§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the following Members be Members of the Select Committee on Conventual and Monastic Institutions."
§ MR. BOWYER
said, he rose to move that the order for the appointment of the Committee be discharged. An important change in the aspect of foreign affairs had occurred since the Motion for this Committee was brought forward. At that time there was still a hope that, by the interposition of Divine Providence, or by the skill of diplomatists, war would have been averted. Her Majesty's Message of yesterday had, however, put an end to these hopes; and in that Gracious Message Her Majesty said that she relied upon the loyalty and the bravery of Her subjects to maintain the rights of Her allies and the dignity of this country. Now he was sure that in no part of the empire would a more hearty or devoted response be made to the call of the Sovereign than would be the case in Ireland. A great portion of the Army came from Ireland, and that country was not excelled either in its gallantry or in its attachment to the Crown by any other part of Her Majesty's dominions. He would ask the House, under these circumstances, whether a great degree of consideration was not due to the Roman Catholics of Ireland, and to the feelings of those gallant men who were about to go to shed their blood before the enemy, and to fight the battle of this country? He was sure that those men would feel it a comfort on the field of battle, and even in the agonies of death, when they reflected that they left their families to the care of those conventual establishments which were assailed by the Motion before the House. When the noble Lord the Member for the City of London declared his intention of proceeding with the new Reform Bill, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) said that at the commencement of a war, of which no one could see the termination, it would be unwise to introduce topics that were calculated to make party feelings run high or to disturb peace at home, when we ought to cultivate unanimity at home, in order to secure success in war abroad. Now the very reasons so eloquently urged by the right hon. Gentleman would equally apply to the present case. Was it wise, at a crisis like the present, for Parliament to do anything that might excite disunion 1412 or bitter feelings in the minds of any portion of Her Majesty's subjects? It was said that this measure would protect and benefit rather than injure Catholics, and that it was proposed with feelings of kindness towards them, and with no sectarian motive or desire to provoke religious animosity. Now he gave many of the advocates of the measure credit for sincerity; but he begged to tell them that the Catholics considered the proposition, so far from being a boon, to be a bitter insult and a heavy ignominy. The hon. and learned Member for Hertford (Mr. T. Chambers), in moving for this Committee, said that he should be told that he imputed neglect and cruelty to those who were bound to protect their daughters, sisters, and other female relations; but he could not help that, because the imputation was true. Well, he (Mr. Bowyer) asked whether a measure brought forward in a spirit like that was not calculated to excite exasperated feelings among the Catholics of the kingdom? If this measure was intended for the benefit of the Catholics, then, he asked, where were the petitions for it from that body? Could it be believed that nearly 1,000,000 of Catholics in England, and 6,000,000 or 7,000,000 more in Ireland, were so completely under the dominion of their clergy (for the imputation was cast upon the clergy that they enslaved the laity) that they would not have heart enough to ask for protection of their relatives if they felt that they required it. Surely the Catholics ought to be the judges of whether the measure would benefit them; but their view of it was, that it was an insult and an injury. Meetings of Catholics had been held to resist this Bill, and a meeting was lately held in this city, which was attended by representatives of almost every ancient Catholic family in the kingdom, the members of which had been connected for centuries with these convents; they all considered that this Bill was not only unjustifiable, but that it was a reflection on the honour and the chivalry of their families; and it excited their utmost indignation. He might be told that there had not been many of these meetings; but he answered that they had only begun at present, and that if this inquiry was proceeded with, the country would soon be stirred from one end of it to the other in hostility to the measure, and feelings of dislike, and perhaps of hatred, excited amongst Catholics against their fellow-subjects, with whom they were now 1413 living in peace and harmony, at a time when the country eminently required union and good-will to prevail amongst all classes of its population. He put it, therefore, to Protestant Members, whether the present was not a peculiarly inopportune moment for pressing forward a measure of this nature? He asked them, therefore, to vote against this Committee on the special grounds that he had stated; and he was convinced that their justice, generosity, and patriotism would not allow them to permit a mere technical rule of the House to stand in the way of what was demanded by the interests of the public service, the maintenance of its honour, and the success of its arms. He now wished to make a few remarks on the general question, and he would follow the order which the hon. and learned Member for Hertford had pursued. He would first speak of monastic orders of men, and then of convents of females. The hon. and learned Gentleman explained very fully to the House the penal clauses of the Emancipation Act to which those communities were liable. Those penal clauses were of a very serious description, and went as high as the next punishment to death, namely, transportation for life. Now, where could be the least danger to the public welfare arising from communities that existed under the sufferance of the law, and which, if there was a fear of their acquiring too much power, could be proceeded against at any moment, under a very stringent law? No Government, whether Whig, Tory, or Coalition, had ever enforced these penalties in any single case. Even the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Walpole), who seconded the hon. Member for Hertford's Motion, when he was Home Secretary, did not direct the Attorney General to prosecute these religious houses, which he represented as dangerous to the social and political welfare of the country. And the reason was obvious. The best thing that could be done with a bad law was to repeal it, and the very worst was to enforce it; and the right hon. Gentleman, with the wisdom of his predecessors and successors, thought it best not to enforce these cruel penalties against peaceful religious men, engaged either in education or in harmless practices of devotion for the welfare of their own souls. What, then, was there peculiar in the present state of things that had suddenly rendered monastic institutions so dangerous that they must be made the 1414 subject of solemn Parliamentary inquiry? But he passed on to a matter of constitutional law, and asked what would be the position of these venerable men if they were called before this Committee? They were said to be under most severe penalties, and the hon. and learned Member for Hertford represented them as being open violators of the law. Now, in "Comyn's Digest," he (Mr. Bowyer) found it laid down that the Crown could not grant a Commission for inquiring without a power to hear and examine. Was the House of Commons, then, to institute by a Committee an inquiry which, if it took place under the Great Seal, would be illegal, and would expose every one of the Commissioners to an action? He was quite sure that if the House did appoint the Committee, the moment this monstrosity came to light, and it was seen that those rules of constitutional law regarding the rights and lives of Her Majesty's subjects were to be set at nought by this inquiry, the feeling of the country would become such as to render it impossible to proceed. He now came to the subject of convents. The first point with regard to them was, that they were private houses—private homes, homes to which ladies of the highest rank betook themselves for seclusion and devotion. He could inform the House that in one of them there was a princess, a member of an Imperial House; and there were many foreign ladies of the highest rank, besides the daughters and sisters of our own nobility and gentry. If, then, a man's house was his castle in this country, the homes of these ladies of high education and social position ought to be held peculiarly sacred; and he said that any inquiry which should drag them from their houses, and summon them before Commissioners, or a Committee of that House, to be examined, and have their evidence taken and published through the newspapers, was a thing so utterly repugnant to the feelings of Englishmen, that he was sure the country would revolt at it, and regret that the house did not take the obvious course for saving it from disgrace by giving up the inquiry. Why, the case of lunatic asylums were alluded to in the discussion; but they were places of compulsory confinement; and factories and mines were establishments of a commercial and public nature; and yet the Legislature did not inquire into them until great abuses and cruelty had been shown to demand such a step. Nothing of this 1415 sort had been made out as regarded convents. All the ingenuity of the hon. and learned Member for Hertford, and those who had assisted him in getting up evidence against convents, had failed to make out any case whatever for the smallest legal step, much less for a solemn Parliamentary inquest, professedly founded upon charges of heavy delinquencies against a large body of Her Majesty's subjects. They had not produced evidence that would be sufficient to find a little boy guilty before a magistrate of picking a pocket. In fact, all that had been alleged to prove the necessity for inquiry amounted to miserable gossip. It was absurd to suppose that females were forcibly detained in convents—any hon. Gentleman who visited such an establishment would find that the nuns had free egress and ingress at any moment they pleased: and it was obvious that it could not be the interest of the other inmates to retain a female against her will; for a discontented nun must make all those about her miserable, and disturb their peace as well as her own. And, accordingly, ladies were only admitted, after three ballots, to be professed nuns, and to take the solemn vows. The next point on which he would touch was the increase of conventual establishments. The hon. and learned Gentleman adduced statistics on that subject, and mainly based his Motion upon them. Now he (Mr. Bowyer) would give the House some statistics on this matter which had been collected by Dr. Ullathorne, one of the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church. At the time of the French Revolution there were twenty English inclosed convents and five French, but of these seven English convents and three French existed no more; so that of the twenty-five which existed at the time of the French Revolution, ten had ceased to exist. The number of inclosed convents now in existence is fifteen, and there have been three new houses established, making the total number eighteen, and out of those eighteen, eleven are boarding-schools, and five have poor schools, where the poor are educated gratuitously. So it appeared that the inclosed convents are fewer in number now than at the time of the French Revolution; and he would next come to the uninclosed convents. Their inmates devoted their time to the education of the poor and to works of charity, and he believed that, with regard to them, even the hon. and learned Member for Hertford 1416 disclaimed any wish to do anything against them. The reason why uninclosed convents had increased was, because the want of them had increased. They knew of the want of them in their densely-populated towns, and how utterly impossible it was, without their assistance, to deal with the evils arising there, so as to bring an effectual remedy to bear upon them. That had been done to a great extent by those ladies who had devoted their lives to the task, and had effected what could not be done by any other means. In Drogheda 1,300 girls were educated at the convent for nothing, and in Dundalk a very considerable number also; and the strongest evidence had been given to show the benefits arising from these houses. He would refer to the Report of the Inspector of Schools (Mr. Marshall), a public officer of great respectability, and who acted under the responsibility to which a public officer is liable. That individual was responsible to Her Majesty's Privy Council, to whom he made his Report; that Report had, he (Mr. Bowyer) believed, obtained the approbation of his superiors, and in it it was stated that the advantages arising from the convent schools were very great. He need only mention one instance to show the devotedness of these persons. In London there is a society of religious ladies, who make it their duty to take care of old and bedridden persons; they are ladies of education and station; they live entirely with these poor old persons; they go from house to house to get scraps of dinner; with these scraps they maintain these poor pensioners, and live themselves upon what is left after these persons have done. He wanted to know if this sort of devotedness was not entitled to the sympathy of the House, and he thought it would be very hard that those ladies should be taken away from their charitable labours, by which they were doing so much good, and brought before a Committee of the House of Commons, to have, perhaps, rude questions asked of them by persons not acquainted with their high character, and who might take some merit with their constituents by showing some degree of severity towards these persons. He thought these ladies ought to be protected by the law, and the House should discountenance any attempt that would interfere with their useful labours. The establishment of the Good Shepherd at Hammersmith might serve as a model for the establishments which were undertaken by members of the Church of 1417 England, and any person who visited it must leave the house with the favourable impression which the hon. Member for Cambridge so generously and candidly stated to the House had been produced on his mind. With regard to the increase of the communities of men he begged to read a passage from a statement made by Bishop Ullathorne, from which it appeared that any increase that might have taken place was attributable to the increased demand made upon their services, arising from the emigration of the Irish poor. Some persons were in the habit of talking of "lazy monks" but all those persons were engaged in the discharge of active duties which were useful to the community. But suppose some of them did not take so active a part, he had yet to learn that it was not lawful for men to retire to devout solitude, or that the liberty which was allowed in this country to the people of all classes was to be limited in this particular instance. As to the property possessed by them, he believed that, taking all the monastic bodies together, there was not more than a couple of thousand acres in the whole kingdom in the hands of them all. If it were found that they were becoming great territorial lords, as of old, hon. Gentlemen might be jealous of the power of the Church, and say, so much land being in their hands, so much power is in their hands. He did not think he could, even then, agree with them, except there was an extreme case, because he believed that the monastic bodies had done great good in their time, and there was a great deal of good to be done still by the monastic orders. But the very notion of any such danger now was absurd. The House would do wisely by at least putting off this inquiry, and discharging this Order. They might broach the subject again at a future time, but at present it was inexpedient, inopportune, and dangerous. He implored the House to consider carefully what they were doing, and not to light the torch of religious animosity in the country at a time when a serious war was pending over them, and when they required the utmost unanimity and peace at home, in order that they might deal with the serious predicament in which they were placed abroad.
, in seconding the Motion, said, every Roman Catholic took a deep and painful interest in this measure. He would beg to remind the House that the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. T. 1418 Chambers) who originally moved for this Committee, commenced an elaborate speech by declaring that he had no facts to offer in support of a Motion for inquiry, asserting that the absence of facts proved the necessity for inquiry. This was a strange argument, but afterwards the hon. Gentleman mentioned several statements as facts, which were subsequently disproved. The hon. Gentleman had asserted that Roman Catholics generally were not against this Committee. But as far as himself and his constituents were concerned, he could say that if all other measures of a similar character which had been rejected were put in one scale, and this Bill into the other, he would much prefer to have those measures rather than this. At an influential meeting of Roman Catholics the measure had been denounced, and at other meetings the same line had been adopted. This was an answer to the assertion of the hon. Member, that Roman Catholics generally were not unfavourable to the measure. On all grounds, social, religious, and constitutional, the measure was objectionable. It had been said that when a lady entered a convent she had no friends—but because she entered a convent, did her friends and relatives cease to be her protectors? He appealed to the good taste of the people of England not to consent to such a measure. The other day they opened a list for the relief of the wives and children of those gallant men who were about to embark in a struggle for the honour of this country. He would ask the House and the people of England to consider that, among those brave men, there might be many who left behind them sisters and other dear relatives in religious houses in this kingdom; and would the House or the country permit them to be subject to the petty taunts and inquiries of some low fanatic, while their brothers were dying for the honour of this country on the banks of the Danube?
To leave out from the words 'That the' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'Order for the appointment of the Committee be discharged,'—instead thereof.'
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ LORD LOVAINE
said, they had heard a great deal from the hon. and learned Gentleman who had moved the Amendmeet as to this being a constitutional question. This, however, was the first time 1419 since he had been in that House, that he had heard anybody question the right of Parliament to inquire into these institutions, or into the condition of any of Her Majesty's subjects. The hon. and learned Gentleman who raised this doubt also said it would be dangerous to meddle with anything relating to Roman Catholics and their conventual rights. Now the use of the term danger, and the assertion that some sort of danger was likely to arise, could only imply that the Roman Catholics had less of loyalty than any other class of Her Majesty's subjects. For his own part he did not believe that such was the fact, but certainly all who heard the hon. and learned Gentleman would say that the only natural construction to put on the term was that which he had stated. In voting for this Motion he desired to say he had no wish to give offence to any hon. Member, but he felt it to be his duty to vote on this question according to the dictates of his conscience and the expressed desire of his constituents. The question was not only a Roman Catholic question, it was a constitutional question and a Protestant question. This he would undertake to make clear. The Constitution of England laid down the law that no person should be confined in any place except under the sanction of the law, or under such other provisions as the law laid down. Now there had been a case laid before the House relative to a lady, an inmate of a convent. That lady was pronounced to be a lunatic; her friends wished to have charge of her, whereas the superior of the convent where she resided thought it right she should be sent to a Belgian convent. Now, it might happen that the lady was not a lunatic. In such a case it appeared to him just as easy to send her to Belgium. He believed that a person who had gone into a convent against her will could have been sent abroad against her will. Suppose the case of a Protestant family who had a daughter or relative who was unfortunately induced to become a convert to the Roman Catholic faith. If the young lady went into a convent the door was shut upon her for ever. He believed not only that such cases were possible, but that they had occurred, ["No, no."] And notwithstanding the contradiction of hon. Gentlemen, he should repeat that he believed such cases had occurred, and that what he had stated was the fact. If so, what was the course to take? Why, that Roman Catholics should allow the case to be investigated. But 1420 they would not do this, and they said they refused because they had a natural objection to obtrude on the privacy of these ladies. If the inquiry of the Committee was to be conducted on the principle of prying into the private matters of conventual establishments, he should be against it; but that was quite different from the object of the Committee. The purpose was to inquire into the object and tendency of conventual establishments. What Protestants asked, was to ascertain whether those regulations under which convents were placed abroad and in this country were in conformity with the laws of England? Protestants said to Roman Catholics, regulate your convents as you please, but put us in possession of the facts and circumstances of the case. Show us that no detention against the will took place or could take place; and show us that the place to which they are sent is known to everybody. Show us, in fact, that such things as took place in convents in Italy and in Roman Catholic countries did not take place in convents here. These matters he conceived equally concerned Roman Catholics and Protestants. He did not want to pry into the private circumstances of convents, all he wanted was a fair and satisfactory inquiry.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
Sir, if I had been the adviser of the hon. and learned Gentleman, I do not think I should have advised him to bring forward this question again, upon which the House has decided by a considerable majority. But, at the same time, I think it is well worthy the time of the House to consider whether it will persist in the appointment of this Committee. It is not, as the noble Lord (Lord Lovaine) has said, because it is a constitutional question that we ought to appoint a Committee upon vague suspicions. There ought to be some sort of case made out; and it ought to be shown that there are persons who are detained in these establishments against their will. When persons come forward and say they think that convents are bad things—that they have no doubt, if there was an investigation, some persons would be found in these houses who are prevented from going out, and that they would like to know that and to inquire into it—that does not appear to me a Parliamentary ground for inquiry. There is a good deal of vagueness and uncertainty with regard to the sort of inquiry that is to take place. The noble Lord says, he does not wish to inquire of these ladies 1421 with respect to what takes place in their private houses. Does he mean that the authority of this Committee shall not extend to persons? Because that will make a great alteration. If this House choose to appoint a Committee to send for papers and records, it would be of a totally different character. But if you appoint a Committee, and give them power to send for persons, it is no satisfaction for me to be told that the noble Lord does not wish to intrude on their privacy. I must confess I do not think that, on looking to the names of the Committee, they have been very impartially chosen. I do not expect that the Committee would refrain from any inquiry, considering the prejudices and extreme opinions of some of the Members. If there was a case made out that the liberty of the subject was infringed upon, and that there were persons who were debarred, contrary to the well-known spirit of our institutions, from leaving the houses in which they live—then, I say, you should have none of this delicacy, but should inquire thoroughly into those matters; but if that be not the case, why, then, examine persons at all? If it be the case, why should not those who wish to alter the law look into the law of Bavaria and other foreign countries on the subject, and propose such regulations as they may think fit? Let them look to the sort of protection which the laws of these foreign countries give to the inmates of convents, and propose, if they like, to give that protection, and at the same time impose rules and regulations with regard to the taking of vows. You cannot take part of the laws of those foreign countries, but must take the whole, and propose them to the House. There is no doubt that the laws of those foreign countries, if not in our library, are in other libraries, and any person can bring in a Bill founded upon those laws. There is one part of the subject that induces me to take part in this discussion, for I did not say anything upon it on a former night. It is as to that part of the inquiry that relates to monasteries, which are, according to the letter of the law, contrary to the law. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midhurst (Mr. Walpole) said he wishes to make an inquiry with respect to those monasteries. For my own part, I have no wish to make any such inquiry. I know that there are many laws existing upon the Statute-book which have fallen gradually into desuetude, and if there be no public evil arising, I do not see the ne- 1422 cessity for an inquiry respecting those laws. If there be any practical grievance arising from the infraction of the law with respect to monasteries, let that be inquired into; but unless you have such practical evil existing, I own I do not see to what purpose you are to have this inquiry. I remember when my noble Friend the Marquess of Normanby was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and I was Home Secretary, a discussion arose with respect to one of those monasteries in Ireland. I wrote a private letter to Lord Normanby, to ask him if it were fitting to make an inquiry respecting it; and his answer to me was that he believed that this monastery was the cause of a great deal of good being done. It promoted agriculture, and the people of the place were employed and improved by the lessons it gave, and he thought that no inquiry was advisable. I was quite satisfied with the answer, and no inquiry took place. The right hon. Gentleman, however, said, that if you have an inquiry you must come to some conclusion; and no doubt he is right in that respect, for to have an inquiry without coming to some conclusion would be utterly needless, and hardly befitting the functions of this House. You must come, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, to one conclusion or the other; you must either take further means to suppress all those monasteries by official machinery, and to take care that if monasteries are found to exist in any place, the officers of the law shall go and drive the persons out and prevent their occupying the monasteries, and by such means prevent their existence, or you must have a law, according to the right hon. Gentleman, replacing the existing law, and allowing those monasteries to exist. Now, is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to take either of those courses? With regard to the first of those courses—the taking effectual means and providing machinery to drive the persons out of those monasteries, and probably out of this country, would be a very harsh and violent measure, not called for by any public policy, or required by any necessity—a measure which would excite very great alarm, and, I must say, considerable indignation, amongst all those who are of the religion to which those monks and friars belong. With reference to what the noble Lord (Lord Lovaine) says, that it is a very suspicious thing that the Roman Catholics are always saying, "You must not meddle with things connected with the Roman Catholic religion," I do 1423 not, think that susceptibility on a point of this kind is confined to Roman Catholics. I will invite the noble Lord to bring in a Bill that shall affect the Toleration Act as it regards Protestant Dissenters, by depriving them of the benefit of that Act. Let him try whether the Protestant Dissenters will not feel aggrieved. He would soon find whether they would not say, "Why, you are touching our religious privileges;" and whether they would not denounce this attempt to deprive them of the freedom they at present enjoy under that law. Susceptibility is displayed, not because this is a question affecting Roman Catholics, but because it is a question affecting religion generally. When I thought that Roman Catholics were at all trenching upon our privileges—when they were trenching, as I thought, upon the prerogatives of the Crown, and interfering with the temporal rights of the Crown, I certainly, at the hazard of incurring the odium of the Roman Catholics, thought it my duty, some short time ago, to interfere. But the question really is in this case, as it is in others, whether or no what is complained of does at all affect the liberties of the country, the right of the Sovereign, or the laws of the realm, and whether, on this occasion, there is any case calling upon the House to institute an inquiry. For my part, I really do not think there is any. Well, then, let us take the other alternative which the right hon. Gentleman put. I must refer to him, because he is the principal person, indeed almost the only leading Member of this House, who has spoken in favour of appointing this Committee, and if such a Committee is appointed, I hope he will take a leading part in it; that he will, thereby, exercising his influence, prevent such a scandal as might occur from this inquiry being pushed to the extent of inquisition or persecution; and that he, at least, will make himself responsible for the right conduct of the Committee. But suppose he comes to the conclusion that these monasteries, being now tacitly connived at by the law, should be sanctioned by law, and that the prohibition that now exists in your Statute-book should be repealed, will he undertake to bring in a Bill for that purpose? If the Catholic mind is now susceptible on this subject, does he not think that the Protestant mind would become susceptible when there was a proposal for an absolute change in the law and for sanctioning and confirming the 1424 privileges of monks living in monasteries in this country? I own I cannot see that any benefit can arise from meddling with this subject at all. I cannot see what party is to gain. If I could be convinced that there were any ladies in this country who did not enjoy the benefit of that liberty which the law allows to us all, I would vote for a searching inquiry, and would apply a prompt and sufficient remedy; but I do not believe a word of these stories, with which this House and the country have lately been amused. I believe they are stories of the kind that are generally denominated "cock-and-bull stories," or, as they are now appropriately termed by the French, "histoires du coq et de l'âne; "l'âne" being the person to whom they are told. Disbelieving, then, these stories; seeing no benefit whatever that can arise from the inquiry that it is proposed to institute; and being of opinion that this House would act much more wisely in saying, "We will not meddle with this subject; we will devote our time and attention to much more important and useful work;" and thinking that such an inquiry as this would be of a very peddling and useless character, I certainly, if I have to give a vote, shall vote with the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dundalk.
§ COLONEL NORTH
said, he rose, in consequence of the statement of the noble Lord, that no case had come to his knowledge which was beyond the operation of the laws of this country, to state a case which had come to the knowledge of himself as a magistrate of the county which he had the honour to represent. Three or four years ago a nunnery had been established near the town of Banbury, in Oxfordshire, and the clergyman of that town had brought him a letter which he had received from one of the nuns in the establishment, complaining of her restraint, and of the intention of the authorities of the convent to remove her by force to Belgium. He told the rev. gentleman that, considering the position in which he was placed, he had better take no part in the matter himself, but that he (Colonel North) should be happy as a magistrate to do anything in his power to assist the lady. He accordingly consulted the lawyers at Banbury, who told him he had no power whatever to act, and when he asked what was the meaning of a writ of Habeas Corpus, they said it was by no means applicable to the case. The following day a meeting of the magistrates 1425 took place, and their clerk was directed to communicate with the Home Secretary, to whom he wrote the following letter:—Banbury, Dec. 12, 1850.Sir—The Rev. Mr. Wilson, the Vicar of Banbury, to whom the letter, a copy of which is herewith inclosed, was sent, has applied to the justices of the Banbury division of the county of Oxford for their assistance, in order to effect the release of Miss Fitzalan from a nunnery here; but, as it does not appear in what way they can legally interfere, I am directed by the right hon. Lord Villiers, as chairman of the bench, to inclose you Miss Fitzalan's letter, and ask your opinion and advice in the matter, as the magistrates would most gladly render every assistance in their power, so far as they can do so legally.—I have the honour to be, your obedient servant,THOMAS G. JUDGE, Clerk of the Magistrates.They received the following answer from the right hon. Gentleman, who was then Home Secretary:—Whitehall, Dec. 13, 1850.Sir—I am directed by Secretary Sir George Grey to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 12th instant, and its inclosure, respecting the case of Miss Fitzalan, who is stated to be confined in a nunnery at Banbury; and I am to inform you that, as Sir George Grey is not in possession of any information as to the circumstances under which Miss Fitzalan entered the establishment in question, or as to those under which she is now detained there, he regrets that he is unable to form any opinion, or to offer any advice as to the course which the magistrates ought to pursue in the matter.—I am, Sir, your obedient servant,H. WADDINGTON.The magistrates, therefore, had no power of getting into the house, but the young lady subsequently made her escape. In this case the magistrates had been unable to act, and the Secretary of State had been unable even to give them an opinion. He would not enter into the religious part of the question, and he should be the last man in that House to vote for doing anything that might be disagreeable to the ladies in these establishments; but he thought no house in the country ought to be beyond the reach of the law.
§ MR. DRUMMOND
said, he had not troubled the House when this question was before it on a former occasion, because, in the first place, he did not like the terms of the Motion—and he did not like them now—neither did he like the arguments which had been used in support of the appointment of a Committee, and still less did he like the speeches which had been made against it, because he perceived that in the latter speeches there was either a great misunderstanding of the object intended, or else a gross and wilful 1426 perversion of its meaning, in order to turn the minds of the public to a totally different subject. He did not believe that there was the slightest intention on the part of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. T. Chambers) who had brought forward the question, to interfere with, he did not know what to call it, the internal management of any of these houses, nor did he believe that any Member of that House would consent to be put upon a Committee nominated for the purpose of summoning those religious ladies before it, or would lay himself open to the charge of wishing to insult them. Nor did he concur in the speech of the noble Lord the Member for London (Lord J. Russell), because the same reasons existed now that existed with reference to this question when the noble Lord had called upon himself and others to support him in his Ecclesiastical Titles Bill. When hon. Gentlemen opposite said that the feelings of the Roman Catholics would be excited on this subject, and that this was not a time to excite their feelings, and talked about this being an attack on the Roman Catholic religion, they acted like the Emperor of Russia, who said that our turning him out of the Danubian Provinces was an attack upon him. An attack! No, no. Had they retracted one word they had said when they made that Papal aggression in this country? ["Hear, hear!"] The hon. Member for Cork, who said "Hear, hear!" knew that they had not, and did not mean to do so. He really could get to the truth of the question with the hon. Members who were cheering him, but he could not get at it with all the other quibblers and disputers. The question was simply whether there was a determination on the part of the Pope—[Laughter.] At Rome they durst not laugh at him. Oh, they did many things under the protection of heretics and in heretical countries that they durst not do in Roman Catholic countries. They had said plainly that they were determined to bring England under the dominion, spiritual and temporal, of the Pope. [An hon. Member; Oh, no!] He had said this before, and he had got with him documents to prove it. He had extracts from pamphlets and speeches where hon. Gentlemen opposite had said that they held the allegiance of the Queen as a thing vastly inferior to that which they owed to the Pope; where they had said over and over again that the Pope's rights were the things they were sent here by the priests to maintain and carry out, and it 1427 was useless supposing that this question would be set at rest by this or by any other vote till they, the friends of the Pope, had repassed the Pruth—till they had retracted the terms of the Popish aggression. The hon. and learned Member (Mr. Macguire) had said that all the picturesque descriptions we had heard about these convents were tales like Mrs. Ratcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho. We did not rely upon those tales; nor, on the other hand, upon the equally picturesque accounts we heard about ladies and princesses living in the lowest parts of populous cities, devoting their lives to teaching and charity, and living upon broken fragments. This had nothing to do with the real question. Hon. Gentlemen knew perfectly well what was the real object of these establishments. Was not all the teaching that was put forward a sham? No doubt there was a large amount of teaching, and the more there was the better, but that was not the point. The object was to inveigle into the convents girls who had got money, and, when they had got them there, to force them to leave their property, away from their friends, to these establishments. [Cries of "Oh!"] He had quoted these instances more than once, and it was very easy for hon. Gentlemen to cry out "Oh!" but he would give them an opportunity of refuting him. He pledged himself to bring before this Committee the evidence on which his statement rested. He did not want to interfere, whether he thought it right or wrong, with any exercise of spiritual power. It could not be done, because a strong-minded man would always have an influence over a man with a weak mind. But he came to the question of depriving these unfortunate girls, when in a prison, of their property. He offered to prove cases of that kind before the Committee; and this was the reason why he should vote for a Committee. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that any one might go out of a convent. Did he not know that it was only because he was in a heretic country that he dared say so? Did he not know that the Council of Trent, of which he had sworn that he believed every word, called upon all secular powers to enforce these vows, and to shut up every person who tried to break them? But let the Popish priesthood have the power they all wanted, and where would our liberty be? It was idle to talk about these establishments as they existed in this country, for they had been perverted to the most 1428 infamous purposes in other countries, just in proportion as the priests' power had been unrestrained. They were the worst in the Spanish Colonies; they were the next worst in Spain, the next worst in Italy, the next worst in France and Germany, and the least bad in England and Ireland. He would say nothing about the exercise of the spiritual power of the Roman Catholic priests, but the pounds, shillings, and pence they should not have, because we, the Protestants, thought that their intention to increase their secular, not their spiritual power, would be detrimental to our liberties.
§ MR. BELLEW
said, he had hoped that the House would have retained sufficient manly feeling to negative a proposition of this kind, but he regretted to say that he was deceived. The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down talked of the danger that was to be apprehended from the accumulation of wealth by these institutions. He would not, however, retain that opinion if he could be a Catholic for two or three weeks, and could see the poverty that prevailed in them, and the shifts to which they were often put, to obtain mere necessaries. This was not a time, when we were on the eve of a war, to bring forward a question of this kind, which had a tendency to alienate the feelings of men whose loyalty could not be questioned. He contended that there was no case whatever for inquiry; for all the tales brought forward in support of the Motion had been contradicted, except one with regard to a convent in Sicily, taken from Willis's Pencillings by the Way. That work could not, however, be taken as an authority; it was well known that if a work was to be sold in England, it must be pervaded by a tone of hostility to Catholic institutions, whenever it touched upon them. He looked upon the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Hertford (Mr. T. Chambers) as an aggression upon the rights of British Catholics. There were many abuses in the private families of this country; there were cases in which the husband oppressed the wife, and the master sometimes nearly starved his servant to death; but did ever any one dream of making a Motion for a Committee to inquire into the manner in which husbands dealt towards their wives, parents towards their children, or masters towards their servants. Not long ago an unnatural parent in this country starved his child to death, but no attempt was made in that House to obtain a 1429 Committee of inquiry upon the matter. The hon. and learned Member for Hertford had said that convents served as places into which Roman Catholic parents could thrust out of the way some of their younger daughters, whom, for want of funds, they could not marry well; but that statement was at strange variance with the argument of the hon. Member who had just spoken (Mr. Drummond), who said that convents were places in which young ladies were, by the threats of their spiritual advisers, compelled to part with their property for the benefit of conventual institutions. His (Mr. Bellew's) feelings of indignation against the proposed inquiry could induce him to speak on this subject to any length of time, but he would conclude by simply stating that he would watch intently every movement of the hon. and learned Member in that House in reference to his proposed inquiry.
§ MR. CROSSLEY
said, that whether rightly or wrongly, there was in this country a strong opinion that young females entered these institutions before their minds were matured, and then, when they arrived at riper years and changed their minds, they were not permitted to leave. Under these circumstances, he thought it was desirable to have a Committee—[Cries of "Divide, divide!"] All this anxiety to "burke" the question showed strongly the necessity for a Committee. Surely, if there was nothing wrong, hon. Members opposite would not object to an inquiry; for if there was no evil, the sooner the rumours that were afloat were set at rest the better.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that the noble Lord the Member for the City of London had stated, with respect to monasteries, that their number had increased in this country in manifest and direct violation of the law, and that the proposal to inquire into this manifest perversion of the law was a cock-and-bull proposal. [Cries of "No, no!"] The noble Lord certainly said that the stories on which the proposal to inquire was founded were cock-and-bull stories. The proposal was based on a manifest invasion of the law. Perhaps the House might suppose that the noble Lord meant to treat as cock-and-bull stories the instances which had been adduced of imprisonment and extortion practised upon ladies in convents—such, for instance, as were proved in the case of the Misses Macartney, and others before courts of law in Ireland. The noble Lord, 1430 in order to justify the course which he was now taking, had referred to his letter to the Bishop of Durham and to the measures which he had adopted with respect to Papal aggression. It was true that the noble Lord had written a good letter to the Bishop of Durham, and had made a good speech in introducing the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill, which might have been effectual if it had not been mutilated by the noble Lord himself. He (Mr. Newdegate) thought that those who prized Protestant institutions in this country would understand the value of the noble Lord's Protestant zeal when they considered that the noble Lord now proposed to ignore the law which prohibited monasteries, and justified himself by the course which he had taken on the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill. Was the existence of those monasteries unconnected with the Papal aggression? He had the authority of Cardinal Wiseman for stating that the renewed existence of these monasteries was one of the reasons that induced the Pope to believe that the time for making the aggression was mature in 1850. He had proof of this in Cardinal Wiseman's own words. [Cries of "Read."] He would do so. In an appeal which had been published by Cardinal Wiseman in 1850 occurred the following passages:—It was observed that until now the only regulation or code of government professed by the English Catholics was the constitution of Pope Benedict XIV., which begins 'Apostolicum ministerium,' and which was issued in 1743, 100 years ago. Now this constitution had grown obsolete by the very length of time, and still more by a happy change of circumstances. It was based upon the following considerations:—Firstly, that the Catholics were still under the pressure of heavy penal laws, and enjoyed no liberty of conscience; secondly, that their colleges for ecclesiastical education were situated abroad; thirdly, that religious orders had no houses in England.Here Cardinal Wiseman stated that one of the principal elements that entered into the deliberations of the Pope, when he determined on the attempt to commit his aggression upon the independence of this country, was that, in violation of the law, these monastic institutions had been allowed to grow up. The fourth consideration was that—There was nothing approaching to a parochial division, but that most Catholic places of worship were private chapels, and their incumbents the chaplains of noblemen and gentlemen.Now, he (Mr. Newdegate) had heard that His Holiness had taken some steps towards the formation of parochial divisions; but 1431 that question he should not then trouble the House by discussing. What he wished to observe upon more particularly was, that the Pope and his agents in this country had stated that one of the principal considerations which had induced the Pope to violate the independence of this kingdom was, that monastic institutions had been permitted to spring up in violation of our law, and it was to screen that violation of our law that the noble Lord the Protestant Member for the City of London refused to agree to the proposal for inquiry into these establishments, which was based upon what he was pleased to term a "cock-and-bull story." Were there, he would ask, no circumstances to show that that spirit of ultramontane aggression which had been so widely propagated throughout every country in Christendom was active in Great Britain? Was there nothing to prove to them that it became them to be more vigilant than they had hitherto been in guarding the Protestant institutions of the realm, and in increasing and strengthening those laws by which those institutions were sought to be defended. It was but the other day that the hon. and learned Member for Dundalk (Mr. Bowyer) and other Roman Catholic Gentlemen of this country had signed an address to the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Friburg, congratulating that Prelate upon the resistance which he had made to civil authority. Even the Pope himself, in his "allocution" last autumn, paid to that resistance the tribute of his approval, and held up as an example to all other prelates the conduct of the Archbishop of Friburg, thus encouraging them to resist the authority of the State in matters touching the existence or the welfare of their religious establishments; and declaring to them that it must be considered as an act of violence upon the part of any civil power to interfere with the proceedings of any priest who might be endeavouring to carry into execution the commands of his spiritual superior, whatever these might be. Such were the sentiments which the Pope promulgated—that the Members of the Roman Catholic Church, and among others the hon. and learned Member for Dundalk, were pledged to support. What confidence, he would ask the House, could they have, that, if they were to allow the laws of the country to be violated with impunity—if they were to support the noble Lord the Member for the City of London in screening the violation of those laws—respect would 1432 be paid to civil authority in England any more than it was in other countries? No speech could, in his opinion, be made which would be more calculated to invite the aggression of which they complained than that to which the noble Lord had that evening given expression. This aggressive spirit of the Court of Rome was also manifested by several hon. Members in that House. Not only had an address been forwarded, upon the part of certain Gentlemen, to a Prelate who set at defiance the civil authority in a foreign country, but the Roman Catholic Members of that House sought, by having recourse to a system of delay, and by abusing the forms of the House, to impede the free action of the English Legislature. He trusted, however, that the great majority of hon. Members in that House would show that they were determined to maintain unimpaired the power of action in an English House of Commons, as well as to secure that in no instance should the laws be set at defiance with impunity.
§ MR. FORTESCUE
said, he must beg the House to consider whether it would not be the wiser and more correct course, instead of following the advice which had been given them by the hon. Member who had just sat down, rather to join with the hon. and learned Member for Dundalk (Mr. Bowyer) in entreating the House to consider whether it would not be its duty and its wisdom to rescind the resolution which they had come to upon a former occasion. If ever a Motion had been made in that House which required strong grounds to justify it, and a clear public benefit to warrant it, it was the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Hertford; but to his mind the reasons which the hon. and learned Member had alleged for his proposed inquiry were the weakest and the scantiest upon which they had ever been invited to inquire even into the most trivial and every-day subjects. He did not believe that they would have justified an inquiry into a factory or a railway, but, supposing them to have been much stronger than they were, he ventured as a Protestant to ask Protestant Members whether they had counted the cost of what they were about to do, and whether the undoubted evils which they must incur, if they entered upon this inquiry, would not more than counterbalance every advantage which the hon. and learned Member for Hertford had anticipated? The hon. and learned Member had asked them to at- 1433 tempt to deal with one of the most critical and delicate subjects which could possibly occupy their attention—he had asked them to deal with feelings the most subtle, delicate, and sensitive, and at the same time the strongest and most easily excited, that could enter their breasts—he had asked them to draw a line between the legitimate and illegitimate obedience to spiritual authority, and to attempt to distinguish between the conscientious submission of a pious mind and the enforced submission of slavish fear. [Cries of "No, no!"] No! why, this inquiry must be either a sham or a reality. If it were to be a sham, it was unworthy of that House; if it were to be a reality, it must enter into all that he had described. Again, the hon. and learned Member for Hertford had asked them to enter upon this inquiry by way of a boon and a kindness to the Roman Catholics. If it were a boon, it was one for which not a single Roman Catholic had ever asked, but which, on the contrary, was repudiated with loathing and indignation by the whole body of our Roman Catholic fellow-countrymen. He entreated the House to remember that this was no clerical or priestly question. Within the last few days a meeting had been held in this city, representing all the rank, intelligence, and influence of the Roman Catholic laity of England, who, as with one voice, rejected with indignation the boon the hon. and learned Member for Hertford had offered them. Would it be seemly, then, to offer to the world the spectacle of the Protestant portion of this nation legislating for Roman Catholics against the feeling and in the teeth of the whole Roman Catholic body? Then, as regarded the property part of the question, the hon. and learned Member had asked them, the Protestants, the members of a richly endowed Church, to inquire into the means which have been used by their Roman Catholic brethren, unaided, unassisted, unendowed, to provide the necessary funds for the services of their Church. He asked the hon. Member and the House of Commons whether it would be a seemly spectacle for them, being the members of a wealthy and powerful establishment, to inquire into this? Whatever might be gained, or whatever the most zealous supporters of the proceeding fancied might be gained by it, he asked whether this would not be greatly counterbalanced by the evils that must be incurred by proceeding with this Committee? He asked them to consider the 1434 indignation they had aroused and to count the cost that would be incurred, for it was his conviction that if all the presumptions raised—which he believed were for the most part imaginary—had been proved, even if the case had been made out—which he utterly denied—even then he considered that they would pay too dearly for the course of proceeding proposed.
§ MR. SPOONER
said, he felt bound, after what had been stated by the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Fortescue), to make a few remarks. The hon. Gentleman had quite mistaken the question proposed by the hon. and learned Member for Hertford, which was, whether there were not reasons to believe that persons had been induced when very young to enter convents, and that a moral influence was exercised upon their minds leading them to dispose of their property for the support of these institutions. That was the question that the hon. and learned Member for Hertford asked should be inquired into. There were no Members of that House more interested in going into this inquiry than the Roman Catholic Members were, for charges had most undoubtedly been brought against them; and an hon. Member (Mr. Drummond), whose word could not be doubted, had challenged them to the inquiry, and pledged himself to prove charges which he had stated. They were not for the first time entering into the consideration of this subject, for the House had, when there were 300 Members present, by a large majority granted a Committee, although the whole force of the Government was arrayed against the Motion—[Cries of "No, no!"] He asserted, without fear of contradiction, that the whole force of the Government was used on the former occasion. The noble Lord who leads the Government had used his eloquence against the Motion, and yet the House had, by a majority of sixty-five, declared that they would go into this inquiry. The hon. and learned Member who had proposed the present Amendment said he was aware of this, and that it was only on special grounds that he asked the House to reconsider their former determination. He had listened to the speech of the hon. Member, but had not heard him advance a single ground which had not been fully argued on a former occasion; and he (Mr. Spooner) considered that some special reason was required to show why the House should be called upon to revoke a former decision. The country, from one 1435 end to the other, was convinced that in these monastic institutions practices were carried on which they dared not bring to light—[Cries of "Shame!"]—practices which would not face the light; and the country was determined that the inquiry should be made, and the sooner it was granted the better. An hon. Member had said—and he agreed with him—that this Committee would never call women before them to examine them in the way that had been alluded to. What he wished to inquire into was the rules and regulations of these institutions, and the property that had been left to them, and he thought that the House of Commons would be neglecting its duty if it now revoked the solemn decision to which it had arrived. The right hon. Member for the City would pardon him for saying that he (Lord J. Russell), the great constitutional guide and leader of that House, to whom they were accustomed to look for sound constitutional principles, was a little off his guard when he designated the deliberate determination of the House, arrived at after a long debate, and against the powerful eloquence of the noble Lord, as leading to a "peddling and useless inquiry."
§ COLONEL BLAIR
said, he entirely concurred in what had fallen from the hon. Member who had just resumed his seat. He would only say, in addition, that in Scotland, the country with which he was connected, it was the general opinion that, in consequence of the opposition which the Roman Catholic Members were disposed to give to every Motion for inquiry into conventual establishments, there existed in reality something in the constitution and management of those establishments which they were solicitous to conceal.
§ MR. PACKE
said, in answer to the argument which had been put forward by the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Fortescue), as to the effect that no complaints with respect to the management of convents had emanated from members of the Roman Catholic body, that it was quite obvious that members of that religion were prevented, either by their monastic vows, or by some other species of spiritual restraint, from making any complaint, or laying any petition before that House in reference to such subjects.
§ MR. T. CHAMBERS
said, he deemed it to be his duty to offer a few observations to the House with reference to the unprecedented Amendment which was then under its consideration. He called that Amend- 1436 ment unprecedented because the former decision was not a hasty one, but was carried after a seven hours' debate in a full House by a majority of sixty-seven; and because, from all that he could gather from those who had had long experience in that House, in no instance before that evening, upon a Motion to nominate the members of a Committee, had it been sought to set aside the decision by which the assent of the House to the nomination of such Committee had been obtained. Sortie special reason only could justify the House in reversing a decision at which, after due deliberation, it had arrived, and in his opinion no such special reason had been adduced either by the hon. and learned Member for Dundalk or any other hon. Member. The ground upon which he had based his Motion originally was, that in no civilised country of Europe, in only one country in the world, did the State stand with reference to monastic institutions in the same position in which with regard to those establishments England was placed. He had never, as had been asserted, attempted to base his case solely upon the instances of particular injustice or particular hardship which, with respect to the treatment of the inmates of convents, he had been enabled to adduce. He had refused to take his stand upon any but general principles, and upon the same ground he should still continue to ask the House to assent to his Motion. Not only did the history of all nations and of every age justify such an inquiry as that which he proposed, but the ecclesiastical constitution of monastic institutions themselves precluded hon. Members from saying with any degree of justice that he had not succeeded in establishing his case. Hon. Members were precluded from denying with truth that convents were places of restraint, or that they were such as it was requisite that the law should carefully watch. He should call upon the noble Lord the Member for the City of London—whose acquaintance with the constitutional history of England was so extensive and so accurate—to tell him if there ever was a period of our history when those institutions had existed, during which they had not been watched with the utmost vigilance upon the part of the State, and guarded against the natural—he had almost said the inevitable—abuses to which they were liable. He thought the noble Lord must have felt himself to be in a position of no inconsiderable difficulty that evening when he had conde- 1437 scended, in alluding to the names of the hon. Members who had been selected to serve upon the Committee, to observe that the fact of the name of the right hon. Member for Midhurst (Mr. Walpole) being upon the list afforded a guarantee that the Committee would not exceed the bounds of its duty. In his (Mr. Chambers's) own behalf, as well as upon behalf of the other hon. Members whose names stood upon the list, he should beg leave most earnestly to repel the insinuation which the words of the noble Lord seemed to convey—that they were actuated by feelings which would lead them to give the slightest annoyance to any human being. He should again repeat what he had stated upon a former occasion, that he did not intend, and that he never intended, that any lady bound by conventual vows should be dragged before the Committee in order to give evidence. The Committee had very definite objects for their consideration. They had to ascertain whether conventual and monastic institutions existed in this country—whether those institutions were upon the increase, and at what rate—what the relations were which they bore to the constitution of the State—by what laws they were bound—how far they were governed by the canon law—how far that law controlled them in reference to questions of property and involved a foreign allegiance—and whether the heads of religious houses did not claim and exercise a power of imprisonment, and even of transportation to foreign countries, over the inmates of those establishments? That such a power did exist, and was exercised, was strongly surmised; and the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) would forgive him for saying that to an English statesman it was not necessary to prove that certain allegations were true before inquiry could be instituted, but that it was sufficient that those allegations should be generally believed, or surmised to be true. Now, he had received letters from several Roman Catholics, as well as Protestants, to the effect that whenever inquiry had been instituted with respect to occurrences of a suspicious nature represented as having taken place in those establishments, such inquiry had always failed to throw any light whatever upon the circumstances of the particular case which it had been sought to elucidate, but had uniformly ended in a deeper obscurity. Some hon. Members might regard that as being a state of things which it was desirable should 1438 exist; but those hon. Members who agreed in opinion with him must feel, that if the charges which were brought against the inmates of conventual establishments were true, those charges ought thoroughly to be investigated, in order that a remedy for the existing state of things might be afforded; while, if those charges were not true, they must consider that it was desirable a widely-spread delusion should as speedily as possible be exploded. Then it was asked tauntingly whether they were prepared with the course of legislation which should be the result of the inquiry. Yet the inquiry was for the purpose of guiding their judgments upon the course of legislation; and the course of legislation must be determined by the results of the inquiry. The result of the inquiry might show that no legislation was necessary, or it might show that legislation was necessary for the sake of the property or the personal liberty of the inhabitants of these institutions. If he had attempted to predict what the result of the inquiry was to be, the noble Lord would have very justly said that he had improperly anticipated the consequences of his own Motion, that he had got his Bill already prepared on a foregone conclusion, and that inquiry would be perfectly unnecessary. Last year he had proposed a Bill, and the noble Lord had then told him that legislation before inquiry would be monstrous—that such a thing had never been heard of. This year, on the contrary, he proposed an inquiry, and the noble Lord asked why he was not prepared to legislate upon the subject at once. In neither way was he able to satisfy the noble Lord. Then, the noble Lord told the House, "When the Roman Catholic hierarchy assailed, as I considered, the temporal rights of the Crown, I then interfered." The rights of the Crown! Why, the temporal rights of the Crown were only parts of the Constitution, and the rights of the Crown were in reality the rights of the people. The noble Lord had himself thought proper to resist what he regarded as an aggression against the rights of the Crown; but those who agreed with him (Mr. Chambers) upon that subject believed that there was at present in operation a Papal aggression directed against the immediate rights of the people, which a Minister ought to hold equally sacred. The first of those aggressions was, as it were, a highway robbery; the other was a per- 1439 petual pilfering. The one had been a case of open-handed violence, and therefore the noble Lord interfered; but that was not to be compared, as regarded the danger of its effects, with that secret, subtle, sinister influence, which was at work everywhere in this country, undermining the liberties and draining away the property of the people, and with which the noble Lord declined to interfere. If the noble Lord were prepared to stand up for the whole Constitution, he would stand up, not only when the rights of the Crown were openly assailed by a foreign potentate, but he would also stand up when he saw an attack directed against those rights of the people which had been purchased for us that we might enjoy them ourselves, and that we might transmit them unimpaired to our posterity. He, and those who agreed with him upon that question, believed that there was exercised at the present time throughout Great Britain a secret priestly influence, in the highest degree unfriendly to the principles of the Constitution of this country, and in the highest degree opposed to the feelings of the people; and as the Constitution could only be safe in the spirit of the people, if that spirit were perverted, the Constitution could not be preserved by whole volumes of Statutes, Bills of Rights, or Acts of Parliament. Let the noble Lord look through the pages of British history, and see what the most eminent of our legislators had said from age to age as to the bearing of Popery on the English Constitution. Let him see how eloquent statesmen of old had warned, had entreated, had exhorted the English people to beware of the influence of Popery, not only on their religious belief, but on their civil liberties; let him find, if he could, a single statesman in this country during the last 600 years who had treated a question such as that now under the consideration of the House, in the spirit in which the present question had been treated by the noble Lord that night. He would tell the noble Lord then, as he had told him upon a former occasion, that the time must come, and come soon, when he or his successors in the administration of the affairs of this great empire, must deal with that subject. It was, no doubt, a very embarrassing one—it was, no doubt, a very painful one; it was so to him (Mr. Chambers). He had been told that he was infringing on religious liberty, and 1440 those who made that observation did not know the pain they were inflicting on him by such a statement. They said that he was urged on by a fanatical constituency; but of that, at all events, there could not be the slightest possible justification. He had never addressed a single observation to his constituents in the town of Hertford upon that subject. He believed they had held no meeting, and had presented no petition with respect to it; so that they were in no way answerable for his Motion. But he repeated that the Government must speedily deal with that question. Monastic institutions were numerous, and were multiplying in this country. They already amounted to hundreds, and would the Government remain passive until they should amount to thousands? Their inmates now numbered thousands, and would the Government remain passive until they should number myriads? Their property was at this moment counted in tens of thousands, and would the Government remain passive until it should be counted in millions? It was their duty to deal with the question while it could be handled with tranquillity and calmness. He had never entertained the slightest desire for an infringement of the liberties of a single Roman Catholic. He might have proposed that perpetual vows should be illegal; but he had felt that he could not have brought forward such a Motion without being charged with a violation of the great principle of religious liberty. He therefore asked the House not to retrace the course which, after due deliberation, it had thought right to pursue with reference to that question. Such a step, he could assure the Roman Catholic Members of the House, would create a feeling of great irritation throughout the country—a feeling which he should deeply regret to find excited. The public mind was at present tranquil upon the subject, because the people believed that Parliament honestly intended to inquire into its merits. He felt convinced that such an inquiry would be productive of considerable advantage, while it might be conducted in a manner which could not give the slightest offence to Roman Catholics.
§ MR. BERNAL OSBORNE
Sir, although I think upon the whole that this is not a very attractive subject, and the House is evidently anxious to hasten to a division, still I am in hopes that I may be able to submit some views which may in- 1441 duce it to pause before confirming the vote of the other evening. I am ready to grant that at first sight nothing could appear more practicable or less harmless than a Committee of inquiry into the practices and usages of conventual establishments. Indeed, I can very well imagine that preparatory to the Easter recess it may be a labour of love for some Gentlemen to indulge their own curiosity and that of others at the expense of the convents and nunneries of England and Ireland. But I do not think that, at this particular time, the House is bound to inquire whether this is a real Motion; whether it is simply to end with an inquiry into the practices and usages of Roman Catholic convents and nunneries, or whether it is not, in its real and true nature, neither more nor less than an attack upon the Roman Catholic religion. Now, before I resume my seat, I shall, I hope, be able to prove that the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. T. Chambers) is possibly the unconscious instrument of a very large and wide-spread organisation, which has for its object motives of a very questionable character, from which, I contend, this House is bound to adopt the Amendment moved by the hon and learned Member for Dundalk (Mr. Bowyer). I am far from denying that there is a very powerful prejudice without the walls of this House, on the part of a large body of people who are favourable to this inquiry, which would lead them, if it were necessary, to take much further steps than a mere Committee. I am also aware that there are very many Gentlemen in this House who entertain no very lively sympathy either with the motives or the objects of the hon. and learned Member for Hertford, but who are still under that amount of electoral pressure which always occurs when subjects connected with the Roman Catholics are discussed. These Gentlemen are ever ready on such occasions to give their votes, as they will to-night, to the hon. and learned Member, though, out of the House, they shrug up their shoulders at his motives, and shrink from his objects. Now, I do not think it is the duty of a Member of Parliament to act in this way. I think it is our imperative duty to act as trustees for the great principle of religious liberty. And it is because I think that the present question is not so much one whether Roman Catholic convents and monasteries are in danger, as whether the principle of 1442 religious liberty may not be compromised, that I take upon myself to support the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Dundalk. Now, I will just ask one question—Who are the promoters, out of this House, of this inquiry? Who are the clients of the hon. and learned Member for Hertford? Who ask him to come forward on their behalf? Do the Roman Catholic fathers and husbands, do the Roman Catholic laity call upon him to represent them in this House, and to procure the intervention of Parliament? No, Sir; quite the contrary. If I am correctly informed, they have largely signed a petition strongly protesting against this inquiry as branding them with insult and injury. Do the inhabitants of those convents and monasteries invite the hon. and learned Gentleman to move for this inquiry? I am not aware, but I doubt if they have. The hon. and learned Gentleman says, however, that he has a large correspondence with numbers of nuns in various parts of the country. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] Well, then, he said that he had had large correspondence with Roman Catholics, and I cannot think he has had the bad taste to correspond only with men who know little, or ought to know little, of the the inmates of those establishments. ["Oh, oh!"] Well, I will dismiss this subject, which I perceive is unpleasant to hon. Gentlemen opposite, especially to the hon. Members for North Warwickshire, and I will come to the real matter which is under consideration. Who are the promoters of this movement? Who are the clients of the hon. and learned Gentleman? If I should be able to prove, as I think I am, that the promoters of this measure have other and deeper designs than those which appear on the surface, designs which go to compromise the civil rights and liberties of their Roman Catholic fellow-countrymen, and that they are not simply content with a Motion for inquiry, but that they demand the repeal of the Emancipation Act—if, as I have just said, I shall be able to prove that, I think I shall show to the House, and to my hon. and gallant Friend opposite (Colonel Blair), who, perhaps, little suspects that he belongs to the Protestant Alliance, of which the hon. and learned Member is the mouthpiece and the unconscious instrument, that the real motive and the real design of this Motion is really to repeal the Emancipation Act. It so happens that I have had the Resolutions of 1443 what is called the "Scottish Conference," which has been so ably represented to-night by the hon. and gallant Member for Ayrshire. What are these Resolutions? Remember this is a case in point, proving that the hon. and learned Member (Mr. T. Chambers) is merely endeavouring to get in the small end of the wedge before he proceeds to other Motions in this House. Now, what does this "Scottish Conference" call upon the House of Commons to do? They met in Edinburgh, and they called themselves—in opposition, I suppose, to the joke made of "the Pope's brass band"—"the Protestant Band of the Kingdom," and of that band I infer that the gallant Colonel has the command. They said, after having sung the doxology, which, by the by, these persons always do when they are going to abuse people, that they were for special measures; and here are some of them. Their first "special measure" is, that Roman Catholic criminals should not have the advantage of a Popish chaplain in gaol. I can easily understand that that would not be tolerated by my hon. and gallant Friend. What is their second "special measure?" It is, that they will support the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Hertford (Mr. Chambers) for having conventual establishments thrown open to public inspection. Then they go on to say:—That a petition shall be sent to both Houses of Parliament, to the effect that no mere inquiry into the nature of convents and other institutions can ever satisfy the Protestants of this country, and that at the very least all such institutions must be opened to public inspection.They go on further, and call upon Government to repeal the grant to Maynooth. These are the clients of the hon. and learned Gentleman. [Mr. T. CHAMBERS: No, no!] Does the hon. and learned Gentleman mean to dispute that fact? [Mr. T. CHAMBERS: Yes!] Then I will prove it in a very short time, out of his favourite newspaper. The hon. and learned Member of course reads the Record. I did not intend to read anything from it, but as the hon. and learned Gentleman has interrupted me, I must read one passage. Here it is:—Any of our readers who can suggest the means of obtaining information would do well to communicate with the Protestant Alliance, at whose request Mr. Chambers first undertook this important matter.But I now come to more important matter. What was the final resolution adopted by 1444 the Scottish Conference? I read it, I confess, with feelings of the deepest shame, that any body of men in the highly intellectual city of Edinburgh should have adopted it. Yet we arc told it was "passed with the utmost enthusiasm." The resolution says:—Constrained by a sense of duty to God, and that of preserving our own civil and religious liberties, we desire the immediate exclusion of Papists from Parliament, and from all other places or pay under the Crown, at home and abroad.What do hon. Gentlemen think of that? Why these Gentlemen are actually playing a modern Peter the Hermit, and preaching a new Crusade against convents. ["No, no!"] Then, what is the meaning of these words, that Papists be excluded from Parliament, and that they shall hold no places or pay under the Crown either at home or abroad? So much for the resolutions of the Scottish Conference. And now I want to know how the hon. and learned Gentleman presumes to make out his case. I listened to the whole of his observations, thinking he would bring some strong instance of ill usage or annoyance to the inmates of convents and monasteries. I paused for some time, to hear whether any of his supporters would mention instances; and at last, when during that dreary interval when hon. Gentlemen are accustomed to leave you, Sir, almost alone in the House, I was surprised to see the hon. and gallant Member for Oxfordshire (Colonel North) get up and read a letter, adducing a fact, from a place in his native county. The case, I think, occurred in Banbury. I was curious to know something about this Banbury case. Accordingly, I went and found that, so far from the house being a religious house of one of the endowed orders, it was not a house of the endowed orders at all, but simply an establishment belonging to the Sisters of Mercy. Sir, the case of Miss Fitzalan is well known. Her real name was Baker, I believe. She was out of her mind, and passed herself off as the daughter of my noble Friend behind me (Lord Edward Howard), though at that time my noble Friend was only ten years of age. She had been to France and everywhere else, and was, he believed, one of those impostors with whom this country was occasionally infested. The "convent," in this instance, was not an endowed house at all. It was not one belonging to the orders into which the hon. and learned Gentleman 1445 wishes to inquire; and I leave the case to be settled between the hon. and gallant Officer (Colonel North) and the hon. and learned Member. There are, however, no end to these sorts of atrocious calumnies, to these monstrous fictions, which are so easily asserted, and so greedily believed. The noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) talked of those which have been stated as "cock-and-bull" stories. So they were; and I can remember an hon. Gentleman on the other side of the House—one of the twin Members for North Warwickshire—ventilating a story, an awful delusion, that he has conveniently forgotten ever since. He asserted, "I want the House to know what is going on in this country; there is a place near Birmingham, named Edgbaston, where there is a great establishment building, in which I find, upon inspection, that there are numerous cells." I will give the hon. Gentleman the benefit of these cells. Now, I was curious myself about these cells, as the statement of the hon. Gentleman produced great sensation throughout the House, and the division on that occasion was mainly influenced by the hon. Gentleman's anecdote. Well; it turns out that these cells were nothing more than cellars; and that what the hon. Gentleman thought was a cell for flagellating monks turned out to be a larder for hanging up mutton. [Laughter.] I pledge my veracity to this statement, for I made inquiry into the case myself. The fact is, the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Spooner) was imposed upon, or, at least, he imposed upon himself. The place belonged to the Oratorians; the hon. Gentleman mistook the chamber of penance; and thus ended one of those cock-and-bull stories that used to be enlarged upon by the hon. Gentleman. Now, what can be the reason of all this? Why, Sir, it is nothing but real sectarian rancour, which possesses some of the properties ascribed to the trunk of the elephant; there is nothing too monstrous which it will not grasp, and nothing too petty or too peddling which it will not stoop to scrape together. I will give you proofs of it. The other day I was surprised to see that the clients of the hon. and learned Member for Hertford had selected the county of Sussex as the scene for a new device. They have improved very much in their plan. It appeared that Italians were imported as they did organ boys, and set to furnish lectures for the instruction of the people. I will quote the bill announcing one of these lectures, which contained ra- 1446 ther a novel piece of geography. A lecture was advertised at Hastings, and the placard was addressed to "the friends of the Reformation." It stated that "the Rev. Joannes Victor de Theodore, D.D., formerly an Infulatus"—I always find that these people know more about the Romish Church and its titles than Roman Catholics themselves—well, this gentleman was "an Infulatus and archdeacon of the Romish Church, who, by the Pope's order, was sent to Siberia for reading the Scriptures, where for a year and eleven months his sufferings were very great." It was also announced that this gentleman was to appear in pontifical robes. Not contented, however, with this exhibition, the supporters, if not of the hon. and learned Member for Hertford, at least of his principles, must need have recourse to a baron—a real baron—known as the Baron de Camin, who went about delivering lectures on the institution of nunneries in the Roman Catholic Church, the ceremonies performed at the taking of the black and white veils, and the corrupt practices prevailing in nunneries in this and other countries. At one of these lectures at Brighton this nobleman was proceeding to illustrate the cruelties inflicted upon certain nuns, who refused to lend themselves to the corrupt practices of their superiors, by models of instruments of torture, when the grotesqueness of the models and the peculiarly expressed nobility of the Baron's manner excited the merriment of his audience, who forthwith proceeded to question him and call for proofs. Being equally unwilling, as the hon, and learned Member for Hertford and his Friends, to have anything to do with such vulgar things as proofs, the Baron became indignant, and, upon being called on to corroborate even so trivial an assertion as that nuns while taking the black veil were frequently smothered by the incense, or had been even carried out dead, he repudiated the justice of being so challenged, and by his refusal or inability to explain what he asserted, was compelled to beat a retreat. The termination of this meeting was described as a scene of great confusion, several persons, principally females (the Baron, like the hon. and learned Member, having many supporters among the gentler sex), in different parts of the room, joining loudly in supporting the Baron and abusing the Papists; and one in particular highly distinguished herself by assaulting some ladies in reserved seats, who, not being known as Protestants, 1447 or conducting themselves on this occasion with the decency of such, were, by a fine force of reasoning, presumed to be and assailed as Roman Catholics. These were the measures and the means by which the people of England were deceived and misled; and these were specimens—some out of many—of those unmanly and unfair delusions to which some men were not too honourable and to proud to have recourse, in order to secure a seat in this House, and pander to those sectarian animosities which it was their interest, no less than their endeavour, incessantly to keep alive. The hon. and learned Gentleman has asked why we do not act in respect to conventual establishments as they do in Prussia, in France, and in Bavaria? A noble Lord (Lord Lovaine) who spoke early in this debate, has also alluded to Bavaria. Now, it happens with respect to France—to take that country first—that before the first Revolution vows were both civilly and spiritually binding; and at the present time I know, because I have the statement from a well-informed person, the law takes no cognisance of these religious houses further than to inspect the schools and hospitals connected with them, There is no inspection of the convents. Now I say that before the hon, and learned Member brought the Motion forward he was bound to inquire into these things. The law is the same in Bavaria. In Bavaria convents are not inspected. Schools are inspected, but not convents. And what is the case in Prussia—in Protestant Prussia? Here is a curious document, which I will take the liberty of reading in part, because it emanates from a most distinguished man, Dr. Dollinger, of Munich. He says:—No law which authorises public functionaries or any other person to penetrate into the interior of a convent, to visit it or to question the nuns, has ever existed, and would certainly have been resisted. One attempt only has been made in 1847, an inaccurate account of which has probably given occasion to the rumour you mention. The Government ordered that young ladies, just before taking their solemn vows, should be questioned by a public functionary, whether they intended to take them quite of their own free will; but this was to be in the parlour or in a room of the convent. The order gave great offence; the bishops remonstrated, and the Government has withdrawn it accordingly eighteen months ago.Again, with respect to Prussia, I have the authority of General Radowitz for saying that—Even before the introduction of representative government, in Prussia the Government did not 1448 pretend to exercise a right of visitation, quoad interna. The influence which it reserved for itself was limited to authorisation for the reception of novices. Since the constitution has been granted this reserved right, and every other Government influence in respect to convents, must be considered as abolished, it being derived from the jus placeti, and from the jus ceria sacra, of which the first is expressly abolished, and the second is incompatible with all logical interpretation of the eleventh article of the constitution. The State finds itself, in relation to the convents, exactly in the same position as it is in relation to the other corporations recognised by the Government.What becomes now of all the instances adduced by the hon. and learned Gentleman of the practice in Prussia, France, and Bavaria? But even if the hon. and learned Member's instances were correct, I deny that we are bound to follow the example of other countries in such a case. But where is the use of citing authorities and endeavouring to convince those who are unwilling to be undeceived, and who would deviate any distance from the right path to avoid the straight road, and who would sooner be popular in their delusions than correct in their facts? The information possessed by some hon. Members on this subject reminds me of what the historian Gibbon once said of himself, namely—That he entered upon the particular task he then had in view, with a stock of erudition that would puzzle a doctor, and an amount of ignorance of which a schoolboy might be ashamed.But the hon. and learned Gentleman stated, and I was amused at it, if such a subject can be amusing, that monastic institutions are on the increase in England. Why, Sir, it is well known that since the year 1800 they have been decreasing [Mr. SPOONER: Oh, oh!] The hon. Member for North Warwickshire compels me to read extracts. For when I hear his deep bass voice crying "Oh, oh!" what can I do? I maintain that the number of monastic institutions has decreased in this country. [Mr. NEWDEGATE: No, no.] I think the hon. Member for North War, wickshire—I mean the joint Member—is bound, because his fame depends upon his statistics, and not his oratory, to listen to this. In the year 1800 Bishop Horsley enumerated in the House of Lords, twenty-five religious communities which had existed in this country, and showed that eighteen endowed convents only then remained, of which eleven had gone abroad leaving only seven, of which four were 1449 poor schools. Now, Sir, I ask whether you do not think you are not stigmatising the Roman Catholics of this country by this Motion? Are you not holding them up to worse than suspicion? Are not insinuations made of practices of which honest men are ashamed. I cannot help thinking that the imputations which have been thrown out against many of the monastic institutions of this and other countries, and against inmates of them, are as unjust as they are ungenerous and unfounded, and, being so, I consider that they cannot be too severely condemned. I cannot help remembering that these imputations assume the form of insinuations against the ladies dwelling in these asylums, and that such insinuations, mean and unfounded as they are, often prove more injurious to a woman than the coarsest and the boldest accusation could do. I am sure that the hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Kinnaird) does not agree with that which the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Chambers) insinuated with all the legal acuteness of the Old Bailey bar in opening his case. If time permitted I could have gone into the question of schools, into the teaching of the religious houses in England; but I would recommend hon. Gentlemen who wish to understand this question to turn to the Report of Mr. Marshall, one of the school inspectors in 1852, who gives an account of what the Catholic schools have done in Liverpool. I am sure that no hon. Gentleman who reads that Report carefully will vote for this Motion. Ireland, however, has hitherto been left out of consideration. I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), who is so intent on making a bid for the votes of Irish Members upon the question of a packet station or a Poor Law Bill, does not speak boldly upon this subject. The right hon. Gentleman and his Friends have always consistently voted for inquiry into the practices of conventual establishments. But with regard to Ireland, the Reports of the school inspectors will show the really great work that has been done there. I might quote the work of Sir John Forbes on this subject, if time permitted. I must say I think this House ought to pause before it nominates a Committee of this kind. I am quite aware that, although hon. Members can talk in any way about these institutions, yet, if they were told the truth as applicable to themselves, they would not listen to it with even common 1450 patience. It is my firm belief that nearly all that has been brought against these institutions is calumnious and undeserved; and I am convinced, as every unprejudiced person must be, that, so far from doing the harm that has been attributed to them, they have been the means of saving hundreds of families from receiving poor-law relief and have been also instrumental in successfully carrying out some of our greatest charities and most useful schools. Exception has been taken to the names of some of the Committee, but I have no desire to particularise offensively any of the hon. Members who have been suggested, inasmuch as, apart from their prejudices, I do entertain for many of them a most sincere respect; but what I do object to is, the general notion of sending upstairs such a body of Gentlemen, whom I look upon as little better than "polemical Paul Prys," who have formed their conclusions before they have deliberated, and who will carry in their head the notions, as they probably always have in their pockets, the books, of all kinds of old-fashioned casuists; and finally, who know that their object will be best obtained by disseminating a cry of "No Popery" throughout the country. I therefore call upon the House to pause before it takes this ill-omened step urged by the hon. and learned Member for Hertford, and to vote for the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Dundalk. But, apart from the question of the expediency of embodying such a Committee, this is surely a very inopportune time, and scarcely a wise step, when you are on the eve of a war—when you have some hundreds of Roman Catholic seamen in your fleet, and some thousands of Roman Catholic soldiers in your Army—to offer those men an insult like this, for that is the light in which they will look upon it. Was there ever an instance of such a question as this being discussed at such a crisis in a nation's history? I believe there was one. I think Gibbon tells us that the Greeks were employed in discussing a question of mingled theology and philosophy—namely, whether the light on Mount Tabor was created or uncreated—the very moment when that enemy of civilisation, Mahomet the Second, was entering by a breach into the then capital of the Christian world. And now, again, at a time when the enemy of all civilisation in these days is watching for an opportunity to make a similar inroad to the same capital, here are we, in the British House 1451 of Commons, debating whether we shall inquire, not simply into the condition of religious houses, but into the means of best carrying out the nefarious project of the Scotch Conference. I say, if every Roman Catholic, both in and out of this House, does not feel this to be an attack upon his creed, they are very different men from what I take them to be. For these reasons, Sir, I call on the House, in the name of expediency, and I call on it in the name of justice, to resist this Motion, and to support the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Dundalk.
§ MR. WHITESIDE
said, he must congratulate the hon. and gallant Gentleman who had last addressed the House, upon the speech he had delivered. He had often had occasion to admire the variety and brilliancy of his talents, but he did not know that on any former occasion the hon. Gentleman had given equal proofs of his ability and indomitable industry. He had feared that the labours of office had silenced the voice of the hon. and gallant Gentleman for ever; but he now unfeignedly rejoiced to think that their debates were yet to be animated by the display of his versatile and lively talents. The hon. Gentleman formerly belonged to the noble profession of the Army; he had recently transferred his talents to the Navy; he was as successful in the one as in the other; and now he showed himself equally at home in theology. The hon. Gentleman had a serious question to discuss, and how had he discussed it? He had collected a number of absurd quotations from tracts, which he had read to the British Parliament, as if he believed there was any Gentleman in it so steeped to the lips in bigotry as to give a vote on the strength of the absurdities with which he had amused the House. The hon. Gentleman had read a series of very ridiculous and laughable extracts to the House; but what had they proved? Did he mean to tell the people of England that their deep and settled convictions were to be treated in such a fashion as that? If the people of Scotland were a reasoning and a reflecting people—if the people of England were just and rational—they would not be influenced by misrepresentation or extravagance, nor by such flimsy pretences as the hon. Gentleman had dwelt upon in the course of that important debate. If the hon. Gentleman had proved to the satisfaction of the House that inquiry into those matters trenched upon religions li- 1452 berty, he(Mr. Whiteside) would exhort every man to vote against it. But how had he proved that assertion? What was the question before the House? Why, whether Parliament ought to inquire into monastic institutions and the relations in which they stood to the existing law. How had he met that proposition? There were numbers of virtuous women in those convents who devoted their lives to what they believed to be their duty to God and their fellow-creatures; and surely those ladies might have expected a more generous and considerate treatment at the hands of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who had undertaken to advocate their interests on this occasion. He (Mr. Whiteside) did not think with the whole weight of the Navy on his shoulders that the hon. Gentleman would have found time for the collection of so much trash. Now, he (Mr. Whiteside) was of opinion that the important, because the more practical question in this case, was that connected with property; but when he ventured to submit a Bill to the House affecting the question of property, he was asked by Members of the Government not to push that measure forward into a law, but to be content with referring it to the Committee about to be appointed by the hon. and learned Member for Hertford (Mr. T. Chambers). Did the hon. Gentleman contend that it was beyond the province of the House of Commons—that it was outstepping the domain of religious freedom, within which they ought to keep—to discuss how property was transferred to conventual establishments? The hon. Gentleman uttered not a word upon that subject. Why had we inquired into the operation of the Mortmain Laws? Why had we inquired into the condition of corporations? Why had every really civilised country imposed wholesome restraints on the transfer of property to conventual and monastic institutions? and why might we not do so? The hon. and gallant Gentleman asked, when had the Catholic laity complained of those monastic institutions? But he could not have considered the matter. He surely must be aware of the mode in which contracts, deeds, and other instruments were sometimes extorted from Roman Catholics for alleged religious purposes, as shown by cases which had from time to time come before the tribunals of the country. The facts failed the hon. Gentleman. There were abuses, no doubt, and the question was whether or not they ought to inquire into those abuses. Again, he would 1453 remind the House that many of the inmates of conventual establishments were bound by oaths; and he would ask, why did Sir Robert Peel, in passing the Emancipation Act, insert several clauses into that memorable Statute, distinctly dealing with friars and Jesuits? Because, he said, they were bound by oaths to obey a foreign Power. But although these clauses did not apply in terms to conventual establishments, would any Roman Catholic stand up and deny that in many of them the inmates were bound by oaths, such as the oaths of obedience and of poverty, and that the very first thing the inmates were obliged to do on entering was to make a will disposing of all the property of which they were possessed to the institution to which they had attached themselves. If he were to offer, respectfully, a piece of advice to the Roman Catholic Members of that House, it would be that, as the Church of England had been inquired into, and as almost every other institution in this country had been the subject-matter of inquiry, if they were wise they would not refuse the investigation which was suggested, and which, if it turned out in their favour, as they confidently anticipated, would tend to remove the prejudices and dispel the bigotry of which they complained, and the more to establish those institutions which they believed and asserted had reflected honour and conferred blessings on the country.
§ MR. P. O'BRIEN
said, he must complain of the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Whiteside) attempting to throw a mist over the statements and arguments of the able speech delivered by the hon. Member for Middlesex (Mr. B. Osborne). He (Mr. O'Brien) had often had an opportunity of witnessing the nisi prius displays of the hon. and learned Member for Enniskillen, in Ireland, and he must say that he was quite prepared for the exhibition which the hon. and learned Gentleman had made of himself that evening. The hon. and learned Gentleman felt himself altogether out of his depth when attempting to answer the speech of the hon. Member for Middlesex; and instead of grappling with his arguments, or giving a satisfactory explanation of any one of the startling facts to which that hon.—and, he might well add, learned—Gentleman had called the attention of the House, the hon. and learned Member for Enniskillen merely contented himself with raising a cloud of fine words and fantastic conceits, in which he endeavoured so to envelope 1454 the question which was really before the House as to render it inaccessible to vision. This proceeding was no doubt a highly characteristic one; but it was very little creditable to the hon. and learned Gentleman, and reflected but slight honour either on his candour or his intelligence. The laws of mortmain had nothing whatever to do with the question before the House, which was simply whether a number of ladies, who devoted themselves to the holiest, purest, and most benevolent duties, should be subjected to an inquisition as insulting and dishonourable as it was utterly uncalled for. He put it to the manly and gentlemanly feelings of Members of that House to reject such a proposition with the scorn it deserved. He regretted the display of acerbity which had been shown in the present debate. They were considering what were the feelings of a large mass, and he hoped that they would not turn a deliberative assembly like the House of Commons into a debating society for the consideration of the religious differences of opinion, but endeavour, in a calm and dispassionate manner, to ascertain what would be the best for the interests of the whole community. He implored the House, therefore, to dismiss from their minds all narrow and sectarian views, and to treat the subject in a fair and candid spirit; for he could not forget the lesson he had learnt from the very benches near which the hon. and learned Member now sat, inculcating, as they did, the principle that, casting aside all sectarian differences, they ought to be guided alone by considerations of the material interest of the country. He believed the present Motion was brought forward entirely to suit party purposes, and he must say that he should have thought the hon. and learned Member for Hertford (Mr. T. Chambers) would be the last person who would attempt to dictate what course should be pursued with reference to individuals who were acting from the most conscientious motives.
§ MR. J. O'CONNELL
said, that it had been stated several times, and very truly, in the course of the debates on this subject, that it was most unwise to revive these questions of religious dissension, and to excite feelings of difference between England and Ireland. It had been argued, from those statements, that an attempt was made to bully and to frighten the House by the suggestion of a revolutionary movement among the Catholics of Ireland, 1455 Now he must protest most strongly against such an interpretation being put upon these statements. Even if the Committee now moved for were appointed, he did not believe that this country would have anything to fear from Ireland, for Ireland had exhibited the strongest feeling of loyalty, and of willingness to support the honour of the Crown and the dignity of the empire in the coming struggle. He would remind the House that, when England was threatened with invasion by the Spanish Armada, the Catholics, although precluded from entering the service of the Crown, contributed liberally to fit out ships to repel the common enemy, rather than have it said that they were deprived of all share in the defence of the country; and he was convinced that, in the present day, Catholics were actuated by the same spirit. This was, however, no reason for insulting Catholics, and for outraging their most sacred feelings. He considered the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Hertford (Mr. T. Chambers) as a most wanton Motion; for that hon. and learned Gentleman had confessed, on a former occasion, that he had no facts to go upon. Was it, then, becoming the dignity of that House to consent to an inquiry which was asked for upon mere surmise, and the necessity for which was not established by facts? The Irish Members did not threaten; they did not bully; but they asked, "Why should England seize the moment when she finds us enthusiastic in her cause to offer us a wanton insult?"
§ MR. DUNLOP
said, he wished to correct an erroneous statement which had fallen from the hon. Gentleman (Mr. B. Osborne). The hon. Gentleman had quoted four resolutions which he said had been adopted by the Scottish Protestant Conference. The last of those resolutions was, he stated, that they should endeavour to obtain the expulsion of Roman Catholics from Parliament, place, or pay, under the Crown. Now, he (Mr. Dunlop), knowing that many of the members of that Conference were men of the most liberal feeling, felt sure that the hon. Gentleman must have been in error. He had, therefore, requested the hon. Gentleman to let him see the Report of the Conference; and he found that the fourth resolution was not contained in it. He felt sure that such a resolution would have been indignantly repudiated by most of the gentlemen at that Conference. For his own part, he felt the utmost indignation at the 1456 idea of being supposed, after having laboured for the removal of Roman Catholic disabilities, willing to restore them; and he begged to assure the House that his brethren in Scotland were not so utterly bigoted, and so lost to every liberal feeling, as might have been supposed from the statement of the hon. Member for Middlesex.
MR. J. D. FITZGERALD
said, that if the resolutions to which the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Dunlop) alluded did not emanate from a Conference of the Protestants of Scotland, he would read to the hon. and learned Gentleman and to the House the language of a circular letter which was avowedly issued by that Conference. If, however, the resolutions to which the hon. and learned Gentleman had referred did not emanate from the Protestant Conference of Scotland, they did emanate from a large and influential Protestant meeting held in the city of Edinburgh. Now, he (Mr. Fitzgerald) would ask permission to read an extract from a circular letter addressed to the Protestants of Scotland by the standing committee of the Protestant Conference, on the 14th of March, 1854, (there having been present at the Conference 764 ministers and laymen of various denominations, including 405 representatives of public bodies,) and he would then ask the hon. and learned Member for Greenock (Mr. Dunlop) whether he could praise the moderation and liberality of his Scotch Protestant fellow-subjects. The circular contained this passage:—It is needless to press upon the reader the vital importance of the present struggle. Popery, the blasphemer of God and the enemy of souls—the parent of crime and misery—the curse of commerce and manufactures—and the ruthless foe of our dearest rights—is now rolling in like a flood, filling our lanes with paupers, our prisons with criminals, and our land with corruption. And its atrocity keeps pace with its growth; its most persecuting tenets are now openly avowed; works of Popish theology, which make void every law of God, are gloried in. And these doctrines are but too faithfully practised. In Ireland a reign of terror prevails, over which the Maynoothtrained priest is the presiding genius.Never in the course of his life did he (Mr. Fitzgerald) read so impious a document. ["Hear, hear!"] That language might be strong, and might be distasteful, but he was prepared to repeat it, and he was certain there was not in that House a Gentleman who would not condemn the language he had just read. The circular contained 1457 other expressions of a still more loathsome character, and he would, therefore, forbear to read them. The resolution which had been referred to was adopted at a meeting held in Edinburgh, and had been, he believed, sent to every Scotch Member; and, amongst other phrases, it is said that—They were constrained by a sense of public duty to do all in their power to preserve intact their civil and religious liberties, and with that view it was desirable that Papists should be excluded from Parliament, power, place, and pay, whether at home or abroad.That was a part of the resolution which the hon. and learned Member had thought it necessary to rise and indignantly deny. Surely, the hon. and learned Member would not venture again to praise the moderation and temper of the Scotch Protestants. The supporters of that resolution would therefore exclude Catholics from the Army and the Navy; they would drive out of the ranks of the Army now on its way to Turkey every Catholic soldier, and they would take out of our ships every Catholic sailor. The Conference recommended the formation of a Protestant band in Parliament, and what did that mean? With a single exception, the Catholics now in the House of Commons all came from Ireland; Great Britain returned but one; and in the formation of this Protestant band was implied the repeal of the Emancipation Act. The hon. and learned Member for Enniskillen (Mr. Whiteside), by whom the House were generally amused, although they derived very little profit or information from his speeches, had asked whether they were to be influenced by the absurd publications quoted by the hon. Member for Middlesex (Mr. B. Osborne), but they were printed and circulated with the view to render the Catholics hateful to their fellow-subjects. Whatever the persons who issued these publications might be, the members of the Conference assembled at Edinburgh were not ignorant men, and had there been anything half so atrocious published in Sussex as the opinions expressed by the educated body forming the Conference at Edinburgh? It should be remembered that the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Whiteside) had introduced a Bill this Session, which he said was for the purpose of protecting property. But in what way did he propose it should be protected? Why, simply thus—that if property were given to any conventual institution, and if any person at any time afterwards took 1458 upon himself to dispute the gift, it was to be made void. Such was the enlightened legislation of the hon. and learned Member. The hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Spooner) had said that if this inquiry were resisted, the Protestant community would come to the conclusion that there was something to conceal. But he believed the supporters of this Motion did not contemplate examining the ladies in these institutions, and the reason why it was resisted by the Catholic Members of that House was that it had been brought forward and intended as an insult and aggression, and the commencement of a series of attacks upon the Catholic religion. The hon. and learned Member for Hertford had deservedly eulogised the constitutional lore and historical knowledge of the noble Lord (Lord John Russell), but he forgot for the moment that the noble Lord was opposed to this Motion. He said that the law in this country was in an anomalous state, and that in other countries, in France, Belgium, Portugal, and Spain, convents were by the law subject to investigation and inquiry. But in these countries convents and monastic institutions were recognised, supported, and protected by the law, and brought into connection with the State, as they were at one time recognised by the law of England, by which they were regarded as corporate bodies. From the shallow policy, however, which this country had followed, the Roman Catholic religion had been tolerated, but had never been properly recognised. If it were proposed to treat these institutions as corporate bodies again, and to enable them to take property, he could understand hon. Members who might come forward with a proposition like the present, and who thought that the Roman Catholics ought to be called upon to expose these institutions to investigation. But as long as Parliament thought proper to deal with these establishments as private houses, they never could with fairness and justice be exposed to inquiry until a case had been made out for subjecting them to investigation. The Committee were to be appointed "to inquire into the number and rate of increase of conventual and monastic institutions in the United Kingdom;" but that they could ascertain from every Roman Catholic almanac in the country. They were also to inquire into "the relation in which they stand to the existing law." No Committee could be necessary for inquiry into that subject, because their 1459 relation to the law was perfectly well known: the law ignored their existence, and afforded them no manner of protection. Lastly, the Committee were to "consider whether any, and, if any, what further legislation is required on the subject." The Committee were not to "inquire" into this part of the subject, but to "consider," which plainly argued a foregone conclusion.
§ MR. BLAND
said that, as an Irish Protestant Churchman, living in a Catholic district, he must trespass on the patience of the House for a few minutes. It was most remarkable that this outcry against monasteries and conventual establishments did not arise from Protestants resident in Ireland. It arose from his side of the House, and was kept up by hon. Gentlemen representing English constituencies. It was not supported by any facts or arguments from even the High Church party in Ireland—and although the hon. and learned Member for Enniskillen had risen, not only on that, but on former occasions—that hon. and learned Gentleman had confined himself to the mere question of property. He wished to add his testimony to the good done by these ladies in the county which he represented. In one of these institutions 130 poor girls received a good education and were instructed in industrial pursuits. The cry had not come from Ireland, because Irish Protestants knew the working of the system; and it had come from England, because those who raised it did not know practically the working of the system, and, therefore, were obliged to found their shallow knowledge on fiction mixed with facts, on old stories, and on newspaper gossip. It would be vastly better if the zeal of the hon. and learned Gentleman who brought forward the Motion were expended on the instruction of the lower orders of the manufacturing districts of England, with whom the Irish lower orders, under the present system, contrasted favourably. He could say without hesitation that Irish Protestants did not bear the same feeling towards conventual establishments that English Protestants did; and the Catholics felt the measure as an insult. If any Catholic gentlemen would submit to have the alleged persecutions inflicted upon their female relatives, they were unworthy of the name of gentlemen; and if they were gagged by Pope or priests to submit to such inflictions, then the sooner the Emancipation Act were repealed the better.
§ MR. GOOLD
said, he hoped he should be allowed, as a Protestant living among Roman Catholics, to add his testimony to that which had been already given as to the advantages which convents conferred upon Ireland. There were many of those institutions in the city and county of Limerick, and he knew they had done a vast amount of good, especially in the way of education. At the present moment a large number of the inmates of those establishments were not only visiting the sick, but were also attending the hospital in the city of Limerick, where cholera was raging; and he felt he should ill repay the debt of gratitude which he owed to them if he did not vote against any Motion which tended to throw the slightest shadow of a reproach upon the institutions with which they were connected. He agreed with the the hon. Member for West Surrey (Mr. Drummond), that the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Hertford (Mr. T. Chambers) was the result of the irritated feelings produced by what was termed the Papal aggression; and it was because that Motion was an attempt of one portion of the community to annoy another on the score of religion that he mainly objected to it, and should most cheerfully give his vote in favour of the Amendment.
§ MR. COGAN
said, he rose for the purpose of moving the adjournment of the debate. He did so because a large number of the Gentlemen by whom he was surrounded had not heard the speeches which had been delivered that evening, and as they were to be asked to vote for the discharge of an Order to which that House had deliberately come, it was very desirable that they should be supplied with good reasons for their votes. The speeches which had been made that evening clearly proved that the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Hertford was carried by a fraud; for while that Motion had reference simply to the appointment of a Committee to inquire as to whether ladies were detained against their will in conventual establishments, the House had now been told that the object which its supporters had in view was, to inquire into the increase of the Roman Catholic religion in the United Kingdom, and to lay hold, if possible, of the funds belonging to the Roman Catholic Church. At all events, it was highly important that those Gentlemen who had not been present in the early part of the evening should be allowed an opportunity, before giving their votes, of 1461 reading the reports of the speeches which had been delivered, more especially that of the noble Lord the Member for the City of London, who certainly had earned the gratitude of every Roman Catholic in that House.
said, a remark had fallen in the course of the evening from the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. B. Osborne), so remarkable from a Gentleman holding a high official position, that he could not allow it to pass without notice. The hon. Gentleman had told the House, that being on the eve of war, it would be inexpedient in the House to press on the measure now before it, inasmuch as by so doing they would be running the risk of alienating the loyal feelings of Her Majesty's subjects now serving in Her Majesty's Army and Navy. Now, he was not about to offer any opinion as to the propriety of such a suggestion coming from a Gentleman holding the high official position of the hon. Gentleman—that was a point which he would leave the hon. Gentleman to settle with his Colleagues; but he believed that in offering that suggestion the hon. Gentleman had passed a slanderous accusation upon his Roman Catholic fellow countrymen. He did not think that any act of that House, even coupled with a suggestion from the high authority of the hon. Gentleman himself, would have the effect of alienating the loyal feeling of our Roman Catholic fellow-subjects, or of inducing them to sacrifice that high character for loyalty and gallantry which they hitherto always enjoyed.
§ MR. BERNAL OSBORNE
I am sorry, Sir, to be obliged to state that I did not use the expression which the hon. Gentleman has imputed to me. What I said was, that if this Committee were appointed, the Roman Catholics would feel that a reproach was cast upon their religion. I repeat that statement.
§ Motion made, and Question put, "That the Debate be now adjourned."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 91; Noes 233: Majority 142.
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. G. H. MOORE
said, he should now move the adjournment of the House. It was absolutely impossible that they could have a division upon the main question that night. There were still a great number of Members anxious to speak. The 1462 hon. Member for Meath (Mr. Lucas) and he (Mr. Moore) himself wished to speak. The hon. Member for Cork was desirous of speaking. They had only heard the Government on one side of the question. He thought it would be interesting to the House to hear them upon the other side of the question. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) was evidently most anxious to speak, for he was so pregnant with feeling on the subject he could not help prompting the hon. Member for West Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck). He, therefore, took the liberty of moving the adjournment of the House.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ SIR JOHN WALSH
said, he had listened to the arguments of the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. Moore), and they appeared to him to be totally unsatisfactory. After a most inordinate quantity of eloquence expended upon the present discussion, the hon. Member for Mayo appeared to have a most unappeasable appetite for more. The opinions of the people of England had already been declared upon this subject, and he warned the minority in that House not to trifle with those opinions, by straining their privileges to an unjustifiable extent.
§ MR. F. SCULLY
said, that the hon. Baronet who had last spoken had endeavoured to bully the House, by preventing a minority from exercising what was an undoubted constitutional privilege. He should avail himself of every means which the Constitution allowed to prevent the passing of this measure, and he did so, not from a factious motive, but from a conscientious conviction that the measure was mischievous in its principle, that it would be dangerous in its operation, and insulting to a large body of Her Majesty's subjects. The Irish Members, who represented Roman Catholic constituencies, had not had an opportunity to discuss this question, and in order to meet their wishes, he begged to suggest that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mayo should withdraw his Motion, and allow a division to be taken on the main question, provided the hon. and learned Member for Hertford would not press for the nomination of the Committee that night, so as to allow another opportunity for ampler discussion.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, if he understood the hon. Member for Tipperary right, he confessed 1463 he thought he had made a fair proposal. The hon. Member for Tipperary said that he was willing to take the vote upon the question before the House to-night, provided the hon. and learned Member for Hertford would consent not to press the nomination of his Committee. As there appeared to be good deal of difference of opinion upon this question, as well as in reference to the names of those that were to be placed upon the Committee, he did not think it an unfair demand of the hon. Gentleman that the hon. and learned Member for Hertford should not press the nomination of his Committee to-night. But, on the other hand, he thought that it was not too much that the House should be permitted to vote to-night upon the main question. He did not wish to avoid the revival of this debate. He had voted against this inquiry because he could not see his way to any beneficial result that would be at all commensurate with the difficulties and heart-burnings which it was likely to occasion. He was ready also to vote to-night for the discharging of the Order for the Committee. The question before them now, however, was, whether the House should be adjourned or not. He would be opposed even to a Motion for the adjournment of the debate. It was extremely unusual to go on debating night after night a question of this importance upon a Motion for rescinding the Order for the appointment of a Committee—an Order which, if once made, was very rarely called in question. Under those circumstances he trusted that hon. Members would not persevere in those Motions for adjournment, which would gain nothing for them with the enlightened and intelligent people of this country. Although he was ready to admit that, influenced by such feelings as those hon. Members appeared to be, those Motions were susceptible of natural explanations. Such Motions, however, bore a somewhat disadvantageous character in the eyes of the public, inasmuch as they were looked upon as Motions brought forward more for obstruction than for discussion. As the opinion of the Government had been sufficiently declared by the noble Lord the Member for London, and as the hon. and learned Member for Hertford had stated that it was not his intention to press for the nomination of the Committee, he trusted that a division might now be taken on the main question.
§ MR. G. H. MOORE
said, he must disclaim all intention to obstruct, but he must 1464 also deny that this question had been sufficiently discussed. To Irish Members this subject was of so much importance that he trusted, at all events, the House would devote as much discussion to it as was expended on minor topics.
§ SIR THOMAS ACLAND
said, that at an early period of the evening, when the House was very thin, hon. Members who were against the appointment of the Committee were anxious for a division, and seemed very much inclined to prevent any one else from addressing the House. He thought the proposition of the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer perfectly fair, particularly as further discussion might take place on a future occasion.
§ VISCOUNT GODERICH
said, that on the last division he voted for the adjournment; but he thought the proposition of the Chancellor of the Exchequer so perfectly fair that he should on the present occasion vote against the Amendment of the hon. Member for Mayo.
§ MR. T. CHAMBERS
said, he thought the proposition of the Chancellor of the Exchequer exceedingly fair. He only wished to take the sense of the House on the main question, and was quite willing to postpone the nomination of the Committee to a future occasion.
§ MR. V. SCULLY
said, the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir J. Walsh) was not aware of the extreme importance of this Motion to Ireland. There was a great degree of suppressed feeling in Ireland on the subject. They could not believe that the House of Commons was in earnest on the subject. He believed he represented one of the largest Catholic constituencies; he was personally interested, besides, having aunts, and sisters, and daughters in convents, and he therefore wished to address the House on the subject. He should be sorry to inflict on the House, at that late hour, such a speech as he was obliged to do on a former occasion, when the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) intimated that he felt a disposition to go home to bed. If he (Mr. Scully) were to enter into the subject at that late hour, the House might possibly lose the benefit of the right hon. Member's speech. For himself he should be glad to hear the speech of the right hon. Member, in order to ascertain that he voted in accordance with his sentiments. He did not exactly understand the proposition of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he asked if he should be in order in moving that the Com- 1465 mittee be appointed that day six months, and if he lost that, he should move that it be appointed that day five months; and if he lost that, he should move that it be appointed that day four months.
§ MR. BROTHERTON
said, he would remind hon. Gentlemen that voting for the adjournment of the House would virtually get rid of the Amendment. Then the hon. and learned Member for Hertford (Mr. T. Chambers) would propose his Committee on a future day, and all would be obtained without going through two or three divisions.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 59; Noes 223: Majority 164.
§ MR. F. SCULLY
said, he wished to explain, before the original question was put, that in the remarks which he had made previously to the division, he had no intention of expressing an opinion in favour of the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Hertford. His meaning was, that it was inexpedient to press for an adjournment of the House, because there must necessarily be several other opportunities of discussing the whole subject. So opposed was he, in fact, to the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Hertford that it was his intention, when the subject came on again, to move that the Committee be nominated that day six months.
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 177; Noes 120: Majority 57.
§ Main Question again proposed:—Debate arising.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be adjourned till this day."
§ Amendment proposed, at the end of the Question to add the words "six months."1466
§ Question proposed, "That 'six months' be there added."
§ Amendment and Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Debate adjourned till Thursday.