HC Deb 24 May 1854 vol 133 cc836-68

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [5th April], "That the Bill be now read a second time:"—Question again proposed.

Debate resumed.


said, it was so long ago as the 5th of April that this Bill was under discussion. The object of the Bill was to prevent persons who had professed themselves as nuns executing deeds or other instruments by which they disposed of property in favour of the institutions of which they had become members. It was on the 14th of March that his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Enniskillen (Mr. Whiteside) moved for leave to bring in the Bill; and on that occasion the noble Lord the Secretary for the Home Department supported the principle of the Bill in language incapable of misconstruction. On the 5th of April, however, when the measure was last under discussion, the noble Lord stated two grounds on which he was inclined to oppose the second reading. The first of these objections was, that such a measure ought not to be proceeded with until after the Committee of Inquiry for which the hon. and learned Member for Hertford (Mr. T. Chambers) had moved should have been appointed. Now, the House was aware that that objection was entirely removed by the withdrawal of the Motion for the Committee. The second objection urged by the noble Lord to the Bill was that its preamble was offensive to Roman Catholics, and that its enacting clauses would either do too much or too little. With regard to the objection to the preamble, he (Mr. Malins) had only to observe that any such objection was a fitting subject for consideration when the Bill was in Committee. They might either alter the preamble or they might reject it altogether in Committee if they should think proper; and he would remind them that many most important enactments had been passed by Parliament without any preamble whatever. But the noble Lord had also stated—and that statement had been repeated by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General—that the Bill would not go far enough, inasmuch as it would not deprive nuns of all power whatever of disposing of property, and would not regard them as persons civilly dead. Now, upon that subject, he (Mr. Malins) should observe that he was prepared to adopt the principle laid down by the noble Lord and by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General. He believed that the more the House considered the position of those ladies who were designated—and, no doubt, preperly designated—as pious persons who devoted themselves to God, and thereby put themselves under the guidance of the priests of their communion—as persons who had altogether renounced the world and its affairs—the more would it be convinced that those ladies had renounced, with their other civil rights, the right of dealing with property. Under the law of this country, property could be legally devised by those persons only who acted on their own free and unbiassed discretion. And could any one believe that a lady who, at an early age—at an age between twenty and thirty—entered a conventual establishment, enjoyed perfect freedom of will, and was not under the control of the superior of the institution to which she belonged and of the priest by whom that superior was herself guided? He was sure that there was not a Roman Catholic Member of that House who would not readily admit that it was the duty of a nun to conform in all spiritual matters to the will of the superior of the nunnery, and of the priest whom that superior herself was bound to obey. But the House should bear in mind, that to the inmates of conventual establishments all matters were spiritual matters, and that those inmates must have positively and for ever renounced all connection with the affairs of this world. They must have renounced all rights of property and all power of dealing with property; and hence it was that it was one of the rules of those religious houses that any property which might accrue to the inmates after their profession was to be regarded as the property of the establishments of which they had become members. That was apparent from the famous Blackrock case, in which a portion of the property left by the testator M'Carthy had been claimed for his two daughters, who had become the inmates of the Blackrock nunnery. If the Bill should pass a second reading and they should go into Committee, and if it should be thought that its provisions would not go far enough, he should be prepared to move the insertion of a clause under which nuns should be deprived of the power of disposing of any property whatever. But the noble Lord the Secretary of State for the Home Department had further stated that the Bill would go too far. Now, what grounds could there be for that statement? It was not denied that many instances had occurred in which ladies, after having been professed, had disposed of property in favour of the establishments to which they belonged; and could the House doubt that such dispositions of property were frequently made under undue influence? He (Mr. Malins) submitted that they must necessarily be frequently made under undue influence, for he believed that there was no limit to the power exercised by the lady superior of a conventual establishment over the other inmates, or to the power exercised by the priest over that lady herself. That power was from its very nature unbounded and overwhelming. How, then, could the inmate of a convent dispose of property with that free will which was indispensable for the proper discharge of such an act? Free will must be utterly out of the question in such a case. What, then, did his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Enniskillen propose to do by that Bill? He proposed that whenever a will was executed by the inmate of a convent, after her profession, the burden of proving that it had been executed of her own free will should be thrown on the person in whose favour it had been made. In such a provision there was nothing contrary to the settled principles of the law of this country; there was nothing at which Roman Catholics could legitimately take offence. Members of the Church of England and Protestant Dissenters would be ready to admit that clergymen of their religious persuasions had on many occasions abused the influence which they possessed over the minds of persons whose spiritual advisers they had become, for the purpose of obtaining from those persons devises of property on their own behalf; and there could be no doubt that such devises of property were invalid by the law of England. He could assure the House that our courts of law had frequently set such transactions aside. Now, could the House suppose that the ministers of the Church of England, or of any Protestant dissenting body, exercised an influence so overwhelming as that which was exercised by those who had the spiritual control of the inmates of religious establishments in the Roman Catholic Church? He believed that no Roman Catholic would be prepared to deny that it was the duty of those inmates to yield an implicit obedience in all matters, spiritual and temporal, to those under whose guidance they were placed. The existence of that obligation had been clearly proved in the case of the sisters M'Carthy, to which he had already referred. In that case it appeared that when one of those ladies had shown a reluctance to sign a deed, the language addressed to her had been, "remember your vow." That free will which could alone give validity to an act for the transmission of property was thus destroyed; and it was the duty of that House to protect the families of persons who were thus incapable of protecting themselves. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General for Ireland (Mr. Keogh) bad said that the existing law would reach that case. But he (Mr. Malins) thought that the hon. and learned Gentleman laboured under a mistake upon that point. There was no doubt but that the present law would reach a very flagrant case, such as that of the M'Carthys. But there were other cases in which it would be impossible to get at the true facts, and in which, in consequence of the vow of obedience made by nuns, it would be impossible to obtain any evidence of the circumstances under which a deed had been executed, as it would be impossible for a nun to exercise her own free will. He would suppose the case of a nun who had devised a property, to which she had become entitled, to the establishment in which she was placed, and who, shortly after the execution of the deed, had died. How could any evidence be got in such a case? The doors of convents were closed; and Roman Catholics objected, as had been recently shown by the fate of the Motion of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertford, to any inquiry into what was going on within those doors. It was under these circumstances that his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Enniskillen proposed to reverse the existing rule, and to enact that, in that case, the deed should be taken to be prima facie void, and that the burden of proving its validity should be thrown on the party in whose favour it had been made. Was there anything unreasonable or improper in such a principle? He confessed that he could see no valid objection to its adoption. Protestant clergymen were capable of abusing the spiritual influence which they might have acquired over the members of their particular communions, and it could be no offence to Roman Catholics to assume that their priests also were liable to a failing to which human nature must be exposed as long as it should continue what it was. Recent events must show the Members of that House, that Roman Catholic clergymen were as disposed at the present moment rigorously to exercise their influence as they had ever been at any period in the history of the Christian Church; and it was now the duty of the Parliament of this country, as much as it had been at any former time to endeavour to place some restrictions on the exercise of that influence. He trusted that under those circumstances the House would give its sanction to a Bill which, in the case of one class of Her Majesty's subjects, would impose a limit on the exercise of spiritual authority that need not be imposed in the case of other branches of the community, in consequence of the different regulations which they obeyed.


said, he had hoped that the hon. and learned Member for Enniskillen (Mr. Whiteside), following the wise example of the hon. and learned Member for Hertford (Mr. T. Chambers), would have withdrawn this Bill from the consideration of the House, and, by so doing, would have put an end to these unhappy polemical discussions which of late had been so frequently raised among them. That hope was based on the consideration that circumstances had greatly altered since the hon. arid learned Gentleman had first moved in this matter. At that time he had brought the Bill forward, not without some encouragement from more than one quarter of the House, and a desire had been shown that the law should be made uniform; but since that period many circumstances had taken place which had entirely altered the complexion of the matter; arguments had been adduced which had completely demolished the hon. and learned Gentleman's proposition; but, above all, the Bill had created a feeling of uneasiness and resentment among large classes in England as well as in Ireland, which the hon. and learned Gentleman could not have contemplated when he first embarked in the undertaking. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Wallingford (Mr. Malins), in a speech entering largely into polemical topics, had assumed that the noble Lord the Home Secretary had at first viewed the Bill with different eyes from those with which he had afterwards looked at it; but he believed the noble Lord had in fact stated that, while be did not object to the introduction of the Bill, he thought the recitals in the preamble were calculated to give offence, and he then said that, in his opinion, the Bill was so framed that it would be ineffective. The Bill was afterwards printed, and then the noble Lord, having had time maturely to consider its provisions, found that his apprehensions had been well founded, that the recitals were undoubtedly offensive, and that its provisions were likely to be totally inoperative even for the limited object it had in view. On these grounds the noble Lord had objected to the second reading, and he thought the course he had taken was not only well founded in fact and in reason, but was also strictly consistent. The argument of the noble Lord that if he were a Roman Catholic he should be inclined to look with favour on such a measure as this, if suspicions were generally entertained with regard to the proceedings in convents, amounted in effect to this—that if the Roman Catholic community placed a great value on these monastic institutions, then wealth would naturally and legitimately flow into them, and the small sums that could be obtained from parties acting under compulsion would be so trifling in amount that it would not be worth while, for their sake, to incur the suspicion that they were obtained by undue proceedings. If it were suspected that undue practices were carried on in these convents, it was for the Roman Catholics to see that those suspicions were put an end to. He could easily imagine that this opinion would be entertained by any honourable mind; but it was one thing for the Roman Catholics themselves to come forward and provide a remedy for the evils under which they suffered, and another thing for them to accept a remedy for grievances whose existence they did not admit from parties in whose amity they had no confidence. He regretted that this question should have fallen into the hands of a gentleman like the hon. and learned Member for Enniskillen; for it was impossible for him to suppose that he stood in such a relation to the Roman Catholics that any proposition emanating from him would be received with perfect confidence; on the contrary, it was more likely to be received with suspicion and distrust. Speaking generally, he thought this anxious care for the due regulation and the internal discipline of monastic institutions, this tender solicitude for the guardianship of the persons and property of nuns, coming from gentlemen like the hon. and learned Member for Enniskillen (Mr. Whiteside) and the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Spooner), who were frequently in the habit of expressing their dissent from Roman Catholic doctrines—who looked upon that religion as one of superstitious errors, and believed that it was opposed to ail enlightened progress and to all purity of religious creed—could not be received but with distrust and suspicion. That this was the general feeling among the Roman Catholics was fully proved by the numerously signed declarations which had appeared both in this country and in Ireland. The Irish declaration against interference by a Protestant Legislature with Roman Catholic institutions was signed not only by the Roman Catholic prelates, but also by a great number of the nobility and gentry of Ireland, by men of scientific pursuits, and by men who stood first in all the industrial undertakings of the country. To the English declaration was attached names well known in the annals of this country, many of them with high historic recollections known in the wars of the Roses, noted for loyalty to the Sovereign and Constitution at periods of difficulty, representing families who had at their own expense equipped vessels to aid the Protestant Elizabeth against the Armada. All of them belonged to that class of the nobility, or the untitled nobility, who had done more to raise the character of the people of England than any other class. The Irish declaration said that the attempt to interfere with convents implied dishonouring suspicions; he thought it did imply dishonouring suspicions. The first clause in this Bill implied that every disposal of property which took place in convents was obtained by fraudulent means. What else could be the meaning of the provision, that the party who received the property must prove that the contrary was the case? It was said that the Bill was applicable to cases in which undue influence might be used in convents; but the cases in which such undue influence had been used were few in number, and far between, and he could show numerous other cases in which undue influence was alleged to have been used, with which the Bill did not attempt to deal. Thus the Bill was exceptional as it applied only to a particular class of cases; it would be inoperative; and it was invidious, as it was something more than a mere attempt to make the law uniform, for, in pointing at the improvement of the law, it cast a slur upon Roman Catholics and their institutions. The hon. and learned Member for Wallingford had some weeks ago, in the early part of his speech, stated that the noble Lord the Home Secretary had been induced to alter his opinion with regard to the Bill, because some fifty or sixty of the Roman Catholic Members of that House had at different times given their support to the Government. Now, he believed that there were not more than thirty-six Roman Catholic Members in the House, and more than one-half of those were on every occasion found in the same lobby with the hon. and learned Gentleman. Upon this point his opinion was directly at issue with that of the hon. and learned Gentleman, for he did not believe political support was generally to be obtained by favouring Roman Catholics. He believed that whoever gave them support, however modified, ran great risks, politically speaking. There were 551 Members returned to Parliament by Great Britain, among whom there was found only one Roman Catholic who was returned by overbearing territorial influence, in spite of his being a Roman Catholic. Although he believed there were many Roman Catholic gentlemen of rank and property who were not inferior in all the requisites for making good representatives to many of the Gentlemen who sat in that House, yet not a single constituency in Great Britain had been found to return any of them. Political support was more likely to be obtained by taking the other side — by riding the high Protestant horse and declaiming against the growth of Popery. In addition to these objections which had been urged against the Bill, that it was defective, and that it was exceptional in its legislation, there remained yet another which he individually entertained. Speaking for himself, not on the part of the Government, he thought that this Bill, and legislation of a similar kind, was a violation of the principles of Protestantism and an infringement of the principles of toleration. Looking at the position occupied by this country, he thought that we ought to afford an example of complete toleration, and that by our so doing the Protestant interest could suffer nothing. If it was the principle of Protestantism that no religious rite, no ceremony, no form of worship was of the least avail in comparison with a pure conscience, with a mind purified by faith—if each individual claimed the right of judging for himself in matters of religion—we ought to allow the same right to be exercised by others; and, instead of imposing penalties upon opposite sects, we ought to give them every possible freedom. Protestants followed out their own principles by supporting free discussion, an unfettered press, open pulpits, and tribunals which dealt equal justice between man and man, sect and sect; but the moment they imposed penalties, however modified, on the members of any adverse sect they deviated from the principles of toleration. He held the opinion of Mr. Burke to be wise and well founded — that it is desirable the Roman Catholic religion in this country should not be merely tolerated as an evil which could not be got rid of, but that it should be cherished and tolerated as a form of Christianity dear to a vast number of our industrious, intelligent, and valuable fellow-subjects, and that this toleration should be extended to all its rites, ordinances, and institutions. If undue practices did take place in these nunneries, that was the business of the Roman Catholics. He believed that there were sufficient numbers of them, and that from their position in society they had sufficient manliness and independence of thought to be quite capable of acting as guardians of their own property, and of undertaking to protect the ladies belonging to their own families. But the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Whiteside) in proposing a Bill of this kind, asked us to deviate from that which was the strength of Protestantism— complete toleration—and, instead of trusting to free discussion for its extension, to trust to that which was at variance with those principles on which the Reformation had been founded, by which, in his conscience, he believed it could alone be maintained, and by which he hoped it would be indefinitely extended.


Sir, If I had no other desire to address the House I must rise to protest against the opinion of the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for Ireland, that this is a polemical question; and that the speech—the able and temperate argument—of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wallingford (Mr. Malins) was a polemical speech. I confess I see this subject in an exactly opposite point of view; and I must enter my protest against the right hon. Gentleman endeavouring to involve those who are disposed to support this Bill in the odium of doing so on the grounds of persecution, on polemical grounds, or the want of tolerant principles, which ought to influence the members of all persuasions. I must say I think the entire speech of the right hon. Gentleman is a proof of the unsatisfactory and evasive manner in which the Government has dealt with this Bill since its introduction. When the hon. and learned Member for Enniskillen (Mr. Whiteside) introduced this Bill what was the language of the noble Lord the Home Secretary? He said he did not object to the principle of the Bill; but he added— As there was a Committee of Inquiry into the whole system of conventual establishments, this question ought to be referred to it. But what is now the language of the right hon. Baronet the Irish Secretary? Why, that as the Committee to which this Bill was to be referred has been abandoned, this Bill ought also to be abandoned. I hope the noble Lord the Home Secretary will vote for the second reading of this Bill, which is the stage, in Parliamentary proceedings, at which the principle of a Bill is to be decided. What else did the noble Home Secretary say on the occasion of the introduction of this Bill? Why that "upon several grounds Roman Catholics themselves were most interested in promoting the Bill;" and in that sentiment I entirely concur. Sir, I never will be deterred from acting on those principles of toleration which the right hon. Gentleman opposite declares this Bill will violate. I hold this Bill to be most fair and most invaluable; and though we may think the policy of Rome in this country aggressive, I never shall be provoked by that policy to a retaliatory system, or take any course hostile to Roman Catholics which in my judgment I do not believe to be right and just. I acted on that very principle no later than yesterday, in giving my vote in this House. But, on the other hand, when I find a question of this kind brought before Parliament—involving, not polemical transactions or discussions, or religious questions, but civil rights of primary importance—I will not be deterred from taking that course which my conscience dictates merely because Roman Catholics declare, and declare unjustly, that we are animated by hostile feelings towards them in adopting such a course. The right hon. Secretary for Ireland has adverted to a paper or declaration put forward by a number of Roman Catholic laymen of the highest station and character, and including, I am happy to say it, many personal friends of my own, expressing in terms of warmth, I must regret, their views with regard to the conduct of Parliament in reference to this question. Sir, that paper was issued not with reference to this Bill at all, but with reference to the larger and more general subject of inquiry moved for by the hon. and learned Member for Hertford (Mr. T. Chambers). I must, express my regret that Roman Catholic Members of this House will not allow us to discuss civil questions without getting up charges of a polemical character. I invite those hon. Gentlemen of the Roman Catholic persuasion to meet us on the real ground on which alone the question can be argued, namely, whether there is anything in the present law and practice which relate to these convents which does violate the most important right that can be exercised by a citizen of a free State—the right to dispose of his property as he might please? I beg the House will bear with me a few moments whilst on this point I read a few extracts from a very high authority, far higher than I can pretend in be—I mean Lord Chancellor Brady—who delivered judgment in the case of "M'Carthy v. M'Carthy" in the Irish Court Chancery. The hon. and learned Member for Enniskillen, in introducing this Bill, fortified himself with several cases which had been brought before the courts. Amongst others was the case of M'Carthy, the cause of which occurred within the very walls of a convent at Cork. Now, let it be remembered that the Irish Lord Chancellor is a gentleman of great liberality of mind and high professional attainments, and in this case of disputed property between the inmates of a convent, two sisters, and their relatives outside, the Chancellor delivered the following judgment— It is utterly impossible to withhold the mind from the conclusion that those ladies executed the deeds, not as free agents—not of their own free will or volition, not as acts they wished or intended to do; but, on the contrary, they had signed them like persons who did not know what they had signed. If a Bill had been filed by Maria or Catherine exclusively, and sustained by such evidence as I have just read—evidence which establishes the objection as clear as truth can make it, to set aside these instruments, it would be a matter of course to grant them that relief; and is it to be said in a court of equity, evidence of that sort appearing, a suit can be maintained by persons deriving under these instruments, merely because, by virtue of a power given by this instrument itself, they have got leave to use the name of Maria as a co-plaintiff with them? From first to last—from the inception of those deeds to the moment I now speak—the same vow remains, the same impression remains, the same compulsion remains; and I am utterly unable to regard this suit as one jot more the suit of Maria M'Carthy, as was to be inferred from the record, than I could regard that deed as the deed of Maria M'Carthy upon the evidence I had read. Then it comes to this, that where it clearly appears to a court of equity that one of two co-plaintiffs by coercion and duress—and I am not using words stronger than are applicable to the case—had been induced to execute a deed, and at the very moment of the hearing of the case he was still held in the same state of coercion and duress, is it to be said that the court is to be tied hand and foot, and must give effect to such proceedings as these? I will put the case of a gaoler putting his prisoner in a dungeon, and extracting a deed from him there, and then coming into Court, having his victim still in his power, and saying, 'We want the property; the court must give it to us in the right of this deed.' I protest I would do no such thing. I think a court of equity would become a nuisance if it were to be made the medium of confirming an instrument such as this. I have come to the conclusion that this is a transaction which the court ought not to be called upon to confirm. I will not bring into court, out of the hands of the administrator, the money contended for in a suit so constituted as this. Let them pursue those rights independent of those deeds as best they can obtain them. But having regard to those deeds, I am firmly convinced that I ought not to be called upon to confirm them, and I, therefore, dismiss the bill with costs. Now, this judgment justifies me in the desire and determination I expressed not to consider this a polemical question, but rather a question of civil rights. The Bill does not assume—as was said by the right hon. Gentleman opposite—that all the property acquired by convents should be acquired by undue influence. But the Bill assumes this, that cases have been brought into courts of law complaining of undue influence; and that charge or allegation is fully substantiated. But whilst some of these cases have been discovered, a great many must necessarily remain undiscovered; and the Bill does not ask you to go beyond the principle recognised by the laws of England. The Bill will only assimilate the law with regard to these establishments to the law as it now stands in many respects in this country; for instance, the law between husband and wife, between spiritual advisers and their flocks, and between clients and their solicitors. Why, then, should Roman Catholics complain? If it be a part of the Roman Catholic system to establish these houses— although I do not agree with them—I make no objection. But we say, for your own sakes, for the sake of the faith you profess, why expose these conventual establishments to suppositions against them, and which must exist as long as courts of law are able to produce cases like this on which I have just read the judgment? Sir, it is upon these grounds I am disposed to support this Bill. The free spirit of this country will not tolerate coercion; and if you do not adopt this measure, the alternative will be that we must revert to that principle sanctioned by Roman Catholics themselves—namely, that persons from the time of their confinement in these establishments shall be held to be civilly defunct. On these grounds, then, I shall support the Bill.


said, it was to him a matter of astonishment how hon. Gentlemen opposite could express such profound regard for those from whom they differed, and at the same time do acts which were most offensive to them. As a Dissenter, he never canoe to that House to ask them to contribute to the expenses of the places of worship that he attended, nor did the Roman Catholic body in this country ask them for a farthing; and what right had they therefore to interfere with the reli- gious establishments of the Roman Catholics? The country would unquestionably say they were actuated by a sectarian feeling. And with what grace did this proposition come from parties who were not themselves subject to any such restrictions? A series of Acts had been passed to enable parties to escape the Mortmain Act, in order that they might give land to the Church of England. His opinion was, that these restraints which were put upon one class or another were totally unnecessary, inefficient, and answered no other purpose than to keep up that perpetual feud which occupied so much of their time.


said, that there were some objectionable phrases in the preamble of the Bill, and the first clause was so drawn as to apply, not only to dispositions of property in favour of religious or charitable establishments but even to such as were made for the benefit of near relations. He presumed that it was the intention of the hon. and learned Member for Enniskillen (Mr. Whiteside) to interfere only with gifts made in favour of religious establishments; he put to him whether he would have any objection so to alter this clause in Committee that it might have only that effect. If that alteration were made, he (Mr. Collier) could see no serious objection to the adoption of this measure, which he would not support if he believed that it had been introduced with the view of wounding the feelings of any religious body, or for polemical purposes, but which seemed to him to be the natural corollary of the Mortmain Bill, introduced by the hon. and learned Member for Newcastle-on-Tyne (Mr. Headlam) to which the House had already given a second reading.


said, with respect to the observation of the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Pakington) as to the demand for legislation on this subject made by the free spirit of the country, that there had not been a single petition in favour of this Bill from any part of Ireland, in which there were many more convents than in England, and in which country they had existed from the commencement of its history. The right hon. Baronet might be right in saying that this was not a polemical question—though he (Mr. FitzGerald) thought it bordered strongly upon polemics —but certainly the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Wallingford (Mr. Malins) was a polemical speech, for it gave to him (Mr. FitzGerald) information as to the rules and practices of conventual establishments, as to the vows by which the inmates were bound, and their obligations to their superiors, of which, though a member of the Roman Catholic Church, he had never heard before. The case to which the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Pakington) had referred as having been decided by Lord Chancellor Brady proved that the common law of the land, as enforced by the courts, was sufficiently strong to meet any case which it was contemplated to reach by this Bill; and he might remind the right hon. Baronet that the law which now rendered null a gift which was made under undue influence, and not of free will, applied to gifts made in convents, as well as to all others. One of the greatest objections to the Bill was, that it was exceptional legislation. It was in every respect discreditable to its author, being false in its preamble, insulting in its language, and oppressive in its enactments. There was a statement in the Bill that nuns bound themselves by vows to obey their religious superiors or spiritual directors. By spiritual directors he supposed Roman Catholic priests were meant. That statement he pronounced to be entirely false. There was no such obligation. Nuns bound themselves to obey the religious superior, but he never heard of a vow to the spiritual director. And how did the preamble go on? It stated that— Females, influenced and controlled by their religious superiors or spiritual directors, have been induced to make disposition of their property, in contravention to their wishes. The House must give him leave to say that that statement was unfounded. There was one case, and only one case, one which had been referred to, in which it was shown that a nun had signed a deed against her will, but though the books went back for hundreds of years there was no other case. Such was the preamble of the Bill; what were its enactments? Its main provision was, that deeds executed by the inmates of convents, under the obligation of vows of obedience, should not be valid unless the contrary was proved before a court of law. A more unjust and oppressive enactment than that could not possibly be devised. It was in direct opposition to that valuable maxim of the law, which laid upon the party who alleged a fact the onus of proving it, and which did not oblige any person to prove a negative. He could not help thinking that the real object of the Bill was not to protect Catholics, but to make political capital; and rather than see it carried into effect, he should prefer the alternative of civil death. [Mr. WHITESIDE: Hear, hear!] He meant civil death with its concomitants. When it was the doctrine of the law that a lady entering a convent, and taking perpetual vows, was civilly dead, convents were corporate bodies, and they were capable, as such, of inheriting and transmitting property. Now, however, they stood in a very different position; they could receive property only in the same way as private individuals; and perhaps it was because of the manner in which they used that property, spreading abroad the blessings of religion and education, and thereby inducing Protestants to enter the fold of the Catholic Church, that the hon. and learned Member for Enniskillen wished to interfere with them. The right hon. Member for Droitwich (Sir J. Pakington) had supported the Bill on the ground that it would facilitate the free disposition of property. He asserted that the Bill would do nothing of the kind; on the contrary, it would interfere with the free disposition of property by making deeds executed by nuns invalid; but there was no necessity for special legislation with reference to religious houses. The law which interfered with private individuals equally interfered with the inmates of convents, which stood on no higher footing than private homes. If, then, the present law was sufficiently stringent, and if it applied alike to all classes, he hoped that they would not be induced to do that which, under all circumstances, he should consider it his duty to oppose, namely, interfere by exceptional legislation with particular institutions. It had been said that Government opposed this and similar measures, for the purpose of procuring the support of the Roman Catholic Members. Surely the fact was not so, otherwise how did it happen that the great majority of the Roman Catholic Members sat and voted on the opposition side of the House? He might be allowed to congratulate those Gentlemen upon the singular felicity of their position. He might congratulate them upon following the footsteps of the hon. and learned Member for Enniskillen, who had brought in this Bill for their "protection;" he might congratulate them at the same time upon following the footsteps of the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) who declared by his vote last night, on the Middlesex Industrial School Bill, that he would not even allow Catholic worship for Catholic children to be celebrated in industrial schools; and he might congratulate them, finally, upon their allying themselves to the two hon. Members for Warwickshire; one of whom (Mr. Spooner) seemed to be on all occasions haunted with a fear of Popish aggression, while the other (Mr. Newdegate) took every opportunity of expressing his detestation of the Catholic faith.


said, it was impossible for him to sit silent and listen to the statements which were made by the opponents of the Bill. It was said that its supporters were actuated by party or polemical feelings; but he asserted his right of independent action in that House, and repelled the imputation. These charges were not made on that (the Opposition) side of the House, but arguments were resorted to, when measures were brought forward for the abolition of Protestant Ministers' Money, or for the spoliation of a Protestant University in Ireland. The church-rate question had been discussed without the acrimony which had been infused into the present discussion on the other side. This measure was supported, not for polemical or political reasons, but for the sake of the security of liberty and property. He regretted that the Chief Secretary for Ireland had lent his countenance to the erroneous assertion made by the opponents of this Bill, that it was intended as an insult to Roman Catholics. He need not say that such was not the intention or object of the Bill; and he could not help thinking that an attempt was being made to prevent the free expression of opinion in that House, by representing every measure brought forward on the Opposition side as a personal insult to the Roman Catholic Members. He did not deny that the Personal Liberty Bill, introduced by the hon. and learned Member for Hertford (Mr. T. Chambers) last year, might have been subject to such an imputation. That Bill enabled private persons to enter into what were really private residences; and he should rather have preferred the proposal for the Amendment of the Habeas Corpus Act, so as to enable any third party (on peril of costs which ought to be inflicted on persons improperly interfering in other people's matters) to enforce the exercise of the jurisdiction conferred by that celebrated Statute. But he altogether denied that the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Hertford and the present were both of a piece. He objected to one and not to the other. Was there no distinction between interference in a private residence and the protection of property? The Bill before the House had only the latter object. The hon. and learned Member for Ennis (Mr. J. D. FitzGerald) had objected to the preamble. If the statements in the preamble were thought to be insulting to the Roman Catholics, they might be expunged; they formed no part of the enacting clauses of the Bill; but at the same time it should be understood that they were not the unsupported dicta of the hon. and learned Member for Enniskillen (Mr. Whiteside), but were taken from the records of the courts of justice, and were based on language used by the Lord Chancellor of Ireland. The enacting portions of the Bill were the only essential parts of it. If persons took upon themselves vows of obedience to spiritual superiors they were not really free agents; and on the sworn records of courts of justice it was stated that they were warned by their superiors to remember their vows of obedience. The assertions of individuals were of no consequence in comparison with sworn evidence, and to that he appealed. In the much-quoted case M'Carthy v. M'Carthy, the ladies stated in evidence that when they executed the deed in dispute they felt as if a pistol was held at their breast, or as if the pen was held in a dead hand; and when they applied to their spiritual directors, so far from being told that they were mistaken in thinking they were under any obligations, they were distinctly exhorted to remember their vows of obedience. It was impossible to say how many cases there were of the same kind which had never been unravelled; but a sufficient number had, he considered, been made public to justify the present Bill, which he hoped would be carried by a large majority, in spite of the false assertion that it was intended as an insult to Roman Catholics. It was too much to say that such a case as the M'Carthys' was fiction. The vow of obedience bound the parties as to all matters spiritual and temporal. [Cries of "No, no!"] He repeated that statement as the inference he was entitled to draw from the evidence he referred to. And such vows of obedience, of course, must tend to prevent evidence from being procured. The system which had now been resorted to on the other side to stifle discussion on these subjects should be resisted. And he was astounded that the Government should have sanctioned a precedent in the instance of the former Bill which was most pernicious —the wearying out an impartial and un-purchased majority into relinquishing a measure they had deliberately adopted. The Government ought to beware how they thus connived at innovations which might one day be turned against all order and all rule.


said, it would almost appear from the remarks of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down as if the Roman Catholic members, instead of numbering only thirty-six, were a majority of that House, and were able to do exactly as they pleased. They had not evinced any such spirit as that referred to by the hon. Member. When the Mortmain Bill was brought forward by the hon. and learned Member for Newcastle, although it deeply affected the interests of the Roman Catholics of England, it was not regarded as an insult, for the simple reason that neither in its language nor in its enactments was it offensive. So much could not be said of the present Bill, which, on the contrary, was calculated to wound the feelings of every Roman Catholic in the country. He was at a loss to understand the object of the Bill if it was not to annoy the Roman Catholics, and perhaps to indulge in some bitter feelings against them. They were told the Bill was intended to be modelled on the laws which regulated the disposition of property by married women, and in favour of persons standing in the relation of legal advisers. He ventured to say, however, that if its terms were applied to attorneys, instead of to convents and other religious houses, they would be considered most harsh and offensive, and would be looked upon as a gross imputation on their professional character. It had been truly said that the effect of the first clause would be to make void any conveyance or will executed by a nun, not only if in favour of a religious house or any ecclesiastic, but in favour even of her own relations. She could not execute a legal discharge to an executor on receiving a legacy bequeathed to her; in point of fact, she would be civilly dead. He could not conceive how the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Whiteside) could propose a measure so utterly subversive of all the principles of justice recognised in this country. As to a deed in favour of a man's attorney there was no Act which made it positively void. It might be voidable. The law regarded such a deed with considerable distrust, and if it were disputed, all the circumstances under which it was executed would be scrutinised with the view to see if the professional influence of the attorney had been unduly exercised. That was, however, a very different thing from providing by Statute that the deed should be void unless proof were given of what in fact was a negative. This Bill would shake the security of titles, for it said the deeds of certain persons, whom it described, should be positively void, unless they were proved to have been executed with the free consent of the parties. How could that be proved in the case of deeds fifty years old? [Mr. MALINS: The Bill does not apply to past transactions.] The hon. and learned Gentleman apparently forgot that what was present now would be past by and by, and the difficulty would be sure to occur, especially in Ireland, where many of the inmates of these institutions belonged to distinguished families possibly possessing property, or having property left to them. He thought he had shown that the Bill was conceived in a hostile spirit to Roman Catholics. It was professed that the object of it was to give them protection. They had never asked for protection, and the protection offered was like the protection which the bear in the fable afforded the hermit, when he crushed a fly on the hermit's nose. The intention of the bear was kind towards the hermit, but he not only crushed the fly, but the nose of his friend. This case was something like it, except that they had not even a fly to justify the interference of the bear. Political capital was being made out of the Protestant feeling of the country, and this was no doubt part of the agitation which was being carried on against the Catholics. As an instance, there was a meeting the other day in the City of London, where some Roman Catholic gentlemen temperately expressed their disapprobation of the Committee of the hon. and learned Member for Hertford (Mr. T. Chambers), but the reports in the public papers attributed to them the most violent and disloyal language. The names of the speakers were deliberately forged. The most violent speaker was represented to be a Mr. Wharton. No one of that name was present, and a respectable gentleman, Mr. Orpwood, had assured him that the language attributed to Mr. Wharton was never uttered. The language was false, and the person fictitious. He referred to this because the language had been read to the House by an hon. Member who took a very strong view against the Catholics. It was read for the purpose of showing that the Catholics of England were disloyal, but he had no hesitation in saying that the statement was utterly and entirely untrue.


said, he felt it his duty to oppose this measure on public grounds, and he must strongly protest against these renewed attempts to legislate on subjects so distateful to the feelings of a large portion of the House and the country. There were no less than fourteen Bills that day on the paper for consideration—some of them measures of considerable importance—and all of these must be postponed for the sake of the Bill now under discussion. He really hoped the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Whiteside) would have the good sense to follow the example of the hon. and learned Member for Hertford (Mr. T. Chambers), and withdraw the measure, so that they might get quit of the ill feeling and animosity which the perpetual discussion of these questions created. He denied that the nuns were precluded from seeing their friends who visited them, even alone. The hon. Baronet the Member for North Essex (Sir J. Tyrell) had, on a former occasion, referred to the convent of Newhall in that county, and stated that the friends of the inmates were not allowed to have access to them. Now, he (Mr. Scully) happened to have relations of his own in that establishment, and was able to state that there was not the slightest obstacle thrown in the way of friends seeing the ladies who resided there. The hon. Baronet had himself been a visitor at the convent, but, in consequence of the active part which he was found to take against the religion and the feelings of Catholics, subscribing funds to burn effigies on the 5th of November, and taking every occasion to do what was offensive and distasteful to the nuns in respect to their religion, he was supposed to be an enemy to the convent, and when he presented himself was refused admission. This was not at all a case that could be brought forward as showing that there was no access to convents. If nuns had really no free will, and if, as was alleged, they were compelled to dispose of their property against their free will, why were cases not brought forward to prove the fact, and also to show that the law, as it stood, was un- able to reach such cases? He admitted that nuns were bound spiritually by their vows, but he wished to know in what respect they were bound in temporal matters? In almost every case when mobs had broken into religious houses and expelled their inmates, the nuns had always gone back as soon as they were able. A parallel had been drawn between the case of the nuns but he felt justified in considering such a comparison offensive and insulting. At all events, however, no legislation respecting either lunatics or factory children had been attempted without the amplest evidence having first been produced. This proceeding was part and parcel of the persecution that had been going on against Catholics for some years. If persisted in, they would drive from Ireland the best and most industrious classes of the country, and they would drive from it those houses which had been so great a blessing to the country, while they would have those roving ministers of the Gospel, the agents of the Scottish Alliance and the Protestant Alliance, going through the length and breadth of the land thrusting down the throats of the people doctrines which were distasteful to them, and which they had no desire to hear. If the object was to put down monasteries, let that object be honestly avowed, but be must protest against this piecemeal conduct, of one day a Bill, another day a Committee, and a third day a Commission, upon this question. He also protested against such subjects being introduced at a time when the war on which we had entered demanded the concentration of all our energies.


said, he could not doubt the sincerity of the promoters of the Bill, who probably did not mean to insult their fellow-subjects or to destroy convents entirely, but he thought that they were acting under the delusion that by such a measure as the present they would give relief to their Roman Catholic fellow countrymen, whereas they would only be cutting off the main supplies for the support of those institutions. It would have been desirable that they should have brought forward cases which the law had not reached. He thought the hon. and learned Member for Ennis (Mr. J. D. FitzGerald) had established the fact, that the law, as it existed, was quite sufficient. He deprecated this constant introduction of polemical subjects, which was a growing evil. He thought it was the connection of the Church and the State, which led to the introduction of so many of these vexatious questions into that House, and foresaw that the consequence would be the severance of that connection. Hon. Gentlemen opposite would do well to consider what they were about in pursuing this course.


said, that it was to he observed that no one petition in favour of this Bill had been laid upon the table of the House signed by a Roman Catholic, and that the whole matter was left to the care of those who were strangers to the religious feelings of the very parties whose rights they were professing to advocate. As to the solitary case which had been cited by the supporters of the Bill—the M'Carthy case, which had come before the House of Lords—the Lord Chancellor Brady had, under a complete mistake, directed an issue to be taken between two co-plaintiffs. Now, between two co-plaintiffs one plaintiff could not give evidence against the other, and the House of Lords had set aside the issue on appeal. The result, however, was, that the claimant had got possession of the property under the Irish Lord Chancellor's decree, and had gone out of the jurisdiction of the Court. He had throughout the debate then before the House endeavoured to find out what was the real motive in bringing forward this measure, and he found nothing to satisfy him in any way that such motive was associated either with the interest of the Roman Catholic laity or the Roman Catholic clergy. On the contrary, the real object of the measure seemed to be to put down convents and drive the ladies, who dwelt in them, to seek refuge in some other country. As a Protestant, he was sorry to see the feeling that was engendered by such motives as the one now under discussion, and he deprecated any such interference as that which was too evidently contemplated.


said, he very much regretted that this religious element should be introduced into almost every subject. The other evening they could not consider the establishment of a reformatory institution in the county of Middlesex without its being made the battle field for the contentions of different persuasions. The hon. Member for Lambeth lamented this matter as he did, but he said he was convinced the only remedy was the complete severance of Church and State. [Mr. WILKINSON: Consequence, not remedy.] He was very happy to be corrected; but if such should be the fatal consequence of these dissensions, he thought, so far from bringing peace, the separation of the State from the Church would augment and exasperate these religious discussions tenfold. The sole question for discussion was, whether the proposition contained in the Bill was reasonable and just. Was it proved that there were persons under religious vows in conventual establishments, many of whom could not be considered in a condition freely to exercise their lawful rights in the disposal of their property? It should be remembered that, after all, conventual establishments were of questionable legality, and it was proved by the hon. and learned Member for Hertford (Mr. T. Chambers), not only that they existed, but were increasing—so largely increasing that although the House might put off the day of inquiry into their condition and circumstances, yet, from their increase, and from the amount of property involved in their maintenance, they must sooner or later become the subject of legislation. Upon those grounds the hon. and learned Member for Hertford asked for a Committee of Inquiry, and not for the sake of any vexatious, worrying, or trying interference. That was not his motive. If it had been, he (Mr. Liddell) would not have supported him in such a motive. It was never contemplated to drag before a Committee of the House of Commons ladies who had sought those establishments for retirement or the exercise of charity. All that was expected to result from the inquiry was to ascertain the real circumstances of those different establishments, to see how far legislation might or might not be necessary with respect to them. He disclaimed all intention whatever of offending the feelings or of violating the rights and consciences of any of his fellow-countrymen. There was no part of his Parliamentary career upon which he looked back with more satisfaction than upon the vote which he had given, in the year 1829, in favour of the great principle of Roman Catholic Emancipation; but, upon the other hand, as a Protestant, and as a member of the Church of England, he did hold it to be his duty—while he was prepared to extend the most unlimited toleration to, and to live upon terms of the most cordial friendship with, the members of other religious denominations—not to give positive encouragement to any except that to which he himself belonged. Was it true that there were parties living in these religious houses who were in a state of moral and spiritual subjection? He thought that that fact had hardly been controverted. He believed himself that that state of things did actually exist, and where it did exist it was manifest that transactions might take place which could not be brought directly under the cognisance of the ordinary tribunals of the country. Now if, under the moral and spiritual influence to which they were there subjected, parties were induced to leave their property to these religious establishments, to the neglect of their own friends and relatives, he thought that some remedy should be found for an evil of that description, and on that ground alone he should give his vote in favour of the second reading of the Bill. He thought, however, that the first clause went rather too far in the assertion of the principle which it was proposed to establish. It seemed to him to call upon the parties interested in upholding any deed made by a person who had bound himself by religious vows to prove a negative, and to be so far at variance with the usual course of legislation. If, therefore, the Bill went into Committee, he should object to that clause being retained. He did not regard it as essential to the principle of the Bill, and while he would repeat his disclaimer of any unkindly feeling towards his Roman Catholic fellow-countrymen, he felt that the laws of this country ought to be maintained—that the free exercise of a free will ought to be secured, even within the walls of conventual establishments— and that some further protection than now existed was essential, which he did not think that House would refuse to give.


said, the first clause of the Bill, which the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Liddell) had admitted to be objectionable, was, in fact, the sum and substance of the whole measure. He had documents in his possession, signed by the Roman Catholic hierarchy of Ireland, by every person of consequence among the Roman Catholic laity of that country, and by the Roman Catholics of England also, which clearly showed that they regarded this measure as most offensive, and the hon. Member—to whom he gave all credit for sincerity—was, therefore, under a delusion, if he supposed that Roman Catholics would receive it in any other light. He had heard with admiration the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, than whom there was no more stanch supporter of the Established Church, but whose observations upon this subject did him credit as a gentleman and a statesman. He had hoped that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Enniskillen (Mr. Whiteside) would have followed the example of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hertford (Mr. T. Chambers), and have announced, at the sitting of the House, the withdrawal of a measure which he could have no possible hope of carrying through during the present Session, and which was peculiarly unseasonable in the present circumstances of the country. Was it wise, then, to persevere in a measure calculated to arouse so much religious animosity? But he denied that any case had been made out for this Bill, notwithstanding all the ingenuity and talent employed on the other side of the House. It had been said that changes had been made in the Bill; but the preamble was still insulting, and no pledge had been given that it should be amended in Committee. Nothing could be more unfair than to suppose a person's guilt before guilt was proved, and yet such would be the operation of the Bill. It was said that the Bill did not offer an insult to Roman Catholics; but surely Roman Catholics were the best judges of their own feelings. Feelings the most bitter had been engendered in the breasts of Roman Catholics by this and the other Bill, and language failed to express the intensity of those feelings. In discussing this question, Protestant Members forgot that the Roman Catholic Members were entitled by law to be called "Roman Catholics," their Church the Roman Catholic Church, and their clergy the Roman Catholic clergy; and he would, therefore, venture to observe to hon. Gentlemen opposite, that when they talked of the Romish religion, of the Romish clergy, and of Romish institutions, they were violating the decencies of the place in which they stood. The hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) went out of his way on the former evening to insult the Roman Catholic population, attributing as he did to that population a degree of immorality exceeding that of the dregs of Middlesex. There was no earthly necessity for such taunts, and they were indulged in merely to gratify a bigoted and unworthy feeling against Roman Catholics. After the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Droitwich (Sir J. Pakington) of the previous night, he had expected he would have taken a different course, but was doomed to be disappointed. Contrast the course of legislation of Protestants on these subjects with the Motions of Roman Catholics. The attacks upon the Roman Catholics were altogether unprovoked; for although, when questions affecting them had been raised, they might have spoken strongly, he undertook to say that, in the course of an experience of nearly twenty years, he had never known a Bill or Motion introduced, or any discussion raised, by any Roman Catholic Member, which could have afforded the slightest pretence for saying it was an attack on the Protestant religion. He was sure he might say, for the Roman Catholic Members generally, that they would gladly make any sacrifice if they could banish altogether the religious element from their discussions, so far as it tended to divide fellow Christians and fellow subjects of Her Majesty. It was said that this Bill was introduced, not upon religious, but upon political and social grounds. The same argument was used by the persecutors of the early Christians to justify their martyrdom. It was always as political and social, and never as religious offenders, that they interfered with them. With respect to the case of the M'Carthys, he denied that any undue influence had been used, and he met ally imputation which might be made on the accuracy of their statement—which, if false, would be perjury—by assuring the House that it was a principle instilled into every Roman Catholic mind from earliest infancy, that the law of God was paramount to the will of any superior, even of the Pope himself, and that the latter was never to be obeyed when it contravened the former. In conclusion, he would appeal to the House not to consent to this measure, nor to throw away the warm hearts of the Roman Catholics of Ireland.


said, that if the House was delayed in coming to a division, it should not be his fault, for he would not detain them long; but he could not refrain from repudiating the assertion that this was a Protestant agitation got up for the purpose of exciting bitterness in the breasts of Roman Catholics. He would take the liberty of reading some passages from a letter of Mr. Nathaniel M'Carthy to the hon. and learned Member for Hertford (Mr. T. Chambers), in con- nection with the case of the Misses M'Carthy, and which letter the hon. and learned Member had not referred to in the nunneries debate— What, Sir (said Mr. M'Carthy), can more clearly demonstrate than this case does the absolute necessity of some legislative enactment (such as the ancient law of 'civil death,' which was both simple in its operation and effectual for its purpose) to protect Catholic families from the rapacity of those establishments, as well as to save the inmates themselves from perpetual annoyance after having retired, as they fancied, from the cares and anxieties of the world, to the peaceful monotony of a conventual life; and in taking the vow of poverty, having, as they thought, divested themselves for ever of the power of acquiring or enjoying property, from the dreadful alternative of being made the unwilling instruments of depriving their families of that property which they well knew it was never intended should be alienated from them, and handing it over to utter strangers, for whom individually they may have possessed no regard, or by breaking their vow of obedience, and being deprived of the holy communion (see Bishop Murphy's evidence), devote themselves to endless remorse in this life, and perhaps eternal perdition beyond the grave? From that distressing position the wisdom of our ancestors rescued individuals who had taken religious vows; and I humbly submit that it now becomes the duty of the Legislature, since it has permitted convents to grow up again in this country, either to restore the ancient law of 'civil death,' which prevented the vow of obedience from being made an instrument of torture to plunder families of their property, or to enact some other law which will prove equally stringent and efficacious. Before I conclude I will mention a fact which I think highly honourable to the memory of the late Mr. O'Connell. Shortly after the decree pronounced by the Lord Chancellor in the convent suit, I was present when Mr. O'Connell congratulated my brother on the success of his family, and he highly extolled the justice and equity of the Lord Chancellor's decree. He (Lord Bernard) should give his cordial support to the Bill, telling its opponents that, although they might succeed in thwarting it this year, the feeling of the country would ultimately compel Parliament to pass it into a law.


said, he should not have risen to address the House but for the encouragement which he had received from the pious tone of the noble Lord who had last spoken. He did not rise to complain of insult. The Roman Catholics were quite able to defend themselves; and as they abstained from insulting those by whom these insults were offered, he thought they should have, in the estimation of all right-thinking men, a great advantage over them. The hon. and learned Member for Wallingford (Mr. Malins) had, however, laid down a proposition which he had heard with considerable surprise, which he was sure no Protestant divine and no person in authority would sanction—a proposition which would not for a moment bear the test of inquiry in any Christian assembly. The hon. and learned Gentleman had laid it down, that no act which was done under the bias of a religious vow could be considered a voluntary act, and he had called upon the House to sanction this monstrous doctrine, for which he had stated no authority but the authority of Lord Chancellor Brady, a very eminent man, and a very good man, and a very good lawyer, but evidently a very bad divine. It was a monstrous proposition that because a person had engaged by a solemn vow to do a particular thing, and afterwards did that thing, the thing was not done voluntarily; yet that was the proposition upon which this Bill, and, indeed, the whole of this debate, turned. No Christian divine would sanction such a proposition as that of the hon. and learned Gentleman; and it was quite clear, according to the doctrines of the Church of England, that a solemn promise made to God was binding. But let them suppose there was no vow, and that the father of some young English lady had, with the consent of his daughter, entered into an engagement with a convent to maintain that daughter or daughters, as the case might be, during the whole of her life, no matter what the state of her health, in consideration of a sum of 2,000l. paid down, and with the understanding that she was to make over to the institution any property which might come to her through the father—let them suppose such a case, and would the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Malins) say that if the engagement was drawn in proper form, it would not be upheld in a court of law? Now such was precisely the case of the Misses M'Carthy. They entered into an engagement with the convent, and their father gave his sanction to the engagement. For fifteen years, from 1828 to 1843, these ladies continued members of that convent, not having shown any disposition to depart from the obligations of their vow, which their father had countenanced and assented to, well knowing that whether they were to receive a shilling from him or not, it was entirely within their own option whether they continued within the walls of the convent. But were his views on the subject of vows solely those of a Catholic? Why what did Paley, a great Protestant authority, say as to the obligations of such a contract? He taught distinctly— That vows were solemn promises made to the Supreme Being, and that to violate them was sinful; that though there was no command in the New Testament to make them, that much less was there a command to break them. The Legislature, however, were asked to suppose that what was done under a solemn promise was an involuntary act. If a vow was unlawful, it was not binding; but unless hon. Members were prepared to show that the vows alluded to were unlawful, the attempt to pass this Bill was an immoral act, a sanction to falsehood, an incitement to a breach of promises which in the eye of the Catholic was highly unpleasing to God. They practised a text which others had forgotten:—"He who giveth his daughter in marriage doeth well, but he who giveth her not doeth better." He was 10th to engage in religious discussions, but on such a subject it was almost impossible to keep clear of references to Scripture, and he would quote a passage from the Old Testament to show the mode of conduct under which Christians acted— When thou shalt vow a vow unto the Lord thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it; for the Lord thy God will surely require it of thee, and it would be sin in thee. But if thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee. That which is gone out of thy lips thou shalt keep and perform. It was intolerable to contend in a Christian assembly that the keeping of a vow was to be deemed involuntary and done under coercion, and against the will and intention of the person making it. The Lord Chancellor of Ireland had talked of the compulsion of a vow, and stated that what was done under the compulsion of a vow was an involuntary act, but he had been corrected by men who were fully his equals, if not his superiors. The noble Lord the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston), a man as competent to judge on such a point as any, said, on the first night of the debate, to the hon. and learned Member for Enniskillen (Mr. Whiteside), that he could not reach this case. He said, "It might be called undue influence—it might be called the coercion of a vow, but, after all, the submission to the vow and the obedience to it is the voluntary act of the person who executed the deed." And Lord Brougham, when the Irish Lord Chancellor's proposition came before the House of Lords, ex- cepted to it, and said he had very great doubt with respect to compulsion exercised over a party under the influence of a vow voluntarily taken. He (Serjeant Shee) objected not only to the principle, but the policy of the Bill. The hon. and learned Member for Enniskillen was perfectly honest in his way, and thought the sooner the Catholic religion was extirpated from Ireland the better, and that the best way to prevent the children from being taught was to starve the nuns. But the Bill in its very nature would be destructive of the objects which he desired to promote, for it would enact all the evil which resulted from the old law of civil death without enacting any of its good. The law of civil death had some advantages in Catholic countries, but it was open to these objections—that avaricious, and vicious, and unjust parents and near relations could sacrifice their children. But that could not be done under the conventual system as sanctioned by the law of England, for the inmates of convents were as free after their admission as before. He knew nothing of the M'Carthy family, and he most reluctantly alluded to them; but referring to the statement read by the noble Lord (Viscount Bernard) near him, he would recall to the House that part of the prayer of that young man was, that his sisters might be declared civilly dead, that so he might share in their property; the meaning of the prayer to the Lord Chancellor was either to declare the deeds void on account of undue influence, or to give sanction to the doctrine that they were civilly dead, in order that there might be some 16,000l. more to be divided amongst the other children. [Mr. J. O'CONNELL: 20,000l.] Here was a father who died worth 100,000l., besides large real estates—in the full possession of his senses, with a full knowledge of all the consequences of his dying intestate as regarded his daughters, still leaving no will behind him, and thus opening to those daughters the possession of an additional 20,000l. But then came forward a young man out of the reach of the courts of law, and who was spending the money in Paris, and said, "Although I have every confidence that my sisters will continue the same holy and self-denying life that they have been leading for the last fifteen years, I still would have you pronounce them dead in the eye of the law." He (Serjeant Shee) maintained, that if they passed this Bill, they would be giving a direct bonus to every dishonest parent—to every parent who might prefer a pretty daughter to a plain one—to every parent who might be seized with the ambition to push forward an eldest son at the expense of the other children—to do so. And were hon. Gentlemen not aware that in other Protestant countries—in Holland, for example—an attempt similar to that contemplated by this measure had been made only to be abandoned. He had letters there and then with him from Prelates in that country announcing that nuns in Holland and Belgium were as free to dispose of their property as any other subjects of the realm. He would, then, forewarn the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Whiteside) to pause in a plan which could not be carried out without inflicting the greatest injustice upon the most destitute portion of the population of the country, who, unsupplied with the means of religious education by the State, were solely dependent for that object upon the care and attention of these ladies.


said, he should not have risen to address the House had it not been for a statement made by the hon. and learned Member for Dundalk (Mr. Bowyer), in referring to a meeting which was held in London last Tuesday, and which, he believed, had been represented to the House as being of an exceedingly quiet, orderly, and loyal description. Now, he held in his hand a copy of the Catholic Standard, published last Saturday, giving a report of the proceedings, and purporting to give a perfectly correct report. From it he gathered that the statement which had appeared in some of the public journals last week did not, it must be allowed, correspond with the statement contained there. Hence this accurate report made a Mr. Orpwood, who, he understood, was the London agent of the Nation newspaper—a journal not considered to be of a very loyal character—it made him speak thus—after making a comparison between Prince Albert and Louis Napoleon—"Loyalty was a delicate thing, and it behoved those set over them to beware how they contributed to cause an estrangement between the rulers and the people." But a Mr. Weale also made a considerable long speech, and he used these words, in reference to the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Hertford (Mr. T. Chambers)— They must petition; and if petitions did not succeed, they must threaten; and if threats did not avail, they must be prepared to act. It was all very well for Protestants to call them disloyal, but he was only astonished that they were as royal as they were. If Protestants had been treated in a similar manner by a Catholic Government, they would have borne it very differently; for even now Catholic soldiers were ready to sustain the honour of England in the East, while the Legislature at home was persecuting their daughters and relatives. Let the Government beware, then, lest, by giving in to this bigoted faction, they should compel Catholics to look for sympathy and to hope for aid from other sources than that where they had a right to expect and obtain it. They were subjects of the English Crown; this was an accident, but they were also Catholics. He would have them, then, do everything lawful that was in their power, and if they did not succeed by lawful means they might still hope. (Renewed cheering,)" Now he certainly must submit that this was rather strong language; and as the remarks did not appear to him to be of a very loyal character, he thought it his duty to take the opportunity of producing them before the House.


said, that as a soldier, and as the representative of a great Catholic constituency, he earnestly called upon the hon. and learned Member for Enniskillen to withdraw his Bill.


who rose amidst loud cries of "Divide!" said, he had no doubt that at that moment (it was twenty minutes to six) hon. Gentlemen near him were exceedingly anxious to close the debate, but he could assure them that he was most unwilling that such an event should take place without his having taken occasion to state his sentiments on the Bill before them.

And it being a quarter before Six of the clock, Mr. Speaker adjourned the debate till To-morrow, without putting the Question.


said, he only wished to be allowed to remark that, as the noble Lord the Member for Bandon (Viscount Bernard) had not done him the honour of giving notice that it was his intention to bring in the name of the late Mr. O'Connell, he could not specifically deny the statement which was said to have been made by him. All, therefore, that he would now say on behalf of one who could no longer answer for himself, was, that if ever he did express such an opinion as that imputed to him by the noble Lord, it would be in contradiction of the whole of his life.

The House adjourned at five minutes before Six o'clock.

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