HC Deb 22 February 1809 vol 12 cc975-8

On the motion of Mr. Foster, the house resolved itself into a Committee of Supply.

Mr. Foster

then proceeded to read the various sums to be granted. Upon that for granting the sum of 25,000l. Irish currency for there pair of Public Buildings in Ireland,

Earl Temple

requested, that the right hon. gent. would defer this item, particularly as it did not appear to him to be regularly introduced, or many members must be precluded from delivering their sentiments upon it.

Mr. Foster

replied, that regular notice had been given, and he considered every member had been aware that it would be moved this day, but he bad no objection to deferring it till Monday next.

Sir John Newport

said, he was completely ignorant of the intended measure, and so he believed were Mr. Ponsonby, and the member for Dublin: although the Grants were usual, yet there were several which would require revision.

Upon the reading of the Grant to the Commissioners of Charitable Donations and Bequests, farther to enable them to execute the duties of their office;

Sir J. Newport

called the attention of the committee to the nature of the institution of these commissioners, and a recent circumstance in their procedure, which demanded the notice of parliament before any such grant should be allowed to them. The commission, he said, was originally vested in a certain number of the members of the house of lords in Ireland, and its truly laudable object was to prevent abuses in the disposal of charitable donations and bequests, by preventing the executors, trustees, and others, to whom such bequests were confided, from converting them to their own private emolument. The Commission was executed by the lords' committee up to the Union, and it then became necessary to provide other managers, who were accordingly appointed. About two years since an elderly catholic lady died at Waterford, and by her will bequeathed to charitable uses a sum of 11,000l. of which 1,000l. was to be distributed amongst the poor of Waterford, expressly without any distinction of religious persuasions; and the remainder was to be appropriated partly in providing an asylum and maintenance for a certain number of decayed gentlewomen of the catholic persuasion, and for educating a certain number of boys and girls, the children of poor parents; and the executors named in the will were the catholic bishops of Cashel and Waterford, and a lay parson. The catholic bishop of Cashel declined to act, but the others did not. A letter was written to the acting executors from the commissioners of Charitable Bequests, requesting, some explanation as to the extent of the legacy, its objects, and whether they had transferred the money to the public funds? To this Dr. Power, the catholic bishop of Waterford, returned for answer, that some objection had been made on the behalf of a residuary legatee; that he had not transferred the money to the public funds, because it was already in the hands of the marquis of Waterford, and other responsible persons, who paid interest at the rate of six per cent, being much more than it would produce in the funds, and that he had already begun to distribute part of the legacy, and would, as soon as possible, dispose of the remainder, agreeably to the conditions of the will, he received an answer from the commissioners, expressing thanks for the frankness of his communication, and promising to give him no further trouble; but what was his astonishment to find on the following term, a bill filed against himself and the other executor, in the Court of Chancery (instigated by these very Commissioners for Charitable Bequests, in direct perversion of the duties of their office) for the purpose of setting aside this will bequeathing charity to poor persons in Ireland, to deprive them of the benefits of that bequest, and to increase the residuum to a lady, the residuary legatee, and living at Seville, in Spain. This was not only a direct perversion of the obvious duties of the commissioners to the poor, for whom they were trustees, but it was felt in other quarters as an act of gross prejudice and of religious rancour. There was no law of Ireland for making any provision at the poor of the catholic persuasion, and surety nothing could be more cruel, oppressive, or unjust, than to defeat the humane purpose of pious and charitable persons of their own sect, who had property to bequeath, from making some provisions for the poor of their own religion, who were not chargeable upon any other sect. This was felt in Waterford especially, and tended in a very prominent degree to excite clamour and discontent; and he therefore wished to appeal to the Committee, whether it was decent for such a Commission to apply to this house for compensation for law expenditures incurred in such a way.

Mr. Foster

disclaimed all knowledge of the circumstances until that moment; but thought the circumstance of any bill in Chancery which the commissioners might have thought fit to file, and had yet come to no issue, was not a reason for refusing at this time the usual Grant. Besides, the right hon. baronet could surely entertain no doubt that the case, if before the present Lord Chancellor of Ireland, would meet due notice, and that strict justice would be done.

Sir J. Newport

replied, by professing the highest respect and veneration for the truly upright character who now filled the Chancery bench of Ireland, with so much honour to himself and advantage and satisfaction to the country where he presided. It was not upon any doubt of his strict justice that his own apprehensions were founded or his objections offered, but in the perverse conduct of the Commissioners of Bequests, in endeavouring, by a strict research into obsolete acts of parliament, to fish out flaws in the legality of a will bequeathing charity to an unprotected class of the poor in Ireland, of whom those Commissioners were appointed the legal guardians and protectors, in order to transfer the benefits of the legacy to a perpetual absentee resident in Spain. It was not their duty, but much beside it, to fish out flaws in the will, even if any existed, to defeat the charitable ends of their own institution, and the humane intention of the benevolent testatrix towards the poor in Ireland, and wantonly to promote litigation and excite new discontents, already too prevalent. However disposed the Chancellor of Ireland might be to consider and act on the equitable and benevolent side of the case, he could not avoid taking notice of legal flaws, if they were officiously pointed out to him. It was not, therefore, the proposed Grant, but the conduct of those Commissioners, that he wished to reprobate; for it made no difference whether such proceedings were taken by their direction, or by their permission to any legal person in their employment, merely to increase his own professional emoluments in the way of litigation, and which must be deducted from the sum of the legacy, and thus directed from the object of the charity.

The motion, however, passed in the affirmative; as did also, without any discussion, a grant of 8,953l. to the Catholic college at Maynooth.