Mr. Speaker, I trust, from the feeling which appeared to prevail in the House yesterday, when, in answer to the Question of the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Candlish), I explained that it was my intention to persevere upon this subject, that the House will acquit me of any presumption in venturing to submit the Notice which stands in my name. I would for one moment, before doing so, advert to some circumstances connected with this Motion. At the end of the month of February, the hon. and learned Baronet the Member for Clare (Sir Colman O'Loghlen) obtained the leave of the House to introduce a Bill, which proposes to exceed the recommendations of 1687 the Select Committee on Conventual and Monastic Institutions, appointed in 1870, with respect to some of these institutions for the Committee reported in 1871 upon the subject of property, as connected with these institutions, inasmuch as that Bill proposed to repeal the sections of the Catholic Relief Act of 1829, which apply to the Monastic Orders of the Church of Rome. On the 5th of March I gave Notice that I would ask the House to appoint a Commission by Statute to inquire into the increase, character, property, discipline, and connection with each other of these institutions, and also whether it might not be expedient that this House should adopt some means for facilitating the emigration of women. Before I sit down I shall endeavour to explain to the House the connection between these subjects. At present I advert to them only to show the House that one of the largest, perhaps the most important part of the subject which I suggest for inquiry by the Commission I desire should be appointed by Statute has already been proposed to be dealt with absolutely by the hon. Member for Clare, supported by three other hon. Members, all of whom are Members for Irish constituencies, yet who propose to deal off-hand with the questions affecting monastic institutions in Great Britain; in short, throughout the United Kingdom. I will not trench upon the Rules of the House by discussing the merits of that Bill, the Religious Disabilities Abolition Bill. I only advert to it for this reason—I was present when the hon. and learned Member for Clare moved that this House do resolve itself into Committee for the purpose of enabling him to introduce that Bill; he did not vouchsafe to the House one word of explanation with regard to its contents; yet the House at once acquiesced, and allowed him to bring in the Bill. On the 5th of March, as I have stated, I gave Notice of the Motion which I now propose. And what, Sir, was the conduct of the hon. and learned Member for Clare and of other hon. Members who agree with him in religion and in politics? I received an intimation, Sir, that leave to introduce the Bill now proposed by myself would be opposed. I applied, Sir, to one of the highest authorities, perhaps the highest authority in this House, to ascertain whether that course—that most unusual course—would be 1688 sanctioned by Her Majesty's Government, and I was given to understand that, under certain circumstances, it would have their support. I was, therefore, compelled to place this Notice upon the ordinary list, and I have ballotted some five or six times before I obtained an opportunity of bringing it fairly under the consideration of the House. Let the House consider this. Is there anything in my proposal which deserves to be treated as an outrage? Is there anything in it of the nature of sacrilege? Do I propose sacrilege or fraud? Do I propose to paralyze, or to forestall the discretion of the House in dealing with this subject? Sir, I propose nothing of the kind. I propose merely that the House should consider whether it is not due to the circumstances of the case that a Commission should be appointed by law; the whole powers to be intrusted to which will be decided in the course of the discussions on the Bill; while the powers of the Commission are only to be for inquiry as to whether the number, the circumstances, the character, and the connection of these 300 institutions with one another, and the property they are acquiring, are not such as to render necessary some revision of the law of mortmain as it exists in this country, and some such regulations with respect to the inmates of convents as have been found necessary in every country upon the Continent where convents have not been suppressed. I ask this House to commit no outrage. I know that this is a Protestant Parliament, and I ask this Protestant Parliament, inasmuch as there is in this country a considerable and an increasing Roman Catholic population, and a most unprecedentedly rapid increase of these monastic institutions, to inquire, by Statutory Commission, whether the time has not arrived when it is due to the Roman Catholic portion of the community itself, as well as to the Protestant community; whether it is not due to the inmates of these convents, that the same kind of precautions should be taken to guard against families being deprived of their inheritance by priestly influences, as have been found necessary abroad? because, wherever these institutions have grown up in large numbers, whether in Italy for example, or elsewhere, there it has been found that the system of prayers for the dead has enabled the priesthood so to work upon 1689 the feelings of the relatives of deceased Roman Catholics as induce them to deprive families of inheritances, their possession of which is essential to the welfare of the community and the State. This is one ground, and perhaps the strongest ground, upon which the Roman Catholic nation of Italy have found it necessary to suppress these monastic and conventual institutions, and in this they follow the example of our English ancestors in Roman Catholic times; because, as I have before reminded the House, as a Master of Arts, educated at Christ Church, Oxford, I cannot forget the origin of the foundation of that noble College. It originated in this—that such were the number, such were the abuses, and, I am obliged to add, such the immoralities practised in the small monastic houses in this country, that Cardinal Wolsey applied to the Pope of his day for power to suppress them. The Pope issued a Bull for the purpose; and Cardinal Wolsey, using this Bull with the sanction of his Sovereign, suppressed those houses, and applied the property which was placed at the disposal of the Crown, to the foundation of the College of Christ Church, Oxford. I live, Sir, in a house in Warwickshire, which was one of the Priories suppressed under that same Bull. Then let not Roman Catholic Members turn upon me as though it were only because I am a Protestant that I ask them to join me in adopting a measure much milder than those which have proved necessary among their coreligionists abroad. Yet, Sir, such is the feeling among the Ultramontane Roman Catholics of this country, stimulated I believe by the hierarchy, that hon. Members have come to me and told me that if I venture to make this proposal to the House they would adopt a practice, which was rarely exercised 20 years ago, and which has since then scarcely ever, if ever, been resorted to, in consequence of the feeling of courtesy and respect entertained by the great body of the House towards its Members. I was unwilling to believe that they would adopt the discourteous proceeding of refusing to grant me permission to introduce this Bill. But I found that such really was their intention, and that they had used their influence with the Government to obtain their support for an unwonted departure from what has become almost if not quite the unvaried practice of 1690 the House. I have more recently received private information from those hon. Members that, perhaps, they might allow me to introduce the Bill; but on what condition was I to be allowed to do it? Why, that I should abstain from saying one word in explanation of the measure which I suggest for the acceptance of the House. Sir, in the exclusiveness of their spirit, those hon. Members would have had me act in a manner that would have been most direspectful to the body of the House; but by what I am now saying it will be perceived that I decline to adopt a course which I think would be wanting in respect to the great body of the Members of this House. I think the House has a right to expect that when I, or any independent Member, propose the adoption of a measure like this, such explanations as I may imagine the House will deem necessary, and I am capable of giving, should be offered, and I now beg to express my hope that the House will protect me against a treatment which is unwonted, and which the subject-matter of my proposal does not deserve. I would call the attention of the House to another circumstance. I have presented a large number of Petitions in favour of my Motion, yet of late, I am sorry to say, the Protestant societies have been so peculiarly slack that I feared they would almost all collapse. During the winter I went down to Glasgow, by invitation of a large number of its citizens; and there I met 4,000 persons in the City Hall, not only citizens of Glasgow, but eminent persons, men of great intelligence, from various districts of Scotland, and they unanimously desired that I should ask this House to consider this subject. I was afterwards invited to Sheffield to attend a meeting in the Cutlers' Hall—unfortunately, I was unavoidably prevented doing so. I was detained by my engagements here in London; but in my absence that meeting was equally unanimous with the grand meeting at Glasgow in requesting that this House would take this subject into its consideration. I speak upon this question, not in my own name, nor only as the Representative of the great constituency who have done me the honour of returning me to this House for so many years: I speak on behalf of thousands; aye, I might multiply the thousands by tens, throughout this country, 1691 who feel uneasy at the rapid increase of these institutions, and, let me say, uneasy also at the temper which they are generating among the Roman Catholic portion of the population. On behalf of thousands and tens of thousands of the inhabitants of Great Britain, I ask the House to consider whether some Commission ought not, by statute, to be appointed to investigate such portions of the subject I suggest as to the wisdom of this House may seem meet—the Commission to be furnished with such powers as shall first have the sanction of this House, and afterwards obtain the approval of the other House of Parliament. Once again, I ask, is my proposal one that deserves to be treated as though I desired to outrage any body of my fellow-subjects? All I ask is this—that you will not defeat the benevolent feelings I represent, and which it would be both unkind and imprudent on the part of the Roman Catholic Members of the House to resist. I will now advert for a few moments to what the House has already done on the subject. In the year 1870 the House once positively and twice virtually affirmed that there ought to be an inquiry by a Committee into the number, increase, and character of those monastic and conventual institutions, of which, according to the evidence of the Roman Catholic solicitors who appeared before the Committee of 1870, one as the representative of 215 in England and Scotland—I believe the total number to be about 233; but I am not sure that there are not more—at any rate, we have it on the evidence of the solicitor chosen to represent these 215 convents, that there are that number of convents already existing in England and Scotland. I believe, Sir, that the monastic houses number somewhere about 60; but I know this—that the Committee failed to hear some of them, because they are described as colleges and not as monasteries. The evidence of another Roman Catholic solicitor, Mr. Cuddon, is this—that there are 30 monasteries, and perhaps, he added, there are 121 what he called "parochial residences" held by the regular orders of the Church of Rome—that is, by the monastic orders of the Church of Rome. There was this great peculiarity in the evidence of these gentlemen—that they would give us the gross numbers of the institutions which they represented, they 1692 would say there are about 215 convents; there are 30 monasteries existing in Great Britain; but when the Committee asked, "where are these institutions?" they answered, "we are instructed to refuse that information." Then they stated that there is so much property belonging to these 215 convents in the aggregate, these 30 monasteries, and these 121 parochial residences, or belonging to inmates thereof; so much property real, and so much property personal, belonging to these groups of institutions; but when the Committee asked them, "Where is this property?" they immediately replied, "It is beyond our instructions to give you that information." Now, I ask the House whether that can be considered a satisfactory solution of the allegation which I make, that there is not only a great increase of these establishments, but that the property devoted to them is increasing rapidly also? The Committee asked those gentlemen—"Will you give us the names of those institutions?" but this, too, they refused—"No, it is beyond our instructions to give you the names." The majority of the Committee considered that these solicitors, who were the principal witnesses called by the Roman Catholic Members of the Committee, acted within their privilege in thus refusing to inform the House; and I am sorry to say that, although the Committee permitted me to produce some very conclusive evidence with respect to the institutions in Glasgow, and also some evidence with respect to the Oratory at Brompton, when I attempted, as a Member of the Committee, to supply the deficiency in the evidence as given by those Roman Catholic solicitors, who pleaded their instructions not to inform the Committee, the Committee turned round upon me, and, on divisions, rejected the evidence I offered to adduce. I sought, by the aid of the rate-book and the Roman Catholic Directory, to trace some of these 215 convents and their localities. I endeavoured to ascertain what property they held; but the moment I began the investigation, as it related to London beyond the Oratory, the Committee stopped the inquiry. Can the House, Sir, be satisfied with this lack of information—this lack of information as to details? For remember this—I asked the Rev. Mr. Johnson, a Roman Catholic priest, who is the 1693 editor of the Roman Catholic Directory, "Can we rely upon the accuracy of this catalogue, which you have edited for several years? this list of institutions?" and he declared that the document which he so edited was not to be trusted on this point. Will the House, then, be satisfied, after having decided that it would have positive information as to the property held by and for those institutions, with the bare gross totals furnished by these solicitors who were instructed to give no information respecting the details? So much with reference to the property. But in 1870 this House had sanctioned a far wider inquiry. Three times over the House decided that there should be an inquiry into the increase and character of these institutions; but the First Lord of the Treasury subsequently persuaded the House to forego that portion of the inquiry, and to be satisfied with an inquiry into the property held by and for those institutions, and into the state of the law affecting them in respect of property. Thereupon the House rescinded its previous Resolution, and complied with the recommendation of the right hon. Gentleman. But I think I have shown the House—and that every hon. Member who reads the Report of the Committee will see—how imperfect is the information tendered to this House by that Committee upon the subject directly committed its investigations. Imperfect I say, and for this reason—that the Committee refused to test by the acquisition of local information and details the statements of the Roman Catholic solicitors who were sent to that Committee as the representatives as they declared of 215 convents and 30 odd monasteries. The country, Sir, does not feel satisfied. The request of the country—and on this point I would refer the House to the Petitions presented in 1870—was, that there should be an inquiry into the character and into the discipline by which those institutions are regulated. Was this an unreasonable demand? In France—and I admit that under the Empire the law was not carried out as it should have been—but in France the law is this. There are what they term legally-constituted conventual institutions. Now, what constitutes a regularly or legally-organized institution or convent in France? It is an institution in which the nun shall never be 1694 bound by her vow to remain for more than five years. It is an institution the inspection of which is committed to the Maire of the Arrondissment; and that provision of the French law is operative, so far as these authorized institutions. Moreover, I am prepared to bring before any competent tribunal an instance of an English girl who was rescued from a convent in France by the intervention of the Maire. That is not a solitary case; I can produce several. Now if, in France, for the rescue of this English girl the authority of the Maire was necessary, are we to suppose that there are no cases in this country in which there ought to be a similar power of intervention by some constituted civil authority? I ask the House, do they expect the people of this country to believe that there is something so peculiar in the convents which happen to be situated in England, although they are avowedly organized on foreign models, and in many instances are, as I know to be the case, governed by foreign superiors, that the power of intervention on the part of the civil authorities which is found to be necessary and is operative in France can be unnecessary here? Why, in Italy there was the same power; but there in former years the temporal government of the Pope, outside the limits of his own recognized Dominions, had so completely enveloped the civil power, that the visitation of these institutions had failed. Let any hon. Member read the narrative of the Princess Carraciolo on this point, and he will find that the civil power was paralyzed in the kingdom of Naples, and indeed throughout the whole Peninsula. What has been the consequence? Serious troubles, active intervention on the part of the regular orders in revolutionary movements, and much misery and distress for years has resulted in the suppression of nearly all these institutions. Do I now propose that the House should take steps to suppress these institutions? No. I am prepared for the present, at all events, to abide by the provisions of the Act of 1829 which permitted the existence of convents in this country; but then I say this—they have increased so rapidly, and they have extended so widely, that we must draw instruction from Continental legislation and provide the same safeguards for the interests of families and for the personal freedom of the inmates 1695 of those convents which have been found to be necessary throughout the civilized world, wherever those institutions are now permitted to exist. Is a proposal like that unreasonable? Will any Roman Catholic Member rise in his place and contend that it is unreasonable? Will he condemn the late Government and the present Government of France? Will he condemn the Government of Spain? Will he condemn the Government of Italy? Will he condemn the Government of Bavaria? Will he condemn the Government of Austria? Will he condemn the Government of Prussia, and the Government of Germany? If he does, then, I ask, where is his condemnation to stop? I do not ask him to sanction the system of Russia. I know that the hierarchy of the Papal Church are at variance on that point with the civil power everywhere; but is this a reason why this House should yield? When I formerly addressed the House on the question I did not know the exact practice of Germany, of Prussia, on this point; but a case has come within my knowledge which illustrates the practice, and I will state it to the House. A German workman—and I have his statement here—came to this country in the exercise of a skilled trade. He had been married. He was a Roman Catholic and had married a Protestant in Germany. The family were to be educated under these conditions—the boys were to be of the same religion as the father, Roman Catholic, and the girls of the same religion as the mother, Protestant. The mother died, leaving one girl, who, at the time I am speaking of, was about 15 years of age. The father was summoned to the military service of his country. At the commencement of the Franco-Prussian War he rejoined the corps d'armée to which he belonged. Some time afterwards the daughter received letters, informing her that her father had been wounded, and had subsequently died of his wounds. Her father had left her under the care of a Roman Catholic tradesman, a native of his own country, resident here in London. She was making a very good livelihood; but when she found herself an orphan here in England, it may easily be conceived that the poor girl was grievously distressed. This tradesman, who was her employer, was compassionate to her, and although he knew she was a Pro- 1696 testant, yet, from not knowing, perhaps, a Protestant clergyman, he brought a Roman Catholic priest to visit the poor girl in her distress. Now, do I blame the priest? No; I blame the system. The priest behaved kindly to her, and very naturally suggested that, as she was alone and an orphan, she should go into a convent at Liverpool. However, the German tradesman, with whom she was, intended to return to Germany, and eventually she went with him. When they arrived in Germany this friendly tradesman persuaded the girl nominally to change her religion and allow herself to be consigned to a convent in Germany. Now, it happened that the father had not died. The report of his death was false. He returned to England to find no trace of the child he had left behind him, and but little trace of the tradesman who had been her employer and protector. The father was deeply distressed; but, actuated by characteristic German perseverance, after much painful labour he tracked the person to whom he had confided his child to the docks in London, and on board a ship, bound for his native Germany. The father was poor; but he quitted his means of livelihood. His means were small; but he went back to Germany, and picked up fresh traces of the German whom he had left in charge of his child, and who he now learnt was dead. He traced his child among the relations of him whom he had virtually appointed to be her guardian, and travelled hundreds of miles on foot until he had traced her to a convent. He was poor and way-worn when he got there. He demanded admittance, and asked if his child was there. The Superioress—I do not blame her—doubted, or seemed to doubt, the man's story, and refused to give him any account as to whether such a girl as his daughter was in the convent. But the father, so keen was the paternal instinct, and so persevering was his German spirit, knew that the girl was there, and said—"Madam, my child is here. I will not leave this place except by force, or unless you send for the police." Well, they sent for the police; and as in Germany the magistrates have a record of the real name of every inmate of a convent, the moment the matter was brought before the magistrate the difficulty was solved. The father produced his passport, and letters from the relations of 1697 the person to whom he had committed his child, her former employer, who was dead. The magistrate referred to the list of the inmates of that convent, and, at his instance, the lady superior immediately restored the child to her father. Now, if that girl had been sent down to the convent at Liverpool, as the English priest recommended—and she might probably have been transferred from that to any other—the father could never have made an effectual demand for his child, because he would not have had a magisterial document to which he could refer to prove her entrance into the convent. Now, that is where the law of this country fails. I know of instances—and can produce instances—where parents have had presumptive evidence that their daughters had entered convents; but upon their applying for them they have been met with the answer—"There is no such person here," and some of them have lost their children for ever. That cannot happen in Germany, because there a magisterial list of every entrance into a convent is kept. I ask the House, then, to agree to the appointment of a Commission, which shall consider whether the German law in that respect is not wiser than our own. Is there anything so sacrilegious, anything so uncharitable, or anything so unworthy in that proposal that hon. Members should seek to refuse me leave to introduce a Bill, which will be manipulated by the House, the powers under which will be limited as the House may think best? I am unwilling further to detain the House; but I am sure the House will feel that I am bound to explain my reasons for this Motion. I will now come to the last object which I have in view. It is this—if Parliament thinks fit to concur in the appointment of a Commission, I would not limit the investigations of the Commissioners to the propriety of repealing the clauses of the Act of 1829, upon which, let the House remember, as was positively proved before the Select Committee of 1870, depends the only valid restriction against the unlimited acquisition of property in perpetuity, contrary to the principles of the law of mortmain, by monastic institutions in Scotland, and to a great extent in England. For that is the evidence, as the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone (Sir Thomas Chambers), who was also a Member of that Com- 1698 mittee, will bear me out in asserting. In this matter of property, such have been the decisions of the Courts of Law, such the imperfection of the system of enrolment of deeds, that matters have come to this, and it is an absurd conclusion—as decided in the case of "Cocks v. Manners," that a cloistered convent—a convent, that is, of an Order which is called contemplative in the Roman Catholic vocabulary—that a cloistered convent, through a system of secret trusts, can acquire not only personalty, but impure personalty, such as charges upon land, to almost any extent. But a convent, such as the authorized convents of France—a convent, the inmates of which are engaged in teaching and in works of charity—is debarred from acquiring property under the same unlimited conditions as apply to the cloistered convent. Therefore, the state and practice of the law in this country at present is, that a convent, if it is cloistered, something like a prison, can defeat the law of mortmain; but against such a convent as the law of France approves, the limitation by the laws of this country is still valid. Can anything be more absurd? But I was about to say why I desire that the proposed Commission should inquire into the subject of the increasing disparity between the sexes of this country. There are in England and Scotland, according to the last Census, between 700,000 and 800,000 more women than men; whilst in the colonies the disproportion between the sexes is reversed. Not to detain the House needlessly, I will mention but two instances. In South Australia the excess of the male population over the female is 5,200; and in North-east Australia and Queensland there are 24,000 more men than women. So that literally, in the colonies, the tendency is towards an excess of the male population; whereas there is an increasing excess of the female population in the mother country. There is a most excellent person, known I believe to some Members of the House—a Miss Eye, a lady who has devoted herself to a work of charity in a manner that every Christian, and every man possessed of the feelings of a man, must applaud. She has been engaged in the work of collecting together girls who are without parents, orphan or deserted, and has spent years of her life in travelling from England to the colonies to 1699 find homes for these poor orphan girls. The undertaking may have seemed to be somewhat Quixotic; but Miss Eye has made it a work of practical charity. Already she has found homes in the colonies for 600 orphans through her own exertions. Would it not, then, be a work of benevolence on the part of the House—would it not be worthy the character of the House, if it were to appoint a Commission to inquire whether, by some legislative or administrative arrangements, the Governors of the colonies and some of the public Departments at home might not co-operate to perpetuate the work of mercy and of charity which Miss Rye is carrying on? Now what, it will be asked, is the connection existing between this subject and the supervision which I would have exercised over convents in this country? Sir, there have been but one or two cases in which a judicial tribunal has been able effectually to reach a person who was unwillingly detained in a convent; one of those is in the Colwich case. I have a long correspondence here in reference to that case, in which the Roman Catholic authorities tried to shake the evidence that was adduced respecting it, and to impugn the authority of the late Mr. Justice Wightman, and my veracity in stating what had been done. That case, when I brought it before the House in 1865, touched the feelings of the House. It was the case of a Miss Selby, who, having escaped from the convent at Colwich, had been recaptured and brought back. After a most protracted and difficult investigation by expert detective officers, and by other persons under the authority of Mr. Justice Wightman, sufficient proof was collected to enable him not to put the Habeas Corpus Act in operation, but merely that, as a Judge, he should think it possible to do so. It was proved by the admission of the lady superior of the convent at Colwich that Miss Selby had been removed to a convent at Wimborne in Dorsetshire. Mr. Justice Wightman was informed of that; and he said, that it was necessary to the ends of justice, and to action under the Habeas Corpus Act, that the persons engaged in the case should go down to Wimborne and demand to see Miss Selby; and if, when they saw Miss Selby, she stated that she was detained in the convent against her will, that then, and then only, he, as a Judge, had 1700 power under the Act to issue an order for her being released from the convent. That shows how lame our law is, for persons may easily be concealed in convents, and the law cannot be enforced except upon sworn evidence that they have been found in a convent, to which there is no admittance for those who would procure evidence. Well, Miss Selby was discovered; and here I have the statement which was returned to Mr. Justice Wightman by the persons he employed and authorized to go down and see Miss Selby. They informed her that if she wished to leave the convent the Judge would issue an order for her release. This was her reply—"No, I cannot leave now." Again she repeated—"No, I cannot, I must not leave now. I embraced the convent life and took the veil at the early age of 18, with the earnest desire of devoting my best years to God, and serving him in a way I then considered most for his glory, and I cannot now turn my back upon Him." I saw that her resolution was taken, and that it was vain to attempt to shake it. It appeared likewise to be a relief to her, as if she had now time to arrange her thoughts, and she quietly said—"What could I do if I left? All my relations and friends are Roman Catholics, and they would turn their back upon me, and what do I know of life?" Now, those words show the coercive power which the relations of this lady, acting under the directions of their religious teachers, under the stern authority of the Canon law, according to the doctrines of Liguori, exercised. For, if this poor woman had quitted the convent, she declared that her relations would have left her helpless, perhaps cast upon the streets. It is from this point of view, then, that I connect this subject of the emigration of women with the proposal to inquire whether the same means for ascertaining the state of these convents should not be adopted in England and Scotland as are provided in every other civilized country, excepting perhaps the United States of America. In the United States they are as far behind in legislation upon this subject as we are; but there is a rough kind of justice there of considerable power. It does not wait for tedious legal proceedings. If a sufficient number of the American people suspect that anyone is confined in a monastery or convent 1701 against his or her will, they make short work of it, and by means of a Vigilance Committee speedily open the doors which had been closed against them, and set the prisoner free. There is evidence of that having been done in the United States; but I do not cite it as a precedent to be acted upon in England. This I do say, however—that it would be merciful, that it would be charitable, that it would be acting in the spirit of the laws of the Roman Catholic States to which I have referred, if the Commissioners whom I propose should be appointed were to inquire whether, supposing an unwilling nun were discovered in a convent, she might not be provided with the means of emigrating to one of our colonies; seeing that it is deemed to be a religious duty by some Roman Catholic families not to receive back one of their members, if once she shall have taken the vows and the veil. Would it not be merciful and just that if it be discovered that some inmates of convents desire to leave the conventual life, means for their emigration to the colonies should be provided? I merely ask to be allowed to introduce the frame of a Bill which the House will have before them on the second reading; and then, in Committee, if it should appear that there is anything rash, improper, or extravagant in its provisions, the wisdom of the House will no doubt correct it. I trust the House will not treat the earnest and righteous Petitions of many thousands of our fellow-countrymen with such contempt as to refuse their request because it is preferred by the hon. Member whom these persons have chosen to represent them, so far as to obtain permission to introduce and lay upon the Table of the House a measure embodying the proposals I have explained to the House. I beg to move for leave to bring in a Bill for the appointment of a Commission to inquire into the increase and character of monastic and conventual institutions in Great Britain; into the conditions under which property or income is held by or for such institutions; and whether in contravention of the principle of the laws against superstitious uses and against the tenure of property in mortmain; and, further, to inquire what regulations are needed with respect to convents, and under what circumstances and securities it may be desirable to promote the emigration of women.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill for appointing Commissioners to inquire respecting Monastic and Conventual Institutions in Great Britain, and for purposes connected therewith."—(Mr. Newdegate.)
§ MR. SERJEANT SHERLOCK
said, that having been a Member of the Committee of 1870, which had sat to inquire into this subject, he trusted the House, whatever might be its ultimate opinion as to the advisability of permitting the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) to introduce a Bill dealing with the question, would permit him to answer some representations as to matters of fact which had been made by the hon. Member. The Committee which had sat from the commencement until the end of the Session of 1870 had been occupied for the most part with listening to the evidence of witnesses called by the hon. Gentleman, and to the irrelevant questions which he had put to them. Having trespassed upon the forbearance of the Committee to that extent, the hon. Gentleman on the reassembling of the Committee last year to present its Report had retired from it in order to leave himself free to attack the Report when it was presented. The hon. Member said it was due to the Roman Catholics of this country that such a measure as he proposed should be adopted; but he (Mr. Serjeant Sherlock) thought that surely the sisters and daughters of Catholics were the persons most affected; and he thought that if there were wrongs, it might be loft to their own friends to vindicate the wrongs of which the hon. Gentleman seemed to wish to constitute himself the avenger. Any hon. Gentleman who had read the proceedings of the Committee would come to the conclusion that the matter had been fully investigated, however great the irritation that might be caused. The hon. Gentleman had referred to the laws of other countries on this subject. He (Mr. Serjeant Sherlock) did not know what the acquaintance of the hon. Gentleman with the laws of those countries might be; but he would venture to tell the hon. Gentleman that he was very much mistaken in the views he held of the laws of this country. The laws of this country were amply sufficient to prevent any persons being confined in convents against their will. The very inmates of lunatic asylums had the 1703 power of compelling inquiry into the cause of their detention; and in like manner, if any person was detained in a convent against her will, the law, on the fact being established, would afford summary relief by restoring the person to liberty. That was one of the well-known privileges of the subjects of this country. The hon. Member in advocating an investigation before the Committee, told the House that there were 215 convents, 30 monasteries, and 131 parochial residences; but the hon. Member stated there was some difficulty in getting at the details. The hon. Member produced on several occasions the Catholic Directory, which was a document compiled by a Catholic clergyman for the very purpose of giving the most minute information as to the locality of these institutions. When the gentleman who superintended the publication of that directory (the Rev. Mr. Johnson) was before the Committee, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire asked him if it were accurate in every particular, and the witness gave the only answer possible for him to give—that he had endeavoured to make it accurate by sending out circulars to every Catholic institution in England and Scotland, but that he could not vouch for the accuracy of every particular. But that book contained substantially the information on which the whole public relied as to the number and objects of these institutions. With regard to the various cases to which the hon. Member referred—the English girl who was detained in France, and the German girl who was brought back to Liverpool—as the circumstances were not within his knowledge he would not attempt to explain them. But what occurred in Germany or France was by no means relevant to the question in this country. The hon. Member stated that the law of mortmain did not apply to one class of convents while it applied to another class; but everybody who knew anything about those institutions knew that the property was necessarily vested in trustees, who might be called to account for its administration, though, no doubt, a great deal depended on their honour, as in most cases there was no declaration of trust. However, the fact was, that no complaint was ever made of the conduct of the trustees. The hon. Member had widened the field of discussion by introducing—he would 1704 not say dragging in—the question of emigration, the connection of which with the Motion was not very clear. The question of emigration ought not to be introduced as a religious question, or in connection with a subject insulting to any portion of the community; it ought to be dealt with as a broad social question, and if it had been brought before the House in that spirit he presumed no Member of the House would object to the introduction and discussion of it. The hon. Member for North Warwickshire must see that in importing this element into the question he was evincing a spirit which he (Mr. Serjeant Sherlock) would not characterize, and which he trusted the House would not encourage. With regard to the introduction of the proposed Bill, he could say for himself he had no particular objection to its being brought in; but it would be exceedingly objectionable if the hon. Member had been allowed to make the statements to the House which he had made, and to draw the conclusions which he had drawn, without any reply, thereby allowing the country to assume that they could not be answered. Whether the Bill was read a first time or not was a matter which rested with the House to determine.
§ MR. MATTHEWS
, referring to the complaint by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), as to the unusual course which had been taken to dissuade him from making any statements on the present occasion, by promising that his Bill should be allowed to be introduced without opposition, said, he did not know from what source these intimations proceeded, but all he could say was that the hon. Member had done his best to draw upon himself that kind of opposition by the course which he pursued. It was not usual to make a second-reading speech on the occasion of the first reading of a Bill, as the hon. Member had done. The hon. Member had also complained that he had been asked to abstain from topics which—he would not say irritated, because that was not a word strong enough—but which excited the most passionate resentment among those whose nearest and dearest relatives were struck at with something like contumely by the arguments the hon. Member used. He was not surprised that the friends of those whose lives were spent in these 1705 institutions should appeal to him not to use arguments and allude to topics which only gave unnecessary offence. As to the conduct of the Committee, he endorsed everything that had fallen from the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Serjeant Sherlock). He also had been a Member of that Committee, and had sat through long sultry July days listening to the most irrelevant evidence tendered by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire. And what did that evidence amount to? The hon. Member, having the most ample verge and scope, literally proved nothing. The whole information which was contained in the Blue Book was voluntarily laid before the Committee by the friends of the religious Orders. The hon. Member spent one long summer day after another in producing persons who kept rate books and public registers, to show that certain property was held by such institutions; but not one single grievance, evil, or act of wrong-doing in respect of the property could he adduce. Nothing that required redress did he succeed in bringing before the Committee. It did seem an unusual course, therefore, to come back to the House and ask for a Parliamentary Commission to do over again what had been done before, and to do also what the House of Commons had refused in 1870 to permit. The House had refused to inquire into the character of monastic institutions—it refused to inquire into the private lives of blameless ladies. Since the days of Torque-mada no one had exhibited such a genius for inquisition as the hon. Member. The hon. Member for North Warwickshire had again reverted to the Colwich case, regarding which he should have thought that the hon. Member had heard enough in 1870. The hon. Member's mention of the Colwich case had led to a correspondence which he should have thought the hon. Gentleman would not have desired to hear of again. It amounted to this. The hon. Member had charged something which amounted to a crime against some ladies of birth and respectability living in a house in the county in which he was a magistrate, and which he represented. The brother of one of the ladies, Sir Charles Clifford, came forward, and said—"Sir, you have ventured in public to allege against the community of a house in your own county, and within your own 1706 jurisdiction, that which, if true, should have been prosecuted at the time—which, if true, ought to have been proved, and is capable of being proved now—and which, if false, ought to be retracted. I, therefore, as the brother of one of the ladies, call upon you to prove your charge, or to retract it." But the answer of the hon. Member was—"I prefer sheltering myself under the privilege of Parliament; I will neither come forward and prove the charge against your sister, nor will I retract." Thereupon the correspondence closed with a letter by Sir Charles Clifford, to the effect that the hon. Member had availed himself of the privilege of Parliament to cast upon a community of ladies the most shameful imputation, and when called upon to prove or to retract the allegation, he had sheltered himself under the privilege of Parliament. Sir Charles Clifford went on to say that he was therefore of opinion that the hon. Member was guilty either of compounding a felony, or of refusing to make reparation for an accusation which was founded on underhand evidence which was utterly worthless. Sir Charles Clifford added that he was happy to think the hon. Member was the only man in the country who, after having inflicted so cruel an injury, would have followed the course which he had chosen to adopt, a course which must be reprobated by every English gentleman. And what, he should like to know, if the hon. Gentleman believed in the truth of that which he stated, was become of the law of Habeas Corpus, which they had been accustomed in this country to rely upon as a sufficient security for their liberties? In 1870, foreseeing that an inquiry with respect to the property of proscribed persons—such as monks—was about to be instituted, he (Mr. Matthews) had taken the liberty of moving that it be an Instruction to the Committee not to ask the witnesses any questions which might lead to the forfeiture of their property or to personal penalties. But the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government reproved him on that occasion by telling him that the Committee would consist of English gentlemen, and that no such questions would be asked. The hon. Member for North Warwickshire, himself, speaking that very night, said that no Committee of the House of Commons 1707 would put questions which would oblige witnesses to criminate themselves, and which might involve the loss of their property. The hon. Gentleman, nevertheless, proceeded in the Committee to attempt to put inquisitorial questions which might have led to the very results which he had just mentioned, and brought about the instant forfeiture of property. [Mr. NEWDEGATE: They do hold property, then?] Yes; and that, he hoped, would long be the case. The temper of the House and the country would not, he felt satisfied, sanction the confiscation of property which was devoted to works of the utmost utility and advantage. From resources extremely small, the best possible results to the community were produced, and instead of following with such relentless hostility the institutions by which so much good was done, the hon. Gentleman ought to be glad to see similar institutions spread among his own co-religionists, for it was only by their action that the deficiencies of the parochial system could be satisfactorily supplied. The hon. Gentleman did not spare the Oratory in the course of his inquiries, and did not hesitate to say that when he endeavoured to supply the defects of the evidence, the Committee had turned upon him and put an end to that line of examination. Anyone, however, who chose to look in the Blue Book could see that the hon. Member had consumed four or five days in endeavouring to prove that the Oratorians were monks; and at last the Committee, out of pure exhaustion, told him that he might take it that they were quasi-monks, but thereupon the hon. Gentleman stopped and had not another syllable to say about the Oratorians. Thus was the time of the House of Commons consumed year after year by such inquiries, which could be productive of no public utility, while they were objectionable in the highest degree to large numbers of Her Majesty's subjects. For his (Mr. Matthews') part, he would not take the unusual course of dividing against the first reading of the Bill, which might lie on the Table as one of the curiosities of literature, but he should oppose it in its subsequent stages.
§ MR. GREENE
expressed his surprise that the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Matthews), after what had fallen from his hon. Friend the Member for 1708 North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), should have made a long speech, as if the present stage of the Bill were the second reading. It was all very well for the hon. and learned Gentleman to have made such a speech; but he should like to recall to his recollection the time when the Motion of his hon. Friend on the same subject was lost by a majority of 2—when the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, with all the subtlety of which he was so great a master, succeeded in taking out of it all the point. He could corroborate the hon. Member for North Warwickshire that he had been told if he did not make a speech the Bill would be allowed to be introduced. If there were not something in these institutions that required investigation, the voice of the country would not have been so loud in favour of such an inquiry. Speaking for himself, he had no wish to do anything harsh towards his fellow-Catholics—[A laugh]—towards his fellow-subjects; but he was sorry to say that Roman Catholicism was not confined to Roman Catholics themselves. There was a large number of Members in that House who silently sympathized with it, and it was well the matter should be considered by the constituencies of the country, for it was undoubtedly an electoral question. It was clear that Romanism was making rapid strides, and that members of that persuasion were holding property in contravention of the laws of the land. Now, that was a point which he, as well as his hon. Friend, wished to have inquired into, while they were also desirous of assisting the weak against the strong. Parliament had passed a law for the protection of the Irish tenant; and why, he should like to know, should not poor women be protected and enabled, if they desired it, to regain their liberty? If there were convents and monasteries, why, he should like to know, should they not be subjected to proper regulations? When the proper time arrived he had no doubt his hon. Friend would be able satisfactorily to dispose of the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down.
§ MR. PEMBERTON
, while reserving what he had to say on the subject for a future occasion, did not think it was fair to hon. Gentlemen professing the Roman Catholic religion that the rest of the House should suppose that their testi- 1709 mony alone was all that could be adduced in reference to the proceedings before the Committee. He most thoroughly endorsed everything that they had said as to the proceedings before the Committee. A more wanton waste of time was never incurred, and a weaker case was never brought before a Committee of the House of Commons, without so much as a tittle of evidence to support the charges which the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Newdegate) had made.
§ MR. SINCLAIR AYTOUN
said, that the greater part of the speeches of hon. Members who opposed that and similar Motions always consisted of assertions that any such inquiries implied an insult to those of the same religion as themselves. He denied that there was any foundation for such an allegation. His principal reason for supporting the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire was, that he believed proper securities were not provided by the law of this country for the liberty of persons who had entered convents. The hon. and learned Member for King's County (Mr. Serjeant Sherlock) told the House that the law of Habeas Corpus afforded sufficient security. That statement appeared to him (Mr. Aytoun) entirely contrary to fact. How was it possible for the inmates of convents to bring the law of Habeas Corpus into operation? Supposing anyone to be in prison, the law of Habeas Corpus could be put into operation only by someone outside the prison. What means, then, had the inmate of a convent of applying for a writ of Habeas Corpus? We might be told that the friends of the person who wished to obtain her liberty might apply. But it might so happen that those very persons did not wish that the law should be put into execution. The hon. and learned Member cited, in support of his argument, the case of the inmates of lunatic asylums. For his own part, he should be perfectly content if ladies in convents were placed on the same footing in respect to securities for their freedom as the inmates of lunatic asylums. The hon. and learned Member had stated that the law applied equally to each case; but failed to show that such was the fact. Roman Catholic Members said—"You need have no fear for the security of the ladies in convents, because their relations are all honourable people, and any inquiry on the subject would be an insult to them." In 99 1710 instances out of 100 it was quite true that the relatives of the inmates of convents might be relied upon to afford them protection, and in 999 cases out of 1,000 the Protestant relatives of lunatics might be trusted to do the same. But for all that, the law of this country was rightly founded on the certainty that there would always be persons who would sacrifice justice and humanity to their own interests. Accordingly, Inspectors were appointed to go round and inquire whether the inmates of lunatic asylums were properly detained. He maintained, therefore, that the same security should be provided in the one case as in the other.
§ MR. O'REILLY
said, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) had appealed piteously to the House to protect him from the machinations of the Roman Catholic Members, who wished to tie the tongue of that zealous advocate of Protestantism. But there was no such desire on the part of Roman Catholic Members. So far from that, the hon. Member was informed that the usual courtesy of not opposing the Motion for leave to bring in the Bill would be extended to him, provided he confined himself to the Motion. But the hon. Gentleman was determined to take a very different course, and not only to make a second-reading speech on the Motion for leave to introduce the Bill, but to import into that speech personal charges, and therefore he must not be surprised if an answer were given to them. The hon. Member had previously related stories which were afterwards shown to be worthless, and from that fact the House might judge of the weight to be attached to the stories he had related to-day. The hon. Member had always shrunk from making assertions where they could be tested—in a Court of Law—either at his own instance, or at the instance of those whom he had libelled. The hon. Member's charges were vague, and yet most sweeping. He asserted that there was not a single country in Europe in which there was not legislation of the kind that he advocated. The fact was, that in Prance, with one exception, the legal position of religious Orders was precisely the same as it was in England. In Protestant Holland religious communities were free in every respect, and in Belgium the legislation was similar to what it was in France. In Prussia, also, there was no 1711 such repressive legislation as had been represented. He contended that the individual cases which the hon. Member had brought forward were not worthy of credence. He should reserve all further observation until the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. OSBORNE
said, he could assure the House that he should not endeavour to prolong the debate, and he would follow the advice of the hon. Member who had just sat down, and reserve what he had to say upon the principle of the measure until the second reading. But it appeared to him that hon. Members had taken rather an unusual course, and if he had come suddenly into the House he should have supposed that they were discussing the second reading. It was the first time that he had heard the first reading of a Bill discussed in that way, and he was surprised that the Government had not upon such a monstrous Bill expressed an opinion. He thought that they should have imitated the example to which reference had been made, and joined the Oratorians. It would have been satisfactory to that House, because was ever before Notice given of such a Bill as that? He made the greatest allowance for his hon. Friend (Mr. Newdegate), whom he had known for many years, and whose sincerity he did not question; he knew the goodness—the softness of his heart—and how he really thought that he was doing an act of charity to those ladies, who had been by the hon. Member from Scotland (Mr. Aytoun) likened to lunatics. But he did not expect when his hon. Friend had his hobby, that he would propose a roving Commission not only to inquire into the state of the ladies in those convents, but to send it to the colonies also. There never was such a thing heard of as a Parliamentary Commission not only to inquire into the state of the ladies, but under what circumstances and securities it would be desirable to promote the emigration of women, and the House was seriously asked to pass a Bill for that purpose. He thought that his hon. Friends and Colleagues from Ireland might satisfy themselves without debating this Bill. They all knew what it was. The hon. Member had fired his petronel at these unfortunate ladies, and they should let him bring in his Bill. They might depend upon it that they would never hear any more about it. He had made his speech, and his 1712 faithful Sancho Panza upon that side of the House had supported him. That being so, he said—"In God's name let him bring in his Bill!" If there was an inquiry as to the emigration of women, and the hon. Member could call his friend Miss Eye before another Committee, what harm could come of it? People outside the House knew very well the craze of his hon. Friend and respected his sincerity. But the House would do well now to go to a practical subject, and leave his hon. Friend to the emigration of women.
§ SIR DOMINIC CORRIGAN
complained that the hon. Member for North Warwickshire had cast imputations upon hon. Members without naming them, with reference to a statement that his Motion would be opposed unless he brought it on without making a speech.
said, that if the discussion at such a stage was unusual, and if unacceptable remarks had been made in the course of it, the result was mainly due to the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), who had diverged into irrelevant topics, sure to excite strong feeling among many Members of that House. Hon. Members who had been justly moved to anger by some of the statements of the hon. Member would, however, exercise a wise discretion in not opposing the introduction of the Bill; because, though there were objections to the mode in which the hon. Member proposed to proceed, and objections to certain parts of the proposed inquiry, it could not be denied that there were other parts of the subject which demanded inquiry. It was notorious to all that the taking of monastic vows in this country rendered the taker subject to an indictment for misdemeanour. The support of monastic institutions in this country was also illegal. But such institutions had been established in this country, and a great number of persons had taken monastic vows in this country. It was beyond a doubt that large sums of money had been contributed for the purpose of supporting these institutions. The law which those persons had broken was unreasonable, and contrary to the more enlightened opinions of the present time. Whether the particular measure which the hon. Gentleman proposed was the right one was a subject as to which he must reserve his opinion; but there could be no doubt that the present 1713 state of the law justified the introduction of a measure on the subject.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
, in reply, said: I thank the House most sincerely for accepting the Motion I propose, to the request made at the instance of many thousand Petitioners. I shall not notice much that has been said in this debate; but I desire for one moment to be allowed to advert to something like an impeachment of my personal honour which fell from the hon. Member for Dungarvan. The hon. Member has quoted one letter of a correspondence, and upon that letter has thought fit to condemn my conduct. The hon. Member seems not to be aware that I published that correspondence. The point of the hon. Member's remarks was this—that I had made allegations, which were offensive to certain Roman Catholic persons, with respect to what had occurred in the convent at Colwich. Now, whatever I said on that subject was but the reading of the affidavits upon which the late Mr. Justice Wightman acted; and when the offensive comments, the hon. Member has quoted, were made, the only reservation I made was this—that until I could obtain a Committee of the House of Commons, or some competent Court for the protection of the witnesses, I would not appear before any tribunal. That was the only reservation I made. And what, Sir, would have been the use of my appearing without my witnesses? Besides, I had reason to know that I should not have been justified in producing witnesses, unless they were covered with the protection of the privilege of this House or of the law. That was my reason for refusing to appear before any extemporized tribunal. In conclusion, I have to thank the House for having reversed that which I was positively informed had been the intention of some hon. Members. [An hon. MEMBER: Who informed you?] I will tell the hon. Member in private. I was so informed by two hon. Members before I applied to a higher authority. Five or six weeks ago I was told—but I will not repeat a private conversation—that I was to be opposed. I rejoice, however, that hon. Members have abandoned that intention, and I thank the House for giving me leave to bring in the Bill.
§ MR. COLLINS
wished to mention that he had recently visited the Priory of Colwich, and had heard the superiors there speak in the highest terms of his 1714 hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire. Although they believed him to have certain prejudices, they had unbounded confidence in his honesty of purpose. They added, that if his hon. Friend would visit the Priory they would be glad to afford him all the information in their power.
Motion agreed to.
Bill for appointing Commissioners to inquire respecting Monastic and Conventual Institutions in Great Britain, and for purposes connected therewith, ordered to be brought in by Mr. NEWDEGATE, Mr. HOLT, and Sir THOMAS CHAMBERS.