HC Deb 24 May 1843 vol 69 cc843-7
Sir G. Grey

moved the Order of the Day for the second reading of the Charitable Trusts Bill.

On the question that the bill be read a second time,

Mr. Hume

did not rise to offer any ob jection to the motion, but to call the attention of the Government to this most important subject. Had he been aware that the bill would be brought on for a second reading that evening he would have brought down with him a variety of details, showing the immense amount of property in land and funds which was vested in trustees, many of whom acted as if they were subject to no public responsibility. It could be shown that the property of this description amounted to not less than 6,000,000l., over which there did not exist that salutary control which the public had a right to expect with regard to such an amount of funds invested for such useful purposes. What he thought the Government ought to do was to establish a board for the supervision of such trusts, and to which each of the trusts respectively should be bound to transmit an account of its proceedings; so that it could be seen at once what was the nature of the trust, what the intentions of its founder, and how far those intentions were carried into effect. A board of this kind had been established in Ireland, which had been attended with very salutary results, and a large amount of funds, which had been diverted from the purposes for which they were originally intended, had been restored to their legitimate objects. Similar results would, he had no doubt, be produced in England by the establishment of a board with similar powers.

Sir R. H. Inglis

thought, the bill too general and sweeping in its enactments. It was most important to know whether the bill was to apply to 100 or 500 or 1,000 charitable trusts: but he feared that, for good or for evil, more than that number of trusts would be affected by it. He would admit that it was most desirable that for any abuse arising in any trust there should be a cheaper remedy than that which could be afforded by a Chancery suit, which, however amicably conducted, would swallow up the entire funds of many of those trusts. On another ground, he thought the bill too general, for it gave power to the Attorney-general to visit every charitable trust, no matter whether the trustees were found capable of managing the trust or not. With these views of the bill, he had great doubts whether he could support its further progress.

The Attorney-General

had long been of opinion that some large and compre- hensive measure was necessary to meet the evils which bad arisen in connexion with charitable trusts, and if when he stated that such a measure was under the consideration of Government and would be brought forward, the right hon. Gentleman (Sir G. Grey) would consent to withdraw his bill, he would not trouble the House with any further observations on the subject. The hon. Member for Montrose had not at all overstated the amount of property vested in trusts for charitable purposes in various parts of the kingdom, great portions of which were subjected to very bad management. It was not too much to say, that trusts amounting to up wards of l,000,000l. per annum thus invested called for investigation, which would, no doubt, have the effect of not only restoring it to its legitimate destination, but of also greatly improving it in amount. He considered it advisable that some comprehensive scheme in connexion with this subject should be adopted in order that these charities might be under proper visitation, instead of the present expensive and complicated process. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would not press his bill. He expected to be able during the present Session of Parliament to bring in a bill for the regulation of these charitable and trust funds.

Sir G. Grey

could not consent to abandon the bill altogether. He was gratified at hearing from the Attorney-general that the subject had engaged the attention of the Government, and relying on his pledge that some measure would be brought forward by the Government during the course of the present Session, he would withdraw his bill for the present, and place it on the paper for this day three weeks. He should be sorry to abandon the hope that the bill would pass during the course of the present Session. He hoped the House would consent to the second reading of the bill, and he would postpone the further consideration of it to this day three weeks.

Sir J. Graham

desired to guard the right hon. Gentleman against any misconstruction of what had fallen from his hon. Friend the Attorney-general. The subject was one of great magnitude and importance, and had engaged the serious attention of the Government. The Lord Chancellor had devoted a considerable portion of attention to the subject, which was a most difficult one. He could not pledge himself that the Government would bring forward a measure on the subject, which would be passed into law during the present Session. He hoped the measure would be sufficiently matured to be laid upon the Table during the course of the present Session, but he could by no means pledge himself that the Government would be enabled to pass a law on the subject. He was anxious, however, to have it distinctly understood, that under no circumstances could he consent to the second reading of this bill. When the bill was first proposed, he had stated that he had considerable doubts upon the subject, and, upon mature consideration, all those doubts had been confirmed. The bill proposed to introduce a new principle in dealing with these trusts. He objected to deal with these trusts in any way but judicially. Now the present bill proposed to give the executive Government power to deal with these trusts, and he thought that power ought to be entrusted only to a court of justice. He must therefore oppose the second reading of the bill.

Mr. Brotherton

approved highly of any general system by which the public could be made acquainted with the annual income and expenditure of those trusts, for he thought an exposition of their nature and extent would tend to prevent their misappropriation.

Colonel Sibthorp

hoped that the right hon. Gentleman below him (Sir James Graham) would bring in some measure on this subject, as there could be no doubt that the funds of these trusts were grossly mal-appropriated for election purposes. He regretted to hear that nothing would be done on so important a subject in the present Session, and he thought the House ought not to allow Parliament to be prorogued before a bill was passed and received the royal assent.

Mr. Wyse said,

the only objection which he entertained to the measure was on account of its incompleteness; he thought it fell short of the necessities of the case. The Legislature should, no doubt, be cautious in departing from the objects of the founders of those trusts; but it should also be borne in mind that a different state of society required different institutions. Many of the most valuable establishments on the continent were old establishments which had been remodelled.

Mr. Ewart

thought it would be very desirable that the Government should introduce a measure with respect to the administration of those trusts before the prorogation of Parliament, which might be considered in a future Session.

The second reading of the bill postponed to June 14th.

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