Page images
PDF
EPUB

In a committee on the barrack estates bill, the Earl of Radnor stated several particulars with respect to properly. of his own in Kent, which had been used for the purpose of erecting harracks and a fort, and moved amendments in the bill to mect similar cases, providing that only the same rights should be vested by this bill as were already vested, and that in case of selling the property so giren up to government, the first offer should be made to the person bolling the adj ining lands, from whoin it had been received. The amendments were agreed to, and the house having resuined, the report was ordered to be received to-motrow.

Lord Walsingham presented the report of the lunatic bill, which was agreed to, after a few observations from the Earl of Suffolk.

Palmer's per-centage bill, the American trade bill, and several other bills, were brought from the commons by Mr. Wharton and other members, and read a first time.

BANK OF IRELAND. Lord Grenville ad verted to the bill then before the house for renewing the charter of the bank of Ireland, and expressed his surprise that the former charter of the bank had not been laid before the house. He would, however, shortly proceed to state the grounds of his intended mo tión. At the tiine of granting the charter of the bank of Ireland, in 1783, the penal laws against the catholics, that horrid code which all men now joined in condenining, had been happily repealed. There remained, however, disqualifications which prevented catholics from bõlding any office either in the state or in corporations. In the year 1793 the grcater part of these disqualifications were repealed, and wiih the exception of a few offices, they'. were allowed to hold generally oflices in the state, and alsofin lay corporations. They were allowed to be colon«ls of regiments, governors of fortresses, and to rise to eminent stations in all the professions. The question here was, whether, in allowing them to hold any of these im. portant offices, it was intended to exclude them from the Office of governor or director of the bank of Ireland. There was a contrariety of opinion amongst men eminent in the law upon this subject, and thus a considerable doubt had arisen. By the act of 1793, Roman-catholics were allowed to hold the offices mentioned, notwithstanding any

[ocr errors]

statute or bye-law; the word charter was not mentioned, and from this omission it was argued by some emment men, that catholics being excluded from the direction of the bank under the original charter,' were not eligible under the operation of the act of 1793, in consequence of the word charter not being mentioned in that act. Other men of eminence in the law were of the contrary opinion, tliat the intention of the legislature to admit catholics was evident, and that they were eligible under that act, the omission of the world charter being of no consequence. This doubt was not remedied in the bill before the house, it being there left as it was. That house had the superior advantage of calling for the opinion of the julges, and he ; thought this was a case in which that opinion ought to be called for.' A doubt existed as to the law, and what was thie

proper course to take to solve that doubt, but to put a question to his majes'y's judges? This was so plain and obvious, tirat lie was at a loss to anticipate ally argument that could be urged against it. If it was saict, it was of no importance: a question must surely be considered of importance which related to the privileges of four millions of bis majesty's subjects. If it was said, there was no doubt, the doubt was acknowledged in the bill now before the house and it was, in his opinion, of great importance that it should be set at rest, particularly when it was con. sidered that this bill was to continue for thirty-One years. }fis lordship concluded by moving to refer a question to the judges for their opinion as to the poin', whether under the operation of the act of 1793, combined with other acts, and the bank cbarier act, Roman-catholics were eligible to hold and exercise the office of governor or director of the bank of Ireland.

Lord Hawkesbury thought'such a mo:le of proceeding as that advised by the noble baron wholly unprecedented, or at least highly inconsistent with the usual practice of the house. The bill before tbeir loridships was strictly and directly a financial measure, and on such measures were it necessary to take the opinion of the judges, the public business would be at a stand, or be protracted to an: insufferabte length of time. The point which the noble baroii's motion involved was only an incidental one, and left the low as it now stood. He was therefore at a loss to conceive with what practical good effect his acceding to the noble baron's motion could be atteuded. It was VOL. 11.-1808.

3M

open to a catholic, should ihe proprietors of the bank think proper to select him, to bring his case into a court of law or to take the pinion of the Irish judges upon it in the exchrquer court; or if their decision did not satisfy bim, to bring his case before that ho ise by writ of error. Then would be ihe moment to discuss and decide the point of law, and not on the present occasion. Otherwise it would be prejudging the question, now to take the opinion of the judges upon it. Besides, were the judges to say the ca. tholics were eligible, would the house immediately pro-, ceed to alter the law? Was that the object which the motion of the noble baron had ultimately in view ? If so, he did not imagine the house was prepared to go that length. For his part, hè often stated what were his sentiments with regard to the claims of the catholics, and he would now again repeat theni, His opinion and determination was, to make his stand on the act of union; to maintain the laws as they stood at that period ; to abide by the concessions that had been made up to that period ; but not to accede to any other that had since been called for. Concession, in his opinion, had gone as far as was compatible with the security of the constitution in church and state ; and nothing should bring him to endanger that security, by yieldig to further claims of the catholics.

The Duke of Norfolk contended that the noble secretary was doing that which he himself was reprobating in others ; for he was prejudging the question, by the tone he assumed in ultimately deciding on the claims of the catbolics. If the judges decided that the catholics were eligible, he would move that the law be altered on the subject, if bis noble friend who made the motion should not think proper to do so.

The Earl of Lauderdale thought it most extraordinary that the noble secretary of state should wish to keep the house in ignorance, as to what was the law. It was said of catholic pries's, that they wished to keep their flocks in ignorance, and prevent them even from reading holy writ; and it might almost be supposed that the noble lord, in wishing to keep the house in ignorance, really cherish ed and acted upon the same principles. Those noble lords, however, who saw the greater danger in offices being held by catholics, must surely concur in endeavouring to ascertain the law upon this subject, as, if catholics were eligible to the direction of the bank, the greatest danger to the state must in the opiniou of those noble lords

[ocr errors]

ensue. Instead of the plain and obvious way of ascertain ing the law proposed by his noble friend, the noble secretary of state had recommended a law-suit; first, there was to be all the heat and animosity attendant upon a contested election, where catholic and protestant were directly opposed to each other; then a suit in a court of liw; then an appeal to the exchequer chainber; and lastly, an appeal to that house, when the opinion of the jungs might be had ; and thus there was to be a tedious litigalio i, før the purpose of arriving at the same point now proposed by his noble friend ; and instead of having the opinion of the judges in 1908, it was to be had, after a tedious and expensive litigation, in 1810.

The Lord Chancellor could not agree to as the opinion of the judges unless it was pro osed to legislate upon that opinion. It was besides a matter of great doubt with bim, whether, supposing such a question to be

put, the judges would not tell their lordships that they did not know what was meant by a Roman-caiholic; they knew that persons were excluded from certain offices who did not take certain oath, and it should not be disguised from the public, that this, after all, was the real question in all the discussions on ihe catholic question; na nely, - whether persons who did not take certain oaths should se disqualified from holding certai' offices. With respect to this subject he thought it right to declare his opinion, that it would be an event deeply calamitous if the protestant ascendancy were weakeneii. He held be opinion which had been held by Russel, Somers, lorid Har:l wicke, and other eminent meas that the support of the protestant church was intimately connected with the maintenance of our civil and religious liberties. He would not say, that under no circumstances ought further concessions to be made to the catholics; but he could not fore.ee the circumstances in which such concessions would be politic. It should never be forgotten, in consilering this subject, that the guards which were necessary to maintain our re. ligious liberties were not the less necessary for ihe «upport of our civil liberties. lle could see no ground for putting this question to the judges, unless it was first ascertaiged that some legislative proceeding was to be founded upon it, nor had he heard of any doubt upon the subject of the interpretation of the act.

Lord Holland expressed his surprise that the noble and

[ocr errors]

learned lord had declared opinions now which he did riot do when the general question was under discussion, and when they could have been fairly met, and when it could have heen ascertained how far the authorities quoted by the noble and learned lord bore him out in bis argument. He thought it most extra ordinary with respect to this question, that where the law was not understood, it should be argued that they ought not to adopt means for the pur. pose of understanding it. This obscuriiy, which was now to be thrown into the science of legislation, reminded bim of the metaphysics of Kant, and the poetry of Klop. "stock; of ihe former it was said, by one of his ardent ad. mirers, t'iat he wrote most sublimely, that he had written what no man ever understood, and what. bę himself did not understand. Klo, stock wrote, when young, a poem entitled Creation, in which were some sublime passages, and some rather obscure ; two students at Leipsio meeting with one of these obscure passages, which they could not understand, at length agreed to ask Klopstock himself for an explanation : they met him at Hamburgh, and asked the questions his reply was, “I dare say what I did

write was very good, and very sublime; I dare say I · meant something, but I confess I cannot now tell what I

did mean." A similar obscurity was, it seemed, to be thrown over the point which it was now sought to ex. plain.

Lord Harrowhy opposed putting a question to the judge, on the ground that no practical good could be derived from it.

Earl Spencer thought that in this instance there was clearly a sloubt, and that the only way of getting rid of : it was to have the opinion of the judges.

Lord Mulgrave sa w no ground for putting the question, unless the hou-e should previously determine to found on it some legislative proceeding.

The Earl of Rosslyn thought it essentially desirable, that where doubts existed as to the construction of laws about to be conti rued, those doubts should be removed, No person could argue against the removal of the doubts existing in the case before their lordships, but those who thought it matter of perfect indifference whether catholics should or should not be directors of the bank of Ireland. To those who were adverse to the admission of catholics to the direction, and to those who were friendly to that

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »