasion. The noble Lord had said that he had lost confidence in the people of Ireland. He could assure the noble Lord that the Catholic people of Ireland quite reciprocated the feeling. Still a question of the appropriation of Church Revenues to national and secular purposes could not be affected by any change in the noble Lord's opinion on a question of confidence, and though the First Lord of the Admiralty had, on one very important occasion, separated himself from the Government to which the noble Lord belonged, because the noble Lord went beyond him ill liberality, he had on a more recent occasion shown himself to be as much in advance of his Colleague, so that he (Mr. Moore) ventured to hope that in the game of tric-trac between them, the result might be a victory for religious liberty. In 1835 the noble Lord introduced a clause appropriating the Church Revenues for secular and national purposes, and in doing so referred to the Address of the House in the previous year, in which they promised to remove all just grounds of complaint on the part of the Irish people. The noble Lord said— I am come before you to-day to represent to you what I consider 'a just cause of complaint' by the people of Ireland, and to induce you, if I can, to take a step to obtain a 'well-considered measure of improvement.' My complaint is, that nothing of that sort has yet been done or attempted, and I have referred to this discussion, not only on account of its strict connexion with my Motion, but because I think it ought to refute any answer to it founded upon some supposed danger, some distant apprehension, that what we may do to remove a just cause of complaint,' and to adopt a well-considered measure of improvement' with regard to Ireland, may have an injurious effect at some distant and indefinite time on one of the institutions of the country. I say you are not at liberty, after having agreed to this address, to put in that answer, and thus to bar a remedy. One of two things must be admitted—either you are prepared to do justice to Ireland—to consider her grievances, and redress her wrongs—or you are not. But if you tell us that your position is such that any measure of that kind would be injurious to England, and dangerous to her Church Establishment, which prevents the remedy of the abuses of the Church of Ireland, you surely, then, have no right to say that it is fit to enforce the legislative union. The declaration of the noble Lord sank deep into the minds of the people of Ireland; and when they saw the principle of justice to Ireland discarded—they logically demanded the repeal of the Union. The noble Lord had furnished them with the clue to the penetralia of Whig policy on this subject. In the year 1849, on being taunted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), in connexion with the Appropriation Clause, the noble Lord said— The history of the Appropriation Clause is well known, and can easily be referred to in the annals of Parliament. I was a party to a Coercion Act in the year 1833—a measure of severe repression—and I did think that in the following year it was the duty of the Government to prepare a measure by which a part of the revenues of the Irish Protestant Church, not needed, in my opinion, by that Church, should be made useful to other communities, such as the Roman Catholics and the Presbyterians. According to the noble Lord's own theory, English rule in Ireland was not government, but occupation, and rested not upon the strength, but the weakness of the people. Now, he (Mr. Moore) was not about to give the noble Lord the favourable assurance that the Irish people were about to furnish him with riots and outrages, and perhaps a little bloodshed in addition, which, no doubt, would he considered all the better; they would not furnish him with the materials of another Coercion Act, upon which to build up a remedial measure. But this he could assure the noble Lord, that the Irish people, although they did not take up this subject noisily, violently, or riotously, they regarded it in a resolute and determined spirit, which neither bayonets nor bullets could subdue. There was also a formidable body of Irish Members, amounting to something like a fifth or sixth part of the House, who were pledged to oppose any Government which did not declare its intention to legislate with respect to the Established Church of Ireland on the basis of perfect equality between the several denominations into which the people of that country were divided. And here arose a very delicate dilemma. Two of those Members had taken office under the present Government, and it had been said in their defence that it was utterly impossible they could have done so unless they had received secret assurances from Her Majesty's Government that it was their intention not only to legislate upon the question of the Established Church of Ireland upon the basis of religious equality, but also to introduce a measure on the subject of tenant-right fully embodying all the essential provisions of Mr. Sharman Crawford's Bill. He (Mr. Moore) was not only prepared to give the Government a fair trial, but he now this evening put the verdict into their own hands. In justice to the Irish representatives in office, and to the Irish party in Parliament—in justice to the people of Ireland, who believed they had long been trifled with by the noble Lord—he hoped that the question he was now about to put, would receive a fair, straightforward, and explicit answer. He wished to know whether it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to legislate with regard to the Established Church of Ireland on the basis of perfect religious equality between the several denominations into which the people of Ireland were divided; and whether it was the intention of the Government to take a fitting time and reasonable opportunity for introducing such a measure?


said, he did not wish on the present occasion to enter into any discussion with the hon. Member with respect to the Established Church of Ireland; but the hon. Gentleman having asked him a question, to which he wished an explicit answer, namely, as to whether the Government were about to introduce any measure in order to establish perfect religious equality between the different sects in Ireland—he had to state explicitly, that the Government had no intention to introduce any measure having reference to the Established Church, with the exception of the Bill relating to Ministers' Money, with regard to which his hon. Friend near him the Secretary for Ireland (Sir J. Young) would be prepared to submit a proposition to the House. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Moore) had referred to certain secret assurances which he supposed had been given to Members who had joined the Government, both with regard to the Established Church and with regard to the question of landlord and tenant in Ireland. For his own part, he believed that no such assurances had been given, and that those hon. Members had taken office from their knowledge of the general principles and policy of the Government, and not upon the faith of any special assurances.


said, he believed that Her Majesty's present Government had a very sincere disposition to legislate liberally for the tenant classes of Ireland, and to protect the interest of those classes. With reference to religious equality in that country, he could not yield either to the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. Moore), or to any other Irish representative, in his sincere and anxious desire to see a just measure of religious equality established in his country. He did not agree, however, in thinking that this was the proper or convenient time for bringing forward that question; and his opinion was, that no more injudicious step than that now taken by the hon. Member for Mayo could have been adopted in that House for the object which the hon. Member had in view. He, for one, should not be induced to join in this Motion of the hon. Gentleman. He did not believe the majority of the people or of the representatives of Ireland thought this was a judicious step; and it was one which had been taken by the hon. Member without consultation, and upon his own responsibility. He begged to ask the hon. Gentleman if he had made up his mind to sit on the same benches and act with the same party of which the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Spooner) was a Member? The agitation now would interfere with a more important question—that of the settlement between landlord and tenant in Ireland. Let the hon. Member join in settling the one question, and he (Mr. O'Flaherty) would join in bringing the other to a conclusion. The speech of the hon. Member—with all respect to him—was perfect moonshine upon the present question. It was impossible for the English Government, in the present spirit of the English people, to introduce any such measure as that now asked for.


said, the hon. Member who had just sat clown, had asked his (Mr. Lucas') hon. Friend (Mr. Moore), whether he was prepared to sit on the same benches and act with the same party of which the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Spooner) was a Member. The first branch of the question was answered by the fact that his hon. Friends were constantly sitting on the same side of the House, and what they had begun to do he saw no reason why they should not continue. With respect to the second part of the question, be would only say that both he and his Friends about him were prepared to act in perfect independence of both the English parties in that House, until they could discover some party occupying the seats of office who would do that justice to Ireland which the hon. Gentleman had publicly declared that he was pledged as a man of honour to require. Until that purpose was realised they would act in accordance with the pledge they had given, whoever might be in the Government. The hon. Gentleman had declared that he was bound in honour to give his opposition to a Government which would not consent to act on the principle of religious equality with respect to Irish politics. They had heard the frank, candid, and explicit answer which the noble Lord the Member for London, the representa- tive of the Earl of Aberdeen's Government in that House, had given to the question of his hon. Friend. About the meaning of that answer there could be no mistake. The noble Lord was not prepared to act and legislate for Ireland on principles of religious equality. He therefore most respectfully required of the hon. Gentleman—the very term and condition of opposition which he had laid down having that night arisen—to fulfil the pledge he had given, to act according to his own definition as a man of honour, and to place himself, agreeably to his own declaration, in opposition to that Government which he now, by his presence on that side of the House, appeared to be supporting—seeing that they had now announced their resolution not to do that justice to Ireland which the hon. Member had explicitly declared that the condition of Ireland required. He had nothing further to say on the subject, except that he believed it was utterly impossible that the Members of the two English parties should he brought to see justice or to do justice to the people of Ireland, unless the Irish Members themselves were united on principles of perfect independence of English parties and English politics, and were determined to pursue steadily, without reference to personal considerations, those great and healing measures of reform and redress for which the country had so long sighed.

Subject dropped.