HC Deb 26 July 1836 vol 35 cc585-7

The House went into Committee on the Charitable Trustees Bill.

Clauses 1 and 2 were agreed to. On clause 3,

Mr. W. Praed moved an Amendment, giving to the freemen in corporate towns the right of voting jointly with the burgesses in the election of charitable trustees. Although he objected to the principle of subjecting the administration of charitable trusts to popular election, yet, as this principle had been adopted by the House, he felt justified in now endeavouring to increase the constituent body by adding to it those who were most interested in the due and proper administration of the charity funds.

Mr. Vernon Smith

felt it his duty to object to the Amendment, which would go the length of admitting the recipients of the charities to the right of voting for trustees. He thought this had been admitted by all sides to be objectionable. The Amendment would require a complete new machinery in respect to the registration of the electors under this Bill, and on all these grounds he must oppose its adoption.

Mr. Williams (Coventry)

supported the Amendment proposed by the hon. and learned Member for Yarmouth.

The Solicitor-General

opposed it. The proposition would require the construction of complex machinery to carry it into effect. Nothing could be fairer or more just than to leave the election of charitable trustees in the hands of the burgesses who represented the interests of the town with which they were connected.

Mr. Hume

thought it would be better to leave the clause as it stood, which carried out the principle of the Municipal Reform Act, than to adopt the Amendment.

Sir Robert Peel

supported the Amendment. He contended that no difficulty like that suggested by the hon. and learned Solicitor-General could arise. The machinery was complete as to the registration of the freemen and of the burgesses under the Municipal and Parliamentary Reform Acts. The political franchise had been reserved to the freemen, and no reasons had been given for depriving them of the privilege of exercising their right of voting in a minor, but to them important, matter—viz., the regulation and administration of funds and property in which, personally, they were interested. If those funds were to be managed under popular election, why should not those most interested in that management have a voice in that election? The adoption of the Amendment would not weaken that security which justly was required for the proper administration of the funds, yet, at the same time, would give great satisfaction to a very considerable class of persons.

Lord John Russell

did not oppose the Amendment on the ground of the necessity of new machinery to carry it into effect, for he admitted to the right hon. Baronet opposite that the existing freemen's roll, with some minor alterations, would effect that object; but he objected to it because he thought the freemen were not the fittest persons to be intrusted with the power of electing trustees. It had been said, their political rights had been reserved to them. True, and that reservation was made on the ground that those rights had been long enjoyed by them, and that no sufficient grounds had been made for their disfranchisement. But this reservation afforded no argument in favour of the present Amendment, which went to confer upon them rights they never had enjoyed or possessed. From the Reports of the Commissioners it appeared, that nearly three-fourths of the freemen were not even rate-payers; were for the most part poor men, and were a body to whom he was not disposed to give the power of controlling in any way the administration of the charitable funds in which they were interested.

Mr. Harvey

was astonished that the advocates of popular rights should, in this instance, endeavour to narrow those rights, and he could not understand why it was, that the freemen were in such bad odour with those who were called the friends of the people. He would tell the House that there was more real moral courage in the class now so much reprobated than in that body whose qualification lay only in the amount of their property. It was not correct to assert that the freemen were not interested in the charitable funds, and it was but just, therefore, that they should have a voice in the election of those to whom the administration of those funds was intrusted. If not, there would be a constant struggle between the electors and the elected under this Bill to free themselves from the local burthens of the borough by the application of charity funds to borough purposes. He, therefore, did not think the Town-councils the fit persons in whom to vest the election of trustees; on the contrary, he thought that the power ought to be intrusted to a strictly independent body. He thought it would be much more likely to secure a due administration, if this Bill were allowed to stand over, in order to afford time for a more mature consideration of its provisions. At all events he could see no grounds why freemen should be excluded. It was but a poor compliment to those Members whose constituents were in part composed of freemen, to say to those freemen, that though they were fit to exercise a judgment in the selection of the trustees of the nation's interests, yet that they were poor, worthless, and unfit to be intrusted (being denounced as paupers themselves) with any, the most remote, participation in the selection of the guardians of their own personal interests.

The Committee divided on the original motion:—Ayes 65; Noes 48; Majority 17.

The remaining clauses of the Bill, after two other divisions and several verbal amendments, were agreed to. The House resumed. The Report to be received.