HC Deb 15 July 1846 vol 87 cc1128-35

moved the Second Reading of the Charitable Trusts Bill. As serious objections had been taken to this measure, he thought he should best fulfil the object in view by merely retaining those clauses which secured the accountability of those who had charge of public money. It was the duty of the House, after the expense which had been incurred in inquiries, to have some accounts available that would show how the revenues of each trust had been expended. It was not his intention to include the Bible Society, and other religious trusts or charities where the founders were alive, but those only where the individuals were dead. The principle of the Bill was to secure the accountability of persons intrusted with public moneys.


should not offer any opposition to the second reading of this Bill; but the House must not suppose that this was a substitute for another Bill, which had been thrown out in the other House, or for a more general measure.


considered this a very valuable Bill, and one which would give great satisfaction to the country.


inquired whether, in the case of mixed funds, it was intended to require accounts of all the moneys?


My object is, that there should be in that case a balance-sheet of the moneys received and expended, whether the parties were dead or alive.


said, his hon. Friend (Mr. Hume) perhaps had not considered the sea of difficulties he would have to encounter, though his intentions were good. If he attacked the city of London, he would find that a very strong body to deal with, and would meet obstacles at the very outset. Did he contemplate meddling with the Rugby charity, or the grammar school at Bedford? He recommended his hon. Friend to leave legislating upon the subject, which would be better done by the comprehensive measure referred to by the right hon. Baronet.


agreed with the hon. Member who spoke last, that this measure might interfere with the comprehensive measure referred to by the Secretary of State, which, as he (Mr. O'Brien) understood, was in the contemplation of the Government. He protested against any great principle like this being determined by the House on the representation of merely a private Member. He did not consider that the Bill was so worded as that it could be safely allowed to make so great a change in the charities of this country. It was certainly true that those charities were liable to great abuses, that some had been abused; but he protested against the assumption of the principle that the House of Commons had a right to interfere with every charitable body. Every one that supported the Bill did so under the condition that changes would be made in it in Committee. He moved that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.


said, the hon. Member for Northamptonshire was inconsistent in saying that this Bill should not be introduced by a private Member, and then that the House of Commons was not entitled to interfere with charities in the administration of which he admitted there were great abuses. The great bodies who were the trustees of those charities either considered themselves unaccountable, or acted as if they thought so, and applied the moneys to their own private purposes. He knew of charities that were so managed. When the House came to consider the great and comprehensive measure, let them come to the consideration of it with all the accounts before them. He tendered his thanks to the hon. Member for Montrose for having introduced this Bill; and he hoped the House of Commons, with the knowledge of the abuses before them, would read this Bill a second time.


observed, that if such a measure as the present had been brought fairly before the House, he should have no objection to go into it; but he protested against questions of so much importance as the Bill involved being decided in so thin a House.


thought that the House ought to be clearly informed how far it was intended to go; they ought to be informed whether or not they were to have all the different foundations brought within the scope of the Bill; for example, were they to have King Edward's foundations comprehended within its operation? The House, he hoped, would bear in mind that all the larger charities were subject to the Court of Chancery. He would not say that the House did not possess the right to interfere, because Parliament could do anything; but he did think that a Bill of that importance ought to be introduced into the House of Commons upon the responsibility of the Queen's Government. He did not deny that every individual Member possessed a full right to bring forward a measure of that nature; but he confessed he thought that the House had a right to look to the Government upon occasions of this kind, and not leave measures of such magnitude in the hands of private Members. As, however, the matter was before the House, he should take the liberty of asking the hon Member for Montrose whether the Bill were intended to include all places of public worship; because there were many places of public worship in which the property was placed in trust, partly for the maintenance of the minister, and partly for charitable purposes. If the Bill included trusts of that description, he must be allowed to say that he considered it very late in the Session to bring forward such a measure. They could not hope that a measure of that importance could receive adequate discussion at such an advanced period of the year.


could not help remarking that it might be all very well to say that the Court of Chancery possessed the authority necessary for taking cognizance of these matters; but it should be remembered that proceedings in the Court of Chancery were inordinately expensive. There was little use in telling a poor man that the courts of law were open to the poor as well as the rich; they certainly were open, but so was the London Tavern; both were open to any one who could pay for expenpensive luxuries. To him it appeared that the objections to the present Bill were by no means well founded—it was merely a Bill to enable the Government, the Legislature, and the country, to obtain clear and exact information upon subjects of great public importance. Every one acknowledged that great abuses were committed, and the Bill then before the House was merely a preliminary step, the purport of which was to clear the way for a more comprehensive measure.


said, that the hon. Member for Montrose had told the House that there were some charities to which it was intended that the Bill should not apply. Now, if that observation included some of the charities which were then present to his mind, he confessed that it took away no small portion of the objection which he felt towards the Bill. Nevertheless, the subject was one of so grave a character that he really thought the Government ought to take it into their own hands. The Bill as it now stood appeared to him to be very crude, and he did not think it was likely to be carried into effect. It demanded that there should be certain accounts annually produced; but at whose expense? There were many charities, the trustees of which administered large funds; but they had no funds wherewith to pay clerks. No doubt, Parliament had the power of insisting upon those accounts being furnished; but he put it to the House whether it was fair to call upon trustees to employ clerks at their own expense for the purpose of preparing those accounts? He did not deny that means might be found whereby that difficulty might be obviated, and in most cases he believed there would be no objection to the publication of accounts. But he could not help observing that the measure was one of much importance; that the Bill ought not only to be printed, but very extensively circulated, before Parliament finally decided on its merits, and he feared that that could not be done at this advanced period of the Session. For these reasons he thought that the hon. Member for Montrose would do well to withdraw the Bill for the present, and introduce it in a modified form at the commencement of the next Session.


said, he wished to state briefly to the House what took place between himself and the hon. Member for Montrose on the subject of the Bill then before them. But previously he wished to observe, that if his mind had now for the first time been brought to bear upon the question at present submitted to the consideration of the House, he should have hesitated before he gave his consent to the second reading of the measure which had been introduced by the hon. Member for Montrose, So far, however, from his being unacquainted with its provisions, the hon. Mover of the Bill had communicated them to him before he obtained leave to bring it in, and, after all, it was only a small portion of a measure which Lord Lyndhurst, then Lord Chancellor, had laid upon the Table of the other House of Parliament. His noble and learned Friend, as the first law adviser of the Crown, did on the part of the late Government bring into the House of Lords a Bill which included all, he believed, that the hon. Member for Montrose proposed to effect by the present measure, although it comprehended a great deal more, and it would, if it had become law, have effected, as he thought, an extensive and salutary change. The Bill introduced by Lord Lyndhurst required that trustees should furnish annual accounts; but it made certain exceptions, and he thought that similar exceptions ought to be contained in any Bill introduced upon the subject. That Bill unhappily, as he thought, was defeated in the other House of Parliament; and thereupon the hon. Member for Montrose inquired of him (Sir J. Graham) if he would consent to a single enactment requiring trustees of charities to present to Parliament a statement annually of their accounts. He told the hon. Member that which he then repeated—namely, that he very much regretted the loss of the larger measure, adding, at the same time, that a single enactment requiring the annual production of accounts would, in his opinion, prove a salutary check upon the conduct of trustees in the administration of charities. The hon. Member for Northamptonshire told them that the passing of such a Bill as the proposed measure, would be an arbitrary assumption of power on the part of the House of Commons. Now, he was quite of a different opinion: if the measure were agreed to, it would not be any assumption of authority by the House of Commons: the proposition could only be made binding by its becoming an Act of Parliament, and then the authority of proceeding in such matters would be vested in a responsible servant of the Crown. It would be monstrous to suppose that the House of Commons could entertain such a project as that of taking upon itself such a power. If it were found that the trustees of certain charities had proceeded in a manner the effect of which was to defraud those whom the donors intended should have the benefit of those charities, then surely it would not be an undue assumption of power if a statute were enacted compelling the annual preparation and publication of ac- counts, setting forth the funds which the trustees received, and the mode of their application. Such was the object of the measure then before the House, and so far, at least, it must be admitted that the Bill was not too comprehensive. The hon. Member for Montrose appeared to him to be right in the principle of the measure; there was one part of it, however, which perhaps might be thought somewhat too wide in its operation—the Bill provided that all persons in whom property was vested for charitable purposes, or who held property appropriated, to charitable uses, should be compelled to produce their accounts annually. That appeared to him to be an extensive enactment. It was very wide. It might extend to various trusts which the author never intended; it might comprehend Dissenting places of worship, and he believed that almost all Dissenting places of worship were held upon terms that this Bill would reach. He doubted if any one connected with charitable trusts could, under the Bill, avoid making annual returns, and that he believed was not the intention of the hon. Member for Montrose; however, when they went into Committee, the phraseology of the Bill might be deliberately considered. Of this, he entertained no doubt, that the general rule of accountability ought to be enforced. Great abuses were admitted to exist, and he knew no remedy for these abuses so efficient, so clear, so obvious, as that which accountability presented. If they wanted analogy or proof, they might find both in the case of the turnpike trusts. With respect to those, an enactment similar to this had been passed. Each turnpike trust was compelled to render its accounts, and a more salutary enactment could scarcely have been devised. Debts, jobbing, and abuses prevailed. The debts of those trusts were now 8,000,000l.; and if the Bill to which he referred had been passed twenty years earlier, not one half the debts of those trusts would now exist. Even if no more were done than to enact the one provision now proposed, it would have the effect of bringing public opinion to bear upon the subject—if no more than that one measure were enacted, one-half the objects contemplated by the larger Bill would be accomplished. He was quite aware that considerable exceptions ought to be introduced; but he should object to admitting among those exceptions charities connected with the corporation of London. Lord Lyndhurst, in another place, showed that they would not bear public investigation. They were such as if an annual revision took place, the practices which prevailed in their administration would not be suffered any longer to exist. Upon these grounds, he should not hesitate to vote for the second reading of the Bill; for the late Government, in introducing the larger measure, certainly recognised the principle of the enactment proposed by the hon. Member for Montrose. Although he contended for some exceptions, he warned the House that they ought not to be too large. If they proceeded carefully, he did not doubt that considerable advantage to the public must accrue; and, therefore, he was willing to vote for the second reading.


The right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) expressed it as his opinion that there was, with certain exceptions, a necessity for the present measure; but any man who gave his attention to the charitable trusts of the country, must at once see that the exceptions which would be absolutely necessary would form such a catalogue as could not be comprehended in a small bit of paper. The right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) also stated that the great question was accountability, and to secure that an enactment was necessary; while the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department, said that the principle involved was such as to require a great and comprehensive measure: surely mere accountability did not deserve so large a term as that. He thought the House would do well to seek information before it proceeded further; but it had rarely sought information on the subject. If information were required and asked for, it would, in his opinion, be afforded without any legislative enactment. From the consideration he had given the subject before them, he felt it his duty to oppose the Bill.


said, he did not object to the principle of accountability; but he certainly did object to the Bill on account of the form in which that accountability was demanded. He wished to know whether the measure would apply to the charitable trusts of the Wesleyans and the Unitarians, and all the other Dissenters, including the great Catholic schools at Oscot and Stonyhurst?


explained, that the subject had for many years been under the consideration of the House; and if they visited the library of the House, they would find numbers of volumes having reference to the subject, and detailing the abuses that existed. He had not brought in the Bill without mature consideration; and his only object in doing so was to have the moneys belonging to such charities expended according to the wishes of the donors. Nineteen years ago, he proposed a Motion, calling on the trustees of turnpike roads to render an annual account of their expenditure, and he thought he should have been eaten up in consequence; but when the returns were made, and those trusts were placed under better supervision, hon. Members who then opposed him admitted the advantage of the Motion; and if it had been carried out to a greater extent, the debts of those trusts would have been reduced very considerably. He should persist in pressing the second reading; and if it could be shown that any parts of the Bill were extremely objectionable, he should feel happy to amend them. As to Dissenting chapels they were not included. That the House should have some account of charitable trusts, was a matter so clear as to admit of no objection.


would vote for the second reading of the Bill, though he thought great alterations must be made in it. He thought some investigation might conduce to the public benefit, but he protested against being precluded by his present vote from opposing the Bill if it should not be amended, so as to omit all the great religious and ecclesiastical bodies connected with the Church, the universities, or the Dissenters, whether Wesleyans, Roman Catholics, or Independents.

The House divided on the Question, that the word "now" stand part of the Question:—Ayes 42; Noes 12: Majority 30.

List of the AYES.
Aglionby, H. A. Graham, rt. hon. Sir J.
Ainsworth, P. Greene, T.
Arkwright, G. Grey, rt. hon. Sir G.
Berkeley, hon. C. Hastie, A.
Bernal, R. Hatton, Capt. V.
Blackburne, J. I. Hill, Lord M.
Bowes, J. Hindley, C.
Bowring, Dr. Howard, P. H.
Bridgeman, H. Jermyn, Earl
Brotherton, J. Jervis, J.
Byng, rt. hon. G. S. Layard, Capt.
Clay, Sir W. Lemon, Sir C.
Clerk, rt. hon. Sir G. Ogle, S. C. H.
Collett, J. Parker, J.
Dickinson, F. H. Philips, G. R.
Duncan, G. Scrope, G. P.
Ebrington, Visct. Somerset, Lord G.
Escott, B. Thornely, T.
Gibson, rt. hon. T. M. Tufnell, H.
Vane, Lord H.
Wood, Col. T. TELLERS.
Wyse, T. Hume, J.
Yorke, H. R. Evans, Sir D. L.
List of the NOES.
Allix, J. P. Hussey, T.
Baldwin, B. Lygon, hon. Gen.
Buck, L. W. Mundy, E. M.
Egerton, Sir P. Spooner, R.
Estcourt, T. G. B.
Frewen, C. H. TELLERS.
Fuller, A. E. O'Brien, S.
Halsey, T. P. Newdegate, C. N.