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The Duke of Wellington's speeches on Catholic Emancipation (2)

5 February 1829

These documents are taken from: The Speeches of the Duke of Wellington in Parliament, collected and arranged by the late Colonel Gurwood, C.B., K.C.T.S., (London,John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1854)


February 5, 1829

ROMAN CATHOLIC DISABILITIES.

The session was this day opened this day by Commission, with a Speech, in which the Catholic Question was adverted to in the following terms

'His Majesty recommends that you should take into your deliberate consideration the whole condition of Ireland, and that you should review the laws which impose civil disabilities on His Majesty's Roman Catholic subjects. You will consider whether the removal of those disabilities can be effected consistently with the full and permanent security of our establishments in Church and State, with the maintenance of the reformed religion established by law,' &c.

'His Majesty most earnestly recommends to you to enter upon the consideration of a subject of such paramount importance, deeply interesting to the best feelings of his people, and involving the tranquillity and concord of the United Kingdom, with the temper and the moderation which will best ensure the successful issue of your deliberations.'

In the debate on the Address in answer to the King's Speech, the Duke of NEWCASTLE begged to ask the noble Duke at the head of His Majesty's Government, whether it was his intention to proceed on the subject of Roman Catholic disabilities by moving for a Committee to take the same into consideration; or by bringing on the question by means of a Bill ?

THE DUKE OF WELLINGTON said:

I have the honour, in answer to the noble Duke's question, to inform your Lordships that it is the intention of His Majesty's Government, according to the course proposed in the Speech from the Throne, to present to parliament in the course of the present Session a measure for the adjustment of what are called the Roman Catholic claims. This measure for the adjustment of the Roman Catholic claims will be brought forward in a substantive shape by His Majesty's Ministers without going into a Committee. The measure which it is our intention to propose for the adoption of Parliament will extend to the removal generally of all civil disabilities under which the Roman Catholics labour, with exceptions solely resting on special grounds; and it will be accompanied by other measures rendered necessary by the removal of these disabilities.

The Earl of ELDON deprecated as unconstitutional, and beset by difficulties and danger, the policy which it appeared to be the intention of His Majesty's Ministers to adopt on the Catholic Question.

Earl BATHURST maintained that the difference between the circumstances under which this question had been presented to Lord Liverpool's Government, and those under which the present Administration were called on to deal with it, afforded a full justification of the proposed measure.

Lord REDESDALE accused the Ministry of a want of good faith, and was assured that their Lordships' Table would soon be covered with petitions against the measure.

THE DUKE OF WELLINGTON spoke in the following terms:

I am sure, my Lords, that your Lordships will not expect that I should enter upon the present occasion into a detail of the particular provisions of the Bill which His Majesty's Government intend to bring hereafter under the consideration of Parliament. His Majesty has been pleased to announce his desire that you should take into your deliberate consideration the question of removing the disabilities affecting his Roman Catholic subjects, and has particularly pointed out to you the objects to which he wished you to direct your attention, and which he wishes you, if possible, to secure. When I stated to your Lordships the general purport of the measure which the King's servants intended to propose hereafter to Parliament, I always meant that they should receive credit for providing for the particular circumstances stated in His Majesty's Speech, namely, for the security of those institutions which must ever be held sacred in this Protestant kingdom, and which it is the duty and determination of His Majesty to preserve inviolate. I hope that the noble and learned Lord on the cross bench (the Earl of Eldon) will rely upon us for providing, in the measure which we are going to introduce into Parliament, for those particular circumstances to which he has adverted. That noble and learned personage has stated difficulties; but if he will assist us with his great learning I have no doubt but that we shall be able to remove them. I earnestly entreat that noble and learned Lord to give us the benefit of his co-operation whenever the proposed Bill shall become a matter of discussion among us.

Having said thus much in reply to the noble and learned Lord, I must now advert to what fell from a noble friend of mine on the cross bench (Lord Redesdale), who accused me of a want of faith in bringing forward this measure at present. My Lords, I beg leave to remind you that on the several occasions on which I previously addressed you on this particular subject I invariably stated that I was most anxious for a settlement of it. I considered always, I stated again last year, that a moment of tranquillity was necessary such a settlement. And why did I consider such a moment to be necessary? Because I wished to conciliate to the question those persons in the country whom I knew to be adverse to it, including those very classes from whom my noble friend tells us we shall soon receive numerous addresses. The measure which we intend should precede those which I shall afterwards propose is calculated to produce that moment of tranquillity which, in my opinion, is so necessary to conciliate the public to the measure which we intend to propose for the pacification of Ireland. My noble and learned friend on the cross bench tells your Lordships that the proposed measure is inconsistent with the Constitution as established at the Revolution, and another noble Lord concurs in that sentiment. If I was going to propose a measure which should introduce a predominant Catholic power into Parliament I should then be doing that which is clearly inconsistent with the Constitution. But I am not going to do any such thing. There are degrees of power at least. Will any man venture to say that Roman Catholic political influence and power do not now exists in Ireland, in this country, and in Parliament? I address myself more particularly to the noble Lords on the cross bench, and ask them whether Roman Catholic power was not introduced into Ireland by measures of their own in 1792? I ask, have not that influence and power been augmented by some of the noble Lords themselves, the most vehement opposers of these measures?

As such is the case I implore noble Lords to look at the situation of the country and the state of society in Ireland. Whether it has been brought about by the existence of these disabilities or by the Catholic Association I will not pretend to say; but this I will say, that no man who has looked at the state of things for the last two years will venture to affirm that Government can be carried on in the existing condition of Ireland, and of men's opinions on the subject both in that country and in this. My decided opinion is that it is the wish of the majority of the people that this question should be settled some way or other. It is upon that principle and in conformity with that wish that I and my friends have undertaken to bring the adjustment of it under the consideration of Parliament, and I hope that your Lordships will give us such time as will enable us to bring it forward in that manner, and according to the course pointed out in the Speech delivered by the Lords Commissioners. I hope that you will not take it into consideration by piecemeal, but will wait with patience till it is placed as a whole deliberately before you.

The Address was carried, nemine contradicente.

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See also Gleig's Life of Wellington (1862)
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