HC Deb 25 May 1881 vol 261 cc1291-302

Order for Second Reading read.


in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that in order that the Bill should be understood it was necessary to say a few preliminary words about the present state of the City of London and the condition of its Parochial Charities. The City of London was about a square mile in area. It contained within that area 108 civil parishes and 61 ecclesiastical parishes. The population had gone on steadily decreasing for many years. In 1860–01 it was 112,000; in 1871 it was 76,000; in 1881 it was 52,000; and at the same rate of decrease before long it would have gone down to some 10,000 or 15,000 people. The parishes were of two classes. A certain number—about eight—lying towards the outskirts of the ancient City, had in 1871 a population of more than 6,000 persons each. There were 100 parishes in the inner parts of the City, whose total population was in 1871 only about 35,000 altogether; and he thought it might be said that these had ceased to be parishes in the substantial sense of the word. In the outer parishes the population was still reasonably large for each parish; but in many of these inner parishes the population was counted, not by thousands or hundreds, but by tens; one of them only contained 32 inhabitants, and a considerable number under 100. The churches were, therefore, empty, and the parochial organizations had ceased to have any life. Nearly all these parishes had considerable endowments, which had come down from an early period, some of them even from the 14th century, and which had increased in value from precisely the same causes which had led to the decreased population. As the population had sought homes outside the walls of the City, so the value of these endowments, which mainly consisted of land and houses, had risen to an extraordinary height. The City was one of those instances in which Goldsmith's line was exemplified— Where wealth accumulates and men decay. The income of the endowments had risen from £67,000 yearly in 1865 to £105,000 in 1877; but even this vast sum did not represent the full value, because in many cases they had been badly managed, not corruptly but indolently or incompetently managed, and under good management the income might be doubled, and in 10 years the Parochial Charities might enjoy a revenue of more than £200,000 a-year. There was thus, taking the income at £105,000 and the population at 52,000, a sum of £2 per head per annum of Charity Funds for every resident in the City, or in the 100 inner parishes, whose population was under 25,000, £4 per head. In that state of affairs it might be imagined that the City would be full of philanthropic institutions, and that the rate of pauperism would be extremely low. But the facts showed that the state of the City of London compared not only unfavourably, but most unfavourably, with every other part of the Metropolis as to pauperism. The average for the whole of the Metropolis of paupers to population was 1 in 37; in the City it was 1 in 16. The expenditure on outdoor relief in the whole of the Metropolis was 1s.d. per head; in the City it was 4s. 4d. per head, so that, so far as the poor were concerned, it would be better for them if this £105,000 yearly income were thrown over the Thames Embankment. How had this state of affairs arisen? This Charity money was administered and distributed by a very large number of independent bodies of trustees, by churchwardens, and by Vestries. Very nearly half of the total income was spent in what was called the ecclesiastical purposes. Such purposes included various matters connected with the repairs of the churches—the re-fitting and ornamenting them, warming them, and so forth. There were 61 churches for a population of 52,000 people, whereas 10 churches would be amply sufficient for the spiritual requirements of this population. Thus it would surprise no one that most of the churches were empty, and that the greater part of the money spent by the churchwardens was absolutely wasted. A good deal of these Church Charities went in various endowments for lectureships and sermons. There was a case of an endowment of £50 a-year for two services daily. Now, however, on Wednesdays and Fridays, the minister and clerk made their appearance at the hour of morning prayer, and having waited a due period of time, and finding that no person appeared, they went away. Another endowment was for a sermon to be preached in acknowledgment of the deliverance of England from the Spanish Armada; another for a sermon of thanksgiving for deliverance from the Gunpowder Plot. Both these sermons were still delivered. A payment was made to the clergyman for delivering them, and to the sexton for going to hear them; but he could not find that any other person had ever funned part of the congregation. He did not attribute any blame to the clergy, as they had done their best in the difficult circumstances in which they were placed; it was the state of the law which was to blame. A considerable part, estimated at £10,000 a-year, of these charity revenues was distributed in doles—petty gifts of bread, coals, blankets, and so forth. All the evidence showed that such doles, wherever distributed, were of the greatest imaginable evil to the community. It was as much a truth of economic science that doles tended to demoralize and pauperize their recipients as it was a truth of physical science that the breathing of sewer gas tended to produce disease. In the City people came sometimes to the morning services of some churches in order to get bread, and one clergyman had actually excused the system on the ground that it brought people to church who otherwise would not attend. In one of the parishes a churchwarden wanted to ascertain how the coal tickets distributed as doles went. He took the addresses of the people who applied, and having found that out of the applicants there were no less than 40 or 50 not known at the addresses which they gave, he came to the opinion that these people belonged to a class which seemed to be a well-known part of the population of the City—the class called "coal-hunters," who made it their business to get these tickets and afterwards sell them at a reduction to retailers of coals. In a large number of the parishes in which bread was distributed it was received by persons with regard to whose means of subsistence no inquiry was made, and many of these persons were actually at the time receiving outdoor relief from the Unions. Another mode in which the money was supposed to be expended was in the payment of apprenticeship fees; but as the custom of apprenticing had become almost obsolete in the City, more than £3,000 a-year was accumulating because youths could not be found to come and take an apprenticeship. A good deal was spent in the payment of poor rates, which was a gross misapplication of Charity Funds. There was a parish in Lombard Street which contributed out of its Charities £700 a-year to the poor rate, a charge which would otherwise be paid by the great banking-houses which were situated there. This was a pleasing instance of charity to the rich. There were two cases in which parishes spent £1,300 annually in the payment of poor rates out of such funds, and in another case the parish had the effrontery to borrow money for the repairs of the church, while, at the same time, they were spending their charity money in paying poor rates. A very large sum was spent in eating and drinking. Items for dining and refreshments at Vestry meetings and dinners at Greenwich and Richmond were of frequent occurrence. One parish expended £83 on a single Greenwich dinner. In another case £113 was thus spent on various entertainments, this being an instance where the parish contained only two inhabited houses, and in addition to expending this sum £60 was taken out of the Charity Funds, with which a service of plate was purchased, and presented to one of the churchwardens. He recollected the case of a parish in which there were two endowments in one parish, both originally of small amount. One was £1 6s. 8d. to be paid to some poor deserving scholar at Oxford or Cambridge University. That small sum of £1 6s. 8d. was still paid, and it was all that was given to the poor scholar. But in the other case 5s. was left to provide what the founder called a "love feast," at which parishioners who had quarrelled with one another should be reconciled on Maundy Thursday. That "love feast" was still given; but it was carried out in a manner more ample and generous than the simple Founder contemplated. From £60 to £70 was now annually spent on giving this feast at Richmond, and the persons invited were the rich people of the parishes, and among them were the secretaries of 12 public Companies who had offices or warehouses in the parish. Then there were salaries paid out of those charitable foundations to Vestry clerks, sextons, organists, organ-tuners, pew-openers, and a swarm of other officials connected with these parishes. Lastly, there were many miscellaneous Charities, such as the gift made for the benefit of poor fishmongers in Old Fish Street—there being no poor fishmongers there now; gifts of money for the ringing of church bells—a frequent kind of bequest; a gift for the ransom of Christians captured by the Barbary pirates, and a bequest for purchasing faggots for the burning of heretics. Most of these gifts were in house property. They were continually accumulating, and being spent in ways sometimes not in accordance with the wishes of the Founders, while in other cases it was impossible now to carry out those wishes. He believed two of the City parishes appeared to have taken money out of their Charity income to pay for the prosecution of the Rev. Pelham Dale. Perhaps they looked on this as what the lawyers called a cyprè application of the funds bequeathed for the combustion of heretics. There had been comparatively few cases in which the trustees had sought to benefit themselves out of these funds; and it was rather the state of the law than the trustees, whose fault had been apathy, not malversation, that must be blamed. Three remedies were needed to set right this extraordinary and anomalous state of affairs. In the first place, the money ought to be made to follow the people, and taken from the City, where it was no longer useful, to be poured forth over the whole Metropolis. A certain portion might properly be allowed to remain to carry on any work which it beneficially could in some of the City parishes; but by far the larger part would find its rightful application in serving the 4,000,000 of Greater London. In the second place, a change in the law was requisite in order to alter the destination of the funds, as many of the original purposes could no longer be, and others ought no longer to be, carried out. Thirdly, it was desirable that the numerous bodies of trustees, Vestries, and churchwardens, who had the management of these funds, should be consolidated, because so long as they acted independently there must necessarily be great and wanton waste. The object of the present Bill was to give effect to these remedies. The Bill appointed three paid Commissioners to inquire into the Charity property, directing them to pay due regard to vested interests, so that compensation might be provided where necessary. They were also to be empowered to prepare schemes for the administration of the Charities. As regarded the larger parishes, all the charitable funds there were to continue to be applied within the limits of those parishes. A distinction was drawn between ecclesiastical and non-ecclesiastical funds, and it was provided that all such ecclesiastical purposes seemed still beneficial within the limits of the City were still to have the encouragement of the Charity Funds, the balance to be applied, under the management of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, to ecclesiastical purposes throughout the Metropolis. The balance of the non-ecclesiastical funds—after providing for such existing objects as were still substantially beneficial—was to be applied to various admittedly useful purposes in the Metropolis, such as the promotion and improvement of the education of the poorer inhabitants, but not so as to relieve the education rates—for example, by founding exhibitions by which promising boys and girls might be furthered in their career, or by technical instruction; the establishment and maintenance of Libraries, Museums, Art Collections, open spaces and recreation grounds, and provident institutions for the benefit of the poorer classes. It had also been suggested that something might be done with regard to artizans' dwellings; and generally it was proposed to leave the Commissioners a pretty wide discretion as to the inclusion of other purposes than those expressly named. The machinery provided for the purpose of carrying out these objects would be somewhat similar to that under the Endowed Schools Acts. It would be objected, no doubt, that the Bill interfered too much with the directions of "Founders;" but the question really narrowed itself to this—whether the intentions and regulations of the Founders were to be observed in the letter or in the spirit. Could any worse honour be paid to a Founder than to restrict the application of his charity where it had once been needed, but was now superfluous or mischievous? Some of the trustees seemed to suppose that they possessed a vested right and interest to administer charitable funds, just as if those funds were their own individual property; but he would remind them that the Charities did not exist for the administrators, but the administrators for the Charities. A trustee had no private right of property; he was really a public officer, placed there to manage property from which he was not allowed to derive any profit. He and those who had brought in this Bill with him had hoped that the trustees, feeling the indefensible position they occupied, would have regarded them as friends, and have met them half-way; but the only suggestion they had made was that the initiative in any reform should be taken by the trustees. He thought they had waited long enough already for the initiative of the trustees. These were not the days when even the Corporation of London, great as it was, could afford to set itself against reasonable proposals of reform; and he therefore hoped that the spokesmen of the Corporation in that House would not persist in the opposition they threatened. If the Bill were read a second time, he would move that it be referred to a Select Committee, in order that they might fairly consider the whole subject. The object which he and those with whom he was acting had in view was to benefit 5,000,000 people by opening to them new avenues to knowledge and a new range of pure and wholesome pleasures. The hon. Member concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.

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


said, he agreed with the hon. Member as to the necessity of applying some remedy to the undoubted evils he had referred to; but declined to accept the Bill as the best means of attaining the object in view. It was, for instance, a very questionable step to appoint paid Commissioners, who, with the staff of secretaries and clerks, would run away with from £7,000 to £10,000 a-year, when the various matters in question might be left to the already existing Charity Commissioners to deal with. Besides, steps had already been taken by the trustees in the direction indicated by the hon. Member, though their progress was not, perhaps, so rapid as the hon. Member would wish. Lastly, it was to be remarked that the Bill consisted of no fewer than 44 clauses, on which a great many Amendments might be moved, so that if proceeded with it would certainly take up a great deal of valuable time. The trustees were willing to meet the hon. Member who introduced the Bill in a liberal spirit, and really this measure was not necessary. For these reasons he thought it advisable to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Robert Fowler.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


said, he rose on the part of the Government to give a most cordial support to the second reading of the Bill. A more conclusive case had never been shown than that which had been made out by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets, and he did not find that any answer had been made to it by the hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill. The hon. Member admitted the evil, and said that the only question was as to the mode of remedying it. But his hon. Friend had proposed to send the Bill to a Select Committee; and, therefore, all the objection that had been taken to it as regarded the time and method of proceeding with it was removed. The proposal of the hon. Member opposite was that the subject should be dealt with by the Charity Commissioners. Considering the quarter from which the suggestion came, he was a little surprised. He had himself applied to the Charity Commissioners to know whether they could deal with those gross and scandalous abuses in some cases, and in many cases of lamentable misapplication of money, for reasons for which no one was to blame; but they said they could not deal with them because there were certain clauses in the Act which would prevent their doing so. As soon as he became aware of the difficulties in the way he made it his business. with the assistance of the Charity Commissioners, to prepare a Bill which would enable them to perform the duties for which they were constituted by Parliament. What did the Corporation of London do?—that body with which the hon. Member—opposite was connected. They set to work to canvass every town in the country to prevent the Charity Commissioners having the power to better govern and dispense the Charities of London. Piles of petitions were presented against the proposal. Then came down the worthy Alderman and said—"Let us throw out the Bill, and let its hand it over to the Charity Commissioners"—a body which the Corporation of London care should not deal with the subject. He ventured to point out to the worthy Alderman that it was not advantageous to the Corporation of London that they should always take the lead in endeavouring to defeat any proposal for the reform of abuses in connection with the Charities of London. Very often, perhaps from no evil motive, but from negligence and carelessness, these funds actually disappeared from the hands of trustees, yet the Corporation resisted and defeated the proposal to appoint a public body to control their administration. He would have thought that there could not possibly have been a proposal which would have more commended itself to every reasonable man. He had, therefore, been obliged to abandon the hope that the Charity Commission could do this work, and he regretted that the Corporation of London had been so successful in their endeavours to limit the action of that body not only in London, but throughout the country. With regard to this particular question of Charities, however, there was no doubt that even if the Charity Commissioners did possess the necessary powers they would be a long time, with the other multifarious duties they had in hand, in dealing with it, and the appointment of a separate Commission was accordingly recommended. The Commissioners under this Bill would only be appointed temporarily, in order to investigate, in the first instance, the character of the property which was to be dealt with. This might be done in a year or two, and, consequently, the expense would be very slight. The permanent body to be afterwards constituted would, he understood, be an unpaid body, and therefore the objection on the ground of expense could not be sustained. The question the House had to decide was whether these abuses were to go on, and whether they would allow money intended to benefit the public to be dissipated altogether, or to be diverted for purposes of no use whatever. He was sorry that the Government were unable, from causes which the House well understood, to take up this subject themselves; but it was some consolation for them to know that it was in such competent hands. Everything the Government could do to further the Bill would be at the disposal of his hon. Friend and of the other Gentlemen whose names were on the back of the Bill.


said, the Charity Commissioners could not adequately perform the work. They had not the requisite staff; and he doubted whether they would have sufficient time to bestow on this important and distinct matter. A more drastic reform was required than they could expect to have at the hands of the Charity Commissioners. He would say to many of his hon. Friends on that side of the House—"Have a care how you resist proposals for reform, as you may make as grievous a mistake as you did 40 years ago on the question of Protection, and may damage yourselves permanently." This Bill was a very moderate one, and he was glad to say that it would receive the support of many Conservatives.


said, that, as a Member of the late Royal Commission, he regretted the Government had not dealt with this question; but, failing them, he desired to express his thanks to the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets for having introduced this measure. In supporting the second reading, however, he wished to guard himself against being supposed to approve every proposal embodied in the measure. As regarded the ecclesiastical portion of the Bill, he thought that if more of the benefices in the City were amalgamated a large amount of ecclesiastical funds might be diverted to the benefit of other parts of the Metropolis. He also thought that some advantage would be derived from making the ecclesiastical parishes and the civil parishes equal in number. At present there were in the City 60 of the former, while there were 107 of the latter; and in all these the whole parochial machinery, including a paid Vestry clerk, was kept up with great unnecessary expense. He did not approve of the proposal as regarded the School Board Members of the Commission, nor the prominence given to education in the purposes to which the surplus funds should be applied. There were many objects to which money could be applied as well as education, such as the preservation of open spaces, and in which, when once it was spent, it would be spent for ever, and would thus save the expense of administration.


said, he was opposed to centralization, and was surprised at hon. Gentlemen opposite introducing a measure which would take the administration of these funds out of the hands of the people and place it in the hands of the Government. The Government had quite difficulties enough to settle already, and quite enough to do. He regretted these constant attacks which were made upon the Corporation of the City of London—a Corporation which had always been liberal in the past, and had done its best for the general good. The Corporation of London had nothing whatever to do with the Parochial Charities. When these parochial trusts were in the hands of the Vestries the amounts to be distributed wore often so small that little good could be done with them; but if the scheme which was being promoted for consolidating the whole of the Charities were carried out about £100,000 a-year would be available for charitable objects, and with such a sum something great and useful might then be done. The proper way in which these trusts should be administered was by unpaid Commissioners, and by leaving them in the hands of the people. The power of the Charity Commissioners was immense; and he hoped that, whatever might be their feeling as regarded the Corporation of London, hon. Members would persist in their opposition to this Bill.


said, he did not desire to oppose the second reading of the Bill; but thought that when it was sent to a Select Committee it would have to be very considerably altered. The principle of the measure, if adopted, would affect not only the City of London, but different parts of the country. So far as the Bill extended the area of the Charities, it was a wise one; but he thought that the Charities should be ranged under the heads of Ecclesiastical Charities, Educational Charities, and Charities for bodily wants. He had always held that money left for bodily wants ought to be applied to that purpose, and no other. He thought, moreover, that the Metropolitan Board of Works should be represented on the Board, and have a voice in the management of these Charities.


said, he should oppose the Bill. The Government had prevented a day Census of the City from being taken, and that question was intimately connected with this one, for there could be no doubt that when the wealthier people in the City left for their homes at night, the residue was mainly made up of comparatively poor people. [Cries of "Divide!"] He was going to reply to observations that had been made on the Bill. The philosophical Radical objected to all charity whatever; but the time might come when other philosophical Radicals might arise who would have a different set of ideas on the question. ["Divide"]

And it being a quarter of an hour before Six of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned till To-morrow.