§ The Earl of Durham
presented several Petitions from Dissenters in different parts of the country, from parishes in Northumberland, Durham, Nottinghamshire, and Leicestershire, praying for the removal of the grievances affecting them. Two of the petitions prayed for the separation of the Church from the State. To this prayer he would not give his assent. With regard to every other object except that, he expressed his concurrence; for he thought, with that exception, which applied to the two petitions, the petitioners prayed for nothing which ought not to be granted. He deeply lamented, that the Bill which had been introduced by his noble friend (Lord John Russell) in the other House of Parliament upon the subject complained of by the petitioners did not go far enough. He, however, trusted that his noble friend and relative (Earl Grey) would consider the matter with a view to grant relief to the Dissenters. For his own part, he believed, the time had arrived when the just and reasonable prayer of the petitioners ought to be conceded. The noble Earl also presented two petitions against the impressment of seamen—the first from Kingston-upon-Hull, signed by 5,776 persons, and the second from Stock-ton-upon-Tees. He felt great satisfaction in presenting these petitions—in saying, that it was the opinion of some of the most distinguished officers, that impressment might be dispensed with. He hoped, therefore, a plan might be devised by which the services of the seamen might be obtained without having recourse to such an objectionable means of getting them as impressment.
§ Earl Grey
said, that with respect to the question of impressment, his Majesty's Government did not entertain the most remote wish to do anything that would tend to prevent the subject from being fully considered, for the purpose of ameliorating and rendering the system as little obnoxious as possible; but, as to wholly giving up the power of impressment, especially at the commencement of a war, that he thought was impossible, without endangering—nay, without destroying—that naval superiority on which the greatness of this country was founded. He agreed with his noble friend, and with several other noble Lords, in saying, that the claims of the Dissenters ought to be taken into the serious consideration of the 993 Legislature, for the purpose of affording; relief; and when his noble friend lamented, that the measure now in progress for that purpose did not go further, he should merely observe, that that measure embraced only one subject. But he begged leave to say, that his noble friend and the public should not, therefore, infer that the other subjects connected with this question were not under the consideration of his Majesty's Government. He agreed with his noble friend, that several of the disabilities complained of ought to be done away with. Ministers had turned their serious attention to this question, in the hope and expectation of giving extensive relief to the Dissenters, if not entirely removing those objects of complaint which were mentioned in the different petitions. His noble friend could not feel more anxious than he did, to afford relief where cases occurred of real and decided grievance; and he was happy to find, that his noble friend concurred with him in opinion, that while the Legislature granted relief, they ought to keep steadfastly in view the necessity of supporting the Established Church.
§ The Earl of Durham
was sure, after what his noble friend had said, that every disposition existed on the part of his Majesty's Government to give to the Dissenters all such relief as could be reasonably required by them. He was extremely glad to hear that the Bill then in progress did not comprise all the relief for the Dissenters that was intended. With respect to the subject of impressment, he did not think that the abandonment of the system generally would tend to destroy the maritime greatness of this country. By giving proper encouragement, he conceived that a sufficient number of sailors could be procured without the impressment of any class of persons. He would not object to an Order in Council authorizing impressment under peculiar circumstances, but he could not agree to the adoption of the system as a general principle.
§ Petitions laid on the Table.