§ Order for Second Reading read,
The ATTORNEY GENERAL,
in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, said, he wished to explain that its object was to improve and amend the administration of the charity. The funds to be dealt with by this trust, which were originally only 40l. a year, had now mounted up to 12,000l. annually. The trustees, as the affairs of the charity were at present administered, were many of them persons filling a very humble sphere in life. Great patronage rested with them. They exercised considerable influence over the scot and lot voters, and the elections to the office frequently led to turmoil and political excitement. The scheme proposed by this Bill would remedy all these abuses, and since it had been approved of by three Attorney Generals, besides the Court of Chancery, and had received the sanction of the House of Lords, he hoped the House would experience no difficulty in passing it.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
§ SIR JOSHUA WALMSLEY
(in the absence of the two hon. Members for the Borough) said, he had been requested by several of the inhabitants to represent to the House their repugnance to the present Bill, which they stated to be adverse to the wishes of nineteen out of every twenty of the ratepayers. Sixteen hundred out of eighteen hundred householders had petitioned against the Bill, and certainly when he looked at its provisions he thought the House ought to hesitate before they passed it. He was surprised to hear the hon. and learned Attorney General state that some of the trustees were men in the lower walks of life, and consequently that they ought not to be in such a position. He 1253 had yet to learn that poverty was to be an exclusion from such trusts—but was this so? One of the persons of whom his hon. and learned Friend had spoken, had, it is true, been insolvent, but he had paid his debts in full, and was now a man of means. Another, represented as a turner, was the owner of several houses in the borough. The hon. and learned Gentleman had stated that some of the inhabitants had petitioned for a new scheme, but not for such a scheme as the present. He said it was desirable to alter and amend the distribution of the funds: this was so far correct, and the inhabitants agreed to some of the proposed changes in such distribution. The only changes, however, the Bill proposed in the distribution of the funds, were to reduce the number of marriage portions from forty to twenty-eight, to do away with the good-apprentice fee of about 200l. a year, and the distribution of 500l. a year to the poor. All these were in accordance with the will of the founder, but were not objected to by the inhabitants. The Bill left 11,000l. out of 12,000l. a year totally untouched. It had been said that some mal-appropriation had been made; this was adverse to the Report of Lord Brougham's Commission, which reported favourably of the charity. It was equally adverse to the statement of the present Recorder, who stated in writing—He was satisfied, under the existing system, the charity, upon the whole, had been well and honestly administered, and that nothing could be proved to have been done either by the present trustees or their predecessors to justify so great a change as that which was recommended.The present constitution of the trust was a most popular one, and the trusts, he was led to believe, had been well administered under it. There were twenty-four of the Town Council, of course popularly elected, the Lord Lieutenant, and the two borough and two county Members, with the two Masters of the school, and the Recorder, making thirty-two. To these were added, eighteen trustees elected by the inhabitants by ballot, making fifty trustees in all. It was proposed to supersede this Board by substituting six aldermen, and twenty-four persons selected by the Lord Chancellor from the inhabitants residing within four miles of the borough, and these twenty-four persons, so elected, were to be trustees for life. Even for the six aldermen they were indebted to the House of Lords, who inserted them in the Bill proposed by the 1254 hon. and learned Attorney General. That such a scheme should be supported by a liberal Attorney General, greatly surprised him (Sir J. Walmsley), and could only arise out of some idea of political patronage to the Chancellor himself, which the hon. and learned Gentleman might look to, or for want of due consideration of the real bearing of the Bill. It appeared to him (Sir J. Walmsley) to be adverse to the spirit of the age; was contrary to the wishes of the inhabitants, and was a vicious system of self-election, which had led to much of the mischiefs attendant upon our charitable trusts. They had now before the House a Charitable Trusts Bill, the Commissioners under which were to propose schemes for the future management of those trusts. If they were to be such schemes as the present, there would be little or no improvement, but in some cases the reverse. Though he were alone, he should feel it to be his duty to oppose what appeared to him to be so unconstitutional a Bill; and he therefore moved that it be read that day three months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," at the end of the Question, and to add the words "upon this day three months."
§ SIR FREDERIC THESIGER
said, that this charity was founded in the reign of Edward VI., and at that time the Corporation of Bedford were appointed as the trustees. Various Acts of Parliament passed since then had introduced new trustees, and what he thought had led to the vicious system which now prevailed was the law which allowed eighteen of the trustees to be annually elected by the scot and lot voters of the borough. This law had enabled needy men to get into the trust, and the consequence was that while many relatives of these trustees had become recipients of the charity, one of the trustees himself was actually an inmate of the almshouses which the charity supported. It was hardly likely that such men could administer the charity with strict impartiality, and hence this measure had been introduced at the earnest entreaty of some of the most respectable and influential inhabitants of the borough.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 70; Noes 8: Majority 62.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read 2o, and committed, and referred to the Committee of Selection.