HC Deb 22 August 1860 vol 160 cc1713-7

Order for Third Reading read.


said, he had given notice for the re-commitment of this Bill; and he would say a few words in support of the course he proposed to take, but would not press it, unless the House agreed to it. What took place last night would be in the recollection of the House when the Bill came on to be considered as amended. Now lie felt sure that a Protestant House of Commons, a House consisting of a majority of Protestant Members, would feel very tender in dealing with any scruples entertained by Roman Catholic Members. The Bill had been introduced by the hon. and learned Member for Dundalk (Sir George Bowyer) as a relief for Roman Catholics. But the hon. and learned Member now believed that the 1st Clause, as amended, instead of being a measure of relief for Roman Catholics, had been turned into a penal clause against them. That he believed on two grounds; first, that whereas several Courts of inferior jurisdiction in Ireland had held that no change had been effected of late years in the law of superstitious uses, the Bill proposed to give legislative sanction to such decisions, although they had not yet been confirmed by the highest judicial tribunal. [Sir GEORGE BOWYER: Hear, hear!] The hon. and learned Baronet also said that the clause as it stood would oblige litigation in the case of every Roman Catholic charity. To some little extent he shared those apprehensions, but he must say he thought the hon. and learned Baronet had been placed in this difficulty by misunderstanding the spirit and feeling of the Government and of the majority of the House, who were ready to do everything to meet fairly the wishes of the Roman Catholics. The misunderstanding which had occurred I was, however, no reason for doing injustice to the great mass of the Roman Catholic people, and he thought it worth while to retrace their steps, and, in order to avoid that injustice, to adopt a clause proposed by the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, which he believed would have been accepted by the hon. and learned Member for Dundalk, and acceded to by the Attorney General. In his opinion the time was come when they might safely give up the law of superstitious uses, which pressed hardly on Roman Catholics, and leave gentlemen of that persuasion to dispose of their property for charitable purposes as they pleased, subject, of course, to the law of mortmain and other limits to which Protestants were subject. It was said that this was a question between the Roman Catholic laity and the hierarchy; but he maintained that there would be sufficient independence among the Catholic laity to resent and resist any encroachment on their liberty by the hierarchy without the necessity of a Protestant House of Commons interfering between them. With these feelings and views he moved that the order for the third reading be discharged.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the said Order be discharged."


I believe the recognized and orthodox number of courses usually presented to the House of Commons is three; but, with regard to this clause, looking back to what has taken place in Committee, I think some six or seven have been proposed; and the hon. and learned Gentleman presents us with two more courses, because he has given notice of one Amendment, and has spoken of another and quite a different one.


explained that he did not intend to move his proviso, but to move the clause of the hon. Member for Hertfordshire.


I quite understand the hon. and learned Gentleman. He has given notice of one Amendment, and he wishes to propose another. I point this out to show the great variety of alternatives which are presented to us. The hon. and learned Gentleman's Amendment on the paper, is to omit part of the clause, and to add a proviso. Now, in his speech he has said nothing about that Amendment, and has referred exclusively to a clause of which my hon. Friend, the Member for Hertfordshire, gave notice on a previous occasion. I confess I do not think that any advantage will be derived from a proceeding of a very unusual character—that of recommitting this Bill, and attempting to reverse a decision to which we came by a large majority, no longer ago than late last night. I regret extremely that the hon. and learned Baronet, the Member for Dundalk, should think that this is a measure aimed against Roman Catholic charities. After having heard, both in this House and in private conversation, an immense number of arguments upon this Bill; and after having examined it with all the care of which I am competent, I confess I do not believe that his apprehensions are well founded. My belief is, that the clause which stands in the Bill simply reduces into a written form the existing law and practice of the Court of Chancery, and that it will not be found to produce the effects which the hon. and learned Baronet anticipates. If it should produce those effects, I am sure this House will be willing in a future Session to listen to any suggestions which are derived from practical experience. It certainly is not their wish to confiscate the property of Roman Catholic charities, or to interfere in any undue manner with them. The House will remember that this Bill is intended to put an end to a provisional state of things. Every one admits that the annual suspension of the law cannot be continued. This Bill places Roman Catholic charities under a permanent state of legislation. That legislation is exceptional in its nature. As far as it goes, it relieves Roman Catholic charities from many of the provisions of the existing law. It is, therefore, an entire mistake to represent this as a penal Act against Roman Catholic charities. It is a very intricate subject, and I am bound to say it has been discussed in this House by hon. Gentlemen whose minds seemed in a state of incandescence. I must say that Gentlemen who represent extreme Protestant opinions, appear to me as remote from the influence of reason, as Gentlemen who represent extreme Catholic opinions; and those whose unhappy fate it has been to attempt to mediate between these two extremes, have found themselves, as my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General will bear witness, in no very enviable position. I think that if this Bill is allowed to pass, it will place Roman Catholic charities in an intelligible and perfectly secure condition; and if the persons concerned find that any slight inconvenience is created, I am satisfied the House of Commons will always be ready to give these complaints fair and patient attention.


said, it gave him great pleasure as a Catholic Gentleman to thank the Attorney General for the great time and labour which he had devoted to the subject.


said, he felt that a few words were due from him upon the subject. He spoke yesterday with what some hon. Members called "excitement." He certainly was excited very much by the importance of the subject, and the responsibility which he felt weighed upon him. He decidedly understood the arrangement between the Attorney General and himself as he had stated it last night. He would not go into that question, but if in the heat of argument he said anything in any manner to wound the feelings of the Attorney General or any person whatsoever, he regretted it. He was sure the House would be ready to acknowledge that whatever he did say, he said with a good motive—desiring to serve to the be3t of his ability the interests of those who had placed their interests in his hands. If he exhibited warmth upon the subject it was because he felt warmly, and because he felt he could not discharge the duty he had to perform without throwing his whole soul into it, and using all the energy which he could command.


I am sure many of those who would have felt, under other circumstances, that expressions of the hon. and learned Baronet were such as to cause offence, must have been convinced, from the invariable courtesy which he displays, and the extreme good nature with which he usually treats every subject, that they were exceptional and arose from excitement, which was not unnatural under the circumstances which he has explained, I am quite sure the Attorney General and other Members of the Government will feel that nothing unkind was intended. I think the House will do best to maintain the decision to which they came by a large majority yesterday. It appears from legal opinions expressed on this and the other side of the House, that this Bill actually protects the interests of these Catholic charities—that it prevents their being made the subject of particular restrictions, and at the same time secures the application of the funds to the objects which the donors intended.


said, that nothing which had passed would at all diminish the friendship between himself and the hon. and learned Member for Dun-dalk.


remarked that the House would do much better if the Protestant portion of it interfered less with matters which exclusively concerned the Roman Catholics.


said, he would withdraw his Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill read 3o, and passed.