HL Deb 10 June 1836 vol 34 cc290-6
The Duke of Newcastle

said, he rose, in pursuance of notice, to present a Petition which had emanated from the Protestant Association, at a meeting held, on the 11th of May, in Exeter-hall. He regretted that this duty had not devolved on some more able individual; but, as the petition had been placed in his hands, he felt that he should be guilty of a dereliction of a sacred duty if he did not present it. When he said that this petition came from the Protestant Association, their Lordships would naturally inquire, what the title "A Protestant Association" could mean? In this Protesant country it did not at all surprise him that many individuals, professing the Protestant faith, should feel alarm for the security of their Church, when they marked the extraordinary measures which had been recently introduced into Parliament. He confessed, that he participated in their alarm; and the consequence of the apprehension which they entertained was, that they found it necessary to embody themselves for the protection of their religion against any attacks that might be directed against it openly or covertly. He could not conceal from himself the danger which menaced the Protestant Church, when he saw Roman Catholics (who were sworn not to injure it) and Dissenters joining together to assail it, He, however, should, to the last moment, and every conscientious Protestant would pursue the same course, resist the degradation or spoliation of that venerable Church to which this country, under Providence, was so much indebted. He should make no further observations, but move "that the petition be read at length."

The petition was read at length.

Lord Stourton

disclaimed the object imputed by the noble Duke to the Roman Catholics when the noble Duke said, that they were united with the Dissenters, or with any other body of men, for the purpose of putting down the establishments of the country in Church and State. He would assure the noble Duke that he had no such intentions: on the contrary, he felt bound, under certain limitations and qualifications, to uphold those establishments. As to the allegations of the petition which the noble Duke had partially adopted as truths, he protested in the strongest manner, against charges at once so heinous and so disgraceful in their nature. He had never troubled their Lordships with controversial remarks and polemical discussions; but he could not sit silent and hear "perjury," and "idolatry," and "superstition," and the "tyranny" of the Roman Catholic priesthood of Ireland so broadly imputed, without defending himself and the body to which he belonged against such cruel and unjust accusations. As to the charge of infringing his oath, because he supported the Bill of last year on the Irish Tithe Question, in concert and in concurrence with the Ministers of the Crown, he was ready at any time—weak, and feeble, and unpractised in debate as he was—to meet, upon that point, whatever array of talent or ability might be embodied against him. He saw on the opposite side of the House, the most consummate ability, the most splendid attainments, the utmost experience, and the highest powers of debate arrayed against him; yet, relying solely upon the justice of his cause, he was willing, at any hour, to meet that formidable array! But was it possible that charges and allegations were to be brought against a Member of their Lordships' House, which would be felt to involve disgrace by the lowest criminal in the lowest courts of law, or was he to defend himself in this House against allegations that would stain with even deeper pollution the most polluted characters of the kingdom? Might he not, with all deference to their Lordships, be allowed to ask if that were the way to sustain the dignity and character of the House of Lords, assailed from without? He was a Roman Catholic; but he hoped, as he had now a seat in their Lordships' House, he was not there to soil and tarnish by his presence or his conduct, their Lordships' bright escutcheons! He was not ashamed of that religion which he professed, and which atone time, and for several ages, was professed by all their Lordships' ancestry. Nay, more he would ask—and he would put it to their own bosoms to answer—were any of their Lordships more ashamed of their robes, for having been worn by the barons, who, at one time, with a Roman Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury, and at another time, with a Roman Catholic Bishop of Winchester, placing their mitres in front of the battle, extorted from a John the Magna Charta, and the Confirmatio Charlarum from an Edward, and who placed the liberties of Englishmen on a basis, which, under all the shocks of time, had supported them down to the present hour? Enough on this topic. But he would say one word upon the tyranny—the alleged tyrannical domination of the Irish priesthood. He was the more disposed to do so, because they were called upon to legislate, and in reality to amerce Ireland in the privation of all her municipal rights and privileges, on the express ground of the influence of the Roman Catholic clergy in that country. That was the ground taken by the noble Baron (from the evidence on the Intimidation Committee) in his scheme for demolishing at one fell stroke all the Municipal Corporations in Ireland. He might, therefore, be permitted to examine a little this important subject. If tyranny it were, it was at least a tyranny of a novel kind:—a tyranny in defence of the new Magna Charta, namely, the Act of 1829—a tyranny in defence of those Parliamentary and Municipal Reforms, which had conferred a new Confirmatio Charlarum on England and on Scotland! He challenged the noble Baron to state that single vote-nay, to select that single speech—he might, he believed, add that single word—which, during a seven years' apprenticeship, had been recorded or uttered by any Member of Parliament, on whose return any priestly influence in Ireland could have exercised the slightest effect,—that had not been uniformly uttered in favour and on the side of liberty! If Ireland were amerced, the fine that took away her municipal rights would he levied, not on account of any tyranny, but on account of the ardour and honesty of her struggle by the side and in behalf of Irish and British freemen. Had this priesthood exerted their influence, whatever it might have been, in opposition to the liberties of their own country or of England, Ireland might have retained all her corporate rights. That might be tyranny, if noble Lords chose so to name it; but it was a tyranny bearing all the fruits of liberty, if it were a tyranny, it was in sympathy with all the feelings and affections of those flocks on whom it was supposed to be exercised; and without a single exception on the side of the liberties of Great Britain. But had this priesthood no other motives that might fairly palliate or legalize their occasional interference— (though on some occasions it was carried even to an improper extent,)—in their intense anxiety to send Members to Parliament who might devote their acquirements and services towards bettering the fate of their unfortunate people? The condition of the Irish was the best defence of their pastors. Let the right rev. Bench place themselves for a moment in the same situation; with their people so suffering and so enduring (a case, thank Heaven, almost impossible), would they utter no bitter expressions, or exert no influence at elections, if they conceived good to their afflicted parishes might arise out of such exertions. He could not, in justice, to the right rev. Prelates, believe it. Let anybody view the condition of the labouring people of Ireland, as exhibited in Inglis's Report, or more diffused in the evidence of the Poor Law Commissioners. What a terrific picture was there presented —a picture unparalleled, for its deformities, on the face of the earth. In too many instances, the Irish people seemed to unite all the restraints of the social system, without its protection; all the casualties of savage life without its unappropriated lands and wildernesses. And might not any priesthood, witnessing scenes like those of Ireland, be forgiven if they entered occasionally with too heated feelings into electioneering contests in support of those from whose constitutional exertions they might hope for some alleviation to the sufferings of their afflicted flocks, a large proportion of whom, Mr. Inglis said, lived on the verge of starvation? In this country the case of the Roman Catholics was wholly different; and since the Relief Bill had passed, they sat down contented with their lot, excepting two Members of Parliament (and those both Howards,) they had no Roman Catholic Members in the Commons' House of Parliament representing their particular interests; for they felt that these interests, were safely confided to the Protestants. Again, it might perhaps be thought on great constitutional questions, and in those more especially involving the interests of churchmen, that they were the best guardians of their own interests; but he contended that even for the purposes of the Church itself, the parties most interested might not be the most judicious judges. Was not the fall of the close borough system a case in point? Here also there was an appropriation principle. Birmingham and Sheffield were to have no representatives in Parliament, lest the principle which had consecrated Gatton and Old Sarum should be violated and sacrificed; whereas, had the borough proprietors made timely sacrifices, up to this hour, they might have retained considerable sway, and the Duke of Wellington have been still the popular Minister of this country. It had been often repeated, and perhaps still oftener thought, that the Irish Catholics obtained every thing they ought to have craved, when the Relief Bill of 1829 was passed, and the Statute-Book was no longer-a persecutor. But no greater error could well exist, than that persecution in its effects ceased at once with its most prominent cause. As well might it be expected after a storm had been raging in the Bay of Biscay, and the waves running mountains high, that the agitation of the waters was at once to subside, and the vessel cease to roll, because the wind had stilled. He had only, in conclusion, to return his grateful thanks to their Lordships for the courtesy they had shown him.

The Earl of Shrewsbury

could not allow the discussion to pass without offering a few observations. This was one of the many occasions when opportunity had been taken to villify and traduce the Roman Catholics. He could not help feeling deeply, and censuring warmly the expressions that were contained in the petition, when describing the Roman Catholic religion. If they looked at home, they would find that one-third of the population of the United Kingdom consisted of Roman Catholics; and if they looked abroad, they would find that 100,000,000 of their allies were Roman Catholics, inhabiting the fairest, and in some respects the happiest—for it was free from religious strife and dissension-the happiest portion of Europe. It was surely to be greatly lamented, if noble Lords could not enter that House without hearing the religion they professed maligned and slandered. That was the principal reason why he so much abstained from attending their Lordships' House. It was high time that such a system should be discountenanced and that their Lordships should learn to conduct themselves within the rules of Christian charity, which taught them "to do unto others as they would wish others to do unto them."

The Earl of Winchilsea

differed in opinion from the two noble Lords opposite with respect to one point, for he believed that certain members of the Roman Catholic Church did use their political power for the purpose of subverting the Protestant Establishment, particularly in Ireland, and that they never would rest satisfied until that establishment, which had laid the foundation of the happiness and prosperity of the British empire, was destroyed. In making that statement, he felt bound to say, that he fully appreciated the honourable conduct pursued by the two noble Lords opposite with regard to the oath they both took on entering Parliament.

The Earl of Wicklow

said, that if the petition contained a single allegation against the honourable conduct of the noble Lord opposite, and of other persons of his religion, connected with this country, and sitting in the other House of Parliament, he must state that he did not participate in the sentiments of the petitioners in that respect. Still, if the noble Lord, and those other hon. gentlemen to whom he had alluded, wished to stand well with the country, they must take means to disconnect themselves from that party which professes to be the representatives of the Roman Catholics of Ireland, and to prove that they did not share the feeling which avowedly influenced the party to which he had just referred.

The Bishop of Exeter

had heard with pleasure the noble Baron (Stourton) disclaim any participation in the view taken of the Parliamentary oath by those Roman Catholics whose aim was the overturning or the weakening of the Protestant establishment of this country. The noble Lord said, that he had given his proxy to the Ministers; and most honourably and wisely might he, by anticipation, do so, knowing that those Ministers were sworn to defend the interests of the Protestant Church, Of this, however, he was sure, that if the noble Baron had been present and had heard the discussion on the subject, the minority would not have had the benefit of the noble Baron's vote; and why did he especially state this? Because, to his utter astonishment and grief, the Minister at the head of his Majesty's Government had on that occasion allowed that the measure which he supported would be a grave and serious discouragement to the Protestant religion in Ireland.

Viscount Melbourne

observed, that this kind of partial quoting from former debates was exceedingly unfair, as it led to partial and incomplete views of a subject. The right rev. Prelate had just quoted a sentence in a speech of his (Lord Melbourne), made in the last Session, but without the context, which was to the effect that the measure under consideration at that time was of such great and paramount importance, that, although the inconvenience of it would in some respects be felt, yet it ought to be adopted. The right rev. Prelate had, however, with great unfairness, repeated the sentence which adverted to the inconvenience, without adverting to the accompanying reasons why it was expedient that that inconvenience should be borne. Was it not manifest that many legislative propositions might comprehend one undesirable effect, and yet, that pressing circumstances might render their adoption upon the whole expedient? Why, the Irish Church Temporalities Bill was, by the diminution of the number of Bishops, and other provisions, to a certain degree discouraging to the Protestant party in Ireland, and, to the same degree, a triumph to the Roman Catholic party in that country. That was an inconvenience. But their Lordships thought that there were greater, more important, and overbalancing considerations, which rendered it expedient and necessary that that measure should be passed into a law. In fact, in almost all great national questions, it became necessary to consider on which side was the balance of inconvenience and evil.

The Earl of Shrewsbury, with reference to the Bill to which allusion had been made by the right rev. Prelate, expressed his conviction that the only object which the promoters of that Bill had had in view was to carry into effect the resolution of Parliament years before, that tithes should be extinguished in Ireland.

Petition to lie on the table.

Back to