HL Deb 17 April 1826 vol 15 cc244-8
The Marquis of Lansdown,

in rising to present to their lordships the petition of the Catholics of Ireland, said, that, although the petition he was about to ask permission to lay on their table was one relating to a subject on which petitions had been presented on many former occasions, yet it was one which their lordships would feel, from its magnitude and importance, that he could not lay on their table, without wishing to say a few words, though he had no wish to involve in controversial discussion a subject which hereafter must be again brought under their lordships' notice. The petition had been placed in his hands in consequence of an event which he, in common with their lordships, must deeply deplore. He alluded to the loss of that distinguished individual, to whose hands it had generally been intrusted; whose whole political life, from its commencement to its close, had, from particular circumstances, been closely connected with this subject; and who continued, to the last, its able, uncompromising, and disinterested advocate. Their lordships would feel that, though the ground had closed over him, as it had closed over many other distinguished public characters, who had taken a deep and unceasing interest in this subject, without seeing their efforts rewarded by success—transmitting to other less able men the task of extending to all the benefits of civil and religious liberty;—although the grave had closed over many of those who had petitioned, as well as over the public men who had supported their claims, and advocated their cause; yet their lordships could not but feel, that as long as the consequence of a difference of religious opinions was to deprive a large portion of the people of this country of their just rights; as long as the people of this country continued to cherish their peculiar affection for freedom; and as long as there was a desire among this large portion of the population to enjoy those blessings, excluding them from which might unite them, but could not lessen their numbers; as long as the people felt—and God forbid they should cease to feel—a desire, when labouring under this principle of exclusion, to share all the advantages of the constitution; as long as they should know that they were the only Catholic subjects of a Protestant sovereign, who were exposed to such excluding laws; as long as the exclusion existed, it could not be expected, and it was not possible their lordships should expect, that this subject should not be again and again brought before them by petitions, claiming to have those exclusions removed, which could not be defended upon any principle of policy or justice. Having said thus much, he did not think it expedient to do more than to move that the petition be laid on the table; but he still felt it to be a duty he owed to the petitioners to observe, that, indulgent as he knew the House, and even those of their lordships who were hostile to the claims of the Catholics, would always be to any language which might be employed by persons in pursuit of rights of which they conceived themselves to be unjustly deprived, and which their lordships would admit proceeded from no improper or dishonourable motive; yet he was happy to say, that in perusing this petition he had found nothing in it which would require the kind of indulgence to which he had alluded—nothing which was unworthy of the petitioners, and nothing which could call for the animadversion of their lordships. He was also happy to have the opportunity of stating, that the petitioners had, with great propriety, abstained from any thing like polemical discussion. They had introduced into their petition none of those theological questions which, however proper in the pulpit, or in learned dissertations from the press, he never wished to see agitated within the walls of that House. They had, with great propriety, confined themselves to answering the allegation, that they were unfit to enjoy the same privileges as the other subjects of his majesty. He meant, the allegation that they could not give an undivided allegiance. This incapacity they solemnly disclaimed. To the pledge thus given, he trusted their lordships would pay that attention which it deserved at their hands. He would not trespass further on their lordships' time than to say, that he concurred in the sentiments expressed by the petitioners, and to express his hope that a period would soon arrive when those sentiments would be more generally adopted by that House. The question was one, the consideration of which could not be avoided; for he was sure it would force itself again and again on that House, until justice was done to the claims of the petitioners.—The petition was lead and laid on the table.—The noble marquis then rose, and presented another petition from a great number of the principal Protestants of Ireland in favour of the Catholic claims. Among the names attached to it were those of the duke of Leinster, the marquis of Downshire, the earl of Portarlington, and many other noblemen and great landed proprietors. Their lordships in receiving this petition would hear from those distinguished persons, in their own words, how deeply they considered themselves and their property to be affected by the existence of those laws which excluded their Catholic fellow-subjects from the participation of the privileges which they themselves enjoyed.

Earl Grey

said, he had to call their lordships' attention to a petition from the same body as that with which the first petition presented by his noble friend originated, and which could not have been intrusted to the care of a more zealous and able advocate. His noble friend had that day shown that his zeal for the cause which he espoused was tempered by the soundest discretion, in refraining from doing any thing more than to make the usual motion for laying the petition on the table. It was his intention to follow the same course as that which had been adopted by his noble friend—namely, to require of their lordships nothing more than to permit this petition to be laid on their table. But, in doing this, he also wished, in common with his noble friend, to express his opinion, that civil disqualification on religious grounds, if not founded on a paramount public necessity, could not be maintained on any principle of policy or justice; and that upon the accomplishment of the object of the petitioners, the peace and prosperity of Ireland, and therewith the security and power of the British empire, depended. But, concurring as he did with his noble friend, that it would at present be inexpedient to trouble their lordships by calling their immediate attention to these topics, he must state with his noble friend, that this question was of such a nature, and so vitally connected with the interests of the nation, that it must force itself again and again on their consideration. He therefore looked forward with an anxious hope to a time, and that not distant, when, under his auspices, this question would be taken up and pursued to a successful issue. Having said thus much, it was now his duty to advert to the particular object of the petition which he had the honour to present to their lordships. The petitioners expressed their deep sense of the injury they suffered from the disqualifications under which they laboured on account of their religious opinions. They stated, that they had endeavoured at various times, and through various channels, to remove the unfavourable and unjust impressions which existed against them. With this view they had associated and formed that body which was called the Catholic Association—an association formed on sound and constitutional principles, and in the institution of which they were warranted by the precedents and practice of the best times of British history. They complained, that, against this association, a bill was introduced. The allegations of that bill they offered to refute, and prayed to be heard at the bar for that purpose; but this prayer was refused. They therefore complain, that, without examination or inquiry, that bill was passed into a law. By that law the petitioners felt themselves deeply aggrieved; and they had stated in strong terms, but not in such terms as would render it unfit for him to present the petition to the House, their sense of the injury they had sustained. They concluded their petition by praying their lordships to repeal the law. After this statement, it only remained for him to fulfil his duty by moving, that the petition be laid on the table. Before he made that motion, however, he would, in order to save time, beg leave to present another petition, which was from the Catholic inhabitants of the parish of St. Audeon, in Dublin. The object of this petition was Catholic emancipation; and on that general subject it was not necessary for him to make any further observation. But the petitioners requested their lordships' attention to a particular point—to those proposed measures which were known by the name of "wings," but which he concurred with the petitioners, did not assist the cause in its upward flight; for, instead of enabling it to soar, they clogged and impeded it. To these measures he had strong objections; particularly to that which went to disfranchise a large body of electors upon the allegation of abuse—to deprive freeholders of the right to elect representatives—a right which they held under the same sanction of British law by which all other rights and property were protected. He was not at all surprised that those persons who had always opposed Catholic emancipation should take up this particular clause of disfranchisement for the purpose of defeating that measure, to the principle of which they objected. He agreed with the sentiments expressed in the petition, on this point as well as on its general object. There was no question, the consideration of which was so essential to the peace and security of the empire as that of the continuance of those laws, as unjust as they were unwise, which excluded Roman Catholics from the privileges enjoyed by other British subjects.

Ordered to lie on the table.