HL Deb 16 July 1844 vol 76 cc906-12
Lord Wharncliffe

, in moving that this Bill be re-committed, said he had delayed proceeding with it for some time that he might find out what objections were urged against it, in order, if possible, to remedy them. He was very glad he had done so, because he had been enabled to amend the Bill in several points, which he hoped would render it completely satisfactory, although God knew in the present state of feeling in Ireland, it was very difficult to say what would give satisfaction in that country. But this he would say, the Bill was such as he thought should be taken by Roman Catholics as an earnest of the desire of Her Majesty's Government to do every thing they could consistently with their duty to support the Established Church, to place Roman Catholics and Protestants in all other respects on an equal footing. First of all, he understood there was an objection to the word "minister," although he was surprised there should be, as that word in France was applied without disrespect to persons in Holy Orders generally. But the Roman Catholics, it seemed, considered it as a term applicable only to the pastors of Protestant Dissenting congregations, and therefore he had erased it altogether from the Bill. Then, as to the composition of the Board; the old Commission was composed of the Lord Chancellor, the Judge of the Prerogative Court, all the Judges, all the Bishops, and all the Ministers of all the Parishes in Dublin. That was, to say the least of it, a very clumsy body, and he was not surprised that the Roman Catholics had not much confidence in it. He proposed to leave out the Lord Chancellor from the Commission altogether, because it was the object of this Bill to enable the Commissioners to bring issues before the Lord Chancellor in order to enforce a right application of the funds. He would put in the Commission first of all the Master of the Rolls, then the Judge of the Prerogative Court; together with ten other persons, of whom five would be Protestants and five Roman Catholics. So much for the constitution of the Commission. But he meant to propose an entirely new Clause to remedy other objections that might be made. It might be said by Roman Catholics that the majority on this Board were Protestants, and yet they were expected to submit to a body so composed matters affecting the discipline and rites of their Church. He must say the bequests in Ireland for Roman Catholic purposes had increased immensely since the passing of the Emancipation Act; there were some enormously large funds in the hands of some individual bishops of that Church. There was one Roman Catholic bishop who had in trust, almost in his own power, one bequest of 55,000l., and another of 35,000l. Since the beginning of this year there had been bequeathed altogether for charitable purposes in Ireland above 30,000l., of which 6,523l. was for Protestant purposes, and 23,477l. for Roman Catholic uses. The proportion of bequests, then, for pious and charitable purposes connected with the Roman Catholic religion was in Ireland in a very enormous proportion greater than on the part of the Protestants; there would, therefore, be great injustice and impropriety in leaving to the decision of a Board, of which the majority were Protestants, matters affecting the discipline of the Roman Catholic Church in the first instance. He, therefore, proposed that when any question arose concerning the doctrine, discipline, or constitution of the United Church of England and Ireland, or of any body of Protestant Nonconformists, it should be submitted, in the first instance, to a Committee of five who should be Protestants on the Board; and when any question arose respecting the doctrine, discipline, or constitution of the Roman Catholic Church, it should be submitted to the five Roman Catholics on the Board, who would give a certificate of the facts relating to the case to the Committee at large, on which they would then act. This would be a material improvement in the Bill. He would also introduce a Clause compelling the Board to keep minutes of their proceedings, to enter them in a book, and make an annual report. The noble Earl then read the 11th Clause of the Bill as he proposed it should stand, which required that three months should elapse between the date of the deed and the death of the testator, in order to render it valid; but that provision applied only to real estate. Personalty might still be disposed of at the last moment. He had thought it right to set that three months against the English law of mortmain, which in fact required that a year should elapse. He earnestly hoped the amendments he had made in the Bill would give satisfaction. The greatest anxiety was felt by the Government that their Roman Catholic fellow-subjects should possess a fair and safe footing on which to rest their charitable trusts, to be executed according to the intentions of the founders and the law of the land. This was a fair and honourable tender, which he hoped would be accepted in that spirit in which it was offered.

The Marquess of Normanby

sincerely presented his thanks to the noble Lord for every one of the alterations he had made in the Bill. From the fair and candid spirit which dictated those Amendments he felt confident the Bill would meet with general approbation.

Lord Beaumont

said, that he rose for the purpose of thanking the noble Lord in the first place for the liberal Bill he had presented, and for the purpose of stating his regret in the second place—he might say, even his disgust—at the manner in which it had been received by those for whose benefit it was intended. He con- sidered this measure to have been from its commencement to its final completion a most honest measure on the part of the Government, conceived in a spirit of true liberality, and carried out with sincerity of purpose, as well as with judgment, in respect to its details. Yet, monstrous as it might appear, this very Bill had been attacked by the Irish priesthood, and described as treacherous and atrocious, and "more oppressive than the penal Acts themselves." Yet what was this Bill, and what had the noble Lord done who presented it? He repealed the clumsy and unsatisfactory Bills which established the old Board of Trusts; and in their place set up a machinery, and constituted a Board, by which pious persons might secure their donations and bequests being applied to the objects they intended, and which could be called to account, did it divert them to any other purposes. In fact, the Board thus constituted, was an assailable body, obliged to keep a minute of its proceedings, and to make an annual return of its affairs; while the counter-proposition, the failure of which had caused the outcry against this Bill, was to create an irresponsible body, a corporation sole, who would have the control of the funds, without being obliged to account for their outlay. They would make no returns, keep no minutes—the donors would never know that the money was applied to the purposes they intended. On the other hand, the constitution of the Board, as proposed in the amended Bill of the noble Lord, was all that could be desired by Catholics; and yet he (Lord Beaumont) feared it would not satisfy the priests. The objection to the word "minister" was absurd, as the word was used as a title of respect by the French, in speaking of their priesthood. This objection, frivolous as it appeared, had, however, been made by the Irish priests; but the points on which they seemed to feel most, was the Clause requiring the deed to be executed three months prior to the demise of the testator. That Clause had been modified; and he (Lord Beaumont) regretted that it had been so, for he should have liked to have seen the same provision made in respect of personal, as had been made in respect of real property. He repeated what he had often endeavoured to inculcate, namely, that there was a Catholic laity as well as a Catholic priesthood; and that they were bound to legislate for the protection of the one as much as for the conciliation of the other. Their Lordships must also bear in mind, that the priesthood had the means of making their complaints heard, while the laity generally endured in silence. If the priesthood had a grievance, their voices were loud at public meetings, and letters such as that which had lately appeared in the papers, signed "John, Archbishop of Tuam," were certain to attract attention; but the hardships of those families whose property had been bequeathed to other purposes than the support of surviving relatives, were not likely to come under the public notice. He (Lord Beaumont) was therefore convinced that though they might draw down the abuse of such persons as the writer of the letter he had just alluded to, by extending the principle of the Statute of Mortmain to personal as well as real property in Ireland, they would by such a provision merit and receive the grateful approbation of the Catholic laity. In reference to this subject he might quote an instance which had been reported in that day's paper, of a large amount of personal and real property being left to a Roman Catholic clergyman and the failure of the attempt on the part of the family to recover it, although the will had been drawn up by a priest and signed by the testator within two hours of his death. Convinced as he (Lord Beaumont) was, that undue influence was occasionally exercised by the side of the death-bed and that considerable sums were bequeathed to the Church in articulo mortis, he could not help regretting that any alteration should have been made in the original draft in the Clause. There was one more Clause and only one more to which he thought it necessary to allude. He (Lord Beaumont) differed with his noble Friend in respect to the exclusion of the regular clergy from the advantages of this Bill. If a priest in regular orders performed the duties of the parish he ought to be equally intitled to remuneration as a secular priest, and so far from the seculars being superior to the regulars, he (Lord Beaumont) knew many places in England where Jesuits from Stonyhurst did the duties of parish priests and were well suited by their unobtrusive manners to the task. He (Lord Beaumont) did not therefore see the necessity of the distinction. This was the last detail he would allude to. The Amend- ments of his noble Friend were conceived in the same liberal spirit as the original Bill in its rude state, and he would therefore conclude as he had commenced, by thanking the noble Lord and hoping that certain parties in Ireland would change their tone and acknowledge, though tardily, their debt of gratitude for one of the most liberal and conciliatory Bills that had ever been proposed to the Legislature.

Lord Camoys

said, that the Bill being an enabling Bill, leaving all parties to bequeath, as they may now do by law, he saw no necessity for naming the Roman Catholics in it, except as describing the constitution and duties of the Commission. In this view he was confirmed by the first improvement that was proposed, viz., to strike out from the title of the Bill the words alluding to them, and he, therefore, thought that it would be more consistent with its title if all further allusion to them were omitted. The adoption of this suggestion would merely have the effect of leaving the Roman Catholics to take the same advantage of the Bill that they could do if named in it, and would avoid an unnecessary distinction, because Protestants, who were not named, were to be benefited by its provisions equally with the Roman Catholics who were. If their Lordships would not accede to this proposition, he felt bound to object to the restrictions imposed in the 11th Clause, preventing bequests being vested in the Commissioners, if made within three months of the testator's death, not so much on the ground that such a restriction was uncalled for, as because it was imposed on Roman Catholics only, for if the principle is to be extended to Ireland, it ought to embrace Protestants also.

The Marquess of Clanricarde

highly approved of the Amendments that had been made in the Bills.

The Earl of Wicklow

begged to caution his noble Friend against the confusion that might arise from the terms "real and personal property." By real property, land was, of course meant; but in Ireland much of the land, almost all the Church lands, and many of the leases, were held to be personal property.

Lord Monteagle

thanked the Government for introducing the Bill, thanked his noble Friend (the Marquess of Normanby) for having called their attention to the subject, and expressed his gratitude, on behalf of the Irish people, for the readiness with which the Government adopted the Amendments which he had suggested on a former occasion.

Amendments agreed to.

House adjourned.