HC Deb 02 September 1887 vol 320 cc1066-71

(Mr. Jackson, Mr. William Henry Smith.)


Bill, as amended, considered.

New Clause—

(Appointment of working-men Assistant Commissioners.) One at least in every three of the Assistant Commissioners to be appointed under this Act shall be selected from the working classes. And, upon any vacancy arising, due notice thereof shall be advertised in The London Gazette,"—(Mr. Conybeare,)

brought up, and read the first time.

MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)

I do not want to detain the Committee long; but I should like to take the opportunity of saying a few words in moving that this new clause be read a second time. I do not for one moment suppose, after what was said the other evening, that the Government will be able to meet me, or to accept my Amendment; but I intend to emphasize the point I have taken up by going to a Division. I can only say in reference to the object of the Amendment, and to the action of the Government in opposing the appointment of Assistant Commissioners taken from the working classes, that to say you cannot find working men qualified to perform these duties is a most hollow and unfounded contention. I need only point to the fact that there are in this House hon. Members who belong to the working classes— men who have been trained in mines and in quarries, and from other ranks where they have to earn their own living by the toil of their hands rather than that of their brains; and these facts alone show how absurd it is for anybody to get up and say that you cannot find in the ranks of the working classes men qualified to perform the clerical functions of these Assistant Commissioners. It is said that they will have to decipher all Statutes and old legal documents, or what not; but that fact need not interfere with their appointment, for the very good reason that the law requires that the two principal Commissioners should in any case be barristers of a certain standing versed in the law. I maintain—without troubling the House with any further words—-that in the interests of those to whom these endowments properly belong, and from whom they have been wrongfully taken for years past, it is essential that there should be men placed in a position in which they can, to a certain extent, control and check new schemes which are calculated to continue this system of the spoliation of the poor of this country; and it is for that reason I must insist on pressing this clause to a Division.

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


Notwithstanding the judgment passed by the hon. Member, that my argument against his Motion is absurd, I feel compelled to address to the House a few words in order to explain why it is simply impossible to recognize such a principle as the hon. Member suggests, even assuming we know what he means by the working classes. As to the duties these Assistant Commissioners will have to perform—they will have to go into different districts to hold legal inquiries —they will have to perform judicial functions. I have had considerable experience of these inquiries; I have had to deal with several; the opposite parties are frequently represented by advocates, between whom the Assistant Commissioner will have to decide; and it will also be necessary for him to preside at local public meetings, at which by no means unanimity of opinion exists as to what is to be done, or as to whether the charities have been improperly dealt with in the past. Then, to be able to properly fulfil his duties, the Assistant Commissioner ought certainly to have some knowledge of the Mortmain Acts, the Statute of Limitations, and other complicated pieces of legislation. I believe the hon. Gentleman objects to sinecures. I cannot imagine any appointment partaking more of that character; and I believe it would defeat entirely the objects of those who are disposed to take an interest in these matters if we make such appointments as he suggests. At the same time, I must say it is casting no slur on working men, as they would be the first to confess that they could not fulfil these duties. I hope the Committee will not accept this Amendment.

Question put.

The House divided: — Ayes 26; Noes 94: Majority 68—(Div. List, No. 443.) [3.0 A.M.]


I will not trouble the House by moving my second Amendment; but I will move the third one that stands in my name. I do not know whether the Government will accept it; but I trust they may so far do so in principle as to suggest to the Commissioners the adoption of it in a rule. The Amendment is intended to secure the publication of a list of schemes at regular intervals, so that the public may know what is going on in connection with the different schemes relating to charitable trusts and endowments. I am led to propose the Amendment because I, or my hon. Friends interested in a particular scheme, have found it a matter of exceeding difficulty to find out what schemes are in progress, and how far the Commissioners have dealt with them. If you write to the Commissioners it is difficult to extract a satisfactory answer, and finally you find yourself too late to suggest any modification in any scheme that, for some reason or other, may be unsatisfactory. The only way at the present time in whish you can get any information beyond inquiring of the Commissioners is to wade through the columns of the local newspapers, or of The Times, to see what schemes have been drafted — a very laborious business. Nothing would be more simple than that the Commissioners should, as part of the routine office work, publish every month in The Gazette a list of the schemes under consideration by them. If there is any technical reason why this should not be done, there can be no reason against the adoption of the last part of the clause. I cannot see why a list should not be kept hanging up in the office of the Commissioners, a list of the schemes in progress, so that by inspection of this list the public may ascertain for themselves what schemes are about to pass, and so on. This, I imagine, is no unreasonable demand; but if the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General cannot see his way to embody it in the Bill now before the House, perhaps he will give directions, or make the suggestion, that the Commissioners, for the convenience of the public, should adopt it as a rule.

New Clause—

(Publication of monthly list of schemes in preparation.) The Board shall publish, at the commencement of every month, in The London Gazette, a complete list of all schemes at the time being in preparation or under their consideration, and u copy of such list shall be kept posted up in the office of the Charity Commission, and shall be open to the inspection, without fee, at all reasonable times, of all persons desiring to inspect the same,"—(Mr. Conybeare,)

brought up, and read the first time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the said Clause be now read a second time."

MR. HALLEY STEWART (Lincolnshire, Spalding)

I should like to say something in corroboration of what has been said by the hon. Member for the Camborne Division of Cornwall. I have found the difficulty of ascertaining what schemes the Commissioners have in progress. If the latter part of the clause were accepted, I have no doubt that the public Press, or a certain section of it, would find it to its interest to gratuitously make the list public. I have known instances in Lincolnshire where parties locally interested have not had the desired information; and I hope the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General will help us to some simpler method than that which now prevails of knowing what schemes the Charity Commissioners have in progress.


I do not think this can be made the subject of statutory enactment; but I will undertake to communicate to the Commissioners what has been said by the hon. Gentlemen, the Members for Camborne and Spalding. But I think the hon. Members have rather missed the point in their desire to have the information made known locally. This is already done by advertisement in local newspapers at considerable expense, and by this means I do not think there will be any real difficulty in finding out the stages of progress. The hon. Member for Camborne desires to supplement this by a monthly list in The London Gazette. But this is not in the ordinary sense a newspaper, and it does not come generally before the public, and a similar list at the office would not convey information to those in the particular locality concerned. The inquiry into, and consideration of, a scheme goes on often for a lengthened period. But I will make it my duty to communicate with the Charity Commissioners, and if by any means any part of the suggestion can be carried out by rule or practice of the office, I am sure they would be glad to carry it out. But it is scarcely a matter to insert in a Statute; it should be left to the discretion of the Commissioners.


After this statement I shall be happy to save the House further trouble by withdrawing my Amendment. I am obliged to the hon. and learned Attorney General for so courteously promising to lay the matter before the Commissioners. If a list were hung up in the office it would, to a great extent, meet the objections I have urged.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed, In Clause 6, page 3, line 13, after sub-section (a), add, "(b). This repeal, so far as regards the official trustees of charitable funds, shall take effect on the date on which regulations under this Act in relation to such trustees come into operation."—(Mr. Attorney General.)

Question, "That those words be there added," put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.



Resolved, That the sitting of the House on Saturday he held subject to the Standing Orders that regulate the Sitting of the House on Wednesdays.—(Mr Jackson.)

House adjourned at a quarter after Three o'clock.