HC Deb 01 May 1838 vol 42 cc749-55
Mr. Hume

rose for the purpose of proposing the following motion, of which he had given notice:— Return of the names of the persons now forming the society incorporated on the 7th of February, 1662, by King Charles 2nd, by the name of the 'Company for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England, and the parts adjacent in America;' together with an account of the several lands, whether freehold, copyhold, or leasehold, and distinguishing the same; also the tithes now held and enjoyed by such company, stating the annual value of such lands, and in what parish or parishes of England such lands are situated; also an account of all other stock, funds, or property, belonging to the said company or held in trust for its use or purposes; and a copy of the annual accounts as made up for the year 1837 or the year 1836. The hon. Member said, he considered that the property held by this society was public property, and that consequently a public account of its management ought to be rendered. Hitherto the management of the affairs of this company had been in the hands of a self-elected society, and the public had been up to this time in the dark in regard to the application of the funds at the disposal of the members. He thought it, therefore, fit and proper for that House to call for an account of the income and expenditure of the company, as the funds were subscribed for public purposes, and by the charter they were to be publicly applied. It might be said, that an application to the Lord Chancellor was the proper way to obtain an inquiry into the management and application of the funds; but the fact was, that a suit had been instituted by a private individual only a few years ago for the purpose of obtaining a statement of the assets of the company, but it was compromised, and he believed, that all other suits of a similar kind which had been instituted had been closed without any satisfactory information having been obtained. The public, therefore, knew nothing of the affairs of this company; and considering the object for which it was instituted, and the manner in which the funds had been obtained, he would ask, was it unreasonable for Parliament to demand a return of the nature he proposed to move for, when the society were in the receipt of a large income subscribed by the public? He wished to charge no one with misconduct, nor was it his intention to insinuate that there had been any misapplication of the funds; but, under all the circumstances, he did think, that the public were fairly entitled to the information which he asked for. Private individuals were not able to institute suits to obtain a statement of the assets of the company, as those suits would cost 400l. or 500l., and therefore, as he considered the funds of the society to be public funds, the House, he concluded, had a right to call for a statement showing the amount of income and expenditure. The hon. Member concluded by making his motion.

Mr. Gibson

rose to oppose it, and to express a hope that the hon. Member would withdraw it. If, however, the hon. Gentleman should press the motion, he should feel it his duty to take the sense of the house upon the subject, as he did not think the return moved for was of such a kind as that House had any right to demand. The hon. Gentleman called for a return of the income and expenditure of a private body; for, although existing under a charter granted by the Legislature, the society was composed of private individuals, the funds also being the result of private subscriptions. He admitted, that there were cases where the Legislature might properly interfere with the funds of corporate bodies; but there were other cases where any interference by the Legislature was highly improper, and in the case of those societies where a statement of their income and expenditure could be obtained by an application to the common tribunals of the country and in the ordinary course of law, Parliament had no right to make demands similar to that contained in the motion of the hon. Member. There never had been any grant of money by Parliament to the society, for, although it existed by a charter, it was supported altogether by private subscription. Its management was subject only to the jurisdiction of the Chancellor, and unless the hon. Member could show that the Chancellor had neglected his duty, and allowed the funds to be misapplied, the House had no right to interfere with the management of the company's affairs. It had been insinuated, that the members of the company were unwilling that any investigation should take place; but he was authorized to say, that they did not shrink from the fullest inquiry, and that they were ready to give every document that might, be called for, to the parties who had a just right to demand them—namely, the Lord Chancellor, and the other persons appointed by the charter to superintend the management of the company's affairs. What he objected to was, the House ordering a private company to give up their papers, when Parliament had no legitimate jurisdiction over their affairs. It had been said, that the original object for which the company was instituted had been obtained, and that its existence was no longer necessary; but he held in his hand a letter from Sir John Colborne to the treasurer of the society, in which the exertions of the society in Canada, and in other parts of North America, were spoken of in terms of the highest commendation, and their efforts to propagate the gospel amongst the aborigines of that country at the present time had been attended with the most beneficial effects. The hon. Member had correctly stated, that a suit had been instituted, between the years 1834 and 1836, before the Lord Chancellor, and the very returns for which the hon. Member had moved were laid before his Lordship upon that occasion. A decree had been issued so lately as 1836 from the Court of Chancery, which had completely set at rest the question as to the proper application of the funds, and all those doubts and suspicions which had been thrown out by the hon. Member for Kilkenny.

Mr. Harvey

said, that the hon. Member for Ipswich had opposed this Motion on two grounds. First, that these trusts were in the nature of private property; secondly, that any abuses that might have crept in were under the cognizance of the Courts of equity, who had the power to administer justice respecting them. He differed from both these propositions, and contended, that those trusts were in their nature public. They were trusts established on a public foundation, and devoted originally to the highest purposes. He knew no subject of higher interest than that to which these funds had been originally devoted. With respect to the next proposition, that in case of malversation there were means within the ordinary tribunals by which all abuses might be corrected—now, than this there could be nothing farther from the truth in point of fact. It was now twenty years since a commission had been appointed to inquire into all charities in this country. Many means had been resorted to, both at the time of its appointment and since, to defeat the ends of that commission, and it was not until recent times, when inquiry had become co-extensive with abuse, that any of the objects of the commission had been usefully carried into effect. That commission ceased to exist in the year 1837. It had produced thirty of the largest volumes of reports that had ever been laid upon the table of the House, and had cost the country nearly a quarter of a million of money, and yet it would be difficult for any one to point out the advantages that had resulted from that inquiry. But supposing that commission even to be still in existence, it could not have anything to do with the present motion, as the terms in which the commission had been appointed limited its operations to England and Wales. He quite agreed that it was unadvisable to do anything that would have the effect of converting this House into a court of equity, into which suitors might come when they were disappointed elsewhere; but the hon. Gentleman opposite gave the Courts of equity a virtue which did not belong to them, for he said, that you had only to go into them and chronicle the abuse of which you complained and you were sure of redress. Now, this was by no means the case. He spoke in the presence of the Solicitor-General, and he had no hesitation to say, that many suits had begun in his lifetime the termination of which would be after his epitaph was written. There was no public charity which ever would remain quiet or be content to give up whilst it had a penny to spend in defending itself, and the abuses might exist chin deep yet the attempt to correct them by any process of law would be a work of years. It was a common saying, that wherever there was a wrong there was a remedy. However, this was one of those philosophic placidities which only found a dwelling in unsophisticated minds, but which was never found to exist in reality. He thought, that this return ought to be granted, as it was only just and proper that Parliament should have some account before it of the administration of those funds.

The Solicitor-General

, at the risk of incurring the obloquy of the hon. Member for Southwark, felt bound to oppose the Motion of the hon. Member for Kilkenny. No case whatever had been made out in favour of the motion. If the House were to take up matters which were within the cognizance of the ordinary tribunals, and once overstep the line which left those matters to the proper tribunals, he did not see where their inferences was to end. The hon. Member for Kilkenny had stated that considerable embarrassment existed at present with respect to subjects of this nature, and he would wish the hon. Member could suggest any mode by which that embarrassment could be lessened; but undoubtedly that object could not be effected by transferring the jurisdiction of Courts of Law into that House. There was no specialty in the case presented by the hon. Member. It appeared, that the ordinary tribunals were open, and that even a decree had been made on the subject within the last twelve months. He saw great danger and difficulty in acceding to the motion.

Mr. Warburton

thought his hon. Friend justified in calling for the account, because it was clear that the functionaries who ought to have cognizance of the matter would not examine it in the manner contemplated by the charter.

The House divided—Ayes 27; Noes 56: Majority 29.

List of the AYES.
Archbold, Robert Pechell, C.
Brotherton, Joseph Philips, George R.
Bulwer, E. L. Pryme, G.
Dick, Quintin Rundle, J.
Finch, F. Strickland, Sir G.
Halse, J. Style, Sir C.
Hawes, B. Turner, E.
Hill, Lord A. M. C. Turner, W.
Hodges, T. L. Vigors, N. A.
Humphery, John Warburton, H.
Langdale, hon. C. White, Andew
Lushington, C. Yates, J. A.
Milnes, R. M. TELLERS.
Monypenny, T. G. Harvey, D. W.
Palmer, C. F. Hume, J.
List of the NOES.
Abercromby, hn. G. R. Holmes, W.
Acland, Tho. D. Howard, P. H.
Adam, Admiral Howard, R.
Barnard, E. G. Howick, Viscount
Beamish, F. B. Hughes, W. B.
Chandos, Marquess of Hurt, F.
Colquhoun, J. C. Jermyn, Earl
Craig, W. G. Johnstone, Hope
Darby, G. Kirk, Peter
Denison, W. J. Knatchbull, rt. hn. Sir E.
Duckworth, S. Law, hon. C. E.
Dunbar, G. Lefevre, C. S.
Eastnor, Viscount Long, W.
Fergusson, rt. hon. R. C. Lygon, hon. General
Fitzalan, Lord Mahon, Viscount
Fremantle, Sir T. Morpeth, Viscount
French, F. Muskett, G. A.
Freshfield, J. W. O'Ferrall, R. M.
Graham, rt. hn. Sir J. Palmerston Viscount
Grimsditch, T. Parker, J.
Hayter, W. G. Perceval, Colonel
Hepburn, Sir T. B. Phillpotts, J.
Rickford, W. Verner, Colonel
Round, J. Vivian, J. E.
Sinclair, Sir G. Wood, C.
Smith, R. V. Wyndham, Wadham
Surrey, Earl of
Tancred, H. W. TELLERS.
Thomson, rt. hn. C. P. Solicitor General
Vere, Sir C. B. Gibson, Mr.