HL Deb 30 March 1836 vol 32 cc836-41
The Duke of Newcastle

rose to move for certain Returns relative to Roman Catholic Establishments in this country. He was most unwilling to trouble their Lordships, but he felt it to be a duty incumbent on him to do so on that occasion. The object he had in view was to call upon the House to do all in their power to protect the Protestant religion in this country against any open or insidious attacks that might be made on it. He believed that the Returns he in- tended to move for, would, if accurately furnished, do much to inform their Lordships as to the dangerous increase that had lately taken place in the number of Roman Catholics. He felt that the religion of the country was endangered by this, and therefore he contended that they were called upon to do all in their power to rescue it from the situation in which it was placed. His attention had been recently called to this subject in consequence of some observations which he had seen in a newspaper, and certainly they were well worthy of the consideration of the House. He would beg leave to read to their Lordships an extract he had found in the Newcastle journal. Respecting Great Britain, we have information of its progress of a painful character. About forty years since, there were but thirty chapels in Great Britain; in the year 1835 there were 510. In that year eleven new ones have been built. In Dover, and also in Kidderminster, a Protestant chapel has been converted into a Papal chapel. They will—with praiseworthy zeal if it were in a right cause,— build a chapel where they have not a dozen members; and this chapel is sometimes filled, by the zeal of those members, from the neighbourhood. There are said to be now 700 ecclesiastics in this island, and they have resorted in several places to preaching in the open air. Popish colleges and seminaries are multiplying, and these are modern institutions. There are now eight Popish colleges and fifty-two seminaries; and in many of them great decorum and application to their object is manifested; Monasteries and nunneries are also beginning. With these efforts are connected several tract societies; they have been very active in distributing tracts in favour of Popery at the doors of meetings and churches; and the Scotch church, near Covent-Garden, at the evening service in the church. They have formed schools adapted to attract the children of the poor, giving public breakfasts and clothing the children, and thus getting the parents to attend mass. The chief body of the reporters for the public journals are said to be Irish papists. While a few of the higher classes, many of the lower, it is believed, have been entrapped into this snare of the enemy. In Scotland there once were but very few Roman Catholic families, there are now, in Glasgow, 30,000 Roman Catholics; and it is believed that there has been an increase of Popery in the eastern as well as the western coast. I am credibly informed that since the year 1815, large sums have been remitted from the Continent to this country and Ireland, for the purpose of promoting Popery; my informant puts the sum at 400,000l. and slated the name of the person to whom the distribution of it is assigned. The passage he had read purported to be taken from a book recently published on the progress of Popery, and written by the rev. Edward Bickersteth. He had said enough he was sure to convince their Lordships of the danger which threatened the country, and he would conclude by moving for Returns of all Roman Catholich chapels, with the dates of their erection; also Returns of all monastic establishments, distinguishing whether for monks or nuns, together with the number in each; also for a return of all Roman Catholic colleges and seminaries in England and Wales, distinguishing those which belonged to the Jesuits; and also of the number of Roman Catholics in Great Britain in the year 1799, and their progressive increase down to the present time. If this latter Return could not be made, he would propose that a Retina should be made of the number in 1828, and each year to 1835.

Viscount Melbourne

had no objection to some of the returns moved for by the noble Duke, as he did not see that any harm could arise from them; but he wished to state, with respect to several points of the motion, that they could not he complied with, as the information called for could not be obtained, Government having no power to enforce the communication of it. They could make the return as to the number of licensed places of Roman Catholic worship, as they could of all other dissenting places of worship, and also the dates when they were certified, in order to be licensed. These returns could, without difficulty, be obtained from the clerks of the peace in the several counties. The second motion, with respect to the monastic establishments, and the number of residents in each, the noble Duke knew that there was a provision in the Roman Catholic Relief Bill requiring a register of all males in the monastic establishments, and if, after that period, any members were admitted, there were severe penalties for not complying with the Act, and the parties in such establishments would be liable to punishment as guilty of misdemeanour. Nunneries were excepted from the Act, therefore it was competent for persons to establish them; but they could not obtain any information respecting them from which anything like just conclusions should be drawn. As to Roman Catholic colleges and seminaries, he would only observe that, as it was competent for any persons to establish such places for the education of persons in the Roman Catholic religion, he did not see how they could prevent it, nor could they obtain any returns respecting their institutions any more than regarding those of other Dissenters, or belonging to the members of the Establishment. With respect to information regarding the number of Roman Catholics in England since 1799 he would only add, that there were no means for ascertaining it. There was a recent return in Ireland distinguishing the number of Catholics from Protestants, but no returns of the kind had been made in this country. He believed, by the Act for the relief of the Roman Catholics, Jesuits, and members of other monastic orders were allowed to live in this country, provided they sent in their names to the Secretary of State. So far, therefore, information might be furnished, but with respect to many of the returns it was utterly impossible to make them.

The Duke of Newcastle

thought that they might obtain the information he called for, by requiring the parish clergy to make returns. The truth was, that Roman Catholic chapels were raising in all directions, and Popery was spreading, and yet it was regarded with apathy. He had received a letter on this subject from a gentleman who did not sign his name to it, in which it was stated, that a very large Roman Catholic establishment had been erected at St. Leonard's near Hastings, and which looked more like a fortress than anything else. It was notorious, that there was a large Jesuit monastic establishment at Stoneyhurst, and he had seen the bull by which it was established, and it was described to be of the Jesuits' order. He believed that, by the Relief Act, members of the Jesuits' society might come to England on obtaining a licence from the Secretary of State; but he should like to know in how many instances this had been complied with. He trusted that their Lordships would go along with him in desiring to abolish such places as he had alluded to, which were called seminaries, but which (as we understood the Noble Duke to say) he could not help regarding as a pestilence. He trusted that their Lordships would support him in pressing for the returns he had moved for.

Lord Holland

observed, that with respect to many of these clauses, Parliament had no power to obtain information. They had no right to inquire as to what religion a man professed. To adopt the means proposed by the Noble Duke to carry on the inquiry, would be in effect doing nothing more nor less than giving to the Protestant clergy of Great Britain the Popish power of confession as to the tenets of a man's religion. Supposing the noble Duke's suggestion was adopted, he should like to know by what means a clergyman of a parish would learn the religion of every person in his parish. He held that the first doctrine of the Protestant religion was, that no man had a right to say or to judge what were the religious opinions of another.

The Earl of Haddington

said, that there was no doubt that what had fallen from his noble Friend as to the difficulties the parochial clergy would experience in making their returns, was to a great degree, true; but this did not apply to the religious seminaries. He thought that the noble Duke was entitled to the information if it could be furnished to him; he would, therefore, recommend him to add to his motion the words, "as far as they can be obtained."

The Marquess of Clanricarde

thought that, though the returns as a mere matter of curiosity might be sufficiently interesting, yet no Parliamentary grounds had been laid before their Lordships to induce them to consent to their being made but. Was it the noble Lord's intention to move the repeal of the Roman Catholic Relief Bill, or to ground any such proceeding upon these returns, if they were made? He had no objection to the returns being granted, as far as it was possible they could be made, but he repeated, no Parliamentary grounds had been laid for the motion.

Lord Wharncliffe

thought it was impossible to comply with some part of the motion of the noble Duke.

The Marquess of Lansdowne

, on behalf of the parochial clergy of the country, protested against their Lordships imposing so arduous a duty on them as was proposed by the noble Duke. What was to prevent any of their Lordships, if this motion were complied with, from calling upon the parochial clergy of the country to furnish a return of the number of Baptists, Methodists, or of any other sect, if such a return he might find necessary either to gratify his curiosity, or appease his apprehension? Any noble Lord in that House who might have a desire to put down those "pestilences," as the noble Duke was pleased to term those bodies of conscientious men who had formed themselves into societies through the country, might, upon that pretence, call for returns, to which it would be quite impossible for their Lordships to consent. No matter, however, what the nature of the motion might be, he protested against any Peer of that House applying such a term to any society of conscientious Christians, of whatever denomination. So far as any information could be obtained; he had no objection to its being given; but he once more protested against imposing the duty on the parochial clergy.

The Marquess of Clanricarde

begged to remind the Noble Duke (Newcastle) that the Jesuits, as an order, were as fully suppressed by the Pope as the noble Duke himself could desire.

The Duke of Newcastle

hoped their Lordships would not let it go forth to the country that they had refused any information in their power on this important subject. He should advertise in the public papers for any information that could be forwarded to him on this subject.

The Earl of Winchilsea

said, that the provisions of the Relief Bill, relating to monasteries and societies of Jesuits had been evaded.

The motion amended was agreed to.