HC Deb 05 March 1828 vol 18 cc981-5
Mr. D. W. Harvey

said, that in moving for a Return of the number of Bills filed in the Courts of Equity, under the authority of the Commissioners appointed to inquire concerning Charities in England and Wales, he felt it necessary to say a few words in explanation of the object which he had in view. He was anxious, in the first place, to avoid the supposition that he was actuated by any unfriendly feeling to the principle in which the inquiry into the abuses existing in charitable institutions had originated. He therefore stated, most distinctly, that instead of being actuated by unfriendly, he was actuated by the most friendly, feeling towards them. He thought, however, that the time had arrived, in which some information respecting the result of their labours should be afforded to the House by the commissioners of inquiry, beyond that contained in the bulky volumes now upon the table. He believed that of all the commissions which had ever been issued at die desire of parliament, no one had ever been attended with such costly results, and with such slight beneficial consequences as the commission which was appointed in 1818 to inquire into the abuses of charitable institutions. During the last twenty-six years, it appeared that there had been thirty-eight special reports presented from various commissions of inquiry into objects of great national interest. Of that fact the House was well aware; but he did not apprehend that either the House or the country was prepared to hear the enormous amount of the sum expended in getting up the reports. The sum amounted to a million of money within a very few pounds; and yet, if the consequences of the reports were looked at, he believed that they would not be found to have led to practical results commensurate with such a heavy expenditure. He would say, that the commission which had been appointed in 1818 to inquire concerning charities in England and Wales had been the least productive of benefit of all the commissions which had ever been appointed, and that it had also been, with a single exception, the most lavish and extravagant in its expenditure. That commission had not half terminated its labours; and yet the money advanced to the commissioners up to 1826, for the prosecution of their inquiries, amounted to 120,000l., independent of 30,000l., which were to be added to that sum as their annual expenditure from the period of their last report. What had been the result of their labours? He thought no one could say what it was, unless it were the terror with which every gentleman must have been inspired on seeing placed on his table seventeen huge folio volumes of reports, containing, on an average, eight hundred pages each; to which another folio of five hundred pages had been added the other day, by way of index to the first fourteen volumes. He was convinced, that more than half the paper, which had been wasted on these reports, might have been spared. Their reports were little else than a transcript of the titles by which the charitable institutions were founded; a transcript which was of no use except to swell the bulk of the volumes, to increase the expense of printing them, and to deter persons from inquiring into their contents. The great object of his present motion was to place before the House and the country the real state of the labours of the commission, in restoring dormant rights, and rectifying the abuses which they had found to exist. For, unless some course shall be pursued, by which the property devised by our ancestors for pious and charitable uses could be restored to the poor, for whose education and support it was intended—unless some measures are taken by which property bequeathed to charitable institutions could be wrested from those who, from various causes, sometimes from connivance, sometimes from negligence, and sometimes from events, of which, in the lapse of time, the cause was forgotten, had turned the channel of charity into their own purses and pockets—unless some practical remedy shall be applied to all cases in which grievances and corruptions have been found to exist, all the labour and all the expense of the commission had been expended in vain. He would mention but one instance, in which he should like to know what good had been effected by the commission. He saw, from the report of the commissioners, that there was a charity which had been very liberally endowed many years since, in the parish of Brentwood, in Essex. It had been established for the purpose of affording to the sons of the inhabitants of that town moral, virtuous, and religious instruction, and of giving them what is generally called a classical education; and funds had been left, with such objects, commensurate to their support. It so happened, that in the lapse of time, and from several accidental causes, those funds had increased from 100l. to 2,000l. a year; and yet, strange to say, on that foundation not more than three children were at present educated, while the whole of the funds were in the Receipt of the patron of the school, who applied them chiefly to the benefit of his own family. Now, he would ask, had any remedy been applied to this case of evil? If none had been applied, of what use had been the appointment of the commission? If the village of Brentwood was not in itself of size and importance sufficient to require a school to be kept up in it at an expense of 2,000l. a year, would it not be more consonant to the views of the founder of the charity to divert a part of them to other objects in that village, having charity for their basis, or to some object of county importance? It appeared that the commissioners had themselves entertained at one time such a suggestion; but they had subsequently displayed an anxious desire to throw the veil of oblivion, over the whole transaction, and to stifle all inquiry into it. They said that there were certain circumstances which had a tendency to render it very difficult, or almost impossible, to arrive at any clear account of the transactions of the patron, who had first diverted the funds. They then proceeded to say, that it was right to observe that, from such private letters and papers as remained concerning the patron's transactions, it might reasonably be inferred, that he was under the influence of motives which were not perfectly fair and honourable; and then, without giving any further statement of what his motives were, they added, that as the injury sustained from his mismanagement, or default, if any such there were, affected the interests of the master rather than those of the charity, it did not appear to them that any benefit would at present arise from any further investigation into that part of the subject. Now, he thought that such a statement on the mere face of it required that the commissioners should enter forthwith into further details, and into further inquiries; and yet they had come to the singular conclusion, that no further investigation into that part of the subject was at all necessary. There was another evil likely to arise out of the proceedings of the commissioners. They were now, for the benefit of cunning lawyers, placing the charity under the revision of the court of Chacery—a proceeding which was certain to be attended with expense, and might, in the long run, consume all the funds of each charity.—He would not enter at greater length into the objects which he hoped to effect by his motion, but would move "for Returns of the number of Bills filed in the Courts of Equity by the Attorney-general, at the instance of the Commissioners appointed to inquire concerning Charities in England and Wales, from the commencement of their appointment to the 1st of March, 1828; specifying the names of the defendants, the object of each proceeding, the result of each cause terminated, the costs incurred, and by whom and to whom paid—the present state of the causes in progress; and also a detail of those cases in which inquiry has restored dormant rights, or rectified abuses found to exist; also of the probable length of time which may elapse before their inquiries terminate.—Of the total expenses which have been incurred, from the commencement of the inquiry to the 1st of March, 1818; distinguishing sums paid as salaries to commissioners, and other officers, and for travelling and incidental expenses."

The motion was agreed to.