HL Deb 03 March 1851 vol 114 cc1065-74

Several petitions on this subject having been presented,


in presenting a vast number of petitions from various places in England, Ireland, and Scotland, praying for a legislative enactment to restrain Papal Aggression, took occasion to express his disapproval of the observations which had fallen from the Earl of Aberdeen a few evenings since on this subject, in which the noble Earl had characterised the measure brought forward as one of a penal and persecuting character. The noble Earl, no doubt, was faithfully representing the state of his own feelings on the subject, when he disparaged the importance of the recent extraordinary proceedings of the Court of Rome; but he greatly deceived himself if he supposed that the loyal and well-dis- posed amongst Her Majesty's subjects regarded the aggression with other feelings than those of alarm and indignation. For his own part he (the Earl of Roden) did not hesitate to express his entire dissent from the opinion of the noble Earl. He looked upon the act of the Papal Court as an insolent and insidious attempt on the independence of this country and the prerogative of Her Majesty's Crown, and he trusted that it would be resented as such by the Legislature. He altogether approved of the conduct of the late Ministry in introducing a Bill upon the subject. It evidenced the sincerity of their intentions, and satisfactorily attested their anxiety to redeem the pledge which the noble Lord, lately at the head of the Government, had given, in his letter to the Bishop of Durham—a document which, although it had been severely censured in some quarters, had nevertheless won for the noble Lord the admiration and approval of the great majority of the respectable and intelligent amongst the inhabitants of the United Kingdom.


I do not rise for the purpose of making any remarks upon this last of those Ministerial explanations which have been occupying, during the last few days, so much of the attention of the House and of the country. Neither do I rise for the purpose of making any strictures, like the noble Earl (the Earl of Roden) who has spoken to-night, upon the speech of the noble Earl near me (the Earl of Aberdeen), although it is upon the subject to which that speech referred that I am anxious to address a few observations to the House. The intention with which I rise is one very easily fulfilled, and which, I trust, the House will see it is neither out of time nor out of place that I should entertain.

I hold in my hands a petition from a corporate body in the city of Glasgow on the subject of the Papal Aggression. It is not in itself very remarkable either as regards the form in which it is expressed, the prayer with which it concludes, or the importance and influence of the body from which it proceeds. It is but one of many others which have been presented to the House in silence; and I certainly should have pursued the same course with this one had it not been that I have observed a very wide and very great misunderstanding as to the public feeling in Scotland respecting this question. There are undoubtedly one or two very obvious differences of circumstance between Scotland and this country. In the first place, by law this aggression does not specifically apply to Scotland. The bishops of the Roman Catholic Church there are still in the condition of vicars-apostolic; and the rev. gentleman, who, it is said, would, in the event of a Papal bull being extended to Scotland similar to that issued for England, be dubbed with the title of Archbishop of Edinburgh, rejoices at present in some such name as Bishop of Limyra. In the second place, the Church established by law in that country is not an episcopal Church; but I need hardly explain to the House that neither this nor any other difference in such circumstances makes any alteration in the questions raised by the Papal Aggression. The non-episcopal character of our Church does indeed preclude us from taking some of the grounds of resistance which have been taken in England. In Scotland, for instance, we should never dream of saying that because our presbyteries and synods are established by law over certain districts, therefore no other Christian minister or bishop had any title to intrude upon it. No Scotchman would dream of taking such ground as this. I confess I wish it had not been so often taken in England; at all events, we willingly leave it to be occupied by those who think they can best resist a Romish aggression by adopting a Romish principle.

Nevertheless I can assure the House that the feeling which exists in Scotland in respect to the aggression recently made against the Established Church and laws of England, is strong, deep, pervading. It has not indeed been expressed as in England in county meetings; but the great cities have spoken out in un-mistakeable terms. [The Earl of ABERDEEN here intimated dissent.] My noble Friend seems to doubt the truth of this statement. I can only assure him that one of the largest and most unanimous meetings ever held in the city of Glasgow was upon this question; and I can further say, from my own observation at large public meetings not held specially on the subject, that the slightest allusion to it incidentally called forth the most decided and enthusiastic expressions of feeling. My conviction is, that if there had been a popular agitation upon it—if a dissolution of Parliament had taken place on this question—the difficulty in Scotland would have been, not to rouse the feeling, but to restrain it within due and moderate bounds.

Hitherto, I rejoice to say, the petitions from Scotland have taken just and moderate ground. I have not seen one, my Lords, either to this or the other House of Parliament which expressed a wish to interfere with the civil rights or the political privileges of our Roman Catholic fellow subjects. Nay, more, my Lords, I have not seen one which prayed Parliament to interfere with anything which by the widest latitude of language could be considered to belong to the religious liberties of the Roman Catholics. I cannot now detain the House by explaining fully what I mean by this; but one point I am anxious to notice now. I have seen no petition from Scotland which has asked Parliament to prevent entirely what is called the synodical action of the Roman Catholic Church. My Lords, most of those petitioners are members of a Church—I am myself member of a Church—which has maintained through years of oppression, resistance, and persecution, that it is a natural right of every Christian society to meet together for the regulation of its own affairs. And although there is undoubtedly a wide difference between the priestly conclaves of the Romish Church, whose decrees may bind the conscience of a minority, and the popular assemblies to which the government of a Presbyterian—or, as it might be, of any other Protestant—Church belongs, still I am not prepared to say that it is such as to entitle us to endeavour to prevent in toto all synodical meetings. For my own part, therefore, I rejoice that the petitions from Scotland have not asked Parliament to enter upon this point into a contest in which I believe no Parliament can enter with any hopes of success, and from which no Parliament can retreat without loss of credit, and a tenfold aggravation of the danger.

But, my Lords, having now said so much on what the Scotch petitions do not ask, I must say a few words more in explanation of what they do say, and what they do ask.

In the first place, they uniformly proceed upon the principle that the assumption so commonly made by Roman Catholics, and I regret to say so commonly made by some Protestants also, that because we tolerate the Roman Catholic re- ligion we are therefore bound to tolerate everything which the Roman Catholics may assert to be necessary for the full development of their Church, is an assumption neither sound in logic, nor true in fact. They remind the House that in all countries and in all times it has been found needful by every Government pretending to independence, to impose certain restrictions upon the full development of the Romish ecclesiastical system. They further remind the House that it is a principle of our own law and constitution that such restrictions should exist, and that those restrictions date—not as my noble Friend said the other day—from "barbarous times;" but from the very best times of our history—from those in which the best parts of our political system were arranged; and, farther, that the principle of such restrictions is implied, and directly provided for, in the very last Act which admitted the Roman Catholic to the Houses of Parliament.

But, farther, my Lords, these petitions almost uniformly proceed upon the assertion that whatever restrictions of the kind were needful at any former period, are not less needful at the present time. They point to the tone and manner in which this aggression has been made, as a proof of the spirit and temper in which any force acquired by the Romish priests is likely to be exercised. The noble Earl (the Earl of Aberdeen) said the other day that he was more disposed to view that aggression with contempt than with any other feeling. I indeed agree with the noble Earl that in one point of view it is deserving of our contempt; but I agree with these petitioners in thinking that in another point of view this feeling is not quite appropriate; that the power of the Romish priesthood is still a living power, still capable of exercising the most baneful influence on the welfare of nations.

My Lords, I shall not detain the House at present by any argument on this question. This much, however, I must be allowed to say, that however much under other circumstances I should have deplored some of the events of the last few days, although they have shown in the light of day and in the face of Europe, the high character and the incorruptible good faith of our English public men; however much I should have been inclined to regret the failure of an attempt to form a Government on a broader basis—embracing under one head or another the members of the late Government of Sir Robert Peel—yet under the circumstances which actually exist, and after the opinions which have been expressed by the noble Earl near me—opinions which he said were shared in by; most of his former Colleagues—I rejoice in that failure. I rejoice, my Lords, that no Government has been formed in England on the basis of passing over in total silence an act which has been proved to be an aggression on the public law of Europe—on the spirit if not the letter of: the municipal law of England—above all, my Lords, an aggression on which, if so passed over, future aggressions will infallibly be founded, and Parliament will ultimately be urged into the inevitable contest, only pampered by fatal admissions, and a fainthearted acquiescence.


presented several petitions from places in the county of Cork, praying their Lordships to reject the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill which had been introduced into the other House of Parliament. The petitioners lavished upon that Bill all the expressions of reprobation which it was possible to employ; but, though he felt bound to state their prayer to the House, he could not be expected to go along with them in the language they used when they described the measure as a violation of the principles of civil and religious liberty, as a tyrant plan, as an insult to their clergy, and a plunder of their property. On this question he would not at present express any opinion whatever; but he was anxious to state that nothing which had fallen from his noble Friend opposite, from the noble Earl, or the noble Duke who had just spoken, had shaken the view with which that night he had entered the House. Just on account of the statement made by his noble Friend (the Marquess of Lansdowne) with reference to the impossibility of establishing a strong Government, and just on account of what they had been told of the feelings of the people of Ireland and Scotland, he implored Her Majesty's Government to pause before they rejected the advice not to proceed to legislate, at least at present, on this subject, but to be satisfied with a resolution of both Houses of Parliament. That course would be attended with two inestimable advantages. It would postpone for the present that religious agitation, the worst of all agitations, which was tearing society to pieces on both sides of the Channel, though in opposite directions—it would postpone, at least, if it did not altogether allay it. It would avoid the constant renewal of that agitation and exasperation of feeling that at present too much, he might say too fatally, prevailed on both sides of the Channel; and it would give time for what he had always thought called for, and what events the events of the last few days added infinite force to—further inquiry; to obtain fuller and more accurate information respecting all the matters involved in the question. When Napoleon established a concordat with the Pope, the first step he took was to call to his councils one or two of the best informed and most trustworthy priests he could find; and he had reason to believe that he took the precaution of conversing and consulting with them separately, so that one did not know what the other said, or even who the other was, so that no concerted story should be told him. All who were acquainted with the history of that important period would tell them that the course then taken had at least this effect, that there was no appearance of haste in the transaction, and that it was not gone into with an imperfect knowledge of the subject. He repeated that he trusted Her Majesty's Government would sec the importance of delay, and of inquiry before they proceeded to legislate on this most important question, if legislate they must.


presented several petitions against the Papal Aggression, and said he could assure their Lordships that the people of Scotland would have tolerated no such aggression. The noble Lord did not know the feeling of the people of Scotland, if he believed that they were not opposed to the Papal Aggression; on the contrary, he the (Marquess of Breadalbane) could state that, although there had been few public meetings in, and few public petitions from, that country, the feeling was remarkably strong all over the kingdom. Considering, however, the state of our information, he thought they could hardly come to a fair and sound decision without further inquiry. They did not know, for instance, what were exactly the powers claimed by this Cardinal, who was a foreign temporal prince. Altogether the subject was so complicated, as, in his opinion, to suggest the propriety of extended inquiry before they proceeded any further in legislation. There were in- stitutions in this country connected with the Roman Catholic Church which he thought were totally inconsistent with our free institutions. He alluded to the nunneries—where they heard of young persons immured in dungeons, and of some of them attempting to escape. On this and other subjects, he thought that the law of this country should be made paramount to the canon or any other law, and that every care should be taken to preserve the Protestant institutions of this country.


denied having represented the people of Scotland as indifferent on the subject of the Papal Aggression. On the contrary, he had instanced the excitement prevailing in that country as a ground for proceeding by resolution instead of legislation.


My Lords, I wish to offer some explanation, in consequence of remarks which have been made, not altogether quite regularly, upon what I said the other night, since noble Lords were present in the House, and might have noticed, if they had done me the honour to do so, what I said at the time. I wish to explain, in consequence of a misconception and misapprehension on the part of my noble Friend the noble Duke (the Duke of Argyll), in which he gave your Lordships to understand that I had recommended that this aggression should be passed over without any notice, and, as it were, in silence. Now, that is not the case; for I particularly mentioned, in the few words that I addressed to your Lordships on Friday last, that I thought it might properly engage the attention of Her Majesty's Government, and even of Parliament; and in saying so, I referred to an opinion that I expressed to the noble Baron below me (Lord Stanley), before the meeting of Parliament, that the proper mode of proceeding was that which has been pointed out to-night by the noble and learned Lord, namely, by a Resolution of both Houses of Parliament carried to the foot of the Throne. I said, then, and I am much mistaken now, if the experience of both Houses of Parliament will not convince them very shortly of the difficulty of legislating on this subject. I understand that the noble Lord now at the head of Her Majesty's Government has already proposed to alter very materially the Bill which he has introduced, and he will find, as he further advances in the prosecution of a measure of this description, that the greatest difficulties will surround his progress.

The noble Earl below mo (the Earl of Roden) thought fit to allude to my remark as to the measure being one of a penal character, and savouring of persecution. Now, penal it certainly is. Whether you impose a fine of 100l. upon a man, or imprison him, your act inflicts a penalty, though whether that penalty be severe or not is another question. But I must be permitted to remind the noble Earl, that persecution is a very different thing at different periods. People entertain very different notions of what persecution is according to the age in which it is exercised, and according to the society in which they live. I doubt not that when Archbishop Cranmer had a poor wretch put to death for denying the King's supremacy, he had not the slightest idea that he was persecuting. Calvin, when he burned Servetus, never thought that he was a persecutor. No doubt that even Philip II., and the Duke of Alva, considered that all they did was redeemed by their tender regard for the salvation of souls. But those days are past, I have formerly heard in this House eloquent speeches, especially from the woolsack, proving that the Roman Catholics of this country had every privilege which they could in reason expect to enjoy; and the greatest opposition was made in quarters of eminence to those privileges which I" believe now all your Lordships are agreed, or the majority at least of your Lordships did agree, were properly bestowed on the Roman Catholic subjects of this country by the Relief Bill. But the speech of my noble Friend near me (the Duke of Argyll), if it was good for anything, was a very good reason for repealing the Catholic Relief Act, for its whole spirit would completely justify such a course of proceeding. The proposed measure will probably be ineffectual, and will therefore inflict no penalty; but if it should be effectual, I maintain that it is the lawful right of the Roman Catholic Church in this country to constitute regularly and in the ordinary manner their episcopal government; and I maintain that any impediment to that action on their part is persecution. The measure attacks that which is an acknowledged right in every Church. Times are changed. If the Roman Catholic Church were not tolerated by law, the case would be altered; but having admitted the Roman Catholics to an equality of civil rights, I say they have a right to constitute their Church in a legal and regular manner. Although, for reasons which may have satisfied them, they have for a long period acted under vicars-apostolic, there is nothing in justice or in common sense to prevent their appointment of bishops in a regular and proper manner.

I really must deprecate the recurrence of these daily debates on this subject, that take place on the presentation of petitions. I desire most ardently—although, as your Lordships must be aware, I have obtruded myself but very charily on your attention—but I desire, I say, most ardently, to have an opportunity of expressing fully my views on this subject, and the conviction which I entertain that the course we are pursuing is most fatal to the tranquillity of the country.


certainly had understood the noble Earl to say that he was unwilling to take any action as a Member of the Government he was invited to join.


also explained that lie remembered, before the commencement of the Session, that the noble Earl had said to him that it was, in his opinion, inexpedient to legislate on the subject; but since Parliament met, and during the recent negotiations which had taken place, he did not remember that the question had been once raised or discussed between them.

House adjourned till To-morrow.