HC Deb 11 June 1835 vol 28 cc675-88
Mr. Harvey

rose for the purpose of moving that, "a Select Committee be appointed to examine and consider the evidence, in the several Reports presented to this House, from the Commissioners appointed to inquire concerning Charities in England and Wales, and also the measures which may be most effectually adopted to complete, at an early period, the inquiry relative to uninvestigated Charities, to report their opinion by what mode the Charity-funds may be most efficiently, promptly, and economically administered." Those who had upon other occasions, had the good fortune to hear the subject of Public Charities discussed, and the vast importance of dispensing useful instruction to all classes of the community, enforced in the rich embellishments of language and the persuasive charms of oratory, by the distinguished man who had first brought the subject before Parliament, would easily understand the feeling which induced him to disclaim an appeal which required the aid of resources to which he had no pretensions. Nor was it his purpose to emulate, however much he admired, those schemes of universal benevolence in which the learned author of the Commission, into whose labours he proposed to examine, had repeatedly, and even of late largely indulged. His aim was far less aspiring, yet he would fain hope, not less useful. His object was to pass from learning to labour—from speculative fancies to facts—from reveries, to things which had been revealed. It was, indeed, time that something should be known of a Commission, the labours of which were spread over seventeen years, and that a practical character should be given them. It was full seventeen years since the distinguished individual to whom he had alluded—an individual who had merged the powers of a patriot in the accidents of a peerage—brought under the notice of the House the state of Public Charities in England and Wales, and procured the appointment of a Commission, into the successive Reports of which it was his object, or one of his objects to examine. Unfortunately that Commission was crippled in its cradle, and its efficacy was to a lamentable degree impaired. Even in this House the measure staggered under the blows of a concealed hostility; but in another House the seeds of derangement, and well high of death, were sown. It was originally intended that the Commission should inquire, not only into all the Charities in the kingdom, but into the state of education amongst all classes; but it suited the wisdom of the hereditary council of the nation to pare down the most useful provisions of the measure, by restricting the inquiry to those Charities only which had immediate reference to the education of the poor—taking especial care to exclude from investigation all those institutions and endowments, whose profligate perversion and mismanagement—criminal in some, and censurable in most—originally suggested and justified the inquiry. At early periods of our history, the state of the education of the people, and the large endowments bequeathed for that object by the piety and beneficence of our ancestors, attracted the attention of our rulers and the Legislature. In the 43rd year of Elizabeth, an Act was passed which invested the Lord Chancellor with power to issue Commissions, from time to time, giving the most ample authority to inquire, not only into the state of public education generally, but also into the resources which were applicable to that object, and to administer prompt and efficient redress for existing abuses. In the time of the Commonwealth, there were upwards of eight-hundred Commissions issued under the Act of Elizabeth; and it appeared, that vast endowments had been devoted to the instruction of the people—the comfort of the aged and infirm—to whatever enlarges the boundaries of human knowledge, and contracts the range of human sorrow. Of those princely testimonies of the generosity of our sleeping sires, little remained save the slumbering records that such things were. From that distant period to 1786, scarcely any effort appeared to have been made by Parliament to rescue the offerings of charity, from the grasp of selfishness. In 1786, Gilbert's Act was passed, directing the parochial authorities to make returns of all the charities within their respective districts; but, whether by design or accident, it so happened that no compulsory provision was included in this Act, and the consequence was, as might have been expected from such a neglect, that many returns were sent in, but many more omitted, and that, of those which did come in, not a few were useless, from the omissions and inaccuracies which they exhibited. Things went on in this way till 1818, when the Act was passed to which he had previously referred. This Act, however, was crippled in its useful powers in the other House of Parliament, by the introduction of a clause prohibiting all inquiry into Universities and Public Schools to which visitors were attached. In 1831, another Act, founded on the Report of the Committee of 1818, was brought in; but here also the same fault of exclusion was continued, and the endowments of Universities and other Public Schools which had visitors were exempt from its operation. It would be well that, as in the natural world, they should also in the moral world have their harvest and seed time; as the seed of the Public Charities, by the bounty of the original founders, was sown many centuries ago, so it was right that the country should now expect to reap some fruit from them. There was one Report, voluminous beyond reason, drawn up with great labour and skill, submitted to the House on this subject: there was no subject of any great national interest that was not submitted to Committees of that House; and there was no part of the present Question that had not been sifted before them. That man formed but a poor estimate of the labours of a Member of that House, who judged of him by his exhibition on its floor as a speaker—who would barely consider the number or quality of the speeches reported for him. If he were barely to trace him to the threshold of the House, and take his measure from his exhibition there, he would judge of him most incorrectly. Tle Member who was often the most useful was the least ostentatious, as, in place of figuring in public, making speeches, his days and nights were devoted to the scrutiny of public questions, which required much research, much patience, and discrimination. His services were frequently unknown, unacknowledged, and unappreciated, while he was shedding the light of philosophy on questions of high national import, and exerting the force of his own intelligence for the benefit of his countrymen. The consequence was, that there was scarcely any subject respecting which a youthful Member of the House could not obtain more information by reading the Reports than he could expect to gather from the most finished oration of the ablest individual amongst them. Whether the Reports on Charities, as compared with some others, would exhibit a greater proportion of labour and expense than of worth, it belonged to those to determine who had read them. The inquiries commenced in 1818, and continued down to the year 1834, thus extending over a period of time unexampled in parliamentary history for an inquiry to last, and presenting a body of information, at least so far as they could be determined by the number of volumes, he might say altogether without precedent. He believed the result was, that these efforts, vast as they appeared, were yielding at present little or no return. Already was on the Table of the House the 28th volume, which consisted of about 800 folio pages. The expense of the Commission might be ascertained from a return which had been recently made of the amount of money actually advanced for the purposes of the Commission by the Treasury. According to this return, the sum so advanced was 210,000l. In answer to an inquiry which had been made of the printer of the Reports, he was told that the expense of printing each volume averaged 600l. or 700l. The printing of the Reports alone, then, cost the country something like 20,000l. Speaking in round numbers, it might be said that the Charitable Commission had cost a quarter of a million sterling. To ascertain whether it had been productive of a corresponding benefit, or whether it might be made so productive, was one of the objects he contemplated in the appointment of his proposed Committee. Wishing to confine his observations within, as short a space as would render them intelligible, he would proceed at once to state what was the real result of the labours of the Commission. So great was the mismanagement, and above all the profligate plunder of the property belonging to the poor, as testified in those Reports, that it presented a lasting monument of the utter incapacity of our Courts to do them justice. He referred particularly to the Huntingdon Charity. Long prior to the year 1818, that Charity had been brought under the consideration of the Court of Chancery. It might be supposed, that the notice which had been taken in Parliament of the proceedings had somewhat accelerated them. What was the result? At this moment, the case was to be found in the Master's office. He would next refer to the Pocklington Charity, the original grant of which, for the instruction of the poor boys, amounted to the small sum of 1l. 4s. 10d. Lands of sufficient value at that time to secure this maintenance for those qualified, were devised to the Fellows of St. John's College, Cambridge. The value of the property, however, had increased to upwards of 600l. a-year, and it had been claimed that the boys should have a more suitable provision made for them. The trustees, however, whose profession was the education of the people, were not less alive to their own interest, and they contended that the miserable sum of 1l. 4s. 10d. was all that the Pocklington boys should still receive. The rest was appropriated by the Fellows of the College. An appeal had been made to the Court of Chancery; a deed was pleaded, and a demurrer allowed; consequently, the College of St. John, Cambridge—the learned divines, who would not suffer false sentiments of humanity to give interpretation to a question of law—enjoyed the 600l. a-year, but were quite ready to receive into their arms any lad who should apply for admission, thinking that he could manage to defray his yearly expenses out of the 1l. 4s. 10d. The next case he would mention was that of the Croydon Charity, which was brought under the notice of the House and the public by the noble Lord. He began by alluding to that case, which, flagrant as it was, was to this hour unredressed; the master was still receiving his salary without giving any labour for it: there were no pupils. Part of the funds were originally intended to be given to the poor of the parish; there were a few nominal paupers now receiving a stipend from the funds, which, from 2s. or 3s. a-week, grew, from the increased value of the property, to 28s. or 30s. a-week to each individual, so that they could now drink the health of the donor, and close their evenings in joyous potations. The next case was that of the Winchester Charity, which yielded little less than 14,000l. a-year, and which was to be applicable to the education of the poor. The terms of the grant were these, that no boy should be admitted on the foundation whose parent was a possessor of an annual property to the amount of 3l. 6s. 8d.; and there was a provision which stipulated that if, while any boy was on the charity, any circumstances occurred by which he became possessed of property of the value of 5l. a-year, he should be excluded from all benefit of the institution. Now he begged the House just to contrast the construction put on the grant in this case with that in the case of the Pocklington school to which he had adverted. It had been interpreted that 3l. 6s. 8d. of the day when the grant was made must now be considered to mean 66l. 13s. 4d.; and the consequence was, that the sons of persons who, from their station, ought to be sent elsewhere and to be paying for their education, were reaping the benefit of this splendid institution, which was originally intended for the instruction of the poorer classes alone. The number of scholars on this foundation was only seventy, so there was a sum of 12,000l. or 14,000l. a-year applicable to their education exclusively. The next case was that of Brentwood; but, as that was in the course of inquiry, he would not now further allude to it than to state that any reference to the Court of Chancery would prove a very inadequate remedy for the abuse which prevailed in that institution. He would next proceed to state to the House the results of the inquiry, so far as the documents before the House enabled him to ascertain. In some respects that information was most gratifying, not only as regarded its value, but also as affording the House an opportunity of judging how rapidly education was now advancing in this country. The charities of twenty-eight English counties had been inquired into, and the reports, so far as these charities were concerned, had been completed. It appeared that these twenty-eight counties contained—and the Reports gave a description of them—no fewer than 26,751 charities or endowments, having property of various descriptions connected with them. There were six other English counties, the charities of which had been partially investigated, and they amounted to 1,734. Such was at this moment the result of the labours of the Commission. Adding the 26,751 charities fully investigated in the twenty-eight counties to the 1,734 charities partially inquired into in the six counties, they found that there were 28,485 charities that had been brought under the consideration of the Commission. In twenty-four counties (those counties being twenty-four out of the twenty eight in which the investigation was perfected) the actual amount of the charitable incomes arising from land and houses was 331,703l. a-year. In connexion with these charities, confined to these twenty-four counties, there was actually money in the funds, on mortgages, and in various convertible securities, amounting to 2,228,030l. Now, when he stated that there was such a sum devoted to charities in twenty-four of the counties of England, excluding Middlesex, he thought he made out a case calling for the attention of the House. There were, besides, twelve Welch counties, of which he would say nothing; six of them had been examined, and six remained to be. From the facts he had already enumerated, it might be inferred that there was a sum of 700,000l. a-year arising from these charities, and that the amount of property in strict connexion with charitable objects; was little short of 5,000,000l. It further appeared, not by a Report of this Commission, but by a Return made to this House, in pursuance of a well-digested Motion of the hon. Member for Calne, two volumes of which, out of the three to be furnished, were already on the Table of the House, and were printed; and the third was promised; it appeared by that Return that in thirty-three counties there was a population of 10,000,000 persons; and in those thirty-three counties there were 2,277 infant schools, 28,311 day schools; and there was elementary information imparted at the day schools to 982,744 children. It would be most gratifying to the House to hear, with regard to religious instruction, to which general instruction should be subordinate, that there were in these counties 1,062,810 who were regular attendants at Sunday schools. It had been contended by the most sanguine calculators, that one in nine ought to receive instruction; but they now found that the number acquiring the elements of humble knowledge was one in ten, though they received it not from endowed schools, but chiefly from the gratuitous schools. The inquiry that he was about to ask the House to institute was a most important one. It was said knowledge was power. So it was, but it was a frightful power if not properly directed, if not tempered by judgment, if not guided by the moral and social wants of the community, if not turned into a channel, and, in place of being made subversive of, rendered auxiliary to the public weal. It might be said that there were remedies at law for the abuse of these trusts; so there were, in name. Too many of these cases were brought before the Court of Chancery; and there they were, many of them waiting for redress, and no less than eighty-eight cases had been already submitted to the Court of Chancery. He thought that one of the good effects of the Committee would be to dispel a delusion now very generally prevalent, that at length we were arrived at such a pitch of legal perfection, that it was only to knock at the door of the Court of Chancery for it to be opened; that the present practice contrasted in the strongest possible way with that of the time when they were led to believe that every thing was wrong, and that we only wanted the spirit of Reform to be set to work for every thing to be made right. He would call the attention of the House to some cases which the Commission had submitted to the attention of his Majesty's Law Officers. He found that the first case which the Commissioners brought under the notice of the Court of Chancery was in the year 1820; and really for so dry a subject, it was very entertaining to read the rise, progress, and history—he would not say the termination—of a suit in that Court. It was unfortunate that the first information filed in that Court under the authority of the Commission contemplated so small an object; but no doubt he should be told that justice ought to be done, though the amount were comparatively trifling. It appeared that there was a sum of 7l. which had been in arrear for several years, and which was chargeable on an estate in a distant county. It was for the recovery of these arrears that the information was filed; and it might have been supposed that the course to be pursued would be simple, that the case would be brought to a decision in a short time, and that the whole matter would be disposed of at a small outlay. Now, when this information was filed in 1820, he did not know whether the present Solicitor-General and the Attorney-General had been long enough in office to know the different cases which were brought forward in their official names; but he found it described as "The Attorney-General at the relation of John Adams, John Small, and others." The information was laid for the recovery of the arrears he had mentioned, issuing out of a close in Walsall, called Whitebread-piece. The whole amount of the arrears for which the Attorney-General, the Commission, and the powerful machinery of the Court of Chancery were employed, was 42l. He did not complain of the smallness of this amount, but he did hope to show that the Court of Chancery, instead of being a protection against wrong, was the champion of injustice. He had stated that the case to which he had adverted was first brought before the Court of Chancery in 1820; let the House now mark its progress. In 1828 the return was—the answer not yet put in. Thus eight years had elapsed and no answer. In 1829, when, no doubt, official zeal was a little sharpened by the inquiries that had been instituted, the report was—answer put in, bill amended, proposals made but not acceded to. He should have stated, that from the first return it appeared, that the amount of money paid by the Treasury for the bill filed without an answer, was 36l. 7s. 4d. In 1829 the business was still further accelerated, and the House would determine whether or not this could be reasonably attributed to an apprehension that periodical returns were likely to be called for. For eight years the case had slumbered, and now it might be thought prudent to exhibit a corresponding activity to make up for the previous loss of time. In 1829 there was a further charge paid of 23l. 7s. 10d. In 1830 the cause went to issue, and there was an additional charge of 3l. 19s. 6d. In 1831 there was a similar return. The costs were prior to the year 1831, 46l. 14s. Again, prior to the 23d of November, being eleven years after the original bill had been filed, an order was made, making the children of the party defendants to the suit. There the matter now rested. But he would pass from this case to that of Brentwood School, which was of great importance, and which had been most pointedly alluded to by the noble Lord when this subject had been formerly under consideration. Estates had been devised some two centuries back by Sir Anthony Brown for two purposes—for the education of the children of the inhabitants of Brentwood and the twelve neighbouring parishes, and also for the support of five aged persons in that and the adjoining parishes, who were to receive eighteen pence per week. At the time of the devise the property corresponded with the objects to which it was devoted—it yielded perhaps 100l. a-year; but at present it yielded from 1,200l. to 1,500l. a-year. It had been contended that after provision had been made for a certain number of boys to be instructed in grammar—that is to say, Latin and Greek—and for the five aged persons who were to receive eighteen pence a week, the whole of the remaining produce of the property rightfully belonged to the owner of the estates. The Attorney-General, however, had disputed, and properly disputed, the points. An information was filed in 1823 against the Master and Wardens of Brentwood School. The costs at that time amounted to 164l. 8s. 8d. In March, 1828, the return was, that the cause had been partly heard, and that it was to be further heard in the next term. In the Easter Term of that year the cause came on for further argument, but a reference was made to the Court of King's Bench, the costs being 197l. In 1830 the case which had arisen for the opinion of the Court of King's Bench was avowed to be set down for hearing at an expense of 108l. more, it having been in preparation the year before. After some further proceedings of a similar character, it was reported in 1835, that negotiations were going on, and still pending, and that the matter was to be settled by Parliament, if necessary. He would ask the Government and the House if a Court such as that before which those matters were thus brought were not a libel on the very name of justice? He might allude to other cases, but he had said sufficient to show the House what had been done by the Commissioners, what remained to be done, and the necessity which existed that attention should be called to some mode by which these charity funds might be more properly administered. He had now, he trusted, placed the House in possession of the three prominent points. He had apprised the House of what had been done by the Commission, what remained to be finished, and (what was the most important) he suggested that the attention of the Committee should be called to some mode by which those funds might be preserved, the rights of parties attended to, and justice speedily, cheaply, and impartially, administered; and though he had a plan of his own, which upon the Committee he should not fail to unfold, but which at present might be thought premature, he would say, that what the country wanted was a permanent Commission of public instruction to uphold the dignity of the law, and to be actuated entirely by principles of equity and justice. He might be allowed also to say, that for that object they need incur no expense. They had no fewer than three ex-Lord Chancellors, in the full vigour of intellectual accomplishment, and he remembered that Mr. Brougham had said in that House, that he attached such importance to that object, that even when he was the distinguished ornament of that House, having before him those bright honours and distinctions which he had since earned, he would willingly, said Mr. Brougham, give up his seat to be placed in connexion with that inquiry; and he could not fancy that that noble Lord might find subjects more worthy of him than the superintendance of those charities; and with the feelings which naturally accompanied the sense of receiving 5,000l. per annum without any equivalent, he would be pleased to give his gratuitous services to that object. He had no doubt that in the great work of benevolence Lord Lyndhurst might be made his compeer; and then if there was any difficulty from the prevalence of irritable feeling, there would step in the benignant temperament of a Sugden; so that they would thus have three ex-Chancellors enabled so essentially to serve their country. "And," continued the hon. Member, "though I make it no matter of complaint against the Ministers, knowing how they are at present burdened with the great objects of Municipal and Church Reform, which they appear to be carrying out in a spirit of great sincerity, knowing how intensely the feeling of the country is ebsorbed in that important subject, I will not express any regret, though I know that the object of my Motion is worthy of all acceptation, that their labours have not been specially directed to the education of the people, and the protection of these funds; but permit me to say, that at the time when Government is making strenuous exertions to confer upon the people the principle of self-government, when we are about to intrust many millions with Municipal authority, to whom is confided the trust and administration of these great properties—allow me to express my conviction, as one of their sincere and ardent, though unconnected supporters, that there is no subject which ought to be dearer to their hearts, which will reflect higher honour upon their Government, and shadow their future life with greater admiration than that they should expend their best abilities on the moral reformation and intellectual improvement of the people. The hon. and learned Gentleman concluded by moving, that a Select Committee be appointed to examine and consider the Evidence in the several Reports presented to that House from the Commissioners appointed to in- quire into the several Charities of England and Wales; and also measures which might be most effectually adopted to complete at an early period the Inquiry relative to the investigation of Charities, and to Report their Opinion as to the mode by which the Charity Funds might be most efficiently, promptly, and economically administered.

Mr. Wilks

was happy to second the proposition, which embraced a subject to which he had for some time thought it would be his duty to call the attention of the House. There was evidently a necessity for the appointment of a Committee pledged—not indeed to act, but certainly to consider whether there might not be some summary proceeding by which parties would be enabled to obtain justice in the matter in question.

Lord John Russell

did not rise to offer any opposition to the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman, he thought it calculated to forward the object which was so desirable, of rendering the funds of charities more applicable to the purposes for which they were originally intended. It was undoubtedly the case that after the lapse of so many years from the time when attention had been directed to the subject, they yet seemed to be far from attaining the object which they had in view. With reference to the second part of the Motion—that which referred to a more wise and economical administration of the funds—he would observe that although that was undoubtedly an important object, he wished to guard himself against being supposed to imply that by the words of the hon. and learned Gentleman's resolution the House would be understood to have agreed to any general plan at all inconsistent with the original will of the founders of the various charities which were in existence. He was glad on the whole that the hon. and learned Gentleman had brought forward his Motion. The hon. and learned Gentleman had shown sufficient grounds for its adoption, and for inducing him to give it his cordial support.

Mr. Wyse

said, that although not so nearly connected as the hon. Mover and his hon. Seconder with the subject under consideration, he must express his sympathy with them under the circumstances connected with the Motion. The great evil was not only the misapplication of the funds, but the encouraging a system of education totally inadequate to the present state of knowledge. It was obvious from the returns of 1818 that of the greater number of schools included in it, scarcely one-fifth were at present appropriated to the general purposes of education, but were restricted to the mere teaching of reading and writing, thus degrading the schools so that respectable persons refused to profit by the schools, and were obliged to remove their children. Not only was it necessary to propose to the Committee that they should see the funds properly applied to the purposes which the original donors intended, but suggestions should be offered to the Committee by which, without compromising the real interests of the charity, or offending against the original intention of the founder, means might be devised by which they might be made useful to the present generation in every purpose to which education could be applied. The middle classes of the country were especially deficient in education, and abundant means having been provided for improving that education, it was a great violation of the feelings of the people of England to allow those funds to be misapplied. He agreed also in another suggestion, viz. that it was impossible for any system of education in this country to be formed on a large scale without its being formed under the sanction of Government, or of some Board of Public Instruction. He hoped that hon. Gentlemen agreed with him in thinking that education should not remain in the hands of individuals alone, but should receive something like national existence, by putting it under the sanction of the State. The hon. Member concluded by expressing his acquiescence in the motion and his congratulations to the country on the probability of recovering considerable funds which might be devoted to promote public education.

The Attorney-General

considered that, from the nature of his office, it might be expected that he should offer a few words on the subject of the Motion of the hon. Member opposite. He entertained no feelings of difficulty in expressing his entire satisfaction in the course pursued in moving for the appointment of the Committee. The seed was sown, and it should not be for want of any exertion on his part that the country failed to reap the harvest. During the labours of the Commission that had issued upon the subject of charities, he had used all his influence to bring in Bills as the inquiry pro- ceeded, to amend the abuses that were exposed. Such Bills, brought in by him, had become the law of the land. The Committee about to be appointed, he would remind the House, would have two objects in view. The one would be to provide a means more summarily, economically, and effectually, to correct existing abuses. And here he would observe that those abuses not having been corrected, must not be imputed as a matter of blame either to him or his predecessors in office. The fault was not with them, but with the system. But to return. The other object the Committee ought to have in view should be the improved application of the funds of these charities. He did not concur in all the suggestions thrown out by the hon. Gentleman opposite as to the method hereafter to be adopted for their application. But he was most decidedly of opinion, that the Committee should bear in mind the change of time and circumstances, the increasing "march of intellect." This he considered, without acting adversely to the laws of equity or jurisprudence, or without infringing the true spirit of the wills of the donors, might be done, and a system of popular education be established, and carried on with the greatest success. He rejoiced that the Motion had been made, and was gratified at the reception it had met with.

The Motion was agreed to.

Mr. Harvey

said, that the success of the inquiries of the Select Committee must materially depend upon the impartiality of the Members composing it. He should, therefore, defer the proposition for their nomination until he had consulted the noble Lord opposite (Lord John Russell) on the subject.

Nomination of the Committee postponed.

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