HC Deb 02 August 1853 vol 129 cc1153-9

Order for Committee read.


, in moving that Mr. Speaker leave the Chair, said, that he did not think it necessary to make any statement to the House with respect to the general provisions of this Bill. He had stated, at an earlier period of the Session, in going over the general - views of the Government with respect to education, that the object was the better management, and, in some cases, the improved application of the charitable trusts of this country. The question, in fact, was one which for a long period had engaged the attention of Parliament. In 1816 Lord Brougham, then Mr. Brougham, had brought this important subject prominently before the consideration of Parliament, and both Parliament and the public had taken a great interest in it. Since 1816 he thought that time sufficient had elapsed to enable them low to legislate upon it—about the usual time before any great subject of public importance was brought to a conclusion. In 1843, a measure had been introduced either by Sir Frederick Pollock, or under his immediate instructions; and repeatedly since that period Bills upon the subject had been brought before Parliament. A Bill had been introduced by the Government over which he had presided; and last year the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, the then Attorney General (Sir F. Thesiger), made a detailed and very able speech in behalf of the Bill which was then before the House. In the present Session Government proposed to take up the subject again, and, as he stated to the House in bringing the question forward, it was proposed that, as many of these charities had reference to education, the body which should direct the administration of those trusts in a general way, and should have the superintendence of them, should be the Committee of the Privy Council for Education, with, of course, such legal assistance as might be necessary to enable them to deal with any difficult question of law that might come before them. The Bill now before the House had been introduced into the other House by the Lord Chancellor, and had been referred to a Select Committee, which Select Committee, they had reason to know, had paid very great attention to the subject, and had gone over all the provisions of the Bill with the greatest possible care. It was the opinion of that Committee that it would be better that the question of general superintendence and administration of charities should be altogether separated from any political question, and from the interests of any party. They thought that that could not be effected by the proposition which had been made by the Government, and they proposed—and their view had been assented to by the Lord Chancellor—that there should be persons named by the Crown who should hold their office during good behaviour, to whom should be intrusted that general administration. He did not think that it was at all necessary to enter into the merits of the two propositions. The latter had been adopted by the Committee of the House of Lords, and had been taken up by the Government. It appeared to him that the great object which they had in view might be accomplished in that manner. It was not necessary either that he should make any statement as to the num- ber of charities which would be affected, or as to the different provisions of the Bill, which, no doubt, would come under the consideration of that House in the Committee. There were some alterations, however, which he had to propose which he would briefly enumerate. One was, that although there were three persons named in the Bill who were to receive salaries, it was very probable that after a time the whole number of three would not be required. Therefore he should propose at the end of the Bill a clause, by which, at a certain time, one of those appointments should cease and determine, and, without the consent of Parliament, should not be renewed. He thought it would be quite necessary that there should be at least two persons having the qualifications named in the Bill who should be the permanent Commissioners for carrying out its provisions. There was one person, as the Bill now stood, who did not require a legal qualification, and who would be a Member of that House. That provision he proposed to maintain. He was sorry to find that in inquiring with respect to one kind of charities—namely, Roman Catholic charities, the placing of them under that body without any special provisions might lead to questions which would affect the existence of many of those charities. The House was well aware of the laws which restricted and limited the management of charities, and although these Roman Catholics charities were very useful, and were such as he was sure the House would wish to continue, they might, from having failed to become enrolled under Lord Hardwicke's Act, or from being founded subsequently, not having altogether complied with the law, be liable to be entirely overthrown and destroyed by the operation of this Act, unless great care were taken. He did not think that at this period of the Session it would be advisable to enter into the question, which was a very grave and important one, as to how far those charities should be maintained, and the law on the subject of superstitious uses should be modified. He therefore proposed, as was done in the Act of 1835, and the subsequent Act appointing Commissioners for those inquiries, that the Roman Catholic charities should be omitted from this Bill. He did so, not with the view of omitting them permanently, because he thought it would be a great advantage that they should be brought under a contract of this kind, and he should think it would prove a great benefit to themselves that there should be a superintending body to prevent these charities being diverted from their proper object. That would require, however a separate Bill, and very special provisions, which might excite a good deal of discussion in that House. He proposed, therefore, to exempt Roman Catholic charities from the operation of this Bill, as they had been excluded from the Act of 1835. He would now move that Mr. Speaker should leave the Chair.

House in Committee.

Clauses 1 to 27 inclusive were agreed to.

Clause 28 (The Lord Chancellor, with the advice of the Master of the Rolls and the Vice Chancellors, shall issue general rules and orders with reference to the mode of proceedings, and to the fees and allowances to solicitors of the Court of Chancery, and the fees to be payable in money or by stamps to the officers of the said Court in respect of applications and proceedings).


said, he must express a hope that this clause would not open the door to the establishment of a new set of fees in the Court of Chancery after they had been so recently regulated by Parliament.


could assure the right hon. Gentleman, whom he begged to compliment on his watchfulness, that there was no such intention. The majority of the persons affected were not the officers of the Court, but the practitioners in the Court. With regard to the officers' fees, they were governed by a general Act, which provided that all such fees payable, or to become payable, should be carried to the suitors' fee fund.

Clause agreed to; as were Clauses up to 42 inclusive.

Clause 43 struck out.

Clause 44 (Reservation of Rights and Privileges of Church of England with respect to Charities).


said, that as the previous clause had been expunged, this clause which reserved the rights and privileges of the Church of England with respect to charities should also be expunged.


said, he would amend the clause by omitting the words "as compared with any other religious persuasion or sect, or the members thereof."


, said, he was not satisfied with the proposed Amendment, and should, therefore, move that the clause should be omitted.

Question put, "That the Clause as amended stand part of the Bill."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 71; Noes 39: Majority 32.

Clause agreed to: as were Clauses up to 51 inclusive.

Clause 52 (The Board, upon the application of any trustee, or upon any report of an inspector or information otherwise obtained, to frame schemes for the appropriation of charitable property to varied trusts).


said, he should move to omit the words "or upon any report of an inspector or information otherwise obtained."


said, he must oppose the Motion, for he must confess that some of the principal advantages which he expected to accrue from this measure would be gained by means of it. The power was necessary in order to secure that trustees performed their duty, and it would not be exercised without the intervention of Parliament.


said, he believed that so far as the administration of charities was concerned, the clause would be wholly inoperative.


said, he should oppose the Amendment. There were numerous instances in which it was absolutely necessary to have new schemes for the management of charities, and he was convinced that the machinery provided by the clause would prove in such eases both simple and efficacious. Every publicity would be given to the proceedings of the Board previous to any alteration of the schemes, and he did not see that wrong could be done to any one.


said, he must support the Amendment. The question before the Committee was this: What power ought to be conferred on the Commissioners for the purpose of making new schemes for charities? The clause applied to those cases exclusively in which the Court of Chancery could not interfere, and to cases in which an Act of Parliament was necessary. Now, was it desirable to give to the Commissioners a power to devise a scheme which might alter the intentions of the donor? It was no doubt desirable that the Commissioners should have power to change a scheme on the application of the trustees or the parties interested in the trust, but this clause would invest the Commissioners with an arbitrary authority not possessed by any body in the country. His feeling was in favour of the Amend- meat of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Henley); but if the Committee should think generally that this power ought to be conferred upon the Commissioners, he was so anxious for the Bill to pass in the most approved form, that he should be quite ready to waive his own opinion.


said, he must contend that the mode of procedure under this clause was more likely to ensure a beneficial alteration, and one in conformity with the principles of the charity, than the mode now in existence, for it provided that things should not be done in a corner, as was now too frequently the case.

Amendment negatived.

Clause agreed to; as were also Clauses up to 59 inclusive.

Clause 60 (Exempts from the operation of the Act the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, London, Durham, and other institutions).


said, he now rose to move the extension of the exemption to any funds applicable to persons of the Roman Catholic persuasion, or that shall be under the superintendence and control of persons of that persuasion. In the Act of 58 Geo. III., there was an exemption with respect to funds applicable to purposes of education for persons of the Jewish persuasion, or Quakers, or persons of the Roman Catholic persuasion, under the superintendence and control of persons of that persuasion. The Act of 1835 contained a similar exemption. He had not heard that any of the Jewish persuasion, or Quakers, had asked to be excluded from the operation of the Act, but there had been very considerable alarm excited on the part of many of the Roman Catholic persuasion. That alarm was founded on two grounds, derived, however, from the same cause. One was, that the law with respect to superstitious uses was such that it was supposed many of the Roman Catholic charities would not stand a strict inquiry, if brought under the consideration of the Court of Chancery, or of any other Court in the kingdom. The other ground was the consequence of that doubt with respect to their legality, which had led to these charities not Laving been enrolled according to the provisions of Lord Hardwicke's Act, and which would render them liable, therefore, to the forfeitures and penalties contained in that Act. His own opinion was, as he had already stated, that the provisions of this Act ought to apply to the Roman Catholic charities; but he thought, at the same time, that it would be necessary to amend the laws relating to superstitious uses, and that uses in conformity with the Roman Catholic religion should be accounted as purposes to which Roman Catholic foundations might be applied. That object would have been accomplished by a Bill which had been introduced some years ago by the present Master of the Rolls (Sir John Romilly), but which did not pass. It was obvious, however, that they could not frame provisions for that purpose in a Bill which had come down from the House of Lords without questioning the discrimination of other of those purposes which by law were not allowed to have the benefit of these charitable endowments. He would propose, therefore, with the view of legislating in a future Session upon this important subject, that the Committee should now introduce, after the other exemptions contained in the clause, the words which he had read.


said, he condemned the operation of the mortmain laws in, toto, and he trusted that the noble Lord would some day be prepared to deal with them. He did not wish to deprive the Roman Catholics of the benefit of their charitable institutions, which, owing to the state of the law, might have become liable to penalties and forfeitures; but he should like to see an Act introduced of a retrospective nature, which should legalise them all.


said, he thought it was unfair that a proposition of this important nature should have been brought forward in the manner that it had been, without any previous notice whatever. He put it to the noble Lord whether he would not withdraw those words for the present, and bring them up on the Report, when there might be an opportunity of discussing them.


said, he would assent to this suggestion, and withdraw the Amendment with the view of bringing it up upon the Report.

Clause agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.


said, he must congratulate the noble Lord and the Government on the near prospect of passing a Charitable Trusts Bill after a delay of thirty years from its first introduction. He felt quite confident that it would prove highly beneficial.

Bill reported, as amended.

House resumed.

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