HC Deb 25 July 1866 vol 184 cc1466-9

(Mr. Blake, Mr. Synan.)


Order for Second Reading read.


in moving that the Bill be read a second time, expected, when he explained the defects in the present Act relative to charities, and the losses which were consequently incurred by the poor, that the House would concur with him that legislation was imperatively called for. The preamble of the present Act stated that it was expedient that the pious intentions of charitable persons should not be frustrated by the concealment or misapplication of their bequests. It was manifestly the intention of the Act, that money left for benevolent objects should be duly administered. Unfortunately, however, the powers of the Board were inadequate for the purposes intended. They were authorized to sue for the recovery of charities which might be concealed, withheld or misapplied, but they had no power to originate inquiries, and could only be set in motion at the instance of other persons. It unfortunately happened, too, that a fraud must have been actually committed before active steps could be taken to prevent further misappropriation. The Commissioners, moreover, could not interfere to protect a charity fund where a life interest intervened, or compel it to be placed in proper security. If an estate were about being sold on which a charity had a claim, no measures could be taken to protect the interests of the poor if the annual payments had been regularly made before. The Commissioners were obliged to carry out the wills of testators literally, making no allowance for change of time or circumstances; thus, in the case of Jeremy Hall's charity at Limerick, they were precluded—according to a will made 150 years ago, when money was much more valuable than at present—from giving a schoolmaster and mistress more than £10 a year each, and in consequence the school would have to be closed. Mr. Blake then read, at some length, extracts from a pamphlet by Mr. Gernon, one of the Secretaries of the Board, the evidence of Mr. Hercules M'Donnell before the Endowed Schools Commission, and a portion of the Report of the Commission, to show the defects in the law, and proceeded: The requirements to render the law effective might be classed thus:—1. Power to interfere where a charity fund was in danger of being lost. 2. Power to look after the securities in which charity funds were placed. 3. To sue by civil bill for small amounts. 4. To accept charitable trusts from persons anxious to make the Board depositories. 5. To accept compromise when all could not be got. 6. To advise trustees of charities as to the best mode of fulfilling their trust. In order to render the Board more efficient the quorum should be reduced; it was often found difficult to get a meeting, as would be seen by the letter Sir Robert Peel addressed to the Master of the Rolls, and the list of abortive meetings for the last year. It was most desirable, in order to insure meetings, and to add to the efficiency of the Board, to snake the present Secretaries paid Commissioners. They were gentlemen of the highest character and abilities, and gave every one satisfaction. Some additional outlay would be required for the effective working of the Board; the whole expenses would not, however, exceed £3,000 a year, which ought not to be considered too much, when the English Commission cost £18,000. The Bill which. he had introduced would, if passed, meet all the requirements he had mentioned; and he believed would be the means of saving the poor from much loss, through the cupidity or ignorance of trustees. He should not, however, at this period of the Session, object to withdraw the Bill if the noble Lord the Chief Secretary for Ireland would give him an assurance that he would himself introduce a measure dealing with the subject early next Session.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Blake.)


said, that the constitution of the body by whom charitable bequests were administered in Ireland was undoubtedly defective. He suggested that there should be paid Commissioners, as was provided by the Bill. There was a small charity in the city of Limerick with which he was connected which remained to this moment unadministered, because the existing Commissioners refused to render themselves liable for the costs which an application to the Court of Chancery would involve. In accordance with the provisions of the charity to which he referred, which dated from 1687, a sum of £10 was to be devoted to the payment of a schoolmaster; but it was quite manifest that so small a payment was totally inadequate to the requirements of the present day. A further sum was left for the purpose of releasing poor debtors from prison; but the law on the subject of imprisonment for debt had since been entirely altered, and the Charity Commissioners had no power to divert the monies thus bequeathed to the accomplishment of some useful end. The object of the Bill was, under those circumstances, to bring the Commissioners into more immediate connection with the charity, and to give them power to deal with it without wasting the funds in applications to the Court of Chancery. There were now a great many charities at a standstill in Ireland, and he there-Are hoped the Government would take the subject into their serious consideration, paying, above all things, due regard to the religious feelings and habits of the Irish people, and abstaining from attempting to extend to Ireland the Acts in force in this country, because any such attempt would only tend to arouse feelings of hostility.


considered that great caution ought to be employed in legislating on this subject, while at the same time the differences between the present state of the law in England and Ireland showed the necessity of introducing some fresh legislation upon it.


said, that unless the matter should be properly taken up the best thing that could happen would be the dissolution of the Board. He did not believe that the English Act could be adapted to Ireland, but had no doubt that a measure could be framed which would work usefully. If any measure was brought in it ought to be introduced by the Government and not by a private Member.


observed, that power was taken by the Bill for the appointment of two paid Commissioners, the charge of whose salaries was to be defrayed by the Consolidated Fund, and he objected to the appointment of paid men to do that which might very well be done by unpaid men.


said, the question was a very important one, and had been frequently considered by Parliament. The Commissioners were of opinion that if their duties and powers should be increased they would be unable to discharge them. It was quite evident that great evils existed in Ireland from the want of a proper control over charities. In many instances funds intended for specific purposes had been diverted to others, or had been left in abeyance. He did not think that a Bill on the subject ought to be introduced unless it was likely to receive a very general approbation from all parties in Ireland; but if he could see his way to the construction of such a measure he should be happy to assist in the settlement of the question.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill withdrawn.