§ Order for Committee read.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL,
in moving that the House resolve itself into Committee to consider the clauses, said, as the understanding was that the discussion should be taken at that stage, he would state shortly the leading principles and provisions of the measure. He regretted that a measure of such importance had been delayed to so late a period of the Session, but as far as he was concerned the delay was inevitable. It had been charged against him by the public press that he had been the cause of the delay, and that he had been influenced by sordid motives, being anxious to prevent the diminution of the fees and emoluments of his office, which would be affected by the Bill. Never had a more unfair or unjust charge been made. He had himself introduced a Bill based upon the same principle, and having the same object in view as the present measure of which the present Bill was an Amendment. That Act appointed a Commission, with powers almost as large as they would be under the present Bill. An extension of those powers in certain directions had, however, been found necessary, and not only was he extremely anxious that that extension should take place, but he had used every possible exertion to effect that object, by expediting the progress of the measure, which he was charged with having, from unworthy and sordid motives, impeded. The reason of the delay was that when the Bill came down from the Lords, about the end of June, the House of Commons were so engaged in pressing on the various measures still before them, in order to send them up to the other House before the 24th of July, after which that House had resolved not to read any Bill a second time, that there was not time to consider any measure sent down from the Lords to the Commons. It had been asserted, as he had just stated, 1876 that he, as Attorney General, regarded the extension of the powers of the Commission as an innovation of his rights, that he complained that the measure would interfere with his jurisdiction, and diminish the emoluments of his office. A more ungenerous or unjust charge had never been made. With regard to the loss of fees, the total amount of the fees arising from the fiats upon Commissions and other allowances with which the Bill would interfere, amounted only to 251. a year. The Act of 1853 established a Commission, the powers of which the experience of the last two years had proved to be too limited for the purpose for which they were intended. That Commission had large powers of inquiry—power to call for accounts, reports, and statements, and they had two inspectors whom they could send down to the country to inquire into the management of charitable trusts, the appropriation of the funds, and other matters connected with them; they had power to give advice to trustees when required, and trustees acting in accordance with the advice so given were to be deemed to have executed their trusts in conformity with law and equity. They had power also, under the existing Act, on the application of the trustees, to remove schoolmasters and schoolmistresses. They had, however, no administrative powers, and where administrative powers were required, it was still necessary to invoke the aid of the Court of Chancery. As he had said, the experience of the last two years had shown that the powers of the Commissioners were not sufficiently large, and to supply that defect was the chief object of the present Bill. In the first place, under the existing Act, the salary of one of the Commissioners would drop at the end of the present year; and as it was clear that the work of the Commission could not be carried on with a smaller staff, some provision in that respect was necessary. Then, at present the Commissioners could only examine witnesses on oath by means of the two inspectors, and it being requisite in many cases that they should be enabled to carry on such examination by themselves, it was proposed in the Bill to give to the Commissioners the same powers as they now exercised by their inspectors. Again, it having been found that the present number of the inspectors was too limited, it was proposed to take powers in the present Bill to add to them, and to enable the Commissioners to appoint other inspectors, 1877 more especially temporary local inspectors, to act in cases where it might not be worth while to send down the permanent inspectors. It was proposed also to extend the powers of the Commission in various other directions. For instance, where the trustees were disinclined to act, it was thought desirable to empower the Commissioners to put in motion the powers of the Act for the purpose of carrying out the objects of the trust, and to take steps for the removal of schoolmasters and mistresses. The Commissioners might on application by the trustees sanction improving leases, and even the alienation of property, and it was desirable to give them powers independent of the application of trustees to do all those things which they were now empowered to do on such application. The most important point in the Bill related to the increased jurisdiction of the Commissioners. They had now no administrative powers. In cases of charities below 301. a year the jurisdiction rested in the Judge of the County Court, or the district Commissioner of Bankruptcy, and above that amount it was necessary to resort to the Court of Chancery. It was thought that such cases should be put on a different footing. At present no scheme for charities under 30l. a year could be carried out by the County Court Judge or the Commissioner of Bankrupts unless sanctioned by the Commissioners, and it was thought that the Commissioners should have power to do that without the intervention of the Judges of the County Courts or the Commissioners of Bankruptcy. As the Bill was introduced in the House of Lords, that power was given not only in cases under 30l. a year, but it was unlimited. That was objected to, and the power was limited to cases under 10l. a year. Even with that limitation the power would work beneficially, for out of over 28,000 charities, there were under 5l. a year, 13,331; above 5l. and under 10l., there were 4,641; making an aggregate of nearly 18,000 charities, with an income of 110,000l. a year, which would come under the jurisdiction of the Commissioners, even if it were so low as to reach only to cases of 10l. a year. But, as they now exercised a controlling power over cases of 30l.a year, it was thought desirable that the complicated machinery of the County Court and the district Court of Bankruptcy should be got rid of, and he proposed to extend the power of the Commissioners from cases of 1878 10l. a year to those under 30l. By that means, charities above 20l. a year, and under 30l., and producing 90,000l. a year, would come under their jurisdiction. To that extent he proposed to limit their jurisdiction, although he was bound to say that, in his own opinion, it would have been better to have given the Commissioners unlimited jurisdiction; but as there was no chance of the House of Lords agreeing to that alteration, while there was no objection to limiting it to 30l. a year, he should confine himself to that proposition. That was, as he had previously stated, the most important feature in the Bill, and its necessity was proved by the simple fact that it was impossible, looking to the procedure of the Court of Chancery, that any charity producing a sum under 30l. a year could go into that Court without being seriously crippled by the expense. He was aware that the Commission was not an open Court, and so subjected to the control of public opinion; he fully felt the force of that objection, but he had only a choice of evils; either that small charities which could not bear the expense of the Court of Chancery should be sent there, or if that was not done, unless you resorted to some tribunal like that of the Commission, they would be left without any administration at all. The income3 of charities amounted to about 1,000,000l. a year, and it was important that they should be under the control of some public body. Till recently, there had been no efficient control over them, and though the Attorney General's duty was, as far as he could, to see that they were properly administered, and if they were not, he could bring them into the Court of Chancery, he had no means or machinery for acting in all cases. Great abuses existed in the administration of charities, and Lord Brougham, many years ago, brought the matter before Parliament, and various Commissions had been appointed, and cases brought before the Attorney General by means of which a sum of about 1,000,000l. had been recovered for public charities. The present Commissioners had power to inquire into and advise in cases of charities, but they had no controlling powers, and they were not able to settle any question without litigation; and it was to remedy that defect that the present Bill was introduced. He regretted to find that he was threatened with considerable opposition, and especially from the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Mr. Knight), who 1879 threatened it in every stage. He hoped, not with standing, that it would receive the sanction of the House of Commons. The Commissioners had shown that they were deserving of confidence; they had heard 3,000 applications in charity cases in the course of last year, and they had given very great satisfaction on the whole. He could not help thinking that a great boon would be conferred on charities by placing them in the hands of disinterested and impartial men, who would do their duty; while the measure would act as a great relief to the smaller and weaker charities in the matter of expense.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ MR. WINN KNIGHT
said, it was his intention to move that the House go into Committee on the Bill that day three months. He did so from no feelings of animosity towards the charity Commission as at present constituted. He should be very willing to strengthen the existing powers of the Commissioners, very great as they were, but he objected to the absolute powers of control and administration which it was proposed to give them by the Bill. He admitted that the Commissioners had exercised their powers beneficially for the charities with which they had dealt; but he protested against a measure like the present being brought in at that late period of the Session, when, if it was passed, it would be done practically without consulting the House of Commons. The Bill would give power to upset the foundation of every charity, and put them wholly in the hands of the Commissioners. The powers proposed to be given to the Commissioners under the Bill, were, he contended, almost unconstitutionally extensive, the whole of the enormous funds of the charities were at the disposition of the trustees, and there was no security for their safety provided in the Bill. Now, he did object, at that late period of the Session, to a change which would give the Commissioners absolute authority over the whole of the charities of England. He looked upon the Bill as totally unconstitutional, both in its general principle and in many of its details. By its provisions the will of every founder of a charity was upset, and the whole power over and management of 35,000,000l. worth of property were placed in the hands of the Commissioners. Nothing could be more monstrous than the powers which the Bill proposed 1880 to vest in the Commissioners and official trustees, and, instead of increasing the security of the charity funds, it would take away almost the only security that now existed. If the measure passed in its present shape no respectable man would become a trustee, and the result would be that the funds would be placed in the hands of agents to deal with as they thought fit. Indeed, so very imperfect was the Bill, that it would require the most careful consideration and amendment before it could pass into law. He found that, according to the Act of 1853, the Commissioners were bound to submit to Her Majesty, and to present to Parliament in the month of February in every year, all the schemes they had approved. The Commissioners had been in office for nearly a year and a half, but, although they had inspected some 800 charities, they bad only matured their schemes in two cases, and he could not help fancying that, when they were asking for such extensive additional powers, they did not wish the House to be acquainted with the enormous powers they already possessed. He might observe that, although their Report consisted only of four pages and a half, it contained no less than thirteen demands for more powers; and fifty clauses of the Bill—which contained altogether only fifty-six clauses. He thought that, before granting the Commissioners the enormous powers they demanded, Parliament ought to know how they had exercised the powers they already possessed. As the matter stood, the House was called upon to increase the power of the Charity Commissioners, and to establish such a central authority as never yet existed in England, without any evidence of the necessity of such a measure. He could not help thinking that an attempt was being made to smuggle the measure through the House, for many Members had left town who were unacquainted with its provisions, and who, he was satisfied, would have opposed its progress. The pretext that it was necessary to diminish the cost of applications to the Commissioners, and of informations laid at the suit of the Attorney General, would not bear investigation. Those expenses had been much reduced, and were no longer burthensome on the charities. He believed the real fact was, that the Attorney General had a barrister to look after that sort of business, who was called "his devil," and who had a solicitor employed under him. Formerly, the only mode of 1881 proceeding was to have a relator, some responsible person who would come forward and complain of the maladministration of any particular charity; upon his complaint the Attorney General was to institute a suit, and then if the complaint were dismissed as frivolous, the relator would have to pay the costs. But now the most frivolous and improper suits could be commenced at the instance of the solicitor to the Attorney General, Mr. Fearon, and all the costs would fall either upon the unfortunate charity or upon the public. He (Mr. Knight) was told by legal gentlemen that an enormous amount of business would accrue to Mr. Fearon if the Bill became law; the agents and inspectors appointed through the country would hunt up more cases, to the great profit of the solicitor, who happened to be a brother-in-law of the Chief Commissioner. The amount of the enormous bills which he made to be paid by the country was such as Parliament was not allowed to know; but they amounted to 77.000l. at one time, to which reference had been made. The whole business ought now to be taken out of the Attorney General's hands, and the Commissioners should have a solicitor of their own, paid by a fixed salary, like the legal officer of the corporations of some of our large towns, so that he would have no interest in making suits for the sake of costs. Last year, several of those suits were dismissed by the Master of the Rolls, who expressed a strong opinion on the subject, and observed that in all such cases there ought to be a relator who should be responsible for the costs. He (Mr. Knight) did hope, therefore, that the Government would consent to forego the Bill, and bring in one to continue the functions of the Charitable Trusts Commissioners for another year, and to strengthen their hands for usefulness, if it were needed, so that next Session a Select Committee might be appointed to investigate the whole question. If the right hon. Baronet the Member for Marylebone (Sir B. Hall), were to be Chairman of that Select Committee, and to conduct the inquiry in the same admirable manner in which his Select Committee that Session had been conducted, taking care to avoid undue centralisation whilst he insisted upon provisions for the effectual working of the machinery, then a Bill would probably be framed, not like the present, which would prove a Chadwickian thorn in the country's side, but one that would pass through 1882 Parliament with as general approbation, and with as great promise of a beneficial result, as the right hon. Baronet's Metropolitan Government Bill of the present Session.
§ SIR WILLIAM JOLLIFFE
said, he would second the Amendment. It was in his opinion impossible, at that period of the Session, to give to the measure that amount of consideration which the importance of the subject with which it dealt demanded at their hands. The operation of the Charity Commission had been, he must confess, in many instances very beneficial; but he objected to the granting of powers which would supersede the trustees of all the charities in England.
§ Amendment proposed to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House will, upon this day three months, resolve itself into the said Committee," instead thereof.
§ MR. MICHELL
said, the only fault he found with the Bill was, that its provisions were not large enough; and if the management of all the charities were vested in the Commissioners, he considered it would be a vast improvement. From what he had seen of them, he had no doubt the Commissioners would work them all satisfactorily, and they might well have a judicial power conferred upon them, to do that for which the Court of Chancery was now resorted to, at a cost ruinous to small charities.
§ MR. APSLEY PELLATT
said, he should support the Amendment. The Charity Commission had only been in existence for a few years, and at present it was impossible to tell how far its proceedings would prove beneficial. He could not consent to the establishment of a close court for the adjudication of charity disputes. The Bill ought to have been introduced three months ago, instead of which the time of the House was wasted upon Scotch Education Bills, and Tenant Right Bills, which it was never imagined would pass.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, he hoped the House would consent to go into Committee on the Bill, especially as he thought there had been an understanding that that course was to be taken—and that if the provisions of the Bill required more consideration than could be given to them, it should then be postponed till next Session. By the first part of the Bill it was proposed to continue the third Commissioner, the 1883 payment of whose salary had been previously limited to two years; and it was further proposed to increase the powers of inquiry vested in the Commissioners, and to provide additional agency for the performance of the duties of the Commission. With regard to the administrative functions of the Bill he had heard great complaints that the hands of the Commissioners were so tied up by Parliament that they could not afford adequate relief. As the Bill stood the jurisdiction commenced at 10l. a year; his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General proposed to extend it to 30l. a year; and having known cases in which an incompetent schoolmaster had been continued from year to year, because there were no funds belonging to the charity to pay the expense of his removal, he trusted the House would see if it could not provide a remedy for such a state of things.
§ MR. CAIRNS
said, he must deny that it had been understood that there should be no discussion on the Order of the Day forgoing into Committee. [Sir G. GREY said, he must beg to explain; what he had intended to say was that the Bill should go into Committee for consideration.] It was a complete delusion to suppose, as the right hon. Baronet appeared to do, that the Bill would diminish the expenses of charity proceedings. His chief objection to the Bill, however, at that moment was, that the period was too late for considering a measure which affected no less than 24,000 out of the 28,000 charities of the kingdom. By one of its provisions it was proposed to give the Charity Commissioners power to appoint local inspectors, instead of sending down the London inspectors belonging to the Board, and all the expenses of those local inspectors during the time of their inquiries, were to be paid by the charity under inquiry. Charities which were at present under the control of the Court of Chancery would not by the present Bill be exempted from that control, and he wished to point out to the House that, whereas in that respect the measure offered no advantage, it would be productive of great inconvenience, because, while it gave to the Commissioners the power of exercising every possible function which appertained to a charitable trust, it in no way provided for the manner in which that power should be exercised. He wished to know if the administrative functions which the Bill would confer upon the Commissioners were to be exercised in 1884 public or in private? He was not prepared to say that the powers of the Commissioners should not be extended, but he hoped that the House would not consent to extend them except upon a well-matured plan, and one which had been considered by a Select Committee; and he might add that, in his opinion, a material element in any such plan ought to be an obligation upon the Commissioners to discharge their administrative functions in public. The hon. and learned Attorney General said that the Commission had given great satisfaction; but he (Mr. Cairns) entertained a different opinion, and the increase of the powers of the Commission, without a thorough change in its constitution, never would obtain for that body the goodwill of the country. If the Government earnestly desired to make the Board effective and to have the charities brought under better management than at present, they would withdraw the Bill at that late period of the Session, and bring in another next year, referring it for consideration to a Select Committee.
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
said, that one portion of the remarks of the hon. and learned Gentleman who had last addressed them consisted in a criticism of some of the details of the Bill, and that criticism would have been more appropriately made in the Committee on the Bill. Another portion consisted in a personal attack on the competency of the Charity Commissioners, and a third portion was made up of the ordinary lamentation, that the Government should attempt at that late period to retrieve the Session and make the best use of the remaining time, by passing some measures with which the House of Commons might have just cause to be satisfied. It could not be contended that it was now too late to consider the Bill, seeing that the subject to which it referred had been before the attention of Parliament for more than twenty years, for there was not a provision in the Bill which might not be traced to a Report of a Committee of that House in 1835, though, with the ordinary delay which marked attempts at legal reform, they were now trying to carry into effect some of the best recommendations of that Report. With respect to the Commissioners, it was hardly necessary for him, in their vindication, to advert to their professional character, long experience, and to the care and attention they bestowed on the examination of the cases brought be- 1885 fore them. The hon. and learned Gentleman objected that the Commissioners did not sit in public; but it should be considered that the Commissioners constituted a Board for the performance of administrative duties; and it was essential to their right discharge that the business should be transacted without that opportunity for delay and expense which attended the performance of judicial functions. At any rate, if the hon. and learned Gentleman desired that the Commissioners should sit in open Court he could submit a proposition to that effect in Committee. With respect to the manner in which the Amendment had been introduced to the House by the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Mr. Knight), he must confess that he could discern no sequence whatever in that hon. Member's remarks or ideas. He did not wonder at it. On the contrary, he felt considerable compassion for the hon. Gentleman, for it was perfectly plain that he had had his innocent mind imposed upon, and had been frightened by the stories told him by the body of practitioners he had been in communication with. The hon. Gentleman told the House that all the official trustees in England had run away with the funds in their possession; that the Commissioners had the power to commit whom they pleased to gaol; and he had found out that in the Commission there were thirteen members of one family. That, however, happened to be a larger number than all the Commissioners, Inspectors, and Clerks put together, and, unless the hon. Member went back as far as the time of the Flood, he could not show that they were related together. There was no provision in the Bill giving the Commissioners power to send any one they pleased to gaol, and, with regard to the official trustees, there was the same security for the money as existed in the Court of Chancery, and it was just as impossible for an official trustee under the Bill to run away with the money as for the Accountant General in Chancery to run away with the many millions nominally standing in his name. Let the House consider what the Bill really was. In 1820 a recommendation was made to that House by the Commissioners for the creation of a jurisdiction which would provide a summary remedy with regard to charities of small amount. That recommendation was repeated in the Report of 1835, which carefully pointed out what should be the ends and aims of any measure introduced 1886 into Parliament on the subject. It pointed out that there should be a Board armed with powers to continue the investigation into the condition of charities which had been begun in 1818. It then proposed that the Board should be armed with the most extensive administrative powers for the management of charities, and with summary jurisdiction respecting charities of small amount. Unhappily, those recommendations were not acted upon until Lord Lyndhurst, in 1844, attempted to give effect to them. The Bill brought in by that noble and learned Lord proposed to establish a Board of Commissioners with summary judicial powers extending over all charities possessing an income of 100l. a year; and the administrative powers proposed to be given to the Board under that measure far exceeded those vested in the Commissioners by the Bill now before the House. The Bill of 1844, however, was not successful in the House of Lords, though proposed in the following year, and again by Lord Lyndhurst in 1846. Here, therefore, was the testimony of that most venerable and consummate judge in favour of provisions applicable to charities, which greatly exceeded in their stringency and extent anything to be found in the Act of 1853 or in the Bill as now proposed. There were repeated attempts to carry out Lord Lyndhurst's measure by Bills introduced into that House, one of which was brought forward by his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary; others in 1850, 1851, and 1852. The subject, therefore, instead of being one which the House of Commons was not prepared to legislate upon, had received, repeatedly, the deliberate attention of the House. In 1853 a Bill was passed which established the present Board, and gave it certain powers and certain authority. That Act had now been a year in operation, and the Commissioners had made a Report detailing their experience during that time. They themselves complained that their administration had not been so satisfactory as they could wish. And why? Because their powers were not sufficient to enable them to exercise a proper control and regulation, and it was on that account that their powers were now sought to be extended. Many of the points touched upon by the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Cairns) were assuredly details for consideration in Committee, but he thought, according to the provisions of the Bill as they stood, that prudent checks had been placed upon the powers to be ex- 1887 cised by the Commissioners, and that the measure was not open to any great objection on that score. It had been said that under the Bill no respectable person would become a trustee. He denied that assertion, for he thought that the Bill was directly calculated to induce the most respectable persons to become trustees, because in a case of emergency they would now know that they were not liable to be dragged into the Court of Chancery, but that there existed a tribunal to which they might resort not only for advice, but to obtain, in a speedy and summary manner, an order sanctioning their proceeding. The Bill would, therefore, be a protection to trustees who desired honestly to administer the funds entrusted to their charge, and it would therefore hold out the greatest inducement to respectable persons to become trustees. The only respect in which it added to the powers conferred by the Act of 1853 was by giving to the Commissioners a judicial authority, and that was not a new principle, because the Act of 1853 established a summary jurisdiction for all charities not exceeding a certain amount. He thought that, with respect to charities, judicial and administrative powers ought always to be combined. The evil of the present system was, that the administrative powers were in the Commissioners, and the judicial powers in the County Court or Bankruptcy Court. If it was right to give summary jurisdiction to the County Court and Bankruptcy Court, it was equally right to give the same authority to the Commissioners, and a mistake was committed by the Act of 1853 in separating the judicial from the administrative authority. The great change that would be effected by the Bill would be the establishment of a tribunal for the more effectual correction of abuses and for conferring larger administrative powers. The measure was founded altogether, in principle, upon the Act of 1853; and, in point of fact, the House would negative the principle of that Act by acceding to the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Knight).
§ MR. HENLEY
said, he thought that it would have been more instructive if the hon. and learned Gentleman, instead of lecturing the House upon its great waste of time, had endeavoured to enlighten them upon some of those matters to which their attention had been called by the hon. and learned Member for Belfast (Mr. Cairns). If the measure before the House were, as 1888 represented by the hon. and learned Solicitor General, a perfecting of the Act of 1853, he was certain not one in the House would offer it opposition. But in his opinion, it was far from being a supplement to the Act of 1853, as it provided new machinery altogether, and that in the most important provisions. A considerable portion of the first ten clauses of the Bill referred to the Board, and to the powers of the Board. The hon. and learned Solicitor General agreed that portions were open to objection, particularly those which referred to the extensive powers proposed to be given to the Commissioners. He (Mr. Henley) was therefore glad to find they should have the assistance of the hon. and learned Gentleman in remedying those defects. But to come to the most important part of the Bill. It was not unreasonable to argue the Bill with reference to charities of 30l., instead of charities of 10l. What they had to consider was, whether the new machinery, dealing with those charities of 30l., was a better or worse machinery than that provided by the Bill of 1853. According to the old machinery, all matters of complaint first went before the Charity Commissioners, next to the County Courts—which were armed with great powers in such cases—and, in the event of the Charity Commissioners not being pleased with the order of the County Courts, they referred the matter back again to those Courts for reconsideration, or else removed it to Chancery, the parties urging the complaint being bound in bond to pay the costs of the Court of Chancery order. Therefore great care was taken to avoid expense. Now, by the new machinery, any person might make an information behind the backs of all concerned, and without any sort of notice whatever. Acting on that information, the Charity Commissioners would have power to make orders; and any trustee, though he might not have received the least intimation of a complaint against him, was liable to find his name posted on the church door or other public place as being dismissed from his trust, the cause of which dismissal he would be quite in ignorance about. That was one of the provisions of the present measure. The hon. and learned Solicitor General asserted there was nothing new in the measure, and that all its provisions were so well known during the last twenty years that the subject was before the House. If such were the case why were 1889 not all those important provisions inserted in the Bill of 1853, for surely the Law Officers of the Crown in 1853 were the identical Gentlemen filling the same positions at present? He wished to ask the House what the feelings of Gentlemen acting as trustees were likely to be on finding themselves posted and dismissed? Why, if the hon. and learned Solicitor General taxed his ingenuity to devise a scheme of general annoyance he could not better succeed than by setting up a tribunal which condemned and dismissed men behind their backs and afforded them no opportunity for explanation or defence. The Attorney General's powers were saved. It was possible he might not approve of what the Commissioners had dune. Then they went to the Court of Chancery; and the costs of the suit would come out of the funds of the Charity. That he thought was a very odd way of taking care of charities! That portion of the Bill would take a great deal of time to amend in Committee. So as to schoolmasters. If the schoolmaster enjoyed an endowment of 50l. a year he was taken care of, but if a trustee subscribed 5s. a year in aid of the fund, the jurisdiction of the Commissioners was overruled—so far as he was concerned. But if, unfortunately, a schoolmaster had an endowment under 50l,, or no endowment at all, the Commissioners might, without any notice to anybody, turn him out, and assign any reason they chose. That would hardly be very satisfactory. Most trustees would be disposed to destroy the schools rather than to submit to it. But it might be said the Commissioners would not exercise such extreme powers. Then why confer them? Such were some of the objections which applied to the Bill. There might be necessity for increased inspection, but not for an entire change of machinery—a change as likely to be mischievous as it certainly seemed to be capricious. The hon. and learned Solicitor General had urged that judicial and administrative functions should be conjoined. They were so in the County Courts, except that they could not vary the order of the Court of Chancery. The hon. and learned Gentleman had been unusually uncourteous in his tone towards the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Mr. Knight) and the hon. and learned Member for Belfast (Mr. Cairns); nor, in his (Mr. Henley's) opinion, was his tone calculated to facilitate the passage of the Bill. The clauses 1890 of the Bill must receive considerable amendment in the Committee, and he should prefer that the portion referring to the County Courts should be deferred to next Session. The same Law Officers had in the space of two years brought forward entirely distinct and different measures, and had not shown that the measure they had first passed had failed, or how it had failed. Had they shown that it might have been possible to amend the former measure without resorting to a sort of Star Chamber tribunal—to judge before hearing or inquiry. It would be best to improve the present system, and let it work in public, which was the only security. There might be three angels sitting in Lincoln's Inn, but if they sat in private the public would not be satisfied. A great many of the Charity Trustees had been accused of applying the funds to political purposes: and things done in secret would be sure not to escape similar suspicions. What was done in secret conclave would assuredly be suspected. Let, then, that part of the Bill be discarded, and the rest amended. It would be most unsatisfactory if the measure passed in its present form. To have orders passed behind men's backs would be certain to cause them to litigate. That would tend to increase costs. Then let the inspecting powers of the Bill alone be regarded for the present; and let further legislation be postponed until it was ascertained whether those powers would work well. In its present form the measure would tend to swallow up Charities. Let the Commissioners work upon the existing machinery, and improve it, before anything further was attempted. If that course was taken, the rest of the Bill might pass.
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
said, he must beg to explain that by the 18th section trustees could not be removed without an opportunity being afforded to object to such a proceeding.
§ VISCOUNT GALWAY
said, he thought if the measure was desirable for small charities, it was equally desirable for large ones. He would urge upon the Government the propriety of acceding to the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire.
§ SIR WILLIAM HEATHCOTE
said, he hoped that some Member of the Government would inform the House whether it was intended to adopt the suggestion which had been made to proceed only with 1891 those parts of the Bill for which there was a pressing necessity. With respect to the enlargement of the powers of the Commissioners, that was a matter more open to debate than the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General appeared to consider.
§ MR. MALINS
said, he should also support the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley). The Solicitor General had complained of the inadequate powers of the Act of 1853, but when that Bill came under discussion there was no disinclination on the part of Parliament to grant all the powers which the Government thought were necessary. But even the Commissioners, in their Report, although some of them asked for greater powers, did not say their present powers were insufficient to carry into effect the main objects of the Act of 1853. The power of dismissing offending schoolmasters and schoolmistresses, which the Bill purported to confer, had been already exercised by the Commissioners under the existing Act. It was, however, proposed now for the first time to create new judicial powers. It might be expedient, perhaps, to create those powers; but if such a step was to be taken, it should only be on the most deliberate consideration. It should be remembered that the measure affected no less than 27,000 trusts, and property of a large annual value; it was, almost impossible the discussion could be too protracted; and if four hours had been occupied in debate upon the principle of the Bill, what prospect was there of getting through the fifty-six clauses, with Amendments on more than thirty of them, so as to close Parliament on Saturday? Was the House prepared to erect a new judicial tribunal, in which A would write a letter of complaint against B, the Commissioners would write to B, informing him of the complaint, but not of the party making it, B would send his answer to the Commissioners, and the Commissioners would come to a decision without bringing the parties face to face, or communicating the grounds upon which their decision rested? Such a secret tribunal as that could never give satisfaction, and should never receive his approval. Even with such men as the Lord Chancellor, the Master of the Rolls, and the Vice Chancellor, he preferred having judgment given in public, for when the eyes of the profession and of the public were withdrawn there was danger of the judge being sway- 1892 ed by whims and fancies, which had no effect when the decision was pronounced in open Court. He had made it a rule never to consent to have a case heard in private which could with any propriety be heard in public, and, that being his feeling, he considered the establishment of such a tribunal as the proposed one most objectionable. Undoubtedly there was an appeal, but they should look to the expenses of those appeals. The number of those appeals would be increased by having secret tribunals, and the better way was to have the case properly decided at once, and thus avoid the necessity for those appeals. The Bill came from the Lords on the 26th of June. If it had then been taken into consideration he would have given every assistance to the Government to make it perfect; but that was now impossible. For the delay which had taken place the noble Lord at the head of the Government was responsible, because he had wasted time in persevering with the Tenants' Compensation Bill after the rejection of the 14th clause, and in pressing the Scotch Education Bill, which was abandoned immediately it reached the House of Lords. It was unbecoming for the Government to reproach them with obstruction because within four days of the end of the Session they objected to pass without the fullest discussion a measure of such great importance as the present. He trusted that the noble Lord, and the law advisers of the Crown would not persist in pressing the more objectionable parts of the Bill, but would cut it down to the more pressing enactments, leaving the principles at issue to be dealt with next Session.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, that the Bill was of so much importance, and would be so beneficial to the charities of England and Wales, that he felt unwilling to give up any portion of it until the feeling of the House should be expressed to that effect. The continuance of the third member of the Commission and of the number of inspectors were points absolutely necessary to be passed. With regard to what were called the judicial powers of the Commissioners, if hon. Members opposite were determined to fight that clause it would be necessary to make some concession in order to save such parts of the Bill as were absolutely necessary. The Bill had been submitted to the highest legal authorities, and had obtained the sanction not only of the Lord Chancellor, Lord Lyndhurst, and Lord Brougham, but also, 1893 of Lord St. Leonards, and he was surprised that practitioners in the Court of Chancery should oppose a Bill supported by such high legal authority. Lord St. Leonards had assented to the 10l. jurisdiction of the Commissioners. [Mr. MALINS: But that is a very different thing]. But hon. and learned Gentlemen opposite refused him that clause, which he would be willing to take as a compromise. The Bill had been before the House since the 26th of June, and he had been most anxious that it should be taken at the earliest possible period that was permitted by the state of public business. He was in the hands of the House, and if hon. Gentlemen opposite were determined that that particular portion of the Bill should not be carried he must take what he could get.
§ MR. WIGRAM
said, there were three points which were specially objected to by hon. Gentlemen on his the Opposition side of the House—first, the appointment of local inspectors; next, the twelfth clause, which gave power to the Commissioners to proceed ex parte; and thirdly, the power which was given the Board to remove schoolmasters. Upon all those three points he (Mr. Wigram) should feel bound to divide against the Bill.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
said, he thought it would be more convenient, when they had come to an agreement upon the point of principle, to discuss matters of detail in Committee on the Bill. His right hon. Friend (Mr. Henley) said that the twelfth clause ought not to receive the sanction of Parliament, not with standing it had been approved of by the four great legal authorities referred to; and considering the few days remaining for discussion, his hon. and learned Friend (the Attorney General) was willing to give up that portion of the Bill. That assertion of principle having been made, he should hope the House would now agree to go into Committee without further discussing the details.
§ MR. BARROW
said, he felt serious objections to proceeding with a Bill of such importance in so small a House as they then had, and at a period of the Session when it was impossible to consider it with the attention which it demanded.
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ House resumed; Committee report progress.