HC Deb 18 May 1854 vol 133 cc542-69

Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [30th March], "That Mr. Walpole be one other Member of the said Committee," and which Amendment was to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the further nomination of the said Committee be proceeded with upon this day six months,"—(Mr. Lucas)—instead thereof:

Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

Debate resumed.


said, the House had now arrived at the point from which the discussion of this question had been broken off on a previous day. Since then circumstances had occurred of a grave character—the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. T. Chambers) had deferred his Motion in order that the House might have in their hands the Report of the Committee on Public Business. It was important to have the opinion of that Committee, because the state of the notice paper, with six or seven notices of Amendment or adjournment, proved that the opposition to the proposal of the hon. Member for Hertford by certain Irish Members had assumed a phase of procrastination and delay, by which it was competent to a minority of the House, if they chose to abuse and pervert the forms of the House, to bar the progress of the majority on inquiry into any subject, and to render inquiry by a Select Committee impossible. It was clear from recent circumstances connected with the subject before the House and analogous subjects, that it was in the power of the minority to coerce and render inoperative the action of the majority. Those, therefore, who were anxious for this inquiry, looked with anxiety for the Report of the Committee which had been appointed to consider the business of the House, thinking it impossible that the Committee should not notice the strange proceedings that had characterised the treatment of the subject of these conventual and monastic institutions in two Sessions, and in two Parliaments. That Committee had had the ablest advice; it had examined the Chairman of the Committee of the whole House, and the officers of the House of Commons, and it had had the advice of Mr. Speaker as to the changes which were deemed expedient. The witnesses, including Mr. Speaker, were unanimous. Evidence was given that some change was necessary in the first place as to the power of individual Members moving the adjournment of debates or of the House, and raising almost interminable discussions upon these Motions for the purpose of delay, and a change was also suggested as to the manner in which Select Committees were appointed. The witnesses were unanimous in recommending the appointment of a Committee of Selection, representing within itself the various parties and opinions prevalent in the House, whose functions it should be to nominate Select Committees, of from eleven to fifteen members, to consider and examine any subjects referred to them by the House, and that such nomination should be final. The Committee further recommended that the House should have by its majority the power of terminating factious debates, raised for the purpose of mere delay, and to defeat the action of the majority, by measures equivalent to the "clôture," which had been adopted by the French Assembly, or the call for a division upon the previous question, without debate, as adopted by the Senate and Assembly of the United States. To his surprise and regret, although certain recommendations of this character were embodied in the draft of the Report, proposed by the Chairman of the Committee (Sir John Pakington), they were rejected by the Committee, which confined its recommendations to some minor matters of detail. They recommended no change which would relieve the House from being at the mercy of a minority. Now, as the Committee had recommended no change, he conceived that it was not possible for the hon. Member for Hertford to proceed with his Motion for an inquiry into the state and relations of these monastic and conventual establishments, more especially as it had been proved that those for whose satisfaction the inquiry was instituted were the most determined opponents of all inquiry. How could the hon. Member hope to satisfy those who were determined not to tolerate inquiry? He, therefore, recommended the hon. Member to change his mode of proceeding. ["Hear, hear," and cheers.] He was far from participating in the feeling which dictated that cheer, for he regretted anything that was likely to bring the proceedings of that House into contempt. He was convinced of this, that if the majority of the House were to continue struggling against the power of a minority exercised by abuse of its own forms, without altering its forms and freeing its action, it would be subjecting itself to inconveniences and to aspersions which would be most detrimental to the character and authority of the House, and to the stability of the institutions of the country. He thought the hon. Member for Hertford would be doing his duty, not only to the subject, but to the House, by relieving it from a position so anomalous as that in which it now stood—paralysed, as it was, by the action of the minority. Let the House consider how they would stand if the minority chose to press its privileges with regard to every one of the fifteen or sixteen names composing the Committee, by getting up a debate on every name. They would have fifteen or sixteen subjects of debate, they would have the merits or demerits of every one of the Members whose names were proposed to form the Committee to inquire into the Conventual and Monastic Institutions discussed with all the acrimony and personality which Irish eloquence could impart. Before the present organisation of the Irish Roman Catholic Members—before the action of the Court of Rome was brought to bear directly upon their conduct in 1850, their conduct had been other than it now was. Since then the House had to lament a totally different system of action on the part of the Roman Catholic Members. Formerly the good feeling of the House was always sufficient to restrain the abuse of this privilege, which the organisation of the Irish Roman Catholic Members now encouraged them to practise. He regretted to see this different state of things—he regretted to see this organised system, alien to the House—he regretted that a band of Members returned to that House, nominally by their constituents, but really by the priesthood, and that priesthood the agents of a foreign Power, were united to defeat the action of the House by the abuse of its forms. Sooner or later the House would find it necessary to adapt their forms to the change of circumstances which this change in its own elements necessitated. He hoped, therefore, the hon. Member for Hertford would change his mode of action; he trusted that he would embody his proposed legislation in a Bill, and bring it before the House, because, then, at least, they would have some chance of limiting the debate to the subject under consideration. As matters were proceeding at present, they had nothing but discursive debates, and he might say Irish rows, which were irritating to the House, arid disgusting to the country. The real question was, whether the House would permit itself to be dictated to by a minority, acting under an alien influence, for there could be no fairer or more legitimate subject of inquiry than that now before the House, in favour of which the majority of the House had over and over again recorded its decision. There was an attempt to increase these conventual establishments most enormously, and to exempt them from the operation of the law of England. At present monastic institutions were entirely illegal, but by neglect and carelessness on the part of the law officers of the Crown, if not by their connivance, these illegal establishments were increasing in defiance of the law. With regard to conventual establishments the case was in some degree different. They were per- mitted by the Act of 1829, but he did not think that the framers of that Act ever contemplated that such an increase of them as was now witnessed would take place; they probably calculated on not much, if any, more than the continuance of those then in existence. They had been deceived. All who had read the history of other countries and the history of the Church of Rome for centuries, knew that when these establishments increased, some supervision by the civil magistrate was necessary, and therefore they desired to cast round their fellow-subjects immured in them the protection of the law of England. There was reason to believe that the law was impotent for that purpose. The hon. and learned Member for Sunderland (Mr. W. D. Seymour) doubted whether it was so or not, and in the able speech which he made on a former day stated that neither the Habeas Corpus Act nor the 56th of George III. was framed in such terms as would enable them to reach this case, and he was of opinion that a declaratory Act was necessary. That was a point which he (Mr. Newdegate) hoped the hon. Member for Hertford, than whom no one was more competent, would include in the Bill to which he had referred. He would not dilate upon the importance of this subject, but he could assure the House that there was as deep a determination on the part of the people of England and Scotland to have the subject dealt with by law, as there appeared a determination on the part of the priests of Ireland to exempt these institutions from the operation of the law of England, to retain them subject to the canon law of Rome. Let not the Irish Roman Catholic Members flatter themselves that the representatives of Protestant England would abandon this question. It was an issue which could not lapse—it was an issue which must be decided; and he, for one, was quite determined to see it decided, and that in but one way, by the assertion of the supremacy of the law of England. This country was about to engage in a war for the defence of the independence of their ally from foreign dictation in matters ecclesiastical and civil. Did the Irish Roman Catholic Members think that they who supported the Government in extending that protection to a faithful ally would consent to see the independence of England itself invaded by any foreign Power? Hon. Members need not flatter themselves that by this abuse of the privilege of a minority they have escaped from the determination that was entertained to see this question settled in a manner due at once to the rights and privileges of the House, to the law of England, to the independence of the House, and to the privileges of the Imperial Crown, which, thank God, was placed on the head of so worthy a Sovereign. In that House there appeared to be a unanimity of action among the Roman Catholics on this subject, but when they assembled in large meetings in the country to consider this subject, there was no unanimity among them. There had been a large meeting in Dublin lately on this subject; that meeting was intended to be aggregate and unanimous, but in no sense was it so; it was disorderly and turbulent, and, considering the unworthy sentiments that emanated from some of the speakers, he would say that the cause of the difference among those who attended that meeting was far more creditable to some of them than the cause for which they had assembled. At that meeting, and at others, speakers had gone into ecstacies of zeal, or pretended indignation, against the insults which they seemed to suppose were intended the inmates of these conventual establishments by the inquiry under discussion. It was idle to pretend that any sensible man believed the allegations that were put forward, that there was a wish on the part of hon. Members in that House to outrage the feelings of the Roman Catholic ladies who inhabited, or were immured, in these convents. The character of the Gentlemen who supported the hon. Member for Hertford afforded a sufficient refutation of those calumnies. All this pretended delicacy, all this affected deference for the feelings of these ladies, was but an empty plea, a mere subterfuge. The real question at issue was no other than this: whether the Court of Rome should be permitted to establish an imperium in imperio within this kingdom; whether it was to be allowed to set up ad libitum these peculiar institutions, and to exempt them from the operation of the law of England, and keep them, and the inmates of them, subject to the canon law of Rome. Over and within these numerous and increasing establishments the canon law of Rome was supreme; from them the operation of the law of England was excluded; that was a state of things to the continuance of which the Parliament and the people of England would never consent.


said, that he had never before troubled the House with any words on this subject. From the speech of the hon. Member who had just sat down, he gathered that the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. T. Chambers) was about to with-draw his Motion, and that a Bill was to be introduced instead, embodying the views of those who were anxious for this inquiry. The hon. Member had spoken of the acrimony of Irish eloquence. He (Mr. Bright) would say nothing about the eloquence that came from the hon. Member for North Warwickshire, though he could say a great deal about the acrimony which the hon. Member had imported into his speech. He thought it would have been difficult for any Member to make a speech more calculated than the one they had just heard to insult a large number of the Members of that House. The hon. Member had spoken of Irish rows, and of the acrimony and eloquence of Irish Members sitting in that House—not from the will of their constituencies, but of the priesthood, who were the instruments of a foreign Power. Now, he (Mr. Bright), as an English and Protestant Member, entirely repudiated the principles and policy upon which the hon. Member had dared to make use of such language towards any Members of that House. They came equal in their powers into that House to consider and discuss whatever was brought before them, and it would be just as reasonable for the Members from Ireland and those who belonged to the Roman Catholic Church to retort on the hon. Member for North Warwickshire the charge that he owed spiritual obedience to the Bench of Bishops, placed his belief in the Book of Common Prayer, and assented to that most monstrous proposition that the Sovereign of this country, whoever he or she might be, should be the head of his Church, and dictate the faith which he was to hold. The hon. Member complained that a minority should dictate as to the appointment of this Committee; but a minority was only omnipotent under the forms of the House when a majority attempted to do that which was improper. The hon. Member talked of a minority in that House, but there were in the United Kingdom 6,000,000—taking every man, woman, and child—who supported the opposition to the proposal for a Committee which the minority in that House maintained. That minority was acting in harmony, not with a majority only, but with the unanimous body of the Roman Catho- lic population, and they had a right to make use of all the forms of the House to prevent the members of another faith from insulting the faith to which they belonged. He expressed no opinion whatever on the nunneries question—he never had; but he, knew that those successive Motions, under covert of which they insulted the Roman Catholic people of the United Kingdom, Came there, not because those who promoted them were in favour of personal liberty or the freedom of any class of their fellow- countrymen, but they came there stimulated by a body out of doors, who might be actuated by an honest, but by what was certainly a mischievous fanaticism and hatred of the Roman Catholic population of the United Kingdom. Then, the hon. Member for Hertford was asked by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire to withdraw his Motion for a Committee and substitute a Bill. But they had a Bill of the hon. Gentleman's during the last Session, and he did not get on with the Bill much better than he has got on with the Committee, and it was because the House found that there was no case for the Bill that the tactics were changed, and a Committee of inquiry proposed. It was hoped, by groping into every channel and every sewer, to make out a case in favour of a Bill; but surely, after the case for a Bill had already failed, and the proposal for a Committee of inquiry had been resorted to, the House would not permit the hon. Gentleman to go back again to a Bill, if it was at all of the nature such as he had introduced last Session. Therefore, he took it for granted that, if the hon. Gentleman withdrew his Motion, he would not make another on the same subject. He did not charge the hon. Member for Hertford with entertaining any personal ill-feeling towards the Roman Catholic Members of that House, or the members generally of the Roman Catholic religion. He believed that he was actuated by as good and just intentions as those which guided his own conduct. He assumed that the hon. Gentleman thought inquiry exceedingly desirable, and that he also thought the introduction of a Bill desirable. He would also assume that he obtained the very utmost advantage from these measures that he could ever hope for; but he must be sensible that on the other side of the account there must be a great amount of mischief and fanaticism, and great evil done by exciting in the Catholic mind the feeling that the English Parliament delight- ed far more in the exaltation of Protestantism and the forcible depression of the Roman Catholic religion than it did in doing equal justice to all classes of the people. Then, look at the bitterness of feeling created in that House—and, having taken all this into consideration, he wanted to know if the hon. Member for Hertford could believe that the balance of advantages to the Government, to the people, to the religion, and even to the Protestantism of this country, could by any possibility be with him in the course he was now, and had been pursuing? He knew that as long as there was an Established Church there must be occasional discussions in that House on Church matters and ecclesiastical affairs; but he earnestly implored the House to consider if it would not be better for all of them if they never introduced into the House these sectarian questions? They tended to enfeeble the House; they tended to break up the cordiality that ought to exist among the Members of that House; and, though they might be on an average more educated and intelligent than those for whom they made the laws, they might depend upon it these things were never discussed there without calling forth, unfortunately, the worst feelings out of doors, and stimulating passions that every lover of the Crown, the Government, and the country ought to deplore. He would admit, for the sake of argument, that there might be some small quantum of advantage either in a Bill or in a Committee of inquiry; but he would at the same time ask if there had not been already far greater evils caused to the country than could be counterbalanced by any good that could come from following either of these courses? He therefore implored the hon. Gentleman (Mr. T. Chambers), if he withdrew this Motion for a Committee, to wash his hands clear of the whole question, and never let them hear of it again. As a zealous Protestant, let him join with other zealous Protestants out of doors in spreading information and knowledge among all classes of the people, so that, if they really were under the domination of a priesthood, they might escape from it in the same way as the hon. Gentleman himself had escaped from it. He trusted the time would soon come when that House would give no countenance to these sectarian and religious discords, when all bitterness and strife would cease throughout the land, and when, although differing as we always must do on religious questions, we should live together in perfect harmony and toleration.


said, he rose to express the great difference of opinion which subsisted between him and his hon. and learned Friend on this question. [Mr. BRIGHT: I am not learned.] He begged pardon for the phrase, and supposed he must, in that case, say his not learned Friend. He differed from his hon. Friend in thinking that on any question whatever a minority ought to override a majority of that House. He ventured to think that if a precedent of that kind were to be established at any time it would be fraught with the most serious consequences. Why should a majority of that House not be allowed to decide on all questions that came before it? His hon. Friend said that the majority in this case was wrong; but were the minority to constitute themselves the judges? It should be recollected, too, that the majority in that House was supported by a large party out of doors. They all knew what difficulties a private Member had to contend against who sought the appointment of a Committee. With a little help from fiction, an interesting narrative might be drawn up of the adventures of an independent Member in search of a Committee. But his hon. Friend (Mr. T. Chambers) had overcome this difficulty. He had got this Committee; and why was his triumph to be interfered with by the dictation of a minority? He felt it his duty to protest against the doctrine advanced by the hon. Member for Manchester. Suppose, for one moment, that the majority had been obtained by the Government, and that it had been defeated by a factious opposition on the part of those who objected to the appointment of the present Committee, they all knew what thunders of indignant eloquence would be heard from the Treasury benches, and what crushing invectives would be hurled by the Times at the heads of the Irish brigade. He was at a loss to know why a majority of that House was less to be respected when it affirmed the proposition of a private Member than when it affirmed the proposition of the Government. He wished, in conclusion, to address one observation to the Irish Members. He did not express any opinion upon the question whether there was or was not anything wrong in those convents and nunneries. It might be that no priests were allowed to enter these institutions; it might be that the ladies who resided in them were con- fined with their own consent, but what he said was, if there was nothing wrong, why this horror of inquiry—why this dread of investigation? It did seem to him that the country would draw stronger inferences against these establishments from the refusal of this Committee, than it would do from any investigation which might be instituted under the authority of Parliament. He hoped the House would not allow the minority to override the decision at which the majority had arrived after full and ample discussion.


said, he should have been well pleased to allow this debate to terminate after the admirable observations of the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright); but he thought it right that one of those Roman Catholic Members who had not offered an obstinate resistance to the proposition of the hon. and learned Member for Hertford (Mr. T. Chambers) should protest in the strongest manner allowed by the rules of that House against some of the remarks of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate). That hon. Gentleman, who deprecated acrimony, had thought proper to make a charge against those hon. Members who belonged to the Roman Catholic Church, to the effect that they acted under what he dared to call an alien influence. He could not tell what were the feelings of the hon. Gentleman himself, or upon what principles he regulated his own conduct, but certain he was that the vast majority of men, of every party and creed, would always resist that description of intrusion upon the sanctities of the domestic circle which had been attempted to be carried out by the hon. and learned Member for Hertford. He did not intend to enter into the general merits of the question before the House; but he might be permitted to remark that, if the House now found itself in a false position, unable to proceed with the appointment of the proposed Committee, the blame was to be attributed more to the hon. and learned Member for Hertford than to those hon. Members who had considered it their duty to oppose his proposition. Almost every day private Members succeeded in obtaining Committees—the hon. and learned Member himself had very recently succeeded, after a division, in obtaining a Committee; but his present attempt had failed, because there never had been so audacious an endeavour made to pack a Committee, to obtain an unfair advantage, to place upon the Committee men who were known to have their minds made up, and who would pay no regard whatever to any evidence which might be brought before them. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] Why, it was notorious that the Mover of the Committee had placed upon the list the names of hon. Gentlemen who were the habitual attendants of those meetings at which the most insulting and condemnatory language was used with reference to convents and monasteries. The hon. Member for Manchester had well pointed out that the powers of minorities were limited; that minorities, in fact, were powerless, unless it was felt that they stood upon solid ground. In the present instance the minority was powerful, because it was supported, not only by a large party out of doors, but also by the sympathy of Protestant Gentlemen in that House. Very lately a distinguished Member of the House said to him that he thought the Roman Catholic Members would be justified in using any privilege that the rules of the House permitted, sooner than consent to the appointment of the proposed Committee. He therefore hoped that they had heard for the last time of a question which ought never to have been brought under the consideration of Parliament.


said, that the hon. Member who had just sat down had spoken of the violent language which had been used at public meetings by those who were friendly to this Motion for an inquiry into convents and monastic institutions. He begged, on the other band, to call the attention of the House and the Government to language which was reported by the newspapers as having been used at a public meeting only on Tuesday last. It was stated that a meeting of the Roman Catholic laity resident in London had been held at the Metropolitan Catholic Institute, Bishopsgate, for the purpose of affording them an opportunity of expressing their opinions upon the threatened interference with the religious orders of their church. A Mr. Kertschener moved the first Resolution, which affirmed that— The inquiry proposed by Mr. Chambers was wholly uncalled for, was a gross violation of domestic privacy, and an insult to the Catholic body generally, and an insult to the members of the religious houses, their relatives, and friends. And then a Mr. Wharton, in seconding this Resolution, made use of this language— The Catholics of England would not submit to such insults as had proceeded from Prince Albert, and if they were persisted in, their hopes must be directed to another quarter, and they must look for help to one who had manifested the greatest interest in the progress of the Catholic faith—he alluded to the Emperor Napoleon. If moral means were not sufficient, the Catholics must resort to physical force to prevent interference with their religious orders, which alone were able to wrestle with the villanies and vices of the day. He (Mr. Frewen) was not aware if this language, which had been used with reference to the husband of our Sovereign, had been brought specially under the notice of the noble Lord the Secretary of State for the Home Department; but he hoped the noble Lord would take the earliest opportunity of inquiring into it, and calling this Gentleman to account for the language which he was reported to have used on the occasion referred to.


said, he would not trespass long upon the attention of the House, but he wished to say a few words in explanation of the position in which he and the question now stood, and of time course which he meant to take. All he intended to do was to state the reasons that had influenced him in taking the course upon which he had resolved, namely, to discontinue the attempt to form this Committee and for the present abandon the inquiry. He had resolved to take that course after time most anxious consideration of what it became him to do with reference to the question itself, with reference to those who took a deep interest in the issue involved, and with regard also to the respect and deference which he owed to the decision of that House—a decision arrived at by a large majority, in a very full House, after a lengthened debate and the most careful consideration. He had received advice from many quarters which he felt it difficult to refuse, and yet impossible to assent to. He felt that the position in which he stood with reference to the question was a difficult one. If a Minister of the Crown proposed a measure, he brought it forward on his own personal responsibility as a Minister, and with the sanction of the reputation, position, and character of the Minister and of the Government with which he was connected. And although a proposal brought forward under such auspices might be affirmed, as in his case, by repeated majorities, it would not be extraordinary if circumstances should arise to induce the Government to withdraw the measure. They would withdraw it on the authority, and with the weight of a Government. But the analogy did not hold with reference to a private Member. In the present instance, for example, one of the charges brought against his proposal was, that it had been made by an obscure and insignificant Member. Now, he pleaded the fact that he was an obscure and insignificant person who brought forward this proposition as a proof that it must have been assented to on its own simple and substantial merits. His very obscurity and insignificance were arguments in favour of the reasonableness and justice of the measure. But he held that, such circumstances as he was now placed in, with his proposal repeatedly sanctioned by the House, a private Member had not such full property over the Motion which he had introduced, and which had been so received, as a Member of the Government in similar circumstances would possess. He held that this question was now the property of the House, which had adopted it. Whether it was a wise or an unwise proposition, the House had decided upon it, and his connection with it was now almost a formal connection. He was not justified in acting as he might have done before he brought the subject forward. It was then optional on his part to deal with the question or otherwise, as he might think right; but, having brought it forward, a deference to the decision and a regard to the wishes of the House became his plain and distinct duty. He agreed in thinking, notwithstanding the arguments adduced by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bright), that it would be impossible to establish a more fatal precedent than that that House was to bow to the opinion of a minority; but the reasons which had operated on his mind to induce him not to press further, just now, for the appointment of the Committee were, that, from the position in which the question was now placed, it would be literally, and absolutely, he might add, physically, impossible to go on with it this Session. He had listened attentively to all the arguments that had been used against him, but he confessed that he had not been convinced by any of those arguments; and the only reason why he had come to the resolution not to press the appointment of time Committee was, as he had just stated, that it was literally and physically impossible to proceed with it. A great deal had been said about the war and time inexpediency of bringing forward such a measure as this at such a time; but he had never thought that such considerations ought to weigh with him as to the withholding or pressing forward so important a question as that involved in the Motion which he had thought it his duty to submit to the House. He could quite understand that it might be convenient for those who opposed this Motion to seize hold of such an excuse for the purpose of arguing that the present was a bad time to consider this important subject, and that the doing so might irritate the feelings and even arouse the animosity of the Roman Catholic soldiery who were now engaged in defending the honour of this country. Yet the futility of this objection was obvious, for at this moment the Roman Catholic soldiers and sailors in the service of Her Majesty were nobly refuting the calumnies uttered against them by their indiscreet advocates in that House, and both by their doings and sufferings were giving the lie to the assertions of certain Roman Catholic opponents of this Motion, that it was indiscreet in a time of war to raise a question of this kind. With respect to what had been advanced by the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright) he could only say that, while he quite allowed the propriety of every one having the privilege of drawing his own conclusions on any subject he might think proper, yet, at the same time, he felt bound to dispute the premises of the hon. Member on the present occasion, the incorrectness of which he should have no difficulty in proving, if he had not promised the House not to enter at all on this occasion into the general question. He could not help saying, that the consideration of this subject had been met with a very unfair and factious opposition, and such as he should be very sorry to see often brought to bear against a bonâ fide Motion before that House. If any fair proposition had been made by the opponents of the measure, he should have been happy to consent to it, but, instead of this, all the Amendments which had been proposed were evidently framed not with the view of improving the Committee, but only with the view of defeating the proposed inquiry. That this was so it was only necessary to look at the different objections to particular names on the Committee; such as, for instance, the name of the right hon. Member for Midhurst (Mr. Walpole), to whose name, he thought, no one could fairly object, and yet against this right hon. Member's name there were six Amendments entered, of which notice had been given. Every Amendment, in fact, that had been made, or was proposed to be made, had in view the defeating of the Committee. By doggedly persevering in those Amendments, the Roman Catholic Members had undoubtedly succeeded in defeating, for the present, the object which he (Mr. T. Chambers) had in view. He regretted to say that, for the first time in the history of our legislation, the Government had given their sanction to the factions proceedings of a minority. Without the aid of the Government, the minority would not, in the present instance, have been able to defeat the object of the majority, He would now withdraw for the present from the further prosecution of this question, but he did not abandon it. He was perfectly satisfied that the hon. Member for Manchester had not correctly represented the feelings of the 6,000,000 of Roman Catholics in the United Kingdom with reference to this question. He was satisfied that many of the Roman Catholic laity coincided, to a great extent, with him (Mr. T. Chambers) on this question. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] But, whether that was so or not, he was perfectly satisfied that the country would persist in demanding that some legislative inquiry, with a view to some legislative enactment, should take place with regard to conventual institutions. The history of every European country showed that such institutions could not multiply indefinitely without endangering the safety of the State. He had only one general complaint to make with reference to the way in which this question had been treated by the House. Throughout the discussion of the question hon. Members who had opposed him had uniformly and perseveringly argued as if the monastic system had no history—as if we had no experience with respect to it—as if nothing had ever been heard about it—as if no law had ever been passed for the correction and repression of conventual institutions—as if, from time to time, different countries had not had to pass measures against them. Even the noble Lord the Member for the City of London had argued the question as if, until the present time, nobody had ever heard of monastic institutions being liable to abuse, and as if no State had ever been imperilled by the multiplication of their numbers, their inmates, and their wealth—as if he had forgotten that the most gigantic remedies had to be applied to the gigantic abuses of those institutions, and that, too, in this country, in Roman Catholic times. With that single remark on the general fallacy which ran through all the arguments against him, he (Mr. T. Chambers) begged to say that he would not now persevere in the nomination of this Committee, but he was fully convinced that the country would not rest satisfied until this question was settled.


Sir, having already expressed the opinions which I hold upon this question, I do not think that I would have troubled the House with any observations upon the present occasion had not the hon. and learned Member for Hertford, who is now disposed to give up his Motion, accused the Government of setting an example which is injurious to the character of this House, and which, undoubtedly, would have been indefensible either on the part of Government or any individual Member. I really do not know to what it is the hon. and learned Member alludes. I thought it my duty to oppose the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman, and I suppose he will not deny that I had a right to state the reasons which appeared to me to militate against that proposition. Sir, let me remind the House that the Government of Lord Melbourne, the Government of Sir Robert Peel, and other Governments, after being defeated by a majority of this House, have not thought themselves precluded from bringing forward and supporting a Motion for rescinding the Resolution which had been carried by a majority. I say this because the hon. and learned Member seemed to suppose that, a majority having once sanctioned his Motion, it was not competent for persons belonging to the Administration of the country to support any proposition that was contrary to the opinion of that majority. It is competent to a Minister, or to any Member of this House, if he thinks the majority has been mistaken in its vote, to bring the question again under consideration, and to ask the House to reverse the decision at which it had arrived. In the case of a Bill you have opportunities on purpose. It does not follow, because you have consented to the first reading of a Bill, you are obliged to agree to a second reading; and if you have voted for the second reading, you are not obliged to accede to the third reading. The meaning is, that the House should have an opportunity of affirming or of contradicting its former decision. Well, the hon. and learned Member for Dundalk (Mr. Bowyer) having proposed that the House should reconsider the Resolution to which it had come, I supported that proposal on the ground I have stated, namely, that it is perfectly competent to me, or to any Member of this House, to ask the House to reconsider a Resolution at which it has arrived. I do not remember of having given any vote with respect to the names of the Members of the Committee. When speaking upon the general question, I certainly said that I thought it a very partial and unfair Committee, too many of the Members being upon one side, and I had a perfect right, I consider, to have used that argument. With respect to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midhurst (Mr. Walpole), what I said was, that I hoped, if the Committee was appointed, he would be named one of its Members, and that, indeed, I should like to see it formed very much under his direction. With regard to the course now intended to be pursued, I should lament, indeed, if it were to be established as a precedent that a minority of this House should dictate, according to the proposition of the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright), to the majority upon certain occasions, and, for my part, I have set no such precedent. If such a precedent has been set at all, I should say it has been set by the hon. and learned Member for Hertford (Mr. T. Chambers) and the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), who now appear disposed to give way to a minority. I have not advised the Members to withdraw their Motion. I even consented, most reluctantly, as the House may well believe, when arranging the business of the House for this evening, which is one of the evenings on which Orders of the Day take precedence, to place this one at the top of the list, for the precise purpose that the whole of the night might be devoted to it, and that the hon. and learned Member might, if he thought proper, proceed with the nomination of his Committee. I certainly rejoice that he does not intend to proceed with it, but it is on totally other grounds than those which he has stated. I do not think a minority should be permitted, under any circumstances, to control a majority; but I am glad the Motion has been withdrawn, because no case has been made out for it. If the Motion had been persevered in, I think it would have stirred up much religious bitterness, and much hatred and discord between Roman Catholics and Protestants, without any advantage or benefit whatsoever to the country. I think that the hon. Member for Manchester was quite right in much that he said upon that subject. I believe that discussions upon this question, without any obvious necessity, do tend to set one part of the country against another, and I know that there are many Roman Catholics, even in this House, who have felt themselves deeply aggrieved by the proposition of the hon. and learned Member for Hertford. I cannot forget that which I think is at the foundation of this opposition—that if there is a grievance, if persons are kept imprisoned contrary to the law of the realm and their rights as British subjects, the Roman Catholics of this country, the Roman Catholic laity of this country, are as interested as any other part of the community in promoting inquiry, and it is an imputation on them that all are silent, all forbear from asking any redress from Parliament, and Protestant Members alone feel for the hardships inflicted on the country women of Roman Catholics. That is what I felt on this subject, and, therefore, I do rejoice that this Motion is to be withdrawn. With regard to the hon. and learned Member having observed upon my speaking as if ignorant of all that history has recorded on this subject, I can only state I have acted on what I know to be the present condition of this country and Ireland. I know very well that in Roman Catholic countries, where the Church of Rome has had great power, where it has been supported by the State, that State has been overbalanced, and well nigh overpowered, by the Church and its institutions; but from the establishment of monasteries and convents I do not perceive that danger. Therefore, I am neither ready to consent to the appointment of the Committee nor to agree to the introduction of any Bill. I believe that no legislation on this subject is required. If evils should arise, there will be full time to resort to legislation. All I can say now is, that although the hon. and learned Gentleman may have been threatened with opposition from Members of this House who have felt upon this subject very deeply—I will not say whether the character of that threatened opposition was justifiable or not, but I will say, as a Member of the Government, I will be no party to setting any precedent injurious to the general rules and maxims of this House, that the majority govern the minority, and that all legislation and the appointment of Com- mittees ought to be determined according to the will of the majority. As to the imputation the hon. and learned Member has been pleased to cast upon the Government, that will not prevent me giving my candid opinion freely and fully upon any proposition before the House.


said, he would not say that the Government had been parties, and he should be very sorry if they intended in any degree to be parties, to a very dangerous precedent—the precedent of minorities being able to prevail against majorities. But considering the extent to which the proceedings on this subject tended to establish that doctrine, and considering the high position of the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell), he thought it was to be regretted that he had not said more on the important point as to minorities controlling majorities in that House. He entirely agreed with the hon. and learned Member for Hertford that, in the circumstances in which they were now placed, it was not a moment to discuss the merits of the original question. On that subject he would not say one word, but, as one of those who supported the original proposal, he most deeply regretted that the action of a majority of that House should have excited such strong feelings in the breasts of Roman Catholics. Looking to the declarations signed by many eminent noblemen and gentlemen of the Roman Catholic persuasion—gentlemen entitled to the greatest respect—he should be most sorry to do anything to have their feelings or the feelings of the Roman Catholics of Ireland, and he greatly regretted they should have taken up the question in the light they had. He begged distinctly to say, for his own part, that, in supporting the original proposal, lie did not intend anything like hostility or even disrespect to his Roman Catholic fellow-Christians; but he did consider, connected as this subject was with questions affecting the important personal right of personal liberty, and the important personal right of the disposition of the property, mixed up as it was with great constitutional questions, on which in his judgment, inquiry should take place, he thought it might be conducted, and ought to be conducted, in a manner which could not give any reasonable offence to gentlemen of the Roman Catholic persuasion. He wished now to say that he thought, under all the circumstances of the case, the hon. and learned Member for Hertford was right in not per- severing further with this subject. The original Motion was made so long ago as the 28th of February; they had now arrived nearly at the end of May, and he thought any Gentleman who looked at the paper to-day, and saw that, in addition to the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman for the appointment of the Committee, which would raise as many opportunities of debate as there were names to be proposed, there were six other Motions directed to the same object, must be convinced that whatever the majority who might support the hon. and learned Gentleman, there was no reasonable prospect of obtaining the appointment of the Committee in time to carry it to a useful conclusion in the present Session. He thought the hon. and learned Gentleman was right in the course he now took; but he appealed to the noble Lord the Member for the City of London and to the House itself whether they were not affording, by the course now taken, a very dangerous precedent. It would appear that, if a minority were unscrupulous, they could carry their power to the extent of the obstruction of legislation. No question could be brought before the House, no Bill could be discussed, in which the minority, however small, if they were disposed to abuse the powers they possessed, could not bring business to a stop, and completely obstruct the progress of business. The fact must be admitted; that they had now an instance of a minority, by availing themselves of the powers which the forms of the House gave them, having succeeded in stopping a measure supported by large majorities in that House. He hoped they would not see other such precedents. He thought the noble Lord must see the danger that, if such precedents were multiplied, they would be fatal to the character of that House, and to their mode of transacting business. He looked upon it as a very grave and serious question, the more so because the Committee upon the forms of their proceedings had thought it wiser to trust to the forbearance and discretion of the House rather than to frame stringent regulations to obviate the difficulty which those forms might create, and he thought it his duty to call their attention to the fact, that the course taken this evening did afford a very serious precedent, which he trusted the House would be very cautions in following.


said, the only occasion this Session on which there were not forty Members present to make a House, at four o'clock, was that night on which it was expected that the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Hertford would be brought on. That showed that the House was disgusted with the subject; and it was, therefore, most unfair to charge the Roman Catholic Members with having defeated the majority by a factious opposition. This new persecution of Roman Catholics, if persevered in, would seriously embarrass the Government, and impede the progress of the country. As for the observations of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), he treated them with the contemptuous indifference they deserved. He congratulated the hon. and learned Member for Hertford on having taken the course dictated to him by the general sense of the country in withdrawing his Motion, and he heartily hoped that this was the last they were to hear of the subject.


Sir, before the Motion is withdrawn, I wish to say, as one of the defeated party, that I consider myself defeated purely by factious opposition. There is no resignation, there is no possible dignity in our death, it is mere absolute murder without any qualification whatever. I do not wonder at the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) finding for the first time that a minority, exerting that power which a minority can exert, may get the country into a very serious scrape. It has at all times, ever since the House of Commons existed, for some 800 years, been in the power of any obstinate strong-headed man to sit down, cry "No, no," move the adjournment of the House, and put an end to the progress of business. I had the misfortune about thirty years ago to address a petition to this House—it was against Catholic emancipation—in which I stated that it was utterly impossible, if the Roman Catholics were admitted into this House, that the priests would ever suffer them to unite with the Protestants in carrying out any form of Government. Of course nobody believed me. I was called a bigot and a visionary. They were hard words, but they broke no bones, and so I bore them. Of course the country won't believe me now; but surely the country will believe these Gentlemen, and surely I, of all others, ought to be most grateful to them for having now fulfilled, for the conviction of the country, that which I stated thirty years ago. I think it is decidedly best that this Motion should be withdrawn—simply because there is no possibility of carrying it; but I certainly shall put on the book a notice of Motion for an Address to the Crown to appoint a Commission to inquire into this subject. There can he no question then about opposition to this name and the other name, and all these personal animosities will be avoided. But I would have you mark that, in this matter, the aggressor has not ceased. The only plain-speaking honest man in the transaction is the Pope. "Have this realm of England," says he, "I will;" and every convent he establishes is a little inclosure won from England, and attached to Rome. He shall have no more inches if I can stop him.


said, he could not consent to the Order for the appointment of the Committee being discharged, unless a majority of the House decided in favour of that course. He should therefore divide the House.


said, he thought the hon. Gentleman ought to have expressed his intention of doing so before so many Members had left the House.

Amendment and Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Order for the appointment of the said Committee be discharged."


said, he rose to express his regret at the course which the House was about to take. It certainly was anything but creditable that, after the opinion of the House had been expressed over and over again on a subject by overwhelming majorities, it should now be confessed, for the first time, that legislation was impossible, and a measure must be withdrawn because the minority persisted in exercising all the powers which it possessed for the purpose of defeating the majority. If hon. Gentlemen on his side of the House had used such means to defeat a measure of the Government, there would have been no bounds to the speaking in that House and writing out of it as to the motives which actuated them; and the noble Lord opposite (Lord J. Russell), who had quietly acquiesced in this course on the present occasion, and had allowed two evenings to be passed in discussing whether the right hon. Member for Midhurst (Mr. Walpole) should be one of the Committee, would have lost no time in denouncing it, had it been used against one of his measures.


said, the hon. and learned Member seemed to think that, after the Government had voted against the appointment of the Committee, they should have come down to the House for the purpose of inducing hon. Members who opposed that Committee to withdraw their opposition. That, he thought, was really expecting too much from a Government. He had stated his objections to the appointment of the Committee, and when the discussion was over he had not thought it his duty to come down to attend the discussions on the nomination of the Members of the Committee. Had the discussion gone on that evening he should probably have taken a similar course, and have left it to those who were in favour of this Committee to proceed with their own Motion as they best could. As to being a party to saying that a minority should control the majority, he had always protested against any such thing, and, had he been in favour of the Committee, and the House had chosen to sanction its appointment, he would have sat there all night to get it nominated.


said, he would not be a party to making the House the laughing-stock of the country and of Europe by sanctioning the course of a band of Members who had abused the forms of the House in order to obstruct all legislation on this subject. He thought the country would regard the explanation of the noble Lord as a mere pretence. He hoped it would be clearly understood that this Motion was withdrawn through the factious opposition of a certain number of Roman Catholic Members, whose expressed determination it was to allow of no Parliamentary interference in these matters, and who were too candid not to allow, in private, that they meant to use every opportunity which the forms of the House allowed to prevent all attempts at such interference.


said, he disclaimed all desire to resort to factious opposition, but he thought hon. Members were perfectly justified in resorting to every means in their power to defeat an attack on their religion couched in so virulent a spirit as marked the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Hertford. He would not give much for any man's religion who would not do the same. On the first Committee, the proportion of Gentlemen proposed as members was twelve on one side to three on the other, and even in the amended state it was nine on one side and six on the other. That proportion did not look as if there was any great anxiety to have a very careful investigation. He repudiated the language which had been used at a recent meeting in Dublin; and with regard to the extract which had been read by the hon. Member for East Sussex (Mr. Frewen), he must say that such language as was there reported was the furthest possible from his ideas, and he must point out that, as that language was used against the consent of the meeting, and as the person who used it was put down by the Chairman, it was rather unfair to bring it forward as an accusation against the Catholics.


said, that the noble Lord, the Member for Arundel (Lord E. Howard), having, as an English Catholic, thought it necessary to disconnect his name from some of the proceedings at a recent meeting in Dublin, he (Mr. Scully), as an Irish Catholic, would take the opportunity to disassociate himself altogether from those sentiments which the hon. Member for East Sussex (Mr. Frewen), had just attributed to one of the speakers at a late meeting in London, to the effect that Catholics must resort to physical force, and look for help to the Emperor Napoleon. He wished to state most emphatically on his own behalf, and he felt certain he might add of all the Catholic Members around him, that he and they utterly repudiated, in the strongest form, such language, not only as highly improper to be used at all, but also as most detrimental to the Roman Catholic body. He condemned such sentiments in terms as indignant as could be used by any Protestant Member. The expressions referred to had not been employed by an Irishman, and he trusted that Englishmen in the House and out of it, would draw a wide distinction between those few Roman Catholics, who, suffering under great provocations, did occasionally give utterance to extremely violent opinions, and the great mass of Roman Catholics, whose political views were quite as sound-thinking and right-minded as those of the Protestants themselves. He protested against the practice of inculpating all the Catholics of these kingdoms on account of every mischievous expression used by any one of their body. It would be as unreasonable to make them responsible for such expressions as it would be to attribute to sensible Protestants all those discreditable sentiments which some of them had been known to utter. A great deal of insulting language had been used that evening towards the Catholic Gentlemen of that House. To that language they had submitted patiently and quietly, in order to avoid protracting the present debate. But he wished it to be very clearly understood that the Roman Catholic Members would not suffer such language to be used towards them as a practice. For his own part, he was quite determined not to permit its continuance, and he desired now to put a stop to it in limine. For, if such unbecoming speeches as had been addressed to them that evening by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), and others who had imitated his bad example, were to be tamely submitted to, the apprehension was that it might become a systematic practice, which sooner or later should be violently arrested. He utterly denied that this persecuting inquiry had been now abandoned in consequence of any factious opposition given by the Roman Catholic Members. That was a mere clap-trap delusion put forward by its originators in order to blindfold and bamboozle their own fanatical supporters out of doors. No—the Motion had fallen to the ground at a previous stage, not in consequence of any factious opposition, but because, when it was last upon the paper, its supporters were all of them absent. He (Mr. Scully) was at the House on the 2nd of May, and could state that upon that occasion not one of those Gentlemen, who had this evening expressed themselves so offensively towards Catholic Members and called them a factious opposition, was then present in order to prevent a count-out for the want of forty Members. It was, therefore, quite absurd and dishonest for those Gentlemen to attempt now to shift the blame from their own shoulders to the Catholic Members, or to accuse them, among other impertinences, of acting together under alien influence. He denied he was under foreign influence of any sort, but, perhaps, hon. Members opposite were acting under some Scotch influence. He knew well who were the originators and instigators of the whole of this bigoted movement, and might explain it more fully on sonic future occasion. He did not wish to speak offensively towards Scotch gentlemen, some of whom had expressed themselves to him in terms strongly reprobating the proposed persecution. He would simply reiterate that its promoters were attempting to practise an arrant delusion upon the public mind in now suggesting that they had been compelled to give way before the factious opposition of a minority of this House, and would repeat his warning against the future use of offensive language towards the Catholic Members.


said, he would not argue whether hon. Members opposite were or were not under Scotch influence, but he would admit that Scotch Members and their constituents were very much interested in this question. He was much satisfied with the declaration of the hon. Member for West Surrey (Mr. Drummond) that he would put a notice on the paper to move for a Royal Commission to prosecute an inquiry required by a great majority of that House, and of those they represented. He did not see the advantage of dividing against the withdrawal of the Motion, but, if pressed to a division, he should vote against it.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 100; Noes 1: Majority 99.