HC Deb 12 June 1874 vol 219 cc1498-526

, in moving as an Amendment, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words— it is expedient that Her Majesty's Ministers should introduce a Bill appointing Commissioners to inquire as to Monastic and Conventual Institutions in Great Britain, said: Mr. Speaker, I am fully sensible of the difficulty of inducing the House of Commons to adopt any precautionary measure. You, Sir, and I were Members of this House prior to the year 1851. You may perhaps recollect that in 1852 I read to this House, with reference to our defensive armaments, the almost despairing letter of the late Duke of Wellington to the late General Sir John Burgoyne, and you will also recollect, that it was not until the late Lord Palmerston left the then Govern- ment of Lord John Russell, because they would not accept the repeated warnings, which had reached this country from abroad, that anything effectual was done towards remedying the notorious deficiencies of the defensive armaments of this country; and even after this House had been persuaded of the necessity for measures in that direction, when the Crimean War broke out our armaments were found to be in a most lamentably deficient state in many respects, and we had to commence that war with very inadequate means. If this were the case with regard to measures of that kind, even after we had been repeatedly warned from abroad as to our actual condition of insecurity, I have felt that I had no right to expect that there would be any great readiness on the part of this House to adopt precautionary measures respecting the institutions to which my Resolution refers. It is true that in former years the House has repeatedly resolved that inquiry as to these institutions is necessary. I voted in repeated majorities in favour of inspection in 1853. I also voted in repeated majorities of 1854. In 1865, 1867, 1868, and 1869 I moved that the questions which had arisen relating to the property possessed by these institutions, or by the individuals who are connected with them, as well as with respect to the personal freedom of their inmates, should be considered, until, in the year. 1870, the House resolved that there should be an inquiry, by a Committee of this House, into those subjects; but after the House had come to this Resolution, it was induced, by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich, the then Prime Minister, so to pare down and limit the Instruction to the Committee, and thus to limit the scope of the inquiry, that the Roman Catholic solicitors, who appeared as witnesses before the Committee, were enabled practically to defeat the intention of the House; and although they stated that the number of convents they represented amounted to 215, and although one of these legal gentlemen said that he represented a considerable proportion of the Monastic Institutions, they disputed the accuracy of the list of those institutions in The Roman Catholic Directory which was published "Permissu Superiorum." These witnesses said that, instead of their being 69 Monastic Institutions in Great Britain, as stated in The Roman Catholic Directory, there were only 30. Whenever the Committee questioned those witnesses as to where any of these institutions might be situated, or as to the number of the inmates, or as to the property, with which it was endowed, immediately the witnesses pleaded "privilege." The Committee failed to obtain any specific information on these subjects from these witnesses, and then very unwisely rejected evidence produced by comparing the rate-book with The Roman Catholic Directory. The Committee had, therefore, no adequate means of testing the rough estimates which had been laid before them by the Roman Catholic witnesses, and I am sorry to say they rejected evidence, tendered them from other sources, some of which had been received by the Court of Probate and the Court of Chancery with reference to the tenure of property held by these institutions. Under these circumstances, the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Marylebone (Sir Thomas Chambers) and I felt that we could no longer serve upon that Committee. We therefore retired, and declined to take any part in its proceedings, when it was afterwards in 1871 re-appointed for the purpose of completing its labours. That Committee, in the last paragraph of their Report, avow, that their inquiries were incomplete. They avowed that they had not procured sufficient information to enable them to recommend any change in the laws relating to property that should regulate the possessions of those institutions; the Committee virtually abandoned the task which had been confided to them. Now, Sir, I do not think that either this House or the country ought to be satisfied with an incomplete investigation of this important subject; and the less so when they look abroad and see that not merely Protestant Prussia, so far as she is Protestant while including Silesia, but united Germany, including Bavaria, and other States having large Roman Catholic populations, have deemed it necessary to take the most active and decided steps for the regulation of Monastic and Conventual Institutions within their territories; in this respect following the example which Italy has set, in order to effect her complete emancipation from Papal control. Although I wish well to the Italians, and cannot help rejoicing at the liberation of the Roman people, yet I do feel that the world has lost much of useful warning from the emancipation of Italy and Rome from Papal government. Mankind have no longer before their eyes that great example of misgovernment. And with regard to the allegation which is sometimes made that these institutions are useful in an educational point of view, let any man turn to the Italian statistics on that subject; he will find that, taking Italy locality by locality, and village by village, up to the period when her Government suppressed these Monastic and Conventual Institutions—wherever these institutions existed to the greatest extent in modern times, there ignorance and vice have most prevailed among the people. But just now another phase of this question has presented itself. Austria has found it necessary to legislate on this subject, and the last act of the Austrian Parliament respecting it, of which I have received information, is, that casting aside altogether the principles of government which were embodied in the Concordat of 1855—principles, which reserved those institutions to the sole control of the Pope, acting within what he terms his ordinary jurisdiction—the Legislature of Roman Catholic Austria has adopted the very measures which have been frequently recommended in this House, and has appointed officers with authority to inspect and report periodically upon the condition of the Monastic and Conventual Institutions within the limits of the Empire. Again, Switzerland has found it necessary to expel the Jesuits. Prussia also has found it necessary to expel the Jesuits. But here, in this country, we find them congregated, in open defiance of our laws, and, as I will show the House, treating those laws with manifest disrespect. The Roman Catholic hierarchy have recently met at St. Edmund's College, near Ware, in what they describe as a Synod. Two reporters of the public Press were invited to attend the assembly and were housed at St. Edmund's College, when for the first time since the Reformation the Papal standard was publicly unfurled in this country, and was displayed from the roof of the College. The heads of those Monastic Institutions are no longer content to remain in discreet privacy, but demand, that their presence in Synods, which they call legislative assemblies, shall be published in defiance of the existing laws. I take this account from The Morning Post of Thursday, the 24th of July, 1873— The following is a list of the principal clergy present yesterday, and who will for the most part remain until the conclusion of the Synod—Archbishop Manning, Bishops Brown (Newport), Ullathorne (Birmingham), Brown (Shrewsbury), Roskell (Nottingham), Vaughan (Plymouth), Clifford (Clifton), Amherst (Northampton), Cornthwaite (Beverley), Chadwick (Hexham), Danell (Southwark), Vaughan (Sal-ford), O'Reilly (Liverpool), the Most Rev. Roger Bede Vaughan (Archbishop Coadjutor of Sydney), and Archbishop Howard (Vicar Capitular of St. Peter's, Rome). And here follow some remarkable names and titles:— Abbot Burchall, Titular Abbot of "Westminster and President of the English Benedictines, who have a special rule of their own; Father King, Provincial of the Dominicans; Father Gallwey, Provincial of the Jesuits; Father O'Loughlin, Provincial of the Passionists; Father Rinolfi, Provincial of the Institute of Charity; Father Coffin, Provincial of the Redemptorists. Now, Sir, under the provisions of the Catholic Belief Act Her Majesty's Government, to whom I now appeal, have the power, through their Officer, the Attorney General, of demanding that every member of the Monastic, or Regular Orders of the Church of Rome, who is resident in this country shall be registered. The law forbids the admission of members to those Orders, and contemplates the suppression of them in this country. But for a lengthened period no Government has even granted a Return of the names and number of such persons, resident in Great Britain, and I believe there is no register whatever in existence. There is a provision in this law—that if any Jesuit or member of any other Regular Order desire to visit this country, he must obtain leave from the Secretary of State; but we well know that members of Regular Orders of the Church of Rome are coming into this country in numbers, and that none of them condescend to ask the leave of the Secretary of State. Such is the state of the law, and such is the lax manner, in which it is administered. And what is the consequence? In the course of the first debate of the present Session, the debate upon the Address to the Crown, the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Sullivan) proclaimed that these laws are obsolete, and de- manded that they should be repealed, and two Sessions ago the hon. and learned Baronet the Member for Clare (Sir Colman O'Loghlen) introduced a Bill to repeal those clauses of the Belief Act of 1829. If the law is inoperative, as has been asserted, in reference to these institutions, then the law ought to be reconsidered with a view to ascertain, whether it should be repealed or enforced. But upon the evidence of the Roman Catholic lawyers, who appeared before the Select Committee of 1870, I deny that the clauses referred to are obsolete in the sense of being altogether inoperative; for they were unanimous in declaring, that the effect of these clauses is to restrict the acquisition of property in this country by the Monastic Orders. There is a demand that the law should be abrogated; and this is one of the grounds upon which I ask this House to urge upon Her Majesty's Government the expediency of bringing in a Bill for the appointment of Commissioners to inquire as to Monastic and Conventual Institutions in Great Britain. It is perfectly manifest, from what took place before the Select Committee of 1870, that no Committee of the House of Commons can obtain for this House the information it requires as to the localities in which these institutions exist, as to the property of which they are possessed, as to the discipline by which they are governed, as to their relations to each other, or as to the rules relating to the admission of members to these societies. If one thing more than another could show the persistent determination of some hon. Members of this House that the House shall continue to regard these Monastic Institutions as exempt from the jurisdiction of the law, in the sense in which the monasteries were exempt prior to the Reformation in this country, I think it was manifested pretty plainly two days since, when, after Her Majesty's Government had consented to obtain and lay before the House information with respect to the laws relating to these institutions in foreign countries, the hon. and learned Baronet the Member for Wexford, (Sir George Bowyer), took the opportunity of the attendance being thin, to count out the House, and thus to interrupt the business of the House on the last Tuesday that remained to the unofficial Members of the House for the transaction of their business; and that disrespectful course was adopted lest this House should receive from the Government information, which I am convinced the majority of hon. Members desire, and which the Government had intimated their willingness to provide. It appears to me that if the hon. and learned Baronet, and those who support him, had their own way, this country would be placed in the position from which Germany has delivered herself; from which Italy has delivered herself; and from which Austria has lately delivered herself with respect to these institutions. Is it, I ask, to be urged, as was pleaded before the Committee of 1870, that if the ordinary law were applied, the illegality of these institutions would become apparent, and their property be thereby confiscated? Sir, these institutions have increased, and are increasing year by year until they number now no fewer than 86 Monastic Institutions and 268 Conventual Institutions, together more than 350, and in addition to these there are 20 Roman Catholic Colleges, conducted, I believe, by members of the Regular Orders. I ask the House, whether it is seemly, whether it is becoming, whether it is safe, that the law of this country should longer remain without the means of adequate supervision and control over those portions of our territory, which are claimed as exempt from the jurisdiction of the State as exercised over every other portion of it? There was a time, Sir, when public-houses were not subject to special supervision in this country. There was a time when factories were not regulated. And there was a time when no limit was applied to the number of persons in lodging-houses; but now the women, young persons, and children who are employed in factory labour, and workmen in other employments, are all cared for by law; and we have adopted stringent regulations with respect to the hours of opening and closing, and the conduct of public-houses. I ask this House, then, if all this does not render it more and more anomalous that these institutions, on the pretence that they are private institutions, should be growing up by hundreds, whilst England stands alone among the principal nations of Europe in permitting the patrons and inmates of those institutions to defy her laws, and to be free from all supervision on the part of the State, while they refuse to submit to those provisions of the law which even Roman Catholics in Prussia, in Switzerland, in Italy, and in Austria, have concurred in granting to their respective Governments. But, Sir, a principle has recently been enunciated, by high authority in the Church of Rome, which has an application to this subject, and which, I think, ought to be emphatically repudiated. Sir, Dr. Manning has declared that His Holiness the Pope is the sole judge of the extent of his jurisdiction in every State, as against the authority of the State and its laws; and this is a proposition which the Pope himself has enunciated, and enunciated particularly with respect to Prance. M. Emile Ollivier, prior to becoming Prime Minister of France, published, as appended to an address to his constituents, a letter addressed in 1865 by His Holiness the Pope to the late Archbishop of Paris, Monsignor Darboy, in which His Holiness condemned Monsignor Darboy, as Archbishop of Paris and a Senator of Prance, because, acting upon the laws of Prance and in accordance with the terms of the Concordat between His Holiness and France, as Archbishop he had visited the establishments of the Jesuits and the Franciscans in Paris. This is an authoritative document, and I have a copy of it here at the service of any hon. Member who would like to see it. In that letter His Holiness the Pope declares that this exemption is the peculiar privilege of the Jesuits, and that it has been extended to the Franciscans and other of the Regular Orders of the Church of Rome, to be exempt from episcopal superintendence and supervision; that they come within the ordinary jurisdiction of His Holiness, and are distinctly, themselves and their property, an appanage of the Holy See in whatever country their institutions may be situate. I state this upon the authority of the document, which was produced by a late Prime Minister of France as having emanated directly from the Holy See; and these pretensions account for the action of foreign Governments in relation to those institutions. The relations between the Government of Russia and the Holy See teach the same lesson. In 1865 the Russian Government expressed their readiness to agree to a Concordat, especially in re- ference to Poland, conceived in the same terms as the Concordat with the Government of France. But the authorities of the Holy See after long evasion at length refused, and no wonder, for at that very time His Holiness the Pope was condemning the Archbishop of Paris, who desired to comply with the terms of the Concordat between Franco and the Holy See, and was acting through his agents in an opposite sense in Poland. It was not likely that he would consent to a Concordat with Russia similar to that with France, which he was seeking to violate. I ask, then, when such extreme pretensions are put forward, whether it is not high time that we should have information at our command with reference to those institutions, which are growing up in this country, and, whose representatives are, as I have shown the House, ostentatiously defying existing laws? Is it not time for Parliament and the Government of the country to inquire, whether some of the regulations with respect to Monastic and Conventual Institutions enforced by foreign States should be adopted here—regulations adopted not only in Prussia and Switzerland, but which have been found necessary in Roman Catholic States for the superintendence and supervision by the civil authorities of these institutions? Let me remind the House that the clauses of the Catholic Emancipation Act, which have thus been disregarded and set at defiance, were not meant to be a dead letter by the originators of that Act. With the permission of the House, I will quote the words of the Duke of Wellington, one of the authors of the Roman Catholic Relief Act—of the statute which confers the privilege of sitting in this House upon hon. Members opposite who belong to the Roman Catholic persuasion. The Duke of Wellington said when introducing the Bill of 1829, with reference to those clauses which relate to the Regular Monastic Orders in the Emancipation ActAnother part of the Bill has for its object to put an end to the order of Jesuits and other monastic orders in this country. In saying this he was alluding, no doubt, to Clongowes, in Ireland, and an establishment in Galway. There were at that time no such institutions in England or Scotland, excepting the College of Stonyhurst. He went on to say— The measure, which I now propose for your Lordships' adoption, will prevent the increase of such establishments, and without oppression to any individual, and without injury to any body of men, will gradually put an end to those which have already been formed. There is no man more convinced than I am of the absolute necessity for carrying into execution that part of the present measure which has for its object the extinction of monastic orders in this country. I entertain no doubt whatever, that if that part of this measure be not carried into execution your Lordships will very soon see this country and Ireland inundated by the Jesuits, and the regular monastic clergy sent out from other parts of Europe with the means of establishing themselves within His Majesty's kingdom. This did not occur quite so soon as the Duke of "Wellington anticipated; but it has occurred now, and it is for that reason that I affirm that these establishments are created and maintained in direct opposition to, and in defiance of, the laws of this country. I say again, if these laws are obsolete, let there be an inquiry as to what ought to be substituted for them. If those laws are not enforced, let us inquire what is the reason that they are not enforced. And if those laws are defective or inadequate, let us inquire by what means they may be corrected or supplemented. It has been said that it would be disrespectful to the ladies in convents to institute an inquiry; but, Sir, I do not propose the regular and periodical inspection of those establishments. What I propose is simply this—that Parliament and the Government should be informed as to the numbers, the character, the discipline, and the relations of those institutions to each other. Now, I wish to bring no false accusations against convents; but I must be permitted to remind the House of a transaction which came within my own knowledge, in times gone by. In the year 1851 two hon. Members of this House brought forward the case of Miss Talbot, the late Lady Edward Howard. [Sir GEORGE BOWYER: Oh!] I think the hon. and learned Baronet the Member for Wexford was a Member of the House at the time, and if he refers to Hansard's Parliamentary Debates, he will find his own speech and what I said on the occasion, and further what occurred in this House. The late Mr. Craven Berkeley, a friend of mine, was the stepfather of this lady, and he came to me and told me that his stepdaughter, Miss Talbot, was likely to be placed in a position in which she would not have a fair option as to taking the conventual vows. The late Mr. Henry Drummond was then a Member of this House, and as he was an older Member than I, I referred Mr. Berkeley to him, and we brought the case before the House. Our object was to compel the Lord Chancellor to sit on a Saturday, because we had no other means of reaching the convent in which Miss Talbot was detained, so as to prevent the vow being administered on the Monday—Miss Talbot was a ward in Chancery—and we succeeded.


I rise to Order. The hon. Member is going into transactions which he is misrepresenting. And as I took part in the matter to which he is referring I must correct him. [Cries of "Order!"]


The hon. Member for North Warwickshire is not out of Order. The matter to which he is referring is relevant to the Motion, and the hon. and learned Baronet the Member for Wexford will have an opportunity of contradicting him afterwards if he thinks the hon. Member is misrepresenting the facts.


I rose merely to correct the hon. Gentleman.


The hon. and learned Baronet the Member for Wexford is a Knight of the Order of St. Gregory, wears the Collar of the Order of Constantine, and is altogether very proud of his Papal distinctions, and he presumes to interfere with a discussion in this House, as if the House has no right to debate or to review occurrences which have taken place within its own walls. But the House of Commons did not so judge in 1851. The Lord Chancellor did not so judge in 1851, for he sat on the Saturday, and on the Monday messengers went down and brought that lady back to her nearest male relative, my late friend, Mr. Craven Berkeley. [Sir GEORGE BOWYER: No!] I am surprised that the hon. and learned Baronet should contradict me on this matter—[Sir GEORGE BOWYER: I do]—for I was staying in the house with Mr. Craven Berkeley when the lady arrived. I never saw such a display of zeal as this, which would deny to me the evidence of my own senses. I speak of what I know. I speak of what I saw. I speak of transactions between a personal friend and myself; and yet the hon. and learned Baronet the Member for Wexford, distinguished as he is by all these Papal orders, pretends, through some power of vision surpassing human faculties, to know better than I what passed between me and the stepfather of this lady. I had the honour of being made known to her afterwards, and was glad to see her happily married, and that she lived some years to be an ornament to the society, in which she moved. That occurrence produced a deep impression on my mind. I know, also, that a nun escaped from a convent in my own neighbourhood, and that, in consequence of what appeared as to the severities in that convent, the community which inhabited that convent had to abandon it. Another lady left the convent at Colwich, and was brought back. Under the direction of Mr. Justice Wight-man, inquiries under circumstances of great difficulty were made as to whether it would be possible to obtain sufficient evidence upon which to found the issue of a writ of Habeas Corpus. I know that friends of mine were obliged to employ detectives for weeks, almost months, because sufficient evidence as to the lady's real name and her being within that convent could not be obtained. The Lord Chief Justice of England has asserted that a writ from the Court of Queen's Bench could open the doors of any convent. Granted; but I know this, that Mr. Justice Wightman was kept waiting six weeks before he could obtain evidence upon which he might order the issue of the writ, and after all it was discovered that this lady had been removed from the convent at Colwich to another convent in the interval. She appeared to have been at the Colwich Convent when the application was made to the Court before sufficient evidence was forthcoming, but messengers had to be sent to another convent. I ask, then, how is the liberty of inmates of convents secured, when, though a Judge has such evidence and information as induces him to desire that inquiry should be prosecuted, skilful detectives, supported by able lawyers, are six weeks in obtaining the evidence on which the issue of the writ depends? I say, Sir, that the existence of such cases constitutes a reason for inquiring whether we ought not to adopt the system of supervision which is now in operation in Austria and Germany, so that when some inmate of a convent is reasonably believed to be detained therein against her will, some authority should be enabled to reach that person within a less period than six weeks. What may not happen within the six weeks? And why are the Parliament and Government of England to be the only European exceptions to acknowledging a necessity that has been acknowledged by every Continental country? I hold in my hand the regulations contained in the Prussian Code with respect to convents. I should be sorry to detain the House by reading extracts from them; but I may briefly state, that in Prussia the law lays down exact conditions with regard to the age at which a person, whether male or female, shall be permitted to take monastic or conventual vows. The law also requires the consent of the guardians in the case of minors. It further requires, that the sum given to the convent or monastery on admission shall not exceed a certain amount. It also requires that the vow shall not be binding for more than five years; the State shall then inquire again whether the inmate is contented with his or her position; and, moreover, it provides, that during that period no such inmate, whether monk or nun, shall be held capable of acquiring property, except in such proportion as was originally agreed upon before the taking of the vow, lest those institutions should, as they have done in Italy but recently, absorb too large a portion of the property of the country. Again, these regulations comprise certain rules to be observed by the family of the inmate. I can furnish copies or extracts of these laws to any hon. Member who would like to see them. And I ask, that if we are to sanction the rapid increase of these Conventual Establishments in this country, is it not due to the people of England, who have petitioned this House by thousands for years past, that this House should agree to the appointment of a Commission, whose duty it will be not to drag these ladies from their seclusion, but to visit the localities of convents, not to force the conscience of anyone, but to inquire and procure information as to the character of those institutions, and as to the regulations under which the inmates are living in them? During the long course of years that this question has been agitated it has come to my knowledge that a con- vent may be a happy home one month, and within another month—aye, less than a month, for it has happened in a convent in my own county—the whole system may be changed, and that happy home turned into a prison, in which severities may be practised, that I will not trust myself to characterize. I shall not detain the House much longer. I represent hundreds of thousands of my fellow-countrymen. I express the deliberate opinion of hundreds of thousands of my fellow-countrymen in favour of the inquiry I suggest. I have never uttered a word that was disrespectful to any nun or lady in these convents. ["Oh, oh!"] Hon. Members may cry "Oh" if they please; I repeat that I have never done so, though if it were necessary to use strong expressions in the attempt to describe repulsive circumstances in such eases, I would not hesitate to use them. I appeal to the English House of Commons, an assembly of English Gentlemen, no longer to neglect these institutions. I ask the House to be warned by the example of Roman Catholic States; not to be so proud as to imagine that in England we shall always be free from the dangers which have induced the people of Germany to establish regulations for the government of those institutions; because these Monastic Institutions form the basis of the political action of the leading Order of the Papal system, and the Jesuits have justified the opinion, which was expressed in this House by Lord Palmerston in the case of Switzerland—he being at the time Secretary for Foreign Affairs—that unless they were duly controlled, the existence of that Order in any country, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant, is not calculated to promote the peace, the happiness, and welfare of its people. I beg now to move the Resolution of which I have given Notice.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "it is expedient that Her Majesty's Ministers should introduce a Bill appointing Commissioners to inquire as to Monastic and Conventual Institutions in Great Britain,"—(Mr. Newdegate,)

—instead thereof.

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


rose to oppose the motion, because, from what he knew of the lives of the inmates of convents, it was quite unnecessary that they should be subjected to any inquiry. He was convinced that the right hon. Gentleman, the First Lord of the Treasury was too clear-headed to be led into such an ambush as that now laid for him—an ambush so fatal to the liberty of the subject and the peace of the Empire. Where would be the boast that an Englishman's house was his castle, if such a law as the hon. Member proposed was passed? If any of the ladies in those institutions were detained there a day beyond their wishes, or were ill-treated, the Roman Catholic Members of that House would be the first to call the attention of the Government to the case. Those convents were occupied by ladies who had given up the joys, pleasures, fortunes, and vanities of this life to devote their time and talents to the service of their God, and they were never known to have committed any breach of the laws. Those institutions were places to which Roman Catholic gentlemen sent their daughters to be educated, in order that they might receive a pure moral training. Why were they to be selected for persecution and insult? There was no Irishman in the country worthy of the name who would not spring to his feet to defend the honour of those pure and holy women if a Bill like that contemplated by the hon. Member were introduced. If the Motion of the hon. Member was carried, they might have an inspection of convents, which would include the underclothing of the nuns—["Oh, oh!"]—and the ascertaining of the fact whether any of them were of the colour which seemed to inflame bulls, turkey-cocks, and Protestants alike—["Oh, oh!"] No measure could cause a greater disruption of society than that would do, and while there were many unjust things which Irishmen might submit to, they never would submit to the wanton insult involved in such a Bill.


said, he had put on the Paper the following Amendment— That this House, while it raises no claim to interfere with the religious observances of Roman Catholics, is nevertheless of opinion that the rapid increase of Monastic and Conventual Establishments in this Country demands a careful inquiry, on the part of Her Majesty's Government, whether any additional securities, such as have been imposed in Foreign Countries, oven under Roman Catholic Governments, are needed here to insure the full personal liberty of the inmates, and to secure to them absolute freedom in the disposition of their property. He knew that he could not take the sense of the House on his Amendment, which he had placed on the Paper, not in opposition to the Motion of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire, but in order to prevent such a misunderstanding as existed in the mind of the hon. Member who had just sat down, and to point out what were the real dangers to be guarded against and the precautions which might be necessary in connection with that subject. It was especially desirable that a question like that should be brought forward and clearly understood in a new Parliament, many hon. Members of which had not had an opportunity of hearing it discussed before, and therefore, perhaps, entertained the vague ideas about it which were common outside of that House. He was sure the House would never pass any judgment, and certainly no condemnation, on those who, in obedience to the highest motives, gave up the dearest ties of home and kindred in order to devote themselves to the service of religion. He was willing to allow that these institutions had in the Middle Ages conferred great benefits on the country, especially in regard to literature and learning; but the very rapid increase in their numbers during the last few years ought not to pass unnoticed by that House. In 1829 there were only 16 conventual institutions in this country; in 1851 there were 53, and now the number had increased to 268. In 1829 the number of monastic institutions was nil, while at present there were 86. Seeing that increase, the House had a right to inquire whether there was anything in the peculiar conditions of those institutions which rendered peculiar safeguards necessary for the liberty and property of their inmates. According to Romish authorities, it was morally impossible for a professed nun who had taken the vows to come forth again from seclusion. ["No, no!"] With moral considerations they had nothing to do; but it was the duty of the House to inquire whether it was physically possible for them to come forward, and whether they were prevented by the bolts and bars of their convents from coming out. From the nature of the building in which they resided, it usually appeared to have been designed not only to protect them from intrusion, but to keep the inmates from getting out. When they considered the age at which the vows were frequently taken, it would seem probable that there were many spirits who rebelled against the discipline, and who were met by imperious wills backed by absolute power, and the House must feel that there was some danger lest undue coercion might exist in these institutions. It was alleged that these were voluntary inmates, and ladies of title had said they were free to come and go. The hon. Member for Limerick County (Mr. O'Sullivan) had said that many Members of that House had female relations in these institutions, and that if they had anything to complain of, they would apply to them. But all the inmates of these institutions had not friends in that House, and although in the majority of cases there might be no danger, yet in the minority there might be a great and absolute danger, and he thought their cases ought not to be overlooked. Cases illustrating the circumstances connected with the entrance to these institutions had been presented to the public, and it would be some satisfaction therefore if they had more information about their management, and knew whether the state of things had been changed for the better or not. He did not wish to harrow the House with details; but the House would recollect the miserable condition in which Barbara Ulrich, the Nun of Cracow, was discovered. The House would remember the case of "Saurin v. Star" before the Courts of this country. Father Saurin stated that the horrors of which his niece was the victim surpassed the wildest imagination. If such things were possible, the House had a right to ask whether they ought not to be prevented, if it lay in the power of Parliament to prevent them. With regard to property, the amount held by these institutions was very large; but matters had not yet returned to the length to which they had attained in the time of Henry VIII, when half the land of the country was held by monastic institutions. Still, cases had been brought before the Law Courts which proved that undue influence where the disposition of property was concerned was brought to bear against the inmates of convents. In the case of. "White v. Mead," which was tried before Chief Justice Penne-father, in the Irish Court of Exchequer, an inmate had been induced by the solicitor of the convent to convey her property for the benefit of the institution, pending which she had been refused the liberty of seeing her own relations. The Judge held that the property must be reconveyed, on the ground that undue influence had been used. In the case of Miss Macarthy, she stated that she had been obliged to sign a deed which assigned her property, but that it was like the act of a dead person. The Times called it a revolting case, and Mr. Napier told the House in 1853, that when he went back to Ireland he found that the Roman Catholic Members of the Irish Bar were against inspection, but that they thought there ought to be some provision with regard to the disposition of property. That doubt had been at various times felt by Roman Catholic Members, and these cases had left a strong impression upon the country, and an undefined feeling that all was not yet known, and that worse might remain behind. The right method of dealing with these questions had not yet been discovered, and therefore he thought the House might fairly consider any suggestions on the subject which should be made from any quarter whatever, for the present chronic agitation must be unpleasant to all parties, and members of these institutions could not feel very comfortable when they must be in doubt as to the legality of their position. On the other side, the House was bound to consider the disabilities under which the members of these religious bodies might labour. It had also a right to consider what was done in foreign countries, and especially in Roman Catholic States, as had been shown by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire, where restrictions and regulations were not considered an insult or reflection upon the managers of these institutions. Such regulations were enacted because the State thought that these persons required protection, and because the State could not recognize a power superior to itself within its own limits. Without asking the Government to embark in any Bismarckian crusade, the House might reasonably expect them to take measures for the security and liberty of these persons. Their security might be improved by a compulsory registration of all the inmates of these institutions. In one case before our Courts, a doubt existed as to whether a particular person was an inmate in one of these institutions. If a compulsory registration had existed, and she had been found to be there, a writ of Habeas Corpus might have been moved for, and then the whole question might have been tried. As to property, the law was extremely jealous of the exercise of undue influence, and he thought it therefore not unfair to ask that the ladies in question should be placed in the position of wards of Chancery, as was the case with minors. The Motion of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire for inquiry by the Government, appeared to be obnoxious to hon. Gentlemen opposite, who seemed to suppose that the peace of the nuns might be disturbed and that they might be dragged from their seclusion if it were carried. His own opinion was, too, that there was enough known on the subject already, and that public inquiry was, therefore, unnecessary. The law would not allow a man to part with his own rights, and did not even give him liberty over his life, and it should, therefore, in his opinion, extend its protection over those who happened to have entered convents. Parliament had extended the protection of the law to Irish tenants, and he had never heard that they had deemed themselves to be insulted by the passing of the Irish Land Act, while only the day before, the House had given its sanction to a measure for the protection of women and children. Now, if, as the Home Secretary had then stated, a woman ought to be protected against her sympathies for her family, he thought she ought also to be protected in the case of those religious sympathies which left her no longer mistress of herself. He felt, however, that it would be too much to ask the Government to bring in a Bill on the subject in the present Session. What he hoped they would consent to do was, to issue instructions to our Ministers abroad, as had been done with reference to the Game and the Land Laws, to make inquiries as to the regulations under which convents were placed in other countries. If hon. Gentlemen opposite objected to that course, it would show, he thought, that they were afraid of inquiry. He hoped, at all events, that the Government, who were strong enough to take the course which they deemed to be right in the O'Keeffe case, would not refuse to give him the assurance for which he asked. If not, he should deem it to be his duty to vote for the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire.


said, he was anxious that on his side of the House there should be no debate on the subject, because he considered that both the Motion of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) and the Amendment which followed, were addressed to Her Majesty's Government, and for himself, he felt confident the Government would deal with the question in a fair and honourable manner. But matters had been brought forward in which he took a personal part, and therefore it was impossible for him to remain silent. He should have thought that good taste and good feeling would have prevented any hon. Member of that House, or any Gentleman, from bringing forward private matters as to a noble lady now in her grave; but the hon. Member for North Warwickshire had done so, and therefore he (Sir George Bowyer) would not shrink from stating what the facts were. That lady was not a nun, but was a young lady in a boarding school attached to a convent, and there was no intention on her part, or on the part of anyone else, that she should become a nun, and he had the authority of the rev. Dr. Doyle, who was her guardian, and whom everyone who knew him respected, for saying that he had not the slightest wish that she should remain in a convent, and that his desire was to see her happily married and the happy mother of children. The hon. Member for North Warwickshire went on to say that the lady in question had been denied access to her relative, Mr. Craven Berkeley; but she had, at the time, informed him (Sir George Bowyer) most distinctly, and authorized him at the time to state to the House, that if she had wished to see Mr. Berkeley, there was nothing to prevent her doing so, but that she had declined to see him because he was a person she disliked, and who had no particular claim upon her. He had married her mother, who was dead, and she did not consider he was any relation of hers. She soon after left the convent, was placed under the care of the Countess of Newburgh, went into London society, and was married to Lord Howard of Glossop. The hon. Gentleman also referred to the case of a nun who had escaped from a convent; but the facts of that case were, as he had been informed by Dr. Ullathorne, Bishop of Birmingham, that the lady in question wished to go to a more severe convent, to which the Bishop thought her health was not suited. The result was that she escaped for the purpose of entering the convent which she preferred, being at perfect liberty to go out into the world. As to Barbara Ulrich, it was well known that she was a lunatic, and that the superiors of the convent had been completely acquitted, by a Court of Justice, of the charges which had been made against them in her case. There was undue influence out of convents, and he did not say there was not undue influence in convents, but all such cases might be dealt with by a Court of Law. The hon. Member had based his case on the law and policy of foreign countries, and seemed to think that they ought to be applied to England; but that he (Sir George Bowyer) denied. England and America were the only countries where the true principles of civil and religious liberty were properly understood. From Germany, in that respect, they had nothing to learn for its Government was founded on a military despotism. In that country four Bishops—and of those, three were Princes of the Empire—had had all their property seized, and been sent to prison for the committal of what no one but a lunatic could call offences. These arbitrary acts the hon. Member wished to see introduced here; just as in Italy, under a Government based upon revolution, property had been confiscated without law and without compensation, in a manner which could not be imitated in this country, and those who owned it left to starve. Even if the hon. Member obtained the laws he asked for they would be utterly useless, as he would find they were alien to the spirit of our constitution which it had been the honour and glory of this country always to maintain. Again, in countries where Government inspection was practised, the law exercised some control over those institutions, because it recognized their existence; but in this country the law did not in any way recognize those religious houses, and with regard to convents in this country he could speak with some authority, as he himself had been the founder of two, and he said that they were nothing more than private houses, and open in the same way to the authority of the law. Boarding-schools were generally attached to those convents, and they were open to the visits of relatives and friends of the inmates, and he ventured to assert that the private life in convents was better known than the private life in any private houses in the country, that there was no secresy in those institutions, and that if anyone wished to visit them he might do so freely. He therefore submitted that the hon. Member for North "Warwickshire had made out no case that would warrant the interference of Parliament.


It is quite clear, Sir, that a discussion on this question must always be one which excites a good deal of feeling, and it is not unnatural that it should do so, because there are a great many hon. Members in this House whose every sympathy is aroused by such a discussion. I hope I shall not, in what I am about to say, wound the feelings of any hon. Member, and I shall endeavour to avoid anything that may tend to lead to religious strife. Now, no one in this House has a greater respect for the motives which actuate the hon. Member for North Warwickshire than I have. I know how sincere he is in anything he undertakes, and he has pursued a thoroughly consistent and honourable course throughout his whole career. But it has not been a successful career, and it is rather hard upon the Government, when he has withdrawn his own Bill, because he found that it did not command sufficient sympathy in the House, that he should bring forward a Motion calling upon us to take up the very same Bill. [MR. NEWDEGATE said, that he hoped the Government would produce a better measure.] I am quite sure that my hon. Friend does not think that a better Bill than his own can be introduced. My hon. Friend has also another Motion on the Paper for tonight respecting the production of the copy and translations of any laws, ordinances, or regulations relating to these institutions in certain foreign countries, and he says that he will be perfectly satisfied if the Government will give an assurance that Papers of this description shall be produced. My hon. Friend the Under Secretary for the Home Department has already stated that there will be no objection to their production. But let me say one word with respect to these foreign laws. I want to know what my hon. Friend really wishes us to do. Does he want us to adopt these laws when they apply to these institutions, because these foreign Governments undertake many duties which the English Government has long ceased to undertake? They undertake not only to regulate the Established Church of the country, but to regulate the affairs of every other Church besides. And that does not make the whole difference, because when they regulate they recognize; and if you undertake the regulation, it seems impossible not to undertake recognition. In the Act of 1829 there were specific provisions inserted in the Emancipation Act, the enforcing of which were thrown upon the Attorney General, or practically upon the Government of the country; but neither the Duke of Wellington nor Sir Robert Peel attempted to put these restrictions in force, although they were twice in office after the passing of the Roman Catholic Emancipation Act; and it cannot be said that at that time Monastic and Conventual Institutions had not been begun to be founded in England. The authors of the Roman Catholic Emancipation Act allowed these laws to remain upon the Statute Book with the view that, if there were any interference on the part of these institutions with the liberty of the State, that then these exceptional laws should be put into force; but that before they were so put into force, a strong case must first be made out, which I do not think the hon. Member has succeeded in doing on the present occasion. I am equally as sensible as the hon. Member of the evils that may arise from these institutions, but I am still more sensible than he is of the danger of unnecessarily interfering with them. In a country so divided in religious feeling as this, we must exercise the greatest tolerance towards each other, and when we have to deal with a question of this kind, which touches the deepest feelings not only of hon. Members of this House, but of vast numbers of our people, we ought not to take any step calculated to violate their consciences or to wound their feelings, unless there is some very great State necessity for doing so. I could not help observing that in all the cases referred to by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire there was an interference by the regular process of law. Thus, in the case of the lady to which he referred the Lord Chancellor interfered.


explained that in that case the lady was a ward in Chancery, and the Lord Chancellor had only sat to decide what allowance should be made to her.


At all events, the Lord Chancellor did sit to look into her case. In the case of "Saurin v. Star" and in the other cases mentioned, the ordinary civil law was put into force, and was found sufficient for the purpose. I do not say that the ordinary law is sufficient in every instance, but that when you are going to take an exceptional course you must have some strong, valid, and permanent foundation upon which to base yourself. I do not think that the hon. Member has succeeded in laying this in the present instance. With regard to what was said by the hon. Baronet the Member for East Devonshire (Sir John Kennaway) as to personal liberty, there are points as to which we ought to take care. How is it that we are able to interfere with people who are outside this institution? Again and again, persons are taken away or shut up, and it is only by such evidence as we could obtain in the case of convents, that we are able to put the Habeas Corpus Act in force. It is said that tyranny is exercised in convents; but again and again we have read of cases where wretched persons who are insane have been chained up for years, through ignorance and stupidity rather than from malice and wickedness of their relations: but in time the law has discovered the fact, and the Habeas Corpus Act having been put into force, the relations of these persons have been called upon to answer for their conduct. I know it is more difficult to obtain information of what passes in a convent than of what passes under the eyes of observant neighbours, but I do not see myself, what objection there can be on the part of those interested in these institutions to furnish lists of those who are inmates of them. I do not believe, indeed, that there would be any objection on their part to give such information, which I presume is given each Census. I do not see why ladies in convents should decline to do that which they are called upon sometimes to do in private houses, and disclose their names and ages. It is my belief that in all such cases as those referred to by the hon. Member the ordinary law is operative and is sufficient. We stand in this position—many hon. Members have strong feelings, more or less well-founded, on this subject, and it would be rather a strong measure of the House of Commons to thrust upon the Government the duty of bringing in a measure which no private Member has ever yet succeeded in persuading the House to adopt. Therefore, as the hon. Member's resolution is in the form of an Amendment upon the Motion for going into Committee of Supply, we may meet it by what is practically the Previous Question, and I trust, therefore, that the House, refraining from putting this pressure upon us, will vote that we shall go into Committee of Supply.


said, that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War was not quite accurate in stating that no one had yet persuaded the House of Commons to pass Bills of the nature of that proposed by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire, because some 20 years ago the House had passed them by considerable majorities. The right hon. Gentleman said that the ordinary law was sufficient to deal with cases such as those which had been referred to in the course of the debate; but in the same breath, he had admitted that there would be greater difficulty in obtaining information respecting what occurred in Convents and Monastic Institutions than there would be in obtaining information respecting what occurred in private houses. Parliament had found it necessary, in the cases of persons employed underground, of factory children, of women, and of lunatics who were unable to protect themselves, to pass special laws for their protection, and he did not see why the inmates of these institutions should not be equally protected by legislation. The right hon. Gentleman had said these institutions must not be interfered with, because they were not recognized by the law—that was to say, that these institutions must not be touched in any way, because they were illegal. The time, howevers, would come when the numbers of those institutions and of their inmates would become so large, and the property held by them so great, that Parliament would be compelled to interfere, and perhaps the feelings of the people towards them then would not be so gentle as they were at present.


said, that the hon. Member for Wexford (Sir George Bowyer) had stated that the statements of Barbara Ulrich were those of an insane person; but he begged to point out that the fact that she had been confined in a dark cell for 21 years, and was found by the authorities naked, dirty, and lying upon a rotten bed, was proved, not by her statement, but by judicial investigations.


said, that if he were a Roman Catholic he should vote for the Motion, because he believed that a great deal of mischief was done to members of that religion by an uneasy suspicion—not founded in justice—with respect to what went on in convents and monasteries. He should vote for it also for another reason—namely, that monasteries and, as a lawyer, he believed convents also, could not be inspected under an Act of Parliament without being so far recognized by the Legislature as to become legal institutions. When, however, he was asked to vote for a Motion which called upon the Government to bring in a Bill on the subject, he was compelled to ask himself what were the feelings of the Roman Catholics whose institutions and property were affected. He found that they were all opposed to such a proceeding, and he therefore could not support the Motion, unless it could be shown, as it had not been, that there was something in those institutions which was dangerous to the State or injurious to morality. The hon. Member for North Warwickshire had not made out such a proposition, and it was impossible for things to go on in monasteries such as he suggested without immediate redress being found. He should vote on neither side, if the Motion were pressed to a division.


, as a Roman Catholic Member, declared that he would have no objection to the introduction of a measure for procuring a registration of the names of all persons in convents. He denied that the Roman Catholic community had that decided antipathy to inquiry which was suspected by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire, but they were anxious that some necessity should be shown to exist for this exceptional legislation. He represented no Catholic bigotry. A few weeks ago he was engaged in a contest in which three Roman Catholic Bishops and 150 priests were leagued against him, and he received the support of a large number of his Protestant fellow countrymen. He was only representing their views when he protested against the introduction of a measure which was calculated to stir up religious strife in the country and to bring about those horrible dissensions between creeds and classes which had stained some of the brightest pages of Irish history.


expressed his great regret at the manner in which the Government had treated this subject. He was surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War state that no sufficient case had been made out for inquiry; but he (Mr. Greene) maintained that the people of England felt very strongly upon this subject, and he ventured to say that at the next General Election they would make their voices heard with no uncertain sound. The action of the Government led him to suppose that they were bidding for the support of Irish Members opposite, which they would find but a broken reed to trust to. He wanted to see straight Protestant Conservative principles upheld by the Government and the House, and for that purpose he had been sent there, and rather than not carry out those principles, he would retire to the quiet of his own home.


said, he was strongly opposed to any inquiry into these conventual establishments, and for one great reason—namely, that they were inhabited by persons who were the most loyal people in this country. He thought it would be shameful in the House to send a Royal Commissioner to inquire into these establishments. Let the House suppose that a Royal Commissioner was appointed to visit them. He was furnished with a Royal Commission, and he thundered at the door of a convent. He was admitted, and he asked the lady who admited him, who she might have been and what was her quality before she entered that convent. She replied—"I will tell you. My sire, sir, was a King; my mother was the daughter of the sixth James of Scotland, and afterwards first James of England; her mother, sir, was Queen Regent of Scotland and Queen Consort of France, and next entitled to the throne of England; she was murdered by a Protestant Queen." [Laughter.] Could any hon. Member deny it? The Queen that was murdered was a Catholic, and the Queen that murdered her was a Protestant. But the poor nun went on to say—"Sir, I had a brother; his name was Rupert, sir; he rode by the side of Charles I. until a Protestant—not a Catholic—but a Protestant Roundhead of England murdered that monarch." [Renewed laughter.] Let hon. Members deny it if they could. "Sir, I had a sister; her name was Sophia; she was mother to the King of England, sir. Proceed, sir, with your duties as a Royal Commissioner. My name is Elizabeth. I am the abbess—the poor abbess of Ardwick." It was easy enough to go on the stage, but difficult to leave it with dignity. With what dignity could that Royal Commissioner depart from that room in the eyes of the injured Princess, and a loyal Princess, no doubt? He could not leave it, except in one of two characters—either as a miserable slave, or as a gentleman. If in the former character, he was not fit to be a Royal Commissioner; if in the latter, the Royal Commission was not fit for him. What was there for him to do? Nothing but to rush from the presence of that poor insulted Princess, and cover his wretched head with sackcloth and ashes—put himself on his knees in front of the only god he recognized,—namely, the immortal gods, and to pray that they would give him pardon:— Dii, quibus imperium est animarum, Umbræque siientes, Et Chaos, et Phlegethon, loca nocte silentia late Sit mihi fas audita loqui. He would add, "Da mihi veniam," and it was to be hoped he would get pardon, for he would stand in need of it.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 237; Noes 94: Majority 143.

Main Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."

Back to