§ LORD ABINGER
said, that in moving for the Return of which he had given notice, he must in the first place disclaim any disrespect towards the members of the Roman Catholic persuasion, who had been educated in the faith of their forefathers. He must, however, be permitted to say that he thought the Bill which stood on the paper for Second Reading to-morrow (the Roman Catholic Charities Bill) was likely to raise questions similar to those which had recently caused so much agitation in Belgium. There would, he thought, be little difficulty in, furnishing the returns for which he was about to move, while he believed that their production would be of the utmost importance in order to enable the Government to legislate upon the subject of Roman Catholic charities with advantage. He was strongly the advocate of inquiry previous to legislation being entered upon, and he felt assured that the Government would act wisely in postponing the Bill he had referred to until such inquiry had taken place, and until they should be in a position 123 to introduce a measure of a general nature, regulating the acquisition of property held in trust for the use of Roman Catholic and Protestant charities alike. It was most desirable, in his opinion, that the acquisition of such property should be fenced round with those precautions and safeguards which would prevent it from being turned to the advantage of insidious and designing persons, and he must contend that if the Bill to which he had adverted were passed the title to the description of property in question would be confirmed, no matter how contrary the form of its tenure to the provisions of the Statutes of Mortmain. It was a mistake to suppose that the interests of Roman Catholics generally were involved in the matter. The fact was that it was the Roman Catholic priests and the immediate agents of the Pope whom the Bill would benefit, and in support of that view of the case he might state that the evidence which had been given by the most intelligent and respectable witnesses who had been examined before the late Mortmain Committee went to show that what was most desirable for the benefit of the Roman Catholic laity was the application of the principles of the law of mortmain to personal property. It became, therefore, expedient to consider whether the uses to which any particular property was devoted were in themselves lawful, and how far it was in accordance with a sound policy to sanction its application to the use of monasteries, for instance, which were illegal institutions. To establish the principle that Roman Catholics might accumulate property for charitable purposes to any extent would be to take the best means of promoting the spread of the Roman Catholic religion in this country, and would be to walk in the path which had been trodden by Austria, by Italy, and by Spain, with what results he need not recall to the attention of the House. Their Lordships might depend upon it that if they were to bring about anything like equality between the power of the Roman Catholics, founded upon the possession of property, and that of the Established Church, they would be preparing the way for the outbreak of civil dissension; and it was therefore that he felt called upon to urge upon the House the necessity of proceeding in the matter with the utmost caution. The noble Lord concluded by moving that there be laid before this House—Return of Property in Lands, Mortgages, 124 Houses, and Government Securities held in Trust or otherwise affected to the Use of Roman Catholic Charities in Great Britain, describing the Locality and Extent of such Landed Property and the Amount and Nature of the Securities, the Names of the Trustees, and the particular Uses to which such Property is applicable.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
said, that the noble Lord was premature in making the present Motion. At present the Charity Commissioners had no jurisdiction over Roman Catholic charities, and therefore it would be impossible to procure the return moved for by the noble Lord. The Roman Catholic Charities Bill would be brought under the consideration of their Lordships to-morrow, and if that Bill passed into law, the returns moved for by the noble Lord might be procured in future; but at present it was impossible to procure them.
§ Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.