HC Deb 10 April 1877 vol 233 cc878-911

in moving— That, in the opinion of this House, it is the duty of Her Majesty's Government to introduce some legislative measure empowering the Crown to make full investigation into the present condition and revenues of the eighty-nine Companies mentioned in the Second Report of the Municipal Commissioners, 1837, said, he had adopted a somewhat different course from that which he had taken a year since, when the House would recollect that he moved for a Return of the property possessed by the City Companies; but, as the accredited representatives of those bodies were unwilling to give this information, it was thought undesirable to ask the Crown to assent to what he asked. He regretted that since that time the information should not have been voluntarily produced, so that this question might have been discussed and set at rest. However much the Government might object to the conclusions on which this Motion rested, they would not object to it on constitutional grounds. In former times —those of the Plantagenet, Lancastrian, and Tudor—these Guilds had been overhauled. In the reign of Queen Elizabeth all charities were inquired into all over the Kingdom; and in recent years Commissions had inquired into the endowed schools, ecclesiastical property and charities. He had been frequently told that this Motion was inquisitorial and unjust; but he submitted that it was a justifiable one, and that he had a perfect right to ask how, on public grounds, it could be refused? He was told that this question could only be considered together with the much larger subject of the municipal government of London; but he thought it would be almost impossible to place the conflicting jurisdictions of the metropolis under that one direct and complete administration some desired for it, and if it was desired to extend to the suburbs some of the advantages monopolized exclusively now by the City, this could only be done after some inquiry as to how the City had become entitled to them. As the inquiry could not be long delayed, he urged the Government to assent to it at once. It was not the case, as was sometimes said, that his Motion aimed specially at those twelve great Companies described by Herbert, and which, though identified with objects of an educational and philanthropic kind, were associated chiefly with those gorgeous banquets and elaborate festivities of which they frequently heard. That was not so—he, however, certainly maintained that an enormous amount of money was annually spent in this way that ought to be put to a much better use. One reason for inquiry was that the powers and duties of many of the Companies had been entirely abrogated by modern Acts of Parliament. Thus the Grocers' Company's duties were discharged by officials under the Adulteration Acts, the Fishmongers' duties were discharged by the Court of Sewers, under whose jurisdiction unsound fish was seized, and the Vintners' duties were fulfilled by the officers of Excise and Inland Revenue. Many of the trades with which. the Companies were identified no longer existed. If there were nothing worse than the powers of granting votes which these Companies possessed, there ought to be a full inquiry. Nothing could be worse than the powers of voting these bodies possessed—in 1876 it appeared by a Return that no fewer than 1,932 liverymen had bought their votes. Was that a system which the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary would be prepared to support? In one Company the duties of the Master, Assistant, and Clerk were all consolidated in one person, and he increased the members of the Company by his own choice. Of the Lorinors' Company 273 members had purchased their votes, in the Coach-makers' 79, in the Curriers' 43, the Butchers' 69, the Founders' 75. The only argument in favour of the present state of things was that the usages were immemorial, and that they worked well for the good of the City of London; but such an argument was more adapted to the time of Lord Eldon than to the present day. If these things happened in any other Corporation they would be resented—why should they be allowed in the Corporation of the City of London? The House had recently granted a Commission to inquire into the doings of the Stock Exchange, and could they allow these close Corporations to go on without some inquiry into them being made? It was all very well for parties to say that the Fishmongers' Company were Liberals, and that the Merchant Taylors' Company were Con- servatives; but he asked the right hon. Gentleman whether these distinctions were necessary? He felt that if this Committee were not granted great injury would be done to the Companies, the public, and the Corporation. He believed that 15 times during the last 40 years this question had been brought before the House; and while, on the one hand, the desire for reform had become more pressing without, it had within become gradually more fainthearted and languishing. While in some parts of the country the machinery of local government was quite inadequate to the requirements which had to be met, the reverse was found to be the case in the City, where there was at present going on a waste of power upon a population diminishing both in number and quality. The Guilds were, no doubt, intended originally to promote that sort of family feeling and relationship upon which the whole of modern society might be said to hinge; but hon. Members knew perfectly well that throughout the country great changes had taken place in the conditions of industry—that mechanical appliances had, to a large extent, superseded manual skill; that in other directions handwork had in a considerable measure taken the place of labour of the head; and that the Guilds, instead of being useful for the purposes for which they were originally formed, were now very largely devoting their funds to those magnificent entertainments which had been so frequently described, and in consequence of which many unpleasant and even discreditable things had been said. Lord Macaulay said that the Fishmongers' were the greatest Company for gourmandise in the world, and that he was perfectly astounded on hearing that they gave dinners yearly at 10 guineas a-head. Thackeray, in his Book of Snobs, described them as "a flare of candles, a ceaseless clinking of glass and steel, the knives all darting down the assembly's throats," and he asked—"Are there no poor? Is there no reason? Is this monstrous belly-worship to exist for ever?" In an extract from a London paper he found the City described as one of the most fœtid cess-pools of corruption in the world; and it further stated the income of the City Companies at £700,000 a-year, adding that not one-half of that sum was devoted to its proper purposes, while those who controlled it set aside the original income and spent the surplus in all sorts of guzzling and jobbery. Why did not the City Companies so reform their institutions that it should be impossible for such things to be said of them? It was most desirable and important that the manner in which the Guilds exercised their trusts should be distinctly known. He had been informed that since this agitation had commenced the City Companies had combined together and determined by a few munificent gifts to do something by which adverse feelings might be allayed and praise be bestowed upon them for their liberality. Some few days since he saw in The Times a scheme with regard to a Technical College. He did not know whether that scheme partook of the character of a paper constitution or not; but he hoped that if there were anything really intended by it, the Guilds would vote towards that object a good round sum of hard cash. At the same time, before such a vote were made, it should be made distinctly clear what were the powers and trusts which the Companies possessed; and those powers and trusts could not be known as they ought to be known until such a Committee were appointed as that for which he moved, and the appointment of which could not, he submitted, in the interests of the public, be long delayed. Since the last inquiry was held, 40 years ago, great changes had taken place, and whilst the property of some of the City Companies had increased 200 and 300 per cent, that of others had actually decreased. For instance, in the Bakers' Company, the Snow's Charity, which formerly brought in £89, now yielded only £56. In the case of the Goldsmiths, a charity formerly £1,057 was at present £988. In the Mercers' Company, property in St. Martin's Lane by which 30s. was paid to the poor was now rated at £27,575. Another property had risen from £47 8s. 4d. to £5,000 per annum. The original value in 1615 of John Vernon's property, which was in the hands of the Merchant Taylors, was £83; it was now between £6,000 and £7,000. Then the property of Sir William Craven, which was in the hands of the same Company, and the total value of which in 1616 was £116, had a present rateable value of nearly £3,700. The Kebyll property, devised to the Grocers to pay 6d. weekly to poor members of the Company now yielded annually close upon £10,000, and the accounts of 1868 showed a rent-charge of £9 2s. spent in support of the poor. He was convinced that many members of the different Companies would be glad that the secret manner in which the funds were administered and the affairs of the Companies were conducted should be subjected to inquiry; and, therefore, he hoped that Her Majesty's Government would accede to the Motion he intended to move. Last year the Government assented to a request preferred by the hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles Dilke) for a Commission to inquire as to certain Corporations not included in the Act of 1835, on the ground that those Corporations exercised judicial functions. On the same ground he thought his Motion should be agreed to, in that the City Guilds, members of which could purchase their right to vote, elected the Lord Mayor and the Recorder, who were among the greatest judicial officers in England. Another ground on which he sought an inquiry was the vast amount of the charitable funds entrusted to these bodies. According to a Return moved for by the noble Lord (Lord Robert Montagu), in 1868, the amount of trust property belonging to these Companies under the control of the Charity Commissioners was £98,000. Was that always expended in a way which the country would approve? Was it given to those who could help themselves, or to encourage some small, miserable and petty job? It was said it was given in accordance with the intentions of the founders' wills. It was difficult to say what those intentions might have been. To say that a man who bequeathed property wished it to be bestowed in the same way for 300 or 400 years after his decease was simply absurd. They heard of confiscation. He would like to know what confiscation meant. They must have somewhere a regulating power. If no regulating power existed in the State, it was in the governing body of the charity itself. Why was the Ecclesiastical Commission appointed 40 years ago? Something in the nature of a small executive Commission for these bodies should be appointed now. They had dealt with endless charities and endowed schools; their great difficulty was the patronage they so dearly loved. Why, except to promote particular trades, should the Companies have adopted particular names? the very fact that some of these trades no longer existed supported the plea he urged. Another ground upon which he based his demand for inquiry was that, with the exception of one or two Companies, they had done nothing either for education generally, or for the trades with which they were nominally identified; and it was not difficult to imagine that with the large and increasing incomes of which many of them had been in possession abuses had existed. In the case of the Goldsmiths' Company, it had been asserted that £30,000 was spent in dining, and that the Skinners' and other Companies were not far behind that amount. That statement had been contradicted, and the amount placed at £7,000; but, if even that moderate estimate were correct, some inquiry was surely needed. If the Goldsmiths provided a home for the poor of Clerkenwell some good might be done. Then there were salaried wardens of Companies, salaried assistants, salaried clerks, whose pay amounted, not to hundreds, but sometimes to thousands a-year, agents, surveyors, and a host of subordinate retainers, of whose duties the public were entirely ignorant. In the Inn-holders' Company, upon the average of 10 years, out of an income of £852, a sum of £808 went in fees, feasting, and salaries. The Court of this Company constituted quite a "family party," there being no fewer than eight salaried officers of one family name. Of a striking instance of the relinquishment by a Guild of the members of a craft, he would appeal to the departure of the Merchant Taylors, in the management of the Merchant Taylors' School, from the terms of the charter under which it was first incorporated. Efforts had been made to prove that the title was one to which they were not fairly entitled, and that they were not Merchant Taylors, but merchant princes. Of the Merchant Taylors' School in 1801, Dr. Wilson in his history said with pride that not 10 pupils could be found whose parents could be identified with the trade. Herbert, in his History of the Twelve City Livery Companies, said— The Taylors' and Drapers' Company went hand in hand, not as members of the same fraternity, but as equally contributing to furnish the necessary articles of clothing; and notwithstanding the attempts to exalt them above their seemingly servile origin, and to make their change of name from Taylors to Merchant Taylors a result of their being merchants in cloth, it is certain that the Company itself was a working one. Machyn, in his Diary, 1555, speaking of the Company in that year, stated that all the Wardens of the Company were not only tailors, but tailors' sons; and when it was recollected that the great City historian Stowe was a tailor of London, and his contemporary Speed, the general historian, as well as Antony Munday, Thomas Middleton, and others, besides a fair proportion of the distinguished civic senators and benefactors of former days, there could be no reason to despise the brethren of that very necessary craft at any stage of its history. The objections to granting the inquiry he asked could not be very different from those which were in 1837 placed on record by the Court of Merchant Taylors. They contended that while a power for inquiry was vested in the Crown by virtue of its prerogative, and that the enforcement of such a power also was in the hands of Parliamentary Committees, it was only possible in the administration of justice to compel any subject to make disclosures. They alleged that a Court of law was the only proper tribunal for the enforcement of grievances. That was a doctrine quite at variance with the principles which for the last 40 years that House had propounded, and as an illustration he needed nothing stronger than the fact that one inquiry into these Companies had already been granted. In the resolution passed at the Court of Merchant Taylors, the freedom of the Universities, of the Colleges in the Universities, of the Deans and Chapters of all Cathedral Bodies, the Bank of England, the College of Physicians, were all severally quoted as being beyond all legislative control or inquiry, both on the part of the Crown or either of the two Houses. They alleged that they were protected by their oaths and declarations, and that in no sense could they be considered municipal corporations. He (Mr. James) could only say that black was white and white was black, and that such words had long since ceased to have their meaning to anyone who could deny that they were strictly and distinctly corporations, with municipal privileges and responsibilities. They claimed rights by virtue of their charters; but their privileges, monopolies, and lands were given in consideration of duties which they no longer discharged. There was a theory held by some that the charters of these Companies placed them beyond the reach of reforming adventurers and sacrilegious innovators; but the Municipal Act dispelled all that, for Sir Robert Peel said that it suspended Prerogatives and superseded charters. The Companies flew for refuge to immemorial usage; but that was self-assertion and very little else. They held land in mortmain, and in respect of which succession a duty had not been paid. He objected to absent, non-resident, and never-resident landlords, because in such cases the property was neglected and handed over to the mercies of clerks, surveyors, and subordinate retainers. Maintaining the full right of the House to investigate the affairs of these Companies, he disclaimed the idle curiosity imputed to him last year, when it was said he moved for a fishing Return; and he based his claim for investigation distinctly on public grounds. Much public assistance had been offered him. There had been a series of meetings at which the Resolution he submitted had been approved. It had been endorsed by the London Trades Council, which spoke in the name of trades that received no benefit from these Guilds. The Report of the Committee of the London School Board suggested the useful purposes to which the surplus funds of these Guilds could be applied, and showed that the amounts applicable to education would, if devoted to elementary, instead of upper and middle class instruction, almost supersede the necessity for a school-board rate. There was no complaint of the expenditure of the Metropolitan Board, although it was three times that of the London School Board; and, in spite of the complaints made of that, it was evident from the School Board elections that there was a strong feeling in the metropolis against allowing the question of education to be settled by an appeal to bare economy and nothing else. The reason for that was, that so many candidates were ready to do what they could to restore' these endowments to their original purpose. The metropolitan ratepayers would not be content with a few munificent donations from individual Companies. He intended to take a division upon his Motion, and the issue would be a very simple one. Did they wish that this property should be frittered away, and squandered and wasted in small sums, or would they shrink from granting an inquiry to show that that allegation was not true? He thought such an argument as that should appeal at least to those who called themselves Liberals, and should induce hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side to grant an investigation in order to ascertain the justice of the case.


in seconding the Motion, said, he would offer no apology for the part he took in this discussion, as the matter had been so much before the public that the House and the country must be fully prepared to discuss it. He did not wish to cast any reflection upon the managers of these Companies; but he would confine himself to the origin of the Companies, their present character, and the manner in which they fulfilled their trust. There were great difficulties in procuring such an investigation as was asked for, as the veil of secrecy had so long enveloped the affairs of these Companies that anyone who attempted to scrutinize their character and doings was to some extent groping in the dark. However, both he and the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. James) resided so far from the scene of the Companies' labours that they were able to take an impartial view of the subject; but he (Mr. Pease) had carefully endeavoured to obtain what information he could, and he would submit the result to the House. In a paper issued by the City Guilds Reform Association it was said that the subject was one that nearly affected the tradesmen and artizans of the metropolis, whose rights were entirely disregarded. Most of the Companies wore incorporated for the benefit of specific trades, to train artizans, and to discourage bad workmanship, and every tradesman had a right of admission to his own Guild; but the Companies had now become close Corporations, and the funds given originally for trade purposes were appropriated by persons who had nothing to do with the trades for which those funds were intended. The same paper also said that the increasing local burdens of the householders rendered it necessary to ascertain whether the money left for the benefit of London past should not be applied for the benefit of London present. The City Company system had been frequently attacked, and on each occasion fewer reasons were shown against the demand for investigation. In 1833 many of the Companies refused to give evidence before the Commission that was then appointed, and in cases where evidence was taken the Commission so far recognized the unwillingness of the civic officers to be examined that they exonerated them from taking the oath. A Bill on the subject had been brought in in 1856 by Sir George Grey, the then Home Secretary, which aroused an almost tumultuous feeling in the City; and the hon. Member for Lambeth (Sir James Lawrence) had referred to that measure, moderate as it was, by likening it to the action of a Border plunderer, who only took away what he could carry, leaving the remainder for a future foray. In 1870 Mr. Morrison, then Member for Plymouth, moved for a Return, but was answered with the statement that a full Return was made in 1837, and that there was no now information to give. That was certainly a statement in advance of the truth. The fact was, there had never been any disposition on the part of the City Companies to allow an inspection of their affairs, although their functions were so public that they ought to be publicly inspected. It was the boast of the Companies that they were the descendants of the old trades Guilds, the objects of which were to regulate employment, aid improvements, educate children, bind apprentices, and care for the needy and the aged. He admitted that the country owed much to the part these Guilds had taken in the past history of England; but with these, as often with Guilds, there had come a time when those who once were lovers of freedom became lovers of monopoly and almost tyrants in themselves. He thought that any reasonable man would be convinced that these Guilds were of a class so public in their whole character as to come under the cognizance of the House. Their possessions, both in and out of the City, were enormous, a vast amount was held in mortmain, and that amount was constantly increasing; it had passed from generation to generation without paying the succession duty imposed on other property. Their income from property within the City was stated to be between £400,000 and £500,000 a-year, and their expenditure might be divided into three classes—namely, that which was known, that which was partially known, and that which was totally unknown. That which was known seemed to be but a very small part of the whole, and appeared from the Returns of the Charity Commissioners to be as follows:—Education, £19,000; apprentices, -£5,600; £17,000, parish schools; £5,300, almshouses. The partly known was expended in dinners, in grants to schools, and various charities. The unknown seemed to him to be the vast remainder, and he could find out but little traces of how it was spent. The functions of the Companies were at one time exercised under the Crown, then under the control of the City Corporation, and finally their charters were restored. Henry VIII. had made them pay £20,000; Edward VI., £18,000; Queen Mary, £65,000; Queen Elizabeth, £10,000; and King Charles, £100,000; while Charles II. forfeited their charters and William III. restored them. Some of the bequests to the Guilds were very curious. Thus £20,000 had been left to the Clothworkers "to make themselves comfortable." The Goldsmiths spent £12,000 in building an almshouse that only accommodated 20 people. The Drapers acknowledged in 1837 that they had an income of £24,000. It was now probably £50,000. How was it spent? They acknowledged £5,000 for dinners and entertainments, £4,000 for salaries, and £5,000 for pensions. The functions of these powerful bodies were once exercised under the control of the Common Council, but that had now passed away, because the Court of Common Council and the Guilds were essentially the same individuals. Some short time ago he found that out of 232 members of the Common Council only 20 were not members of the Guilds. In fact, this vast amount of accumulating wealth, which ought to be expended for the public benefit, was now managed by private Companies unanswerable to any person and uncontrolled either by King or Parliament. Many of the Companies had jurisdiction beyond the City—one of them as much as 20 miles; and he believed there could be no doubt that these Guilds had power to compel all the tradesmen of London to become members of them. [Sir JAMES LAWRENCE remarked that they had not the least power.] He (Mr. Pease) understood that the contrary was the case, and he held in his hand an order from the Court of Common Council that all trades should enter into the Guilds. In 1657 the Common Council passed an order giving the wardens of the Dyers' Company control over the trade. As late as 1754 the Common Council made an order that all butchers were to become free of the Butchers' Company. In 1763 an order of Common Council inflicted a fine of £5 on all sale of poultry made by anyone not a poulterer. In 1765 another order decreed that all watch and clock makers must become free of the Company. Very few of these Guilds were taking any active part in assisting apprentices, or assisting the poor or aged members of their craft. The Spectaclemakers were no longer doing anything to assist defective vision. The Tallowchandlers had ceased to light our rooms. The Clothworkers knew nothing about cloth. The Broiderers had declined business, and the only place where the art of embroidering was now taught was at South Kensington. Nearly all the Companies had ceased to develop the trades they were originally intended to help. There was no doubt that some of them did so, but they were under special Acts of Parliament, and were not guided by the terms of the ancient charters. Then a man who was a freeman of these Companies was also an elector for the City of London. [Sir JAMES LAWRENCE: Not one.] At all events, a freeman was a liveryman, and had a vote in the election of Lord Mayor. Surely that would take the Guilds away from the class of private bodies managing private funds. It seemed to him to be the worst argument that could be invented that as the monopolies had ceased, there was no longer any further profit in the monopolies. It was obvious that the moneys were intended for the promotion of certain trades, or, in the words of the old Charters, for the common benefit of the people, and that many of them were no longer used for the purposes of those trades; that the money was used for purposes entirely different from those for which it was intended, and therefore they could not be looked upon as private Companies. It was quite true that small sums were given in charities, but very large sums were spent in dinners. He could not for the life of him see why inquiry should not go forward. If these Companies were really carrying out in spirit the duties cast upon them by their charters, they would come out of the inquiry, and stand before the world free from all suspicion, and under any circumstances they would not be prevented doing anything they were entitled to do. He trusted the Government would go into this inquiry, for it was quite plain that these City Companies were the only unreformed Corporations which now existed.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, in the opinion of this House, it is the duty of Her Majesty's Government to introduce some legislative measure empowering the Crown to make full investigation into the present condition and revenues of the eighty-nine Companies mentioned in the Second Report of the Municipal Commissioners, l837."—(Mr. James.)


confessed when he placed on the Paper his Notice of Amendment to the Motion of his hon. Friend he little knew the task he had undertaken. He expected that his hon. Friend would give him the opportunity of replying to some startling disclosures as regarded the City Companies; but no such disclosures had been made either by the hon. Member for Gateshead, or his Seconder. They had both so mixed up the Corporation of the City of London with the Livery Companies, and so misstated the facts, that he had great difficulty in replying to them. The time which his hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead had devoted to get up this case might certainly have been applied more beneficially than in endeavouring to revive what was called last Session a fishing inquiry into the private property of the City Companies. The hon. Member had certainly failed to convince him —and he believed he had failed to convince a large majority of the House—that he was correct in his facts, or even right in his principle. He thought he could show that these Companies had performed, and were now performing, the duties pertaining to their body with firmness and fidelity; and although, as had been stated, they had some years ago refused to give evidence before the Royal Commission, it was not from fear that anything would be discovered in the shape of delinquency, but on the broad principle which he hoped would always be maintained by Englishmen, that there should be no inquiry into the private funds of these bodies. Although the hon. Member had mixed up the Corporation with the Livery Companies in the hope of making the House believe there was some ground for considering that the latter were municipal bodies, he had failed in the attempt, and left it evident that they were no more corporate bodies than any private establishment in the City of London. If the speeches of the hon. Members were compared with those they delivered on a similar Motion last year, it would be found that in the interval, so far from discovering any great crimes and misdemeanours, they had toned down their complaints and reduced most materially their charges. The hon. Member for Gateshead last year quoted from speeches made by Sir John Bennett, from pamphlets written by Mr. Phillips, and copious extracts from Mr. Firth's book. This year he had, no doubt, favoured the House with quotations from the book of a Mr. Gilbert. Hon. Members would readily understand how much more pleasing it was to read works of fiction than listen to matters of fact. He himself did not intend to trouble the House by reading extracts from the public papers, from Lord Macaulay, or any of the gentlemen named, but would endeavour to deal with the facts of the case as they presented themselves. He thought it useless to compare the action and operation of those Companies now with what it had been. The hon. Member for Gateshead said— An idea prevails generally out-of-doors, and is increasing, that the funds are applied to purposes very different from those which they were originally intended to subserve, and the charities are very often frittered away and given to those who least deserve them, and that nothing is done to promote the industries upon which their success ought in a great measure to depend, but he had in no way proved this statement, nor had he by any evidence or argument justified his statement. He said— What I complain of is, that they in no way keep up the purposes for which they were originally established. What the hon. Gentleman had said on the subject fell to the ground, because the hon. Member contemplated nothing less than the destruction of the Livery Companies. The hon. Member who had seconded the Motion (Mr. Pease) had spoken of the opinions which had been expressed by the Municipal Corporations Reform League; but as those who united for a particular object generally spoke in favour of their particular views, it was unnecessary for him to endeavour to combat their assertions. The only charges the hon. Member (Mr. James) had brought against these 89 Companies were that in 1812 a set of almshouses was built by the Grocers at a cost of £600 for each inmate. In one case where an apprentice fee of £10 was to be charged, the Court made it an excuse for a dinner which cost £100, and that the Fishmongers' Company had on one occasion given a dinner which had cost 10 guineas a head; but even if these possibly exaggerated statement were true, he wished to know what the House of Commons had to do with the manner in which the Companies expended their private funds? The hon. Member had also asserted that the Livery Companies were not carrying out the intention of their founders, and that the trades unions had consequently sprung up in their places. Trades unions, however, were essentially different from the Livery Companies, and connected as the hon. Member was with the North, his experience of trades unions must be much more fortunate than theirs was in other parts of the country. The hon. Member for Gateshead had shown from his own papers and documents what a large stock of information with reference to these City Companies he had accumulated, and he could not understand, therefore, what good could possibly result from further inquiry with regard to them. The hon. Member promised that if his Motion were granted, many persons would come forward and prove how wrongly the Companies acted. But the hon. Member forgot to tell them who the persons were who would prove that. He ventured to say the hon. Member would have a difficulty in finding one who would come forward and say, much less prove, that these Companies were not fulfilling the functions set forth in the charters under which they were instituted. The hon. Member spoke of the great voting power which, by means of these Companies, was acquired by purchase; but he (Mr. Isaac) would ask in what way voting could be acquired other than by purchase? If a man purchased a house he obtained a vote for such house—did he not obtain it by purchase? He had gathered his facts, not from works of fiction, but by inquiry; and he could prove that the harsh remarks the hon. Member had made, to the effect that the Companies had frittered away and squandered their property, were uncalled for and unnecessary, and much that had been said with regard to the Corporation and the Guilds might just as well have been left unsaid. He (Mr. Isaac) contended that neither in his address last year nor in his address this had the hon. Member substantiated his charges against the Companies. No cause had been shown for making this inquiry. The property held by the City Companies was of two classes—the one charity-trust property, the other corporate, which was also private property. The two classes to which he referred were altogether separate and distinct. With respect to the charity-trust property, it was well known that Parliament had provided means of dealing with such funds. The Livery Companies of London presented their accounts to the Charity Commissioners every year, and no accounts could be more satisfactory. Then as to the second class, it consisted of contributions and gifts from members, and of purchases from the Crown. It was private property, and ought no more to be the subject of inquiry than should be the possessions of any Member of that House. For example, William Thwaytes' bequest of £20,000 to the Clothworkers (1835), "to be laid out in the way that may tend to make the said Society comfortable," together with other £20,000 for Pensions to the Poor Blind. His hon. Friend had referred to this bequest of £20,000 to the Cloth-workers Company, but he (Mr. Isaac) asked whether all the powers of Parliament could do away with a gift which was left to a Company to enable its Members to enjoy themselves? But as to the main question, he could show that not only were all the charity-trust funds disposed of for their proper purpose, but that, in addition, a large amount of the private funds was expended to promote the same ends. One Company he could name which not only had a charity-trust fund amounting to £16,500 a-year, but in addition to that sum spent of its corporate funds for educational purposes no less than £12,900 a-year. Another Company to its charitable trust fund of £12,000 a-year added from its corporate funds £15,000 a-year. Yet the hon. Member for Gateshead complained that these Companies neglected their functions. Ho had also referred to education. He (Mr. Isaac) could, however, name a case where a bequest having been made for the purpose of educating 20 children, the Company, as trustees, were now educating 1,556 children. Then the hon. Member referred to the Goldsmiths' Company, and he rather taunted them with the large sums which Mr. Firth said they expended in conviviality. He did not tell the House, however, what the Goldsmiths' Company did besides banqueting. The charity fund of that Company amounted to £9,000 a-year. Out of the general corporate fund they expended in charities alone £10,500 a-year, and £6,500 beyond that from their private funds for educational purposes. Yet the hon. Member wanted an inquiry into the application of these funds. He found, moreover, that the Company had founded 76 open competitions of £50 each a-year at Cambridge and Oxford, and gave £500 a-year for the encouragement of technical education, besides establishing a school of instruction for modelling and designing. More than that, they were about to build and endow a great church at East Acton at a very considerable cost. The cost of management of the Company's property did not exceed £1,500 a-year, and though Mr. Firth stated they spent £30,000 a-year in dining, he was told they had never, in any one year, spent more than £6,000. He thought, then, that those gentlemen should not be subjected to that annual Parliamentary Motion. With respect to the encouragement of technical education he thought he need only refer to the fact that last year when this subject was under discussion in the House of Commons, the noble Lord the Member for the West Riding of Yorkshire (Lord Frederick Cavendish), addressing a meeting at Leeds on the occasion of the opening of an educational institution there, spoke of the liberal assistance which had been rendered to it by the Clothworkers' Company, in the following terms:— They had that day seen the College in full and successful operation, but he would venture to say that it was extremely doubtful whether that institution would yet have begun its useful career if it had not been for the encouragement given by the Clothworkers Company.… They were met in a most friendly spirit by the Endowed Schools Commissioners, who gave important aid, but above all, they were met by the Clothworkers' Company, who offered to hand over funds to a considerable amount, if the Council of the College would take charge of them, to provide technical instruction in connection with the textile industries … Although the College was not yet two years old, there were now 80 day students on the books, and, in addition, well-nigh 150 evening students … He must now congratulate the Cloth-workers' Company upon the success of that part of the experiment which they had mainly initiated with respect to technical instruction … He must, therefore, congratulate the Clothworkers' Company upon the success in its earlier stages of an experiment which he believed would not have been tried here, nor probably elsewhere, had it not been for the munificent and long-sighted generosity of that honourable Guild.… Great had been the part played by these honourable City Companies in the past. In times of lawlessness and anarchy they nurtured and protected the industries of our country. When the freedom of this country was imperilled they did their part well, as would be found recorded in our constitutional history. Whether their public spirit would ever be called forth in these fields again he could not say, but he would venture to say that these Companies would have a wider field in the future for the display of their liberality and public spirit than they had ever had in the past. The Companies having large funds had joined for the purpose of founding a technical school. Nearly the whole of them had stepped to the front for the purpose of promoting the technical education so much spoken of, their object being to found a sound system of technical education, to raise the tone of industrial life and intelligence throughout the country, by establishing high standards of excellence in masters, managers, and foremen, by means of selected youths educated on the most approved models, whose example should percolate down to the lowest stratum of the working population. He thought he had shown enough to induce Her Majesty's Government to say that it was inexpedient to grant an inquiry into their constitution. Lord Hatherley, Lord Selborne, Baron Bramwell, and many other distinguished men had been Masters of these Companies. Would they lend themselves to anything like wrong-doing? As to the voting power of the Livery Companies, he had made an inquiry for the purpose of ascertaining how many liverymen of London would have votes, provided they had no other qualification than their livery. In the Haberdashers' Company there were 321 liverymen who would be entitled under their livery to vote, but of that number 257 were qualified as householders of the City of London to vote, and those who were qualified to vote simply by their livery numbered only 64. Nearly all of those 64 had been presented with the livery on account of their good works. In the Stationers' Company there were 259 liverymen, 141 of whom could vote in respect of their livery. Coming to smaller Companies, he found that the Fanmakers had eight liverymen, but six of them could vote without being liverymen; and the Framemakers had 11 liverymen, of whom eight could vote without being liverymen. The Motion of his hon. Friend asserted a right to deal with the property of private persons. He trusted his right hon. Friend (Mr. Cross) would find he was able to refuse a Motion of that kind, and that the House would show by their vote that they were disinclined to deal with private property. There were two courses open to his hon. Friend. One was to bring forward a Bill that would deal with the property of these Companies openly and candidly. Let that Bill be fought out fairly and freely, instead of bringing forward annually a Motion of this kind. The other cousre was this—if his hon. Friend could find any charge against one or more of these Companies, he could appeal to the Law Courts, and get the greatest amount of justice. His hon. Friend had, no doubt, been misinformed as to the facts and figures which he had given the House; and he (Mr. Isaac) would conclude by moving the Amendment of which he had given Notice—namely, that all the words after "is" be omitted, in order to insert the words inexpedient and unnecessary for Her Majesty's Government to introduce any legislative measure affecting the Livery Companies of the City of London.


seconded the Amendment, and said he felt certain that the Motion would be rejected, as it had been rejected last year. No Member of the House could be in a position to bring forward facts of the kind mentioned by the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. James) with good ground, for secrecy was imposed upon all members of the Companies. It was true these Guilds had property the accumulation of centuries; but it was as much private property as was the property of any Member of that House. If Motions of this kind were to be continually brought before the House, the House would be transformed into an inquiry office to look after private property, which when found would not be returned to the owners. These Companies were carrying out the purposes for which they were created, attending not only to technical education, but looking after the widow, the orphan, and the distressed. They did not object to fair comment; but they did object to these continued assaults. With regard to the outlay on hospitalities, he did not think that in the case of the more important Guilds it exceeded 30 per cent of the total expenditure. No one could accuse the Companies of a grudging hospitality. It was bestowed freely and wisely, and gave citizens and others almost their only opportunity of meeting together. At many of the court dinners the guests far exceeded their hosts in number; and the members might say, in the spirit of the old song—"Though the rich we entertain, we don't forget the poor." The estimates of £500,000 and £750,000 which he had heard quoted were quite imaginary. The Guilds were very large institutions, and many thousands were interested in them. They were well administered, and an annual influx of new blood strengthened the Courts. It would be too great an iniquity for the House to grant this inquiry, as it would be an undue interference with the rights of private property, and would shake the very foundation upon which private property was held.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "is" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "inexpedient and unnecessary for Her Majesty's Government to introduce any legislative measure affecting the Livery Companies of the City of London,"—(Mr. Isaac,) —instead thereof.


said, the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of the original Resolution were founded on the fallacious assumption that all property which belonged not to an individual but to a corporate body must be regarded as something different from private property. A corporate body stood in point of law—whether under the English law or under the law of any other country—in perfectly the same position as an individual. It was a persona, and might hold both private property and trust property. These Guilds—these personæ—possessed property of both kinds. They held property in trust for the public, and with regard to it they were amenable to the Charity Commissioners or to a Court of Law. They also held private property, which had not come to them for any purpose in which the public had an interest, and which they possessed in precisely the same manner and with the same rights as would be the case if they were individuals. In respect to that property they were, in fact, treated by the law as private persons; and an outsider had no more right to object to what they spent out of it on dinners, than to object to what the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. James) spent in entertaining his friends. If there was any question as to the rights of property, the Courts of Law ought to be got to decide upon it. A more unconstitutional course than that recommended by the hon. Member for Gateshead had never been suggested, nor had a proposal ever been supported by a weaker case, and therefore the Motion ought to be refused.


said, that the hon. Member (Mr. James) last year asked for a Commission to inquire into the City Companies; and now he asked the House to affirm a proposition that the Government ought to introduce a Bill for the purpose of making an inquiry into the revenues of these Companies. He fully admitted the distinction between corporate and private property, and had no doubt that if it were shown that any abuse existed in regard to trust property held by these Companies, Parliament might order an investigation into the administration of it; but before Parliament was asked to take such a serious step it ought to be shown that an abuse existed. There was no property held by a higher or better title than that which belonged to these Companies. Their charters were, in the time of Charles II., surrendered in a fright, owing to the Quo warranto which was issued against the Corporation of London; but the proceedings on that Quo warranto were found to be so iniquitous that an Act of Parliament was passed in the reign of William and Mary reversing the judgment, and granting to the several City Companies the right to hold and enjoy their property under their old titles. His objection to the Motion was that it was for a fishing inquiry. The hon. Member had given no good reason for any inquiry. Ho had shown no malfeasance. There had been no argument except the question of dinners. Every item of the property held by the Companies was known and published in books accessible to all. There were the Reports of 1837, which gave all the information required. Of course, property had increased in value since that time. It was true that the original objects of some of these Guilds had become obsolete; but it was a mistake to suppose that they existed for the purpose only of the old foundations. These Companies possessed almshouses, schools, and charities, numerous and valuable, and could any hon. Member say that they were not properly administered? There had been no malversation during the last 25 years at least; and why, therefore, should the House of Commons be asked to condemn these Companies? If no charge could be made against them, why should Parliament ask the Government to introduce a Bill to enable the Crown to issue a Commission of Inquiry into supposed abuses? He was inclined to agree that their expenditure upon dinners was too lavish; but was the House going to lay down a sumptuary law? Was there to be no whitebait, no hock, no turtle? Was the House to extend its legislation to the quantity of provisions the guests ate at the Lord Mayor's table? No doubt the aggregate expenditure of all the Companies upon entertainments was large; but in individual cases it was by no means so large as was supposed. One great reason of the jealousy felt towards the City Companies was the opinion that existed that they were part of the Corporation of London; but that was not so. With the exception of the Lord Mayor, the members of the Corporation were elected by the same persons who returned Members to that House. One reason why he wished to see these Companies continue to exist and flourish was that the great secret of the freedom of this country was local self-government, and in these bodies we had models of local self-government. If some real ground could be shown for inquiry, he would himself vote for it; but in the absence of such ground he did not believe the House would grant an inquiry; and the Motion, under such circumstances, seemed very like a gratuitous attack upon the Companies, which would confer no benefit on the public at large.


said, he had listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. James) with the feeling that he was listening to a romance and not to a history of facts. He failed to recognize in it the truth connected with a single Company with but one small exception. Throughout the speeches of both the Mover and Seconder of the Motion one fallacy was evident—namely, an utter confusion as to the true meaning of municipal institutions as distinguished from bodies which from their very foundation down to the present time had really been benefit societies. The first charge upon these City Companies was the benefit of the members composing them, and that the managers were obliged to carry out. In all the great Companies a large number of the humbler members were receiving pensions and benefactions in conformity with the rules and charters upon which those Companies were founded. No portion of that money was to be expended for a public object, and the Companies were, in fact, trades' union societies, the members of which banded themselves together and provided their own funds. No public funds were given them; there had been no founders in the sense in which the founder had been spoken of in the discussion; and the only funds left for specific purposes were those which were now in the hands of the Charity Commissioners, to whom every year each Company was bound to make a return. Almost all the Livery Companies supplemented from their own funds the sums they were required to expend for particular objects. No public object was ever entrusted to a Company except such as it had itself desired for special trade purposes. There were surplus funds as a Company grew wealthier and the wants of its members were satisfied. [Ironical cheers.] Those cheers showed that hon. Gentlemen did not understand the matter; because in their minds there was an utter confusion of thought between a municipal institution and a private body. The property of these Companies was as much the private and personal property of each member of the Company as the property of any Member of that House was his own. Every examination which had been made into the subject had attested the soundness of that view; and hence this Resolution was brought forward with the idea that the threat of an inquiry would put some kind of pressure upon the Companies, and induce them to devote their funds to objects which they were under no legal obligation to support. It was not true, as had been suggested, that the Companies, alarmed by the threatened inquiry, had taken up the subject of technical education. On the contrary, that subject had been continuously before them for the last eight years, and year after year they had voted larger sums for its promotion. The more this question was examined the more it would be seen that the Livery Companies consisted of individuals banded together for their mutual benefit, and there was nothing to hinder them from dividing every shilling of the property which they held between them. They had heard much lately about the sale of the property of Serjeants' Inn; and he thought it would be far more difficult to justify that act than to justify any similar measure on the part of the City Companies. He had heard with regret a remark about absentee landlords. If that referred to Ireland he thought many Irish Members would be ready to acknowledge that the Livery Companies were the landlords who had shown the most desire to benefit the people, and had spent the largest proportion of their rents for the improvement of their estates. True, a few years ago some of them had become alarmed, and the Clothworkers' Company in particular had sold its estates to a private owner. The tenants would tell whether they had benefited by that change. He hoped that in future hon. Gentlemen, when they tried to make out a case against the Livery Companies, would verify their information, and not lay before the House statements which, from his own personal knowledge, he knew to be highly exaggerated.


said, his hon. Friend had based his Motion on the fact that these institutions were incorporated by Royal charter, and were entrusted with public objects and charitable trusts. These were so intimately connected that it was impossible to divide them; but, as a matter of fact, the Guilds had almost totally ceased to exist for the purposes for which they were originally constituted. It was impossible for them to know much in regard to the actual facts owing to the secresy in which the affairs of the Companies were shrouded; but they contended that these bodies misapplied the money entrusted to them for charitable purposes, and applied it to private purpose. His hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Mr. Alderman Cotton), the late Lord Mayor, speaking on behalf of the Guilds, said that though they entertained the rich they never forgot the poor. By a singular hazard there appeared in the newspapers of the 7th of April a little incident illustrating the manner in which the Companies of the City of London treated their poor. Mr. Humphrey, the coroner, held an inquest at the Whittington and Cat Tavern, Bethnal Green, on the body of Mary Ann Nash, aged 71. It appeared from the evidence that the deceased and her husband were in receipt of £5 per annum each from the Cordwainers' Company; but in the event of their receiving parish or other relief that money would be forfeited, and therefore they did not apply to the parish. Out of the 4s. a-week they paid 2s. 6d. rent, leaving only 1s. 6d. per week for food, clothes, and firing. The doctor stated that he had never seen a worse case, and that the woman had been starved to death. The jury found that the regulations of the Cordwainers' Company with respect to their charities had contributed to the death of the deceased, and requested the coroner to write to the Company on the subject. The hon. Member commented on the peculiar privileges of the Companies, such as their right of holding land, and others. It might be admitted that we no longer wanted loriners or armourers, and in the case of those still existing Companies whose objects had died out, might it not be argued that their money should be applied to other purposes? The late Lord Mayor challenged the statement that the income of the Companies was £750,000 a-year. But the property of the Livery Companies in the City was rated at £500,000 a-year, and they had estates in Ireland yielding £88,500 a-year, which would shortly be increased by 20 per cent. Would anyone contend that the value of their property was not far greater than the amount at which it was rated? Thus there was a property of between £600,000 and £700,000 a-year in the hands of Companies who kept their affairs so secret that every member was bound to take an oath not to reveal them; so that not only the general public, but the commonalty of the Companies were not permitted to know how their revenues were expended. That was an anomalous state of things which fully justified the demand for an inquiry. The greater number of the members of the largest Companies were laymen. Lord Selborne, for instance, was no more a mercer than the man in the moon; but what was still more absurd was the fact that the charities of the Companies were not now administered in the interests of those for whom they were originally intended. Hardly any part of them was applied for the benefit of the trades which the Companies were supposed to promote. Again, the rating of all the Halls of the Liveries of the City of London was in the gross sum less than £58,000. There could be no doubt that this was much less than it should be, and that the sum should be £75,000 or £80,000. Hon. Gentlemen asked for one or two facts. Now, if he could not produce one or two facts, he could ask one or two questions. In 1837 the Drapers' Company returned their income at £24,000 per annum. Their Hall was assessed at £8,000; it was built for £70,000. Their garden had been let at £15,000 per annum. They were, therefore, worth more than the £24,000 of 1837. What were they doing with the rest of the money? Their dinners and entertainments were set down at £5,000; salaries, £4,000; pensions and gratuities, £5,000. The Haberdashers' Company had 24 houses; eight were in Haberdashers' Square, returned as producing £170 a-year, six in St. Giles's. Who was the lucky person who had the eight houses in Haberdashers' Square for £170 a-year? If statements had been made about the Companies in the course of the debate which were wrong why should not those bodies at once open their books, produce their facts, and disprove the statements to which he referred? So long as they declined to do so the public would continue to believe that there were points and transactions in connection with them which they dared not bring into the light of day; and those who had to do with the Guilds would lay themselves open to the imputation of being dishonest men.


said, he had listened for a considerable time, in order to find out what were the facts upon which this inquiry, as it was called, was sought for. Allegations had been made, fragments and extracts from newspapers had been quoted, which those who brought them forward disavowed their belief in—but no facts had been suggested against the City Companies until the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. E. Jenkins) rose; and he (the Solicitor General) was bound to say that what had been rather suggested than positively stated had in his case found definite expression. The hon. Member said that what the allegation really meant was this—that the City Companies had misapplied the money which they had received for charitable purposes. Now, that raised a definite issue, and one which required careful treatment. In the first place, it was obvious that, if the money had been received for charitable purposes, every person receiving it was under the supervision of the law. The hon. Member must be aware that, in the first place, an account must be rendered, which, if withheld, those withholding it could be sent to prison; and if it was mis-stated, those who made the mis-statement would be subject to penalties, and also could be sent to prison. If there was any foundation for the statement that those gentlemen were misapplying the money entrusted to them for charitable purposes, they would be liable to indictment. What had been said, therefore, was in truth a suggestion that a new tribunal should be erected, in order, forsooth, to find out whether some persons had been guilty of dishonest conduct, and whether they should not be indicted and punished.


rose to Order. Hon. Members, he said, knew that the charity funds of the Companies, as charity funds, were under the control of the Charity Commissioners to a certain extent; but his argument was that it was impossible to separate the original purpose of those Companies as trade societies and their charitable purpose from each other, and he contended that the money not now under the control of the Commissioners was not devoted to charitable purposes.


said, then, it was important that the House should ascertain what funds were within the control of the Charity Commissioners. The statute of Elizabeth gave the number of heads to which money and lands devoted to charitable objects could be applied. The first was for the relief of the aged, then to maintain poor people, sick and aged soldiers, and schools of learning. Among those objects were, also, "the marriage of poor maidens," the support and aid of young tradesmen, the relief and redemption of prisoners, aid in payment of rates, &c. These were heads sufficiently wide in themselves; but the hon. Gentleman was himself aware that the Courts had put a still wider construction on them. There was nothing which came within these heads that the Courts would not administer on what lawyers called the cy près doctrine; by which was meant that in defect of the more specific objects of a testator's bounty, the Court would apply the fund to the next cognate object. To take a leading case. A gentleman left to one of the Companies a large estate, charged with the redemption of Christian slaves in Turkey and Barbary. It was reported to the Court of Chancery that the object for which the bequest was intended no longer existed; whereupon, under the direction of the Court, the fund in question was applied to the foundation of certain scholarships at one of the Universities in which it was ascertained the testator took a considerable interest. It was said to be impossible to disentangle the charity from the other funds of these Guilds. But where there was any part of the property, personal or real, clothed with the character of charity it immediately came within the supervision of the law. It was said by the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. James) that these Corporations—and he described them as municipal Corporations—were instituted for public purposes. Now, these Corporations were not Municipal Corporations, except in a very wide sense indeed; and they were not instituted for public purposes. At all events, it was enough for him to say that none of those Gentlemen who had addressed the House on the subject had brought forward any charter or fact proving that these Corporations, which were in the nature of private societies, were ever instituted by the Crown, in the sense which the argument implied, for any public purposes whatever. They were apparently in their origin mere voluntary associations, instituted by persons who were interested in one particular subject or matter. We had in our midst in these days voluntary agencies for almost every conceivable subject which interested mankind. They differed from those ancient associations in this—that they conveyed their property to trustees, charging it with a private trust to give effect to the original wishes of those who contrived these associations. He did not know whether the hon. Member for Gateshead belonged to any of the societies which owned those magnificent buildings they saw in Pall Mall, which were devoted to political objects, and which did not, he believed, publish their accounts or give any account of what their property was. What was the distinction between those clubs and these City Guilds? The simple distinction was, that the former had settled their property on trustees, who held it in trust for them. If they were to ask the House to inquire into the administration of the funds, and what were the objects, of the Reform Club or the Carlton Club, he thought it probable that there would be considerable resistance to any such inquiry. The origin of these City Companies was precisely analogous. It was assumed that they received the money of the Crown, and were instituted by the Crown for this or that public purpose. That was entirely a mistake. He could not help thinking that those hon. Members who had more than once referred to the Commission ought to have thought it within the scope of their inquiry to find out what the Commission said upon the subject. They had had numerous extracts from newspapers, but no one had brought the Report of the Commission before the House. That Report contained the following passages, which he would, with the leave of the House, read:— Considered as distinct or special communities, the Companies were probably, in their original conformation, not so much trading societies as trade societies, instituted for the purpose of protecting the consumer or the employers against the incompetency or fraud of the dealer or the artizan; and equally with the intent of securing a maintenance to the work- man trained to the art, according to the notion of early times, by preventing his being undersold in a labour market filled by an unlimited number of competitors. In fact, the hon. Baronet the Member for Lambeth (Sir James Lawrence) was not far wrong when he described them as neither more nor less than trades' unions— Furthermore, the Companies acted as domestic tribunals, adjudicating, or rather arbitrating, between master and man, and settling disputes; thus diminishing hostile litigation and promoting amity and good will. They were also in the nature of benefit societies, in which the workman, in return for the contributions he had made, when in health and vigour, to the common stock of the Guild, might be relieved in sickness, or when disabled by the infirmities of age. This character speedily attracted donations for other charitable purposes from benevolent persons who could not find any better trustees than the ruling members of these communities; and hence arose the numerous charitable gifts and foundations now entrusted to their care.—[2nd R. M. C., p. 19, 1837.] They also possessed the character of modern clubs. They were institutions in which individuals of the same class and their families assembled in social intercourse. So important was this object deemed, that several of the Companies now actually hold their banquets under Royal Charters. The annual feasts of the Skinners, Haberdashers, Clothworkers, &c., for instance, are legal and corporate franchises. He thought it would be observed from that Report that it was quite possible to separate the funds which they had for charitable uses from those which they enjoyed as the owners of private property. They had obtained their position, not from any supposed grant from the Crown, but by the payment of money to be allowed to do that which he asserted every modern club was in the habit of doing, by appointing trustees. It should also be remembered that the Crown in many cases parted with its privileges for money considerations. Then it was said they had ceased to perform their functions. What functions? If it was meant that they did not any longer visit the different tradesmen in or about the Metropolis, that must not be attributed to any neglect of duty, but rather to the fact that modern commerce had emancipated itself from the trammels by which in early times trade was surrounded; and because that sort of supervision would at this moment be considered an intolerable invasion of the privileges of free trading. It must be remembered that these things wore not imposed as duties, but granted as privileges, which from time to time were surrendered in compliance with the demands of modern thought. Then, again, it was sought to make them public bodies, because it was said they were engaged in some such way as gave them the franchise; but that was a mistake. It was true that a liveryman was, under certain circumstances, en- titled to the franchise; but if it was said that as a member of a Company he was improperly qualified, and that he ought not to have the franchise because of his being a member of a Livery Company, surely that would be a reason for altering the franchise, and not for inquiring into what money the Companies possessed. In a county every 40s. freeholder was entitled to exercise the franchise; but that did not give Parliament any reason for inquiring into the manner in which each man became possessed of, or what he did with his 40s. He ventured to think that the Livery Companies, in so far as they were possessed of private funds—and it was quite possible to distinguish between their private funds and their charitable funds—were in no different position from any other private society or private individual. They had a right to use those funds as they pleased, and it was very much to their credit—though he did not urge it as justifying them— that being in the possession of those private funds, instead of squandering them as they might have done, or dividing them amongst themselves as they might also have done, they had preserved them with the object apparently of carrying on their ancient Guilds upon the ancient principles upon which they were founded, just as the political clubs carried on their establishments and distributed their funds upon the principles upon which they were originally founded. It was said that some of the Companies had behaved well and some ill; that some were rich and some poor; and it was asked that they should all be lumped in a sort of general indictment, and that a new tribunal should be elected to inquire, not into the mode in which they used their funds, or to suggest how they should dispense them for the future, but simply to inquire what they had got. The hon. Member who spoke last uttered a sentiment against which he, for one, emphatically pro-I tested. He said—"A great many people have been talking against you. True, there is no evidence; but a great many people have been saying things, and unless you choose to come forward and disclose all your affairs, the inference will be drawn that you are dishonest men." That was a startling proposition, and if applied to private property it would only be necessary for the accusers to make their statements as reckless and as offensive as possible, and, having made the most infamous accusations, to call upon the proprietors to show that they were not true. The City Companies rightly regarded these Motions for inquiry as accusations, made by those who had no right to inquire what the Companies did with their private property. Some people said that it was not private property, and that there was a distinction to be drawn between what they did with this money and what they did with that. For his part, he preferred the bold outspoken way in which the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down made his attack. If they searched a man's pockets, the act conveyed something like an imputation that the searcher thought he had something that he ought not to have, and those who had authority to command a search did not generally exercise that authority unless they had reasonable ground for believing that the man had unlawfully got some property which he ought not to have. He hoped the House would reject the Motion, because it appeared to him to be of most mischievous example—a sort of general Communistic inquiry—all inquiry the request for which appeared to be principally founded upon the suggestion that the Companies had very large funds. One hon. Gentleman opposite spoke almost with a degree of rapture of the great wealth which he (the Solicitor General) supposed was to be distributed among some objects that the hon. Member thought worthy. He (the Solicitor General) hoped it would be rejected, not only because one naturally felt interested in those Companies, which had done good service in the past, and were doing good service now—Companies which for years had been bringing all sorts of ranks together: and if this were a luxurious age, and we spent more than we ought, the observation hit a great many besides the City Companies. These gatherings were among the objects contemplated in the foundation of the Companies; and if there was nothing unlawful in them, on which the Charity Commissioners could lay hold as involving misappropriation, upon what ground, except the growth of the funds, was the proposed tribunal to be justified? Sanctioning such an inquiry would be a most mischievous example; it would establish the principle that you had only to point out the existence of a large quantity of property, and that that would be a sufficient justification for the interference of a reformer in search of a victim. It appeared to him that the effect of Motions of this sort would be to create an uneasy feeling, and to unsettle the idea that private property was sacred in this country. If there was no misapplication of public funds or charities, and if no public function such as the exercise of the franchise was concerned, then this was simply a Motion to find out what the property of these City Companies was, with the ill-concealed object behind that if that property were found to be very large, then there should be an inquiry on the part of the public—which public meant each particular man's crotchet—as to what should be done with this property. The example would be set of an inquiry into a person's property, and he did not believe that in the heat of the discussion the distinction between private and public property would long be observed. The principle of instituting such an inquiry for no public reason and when no misconduct had been suggested was, in his opinion, most mischievous, and he trusted it would never be affirmed by that House.


said, he thought he had some reason to complain of the hon. and learned Gentleman having applied such a term as "communistic" to his remarks. The speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman would have done honour to the days of Lord Eldon and Lord Lyndhurst—it was a piece of special pleading. No doctrine could be more monstrous than that corporate property could be private property. In 1833 the Attorney General of the day, on the debate on this very question, had said that some inquiry must shortly be held into the state of these Companies, seeing that the functions they exercised were distinctly municipal, and there- fore made them municipal corporations.


said, that 16 years ago, long before the agitation had been raised, the Clothworkers' Company subscribed £500 a-year to the teaching of textile fabric making in Leeds and other centres of textile industry. They had also contributed very largely to the Yorkshire College of Science at Leeds. He opposed the Motion, contending there was no evidence whatever to justify the proposed inquiry.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 72; Noes 168: Majority 96.—(Div. List, No. 63.)

Main Question, as amended, put.

Resolved, That, in the opinion of this House, it is inexpedient and unnecessary for Her Majesty's Government to introduce any legislative measure affecting the Livery Companies of the City of London.