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The Duke of Wellington's speeches on Catholic Emancipation (20)

7 April 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)


In Committee on the Roman Catholic Disabilities Relief Bill.

The Earl of CLANCARTY strenuously opposed the Bill, as a measure extorted from the Government by the Irish agitators. The recent release of one of that body from an imprisonment for libel was generally viewed as a concession to their menaces; if the inference was erroneous, perhaps the noble Marquis lately at the head of the Irish Government (Anglesey) would explain the circumstances.

The Marquis of ANGLESEY must be excused entering into the explanation demanded.

The Duke of RUTLAND considered that means should be taken to preclude Roman Catholics from the Premiership.


Although my noble friend (the Marquis of Anglesey) does not feel it his duty to give any explanation of the circumstance to which the noble Earl has referred, I hope your Lordships will allow me a few words. But first I would beg to remind the noble Lord (Clancarty) and the House of the reasons which I have before urged for submitting the measure to you — reasons founded upon the state of Ireland, and paramount to any consideration of the Catholic Association. These reasons are referable to the safety and honour of the State; the first of which might be sacrificed if the Government took no step of this nature; and the second compromised, if coercive measures were not adopted for putting down a body which had become dangerous. My noble friend (Lord Clancarty) has left out of his consideration that a most important Bill has been passed this Session, for putting down the Catholic Association; and a month elapsed after that body had submitted to the authority of Parliament before I introduced the measure now before your Lordships, and which I felt it my duty to submit as soon as possible after the first measure had been carried.

But my noble friend complains of the liberation of a person who had been convicted of libel, before the expiration of his sentence. I will tell my noble friend that that step was founded upon the report made to Government of the state of that individual's health, and that his life must have been sacrificed if his confinement had been prolonged. The noble Lord then at the head of the Government of Ireland stated the circumstance, and His Majesty's servants would not have done their duty if they had not advised the course which was adopted. But the fact had no reference whatever to politics; for the same thing would have been done had the state of things in Ireland been twenty times worse than it was at the time. I believe my noble friend (Lord Clancarty) is personally interested in the circumstances to which he refers; but that could have had no weight with the noble Marquis then at the head of the Government, who was acting in the performance of a duty for which he was responsible; and most certainly the noble Marquis would have been answerable for the consequences if he had not advised the course which was adopted in that case. Having felt it necessary to state this, I cannot help deprecating the introduction of questions of this kind, to the delay of the important measure before the House, with which such questions have no connexion whatever. Before I sit down I will say a word as to what fell from my noble friend (the Duke of Rutland), for whom I have the highest respect.

My noble friend has suggested that Roman Catholics should be restricted from eligibility to the office of Prime Minister. I can assure my noble friend that I should be disposed to do anything to gratify him, not inconsistent with the principles and provisions of the Bill; but he must be aware that there is no such office as that of Prime Minister known to the Constitution. The person generally at the head of the Administration is the First Lord of the Treasury, and for many reasons, which it is not necessary for me to explain, I think that a convenient arrangement, as the First Lord of the Treasury is more immediately connected with the finances of the country; but the Chief Minister, or head of the Administration, is not necessarily the First Lord of the Treasury. He is sometimes the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, or the Lord Privy Seal, or may be any other member of the Administration : so that the Prime Minister cannot be well defined in the Act by mentioning any one of those offices. But I think the objection of my noble friend is not well founded. The Bill before the House makes ample provision, in case the head of the Administration should be a Roman Catholic, by taking from him all control over Church patronage, and confiding it to hands which must be above all suspicion as to its being exercised injuriously to the Church. My Lords, it is not necessary for me to say any more on that subject now, as the point will come under discussion in the Committee.

The Earl of MOUNTCASHELL proposed by way of amendment, that no Roman Catholic being in holy orders should be capable of sitting in the House of Peers.


My Lords, the case to which the noble Earl alludes as likely to occur is, in my opinion, a very problematical contingency. The object of part of this Bill is to admit Roman Catholics into Parliament; and as soon as the principle of this Bill shall have been acknowledged, and shall have passed into a law, it will become the right of Roman Catholics to sit in both Houses. Now I ask the noble Lord whether it would then be proper to establish a distinction among the persons capable of sitting here with your Lordships, upon so improbable a contingency as that one of them may be an ecclesiastic of the Church of Rome? It would be an insult rather than anything else to introduce an exception into the Bill of so invidious a nature.

Amendment withdrawn.

The Earl of FALMOUTH proposed an amendment to allow Roman Catholics to be elected members of Parliament only by Irish constituencies.


My Lords, the measure before us proceeding upon the principle that it is expedient to admit Roman Catholics into Parliament, and your Lordships having adopted that principle by consenting to the second reading of the Bill, I ask the noble Earl why it is expedient to exclude Roman Catholics from representing places in England and Scotland? The noble Lord has advanced no arguments and shown no reasons in proof of the expediency of excluding Roman Catholics from representing places out of Ireland. He says he wishes to limit the number of Roman Catholic representatives to 100; but does he mean to say that all returned from Ireland will be Roman Catholics? My Lords, I should be very sorry, and so would many of my noble friends around me, to think that all the Irish representatives will be Roman Catholics. I accordingly submit, my Lords, that before the Committee can agree to adopt the noble Earl's amendment, he must show us some reasons in favour of it.

Lord KENYON advocated the amendment.


My Lords, it appears to me that the noble Baron (Kenyon) has forgotten what we have already voted. I think, my Lords, that when once the principle that Roman Catholics are eligible to seats in Parliament has been conceded, there can be no reason why English Roman Catholics should not be admitted to the enjoyment of that which will be their right so soon as the principle of this Bill (to which we have assented by reading it a second time) shall have become the law.

Amendment withdrawn.

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See also Gleig's Life of Wellington (1862)
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