§ COMMITTEE. [Progress, 6th December.]
§ [FIFTEENTH NIGHT.]
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 13 (Public property and charities.)
SIR F. S.POWELL (Wigan)
resumed his speech (which was interrupted by the adjournment of the Debate the previous evening) on the following Amendment:—In page 10, line 26, after the word " Over" seers," to insert the words,—" Provided that nothing in this enactment shall apply to charities founded after the passing of this Act.He said, that with reference to existing charities they made a protest with all the emphasis they could on the previous day, because they felt that the clause as it now stood inflicted a great wrong and did a great injustice. They pointed out that irrespective of the case of old charities, when they came to deal with modern endowments and new institutions, there were many cases where the founders had made Churchwardens the trustees for their foundation with the view to the charity—although not directly within the definition of ecclesiastical charities— being administered by persons who were more or less ecclesiastical personages; the intention of the liberal founders being that the institutions although for charitable purposes, should be administered more or less in connection with Church officers. He had been much surprised at the remarks of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who in the broadest language and in general terms denounced the administration of charities for general purposes by those who were more or less of an ecclesiastical character. He was surprised at that pronouncement, because he could not help remembering that many supporters of the right hon. Gentleman were Roman Catholics from Ireland, and a distinguishing feature 655 of the Roman Catholic Church was the large amount of eleemosynary charity administered by different bodies connected with that system. If the clause remained as it stood without this proviso Nonconformist Bodies would be able to constitute their ecclesiastical authorities trustees of their bounty, but members of the Church of England would not be able to make Churchwardens trustees of their bounty except under the limitations of the subsection. That was a great injustice and a great inequality. It was not placing the Church of England on the same level with other denominations, but, on the contrary, was placing members of that Church under a great disability and at a signal disadvantage. A further objection he had was that this was essentially a perpetuity clause, and he was surprised at hearing the Prime Minister, with this clause in his hand, the previous day denouncing perpetuity. The first subsection fixed the trust in the most rigid manner, and the second fixed the trustees with equal rigidity and fixity. There was a perpetuity as regarded the purpose in one sub-section and as regarded the trustee in the other. Every perpetuity could be removed by an Act of Parliament; but until legislation did interfere once more, these two sub-sections taken together were essentially a perpetuity clause. He hoped the Government would accept the proviso which wronged no individual, which removed an inequality, and which, he believed, would encourage future foundations, whereas the clause as it stood would have a directly contrary effect. He begged to move the Amendment.
In page 10, line 26, after the word "Overseers," to insert the words,—" Provided that nothing in this enactment shall apply to charities founded after the passing of this Act." —(Sir F. S. Powell.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. H. H. FOWLER, Wolverhampton, E.)
said, the proposal of the hon. Baronet was that the sub-section which they had just passed, and which replaced the Overseers and Churchwardens in connection with non-ecclesiastical cha- 656 rities by elective trustees, should not apply to charities founded upon this Act. Whatever opinion might be entertained as to existing charities, or charities of recent foundation, he could not think there was any necessity for such a provision for the future. The hon. and learned Member for the Isle of Wight, in reference to this matter in a previous discussion, had said that what was asked and what was necessary was that there should be what he described as fair notice; that the testator, donor, or founder, as the case might be, should have due notice of legislation which affected them. There could be no better notice than the passing of an Act of Parliament, and anybody who founded a charity after this would know that if they chose to appoint as trustees certain officers who discharged certain duties, these officers would be liable and would, as a matter of fact, be replaced by persons elected. He did not suppose any lawyer in the House would have the slightest doubt in his own mind that it would be the easiest thing in drafting to prevent the application of this Act in regard to any charity founded in future, and to secure that charities for the future should be ecclesiastically administered where they were designed for ecclesiastical purposes. It was not, therefore, necessary to insert a provision of this sort.
MR. J. LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
said, he was in general agreement with what the Prime Minister said the previous day—namely, that the majority of these bequests were due to the fact of those who made them being in a state of uncharitable disposition towards their relatives and others, and, therefore, he was not one of those disposed to champion the so-called "pious founder," who was generally a cantankerous, ill-natured, and ill-disposed person, who retained the full enjoyment of his wealth as long as he could, and then was very glad to deprive his natural heirs of what they might reasonably look forward to on his demise. The question raised appeared to be a broader one than the mere idea of giving encouragement to persons whom the Prime Minister so very appropriately referred to. His hon. Friend desired to protect legitimate bequests from being tampered with at the hands of Parliament. He confessed he thought that did not go far enough. It ought to be 657 made quite clear that any arrangements which were made hereafter should not be rendered more difficult and intricate by anything in this Bill. He must dissociate himself from any idea to give encouragement to the bequests he had referred to, but he thought reasonable provision should be made in the Bill in regard to future arrangements.
§ MR. TOMLINSON (Preston)
said, the question was not merely as to gifts by bequests. Many of the hardest and most unjust cases were gifts by living donors, and these they desired to protect.
§ MR. TALBOT (Oxford University)
must enter another protest against the manner in which this Amendment had been received by the right hon. Gentleman. He thought, after all that had passed yesterday, that the right hon. Gentleman would have been anxious to show that where he could meet them (the Opposition) fairly he would wish to do so. This was a matter not of very first-class importance, because he supposed that none would be so foolish after the passing of this unfortunate Bill—if it were to pass in the shape now intended—as to put his charity into the hands of the Vicar and Churchwardens. Yet, if he did so, and the circumstances showed he intended his charity to be distributed by the Ecclesiastical Authorities of the parish, he did not see why he should be mulcted and punished for following the ancient practice. He could not conceive how the acceptance of this Amendment could possibly injure the Bill, whilst it would soothe the feelings of many hon. Members on that (the Opposition) side of the House. He was afraid from what had passed that afternoon they saw the mode in which the Bill was to be carried through. The days of conciliation were over, and the days of violent animosities, he was afraid, were at hand. The right hon. Gentleman had hitherto adopted a fair and conciliatory tone; but if he were now going to adopt the tone he had taken in regard to this Amendment, instead of the Bill passing as a measure which both sides desired to put in a convenient shape, it would pass as a Bill which had been crammed down the throats of the minority by the majority.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
said, he did not know that there was any tone of violent 658 animosity in what he had said. He had treated the Amendment of the hon. Baronet with the greatest possible respect, and had pointed out that in the judgment of those who advised the Government, and in which he concurred, it was an entirely needless Amendment of no practical advantage, and would complicate the working of the Bill. The Government said the future could take care of itself, and anyone founding a charity would see that his intentions were carried out. The Amendment would introduce complications into the Bill which might create mischief.
§ MR. GRIFFITH-BOSCAWEN (Kent, Tunbridge)
asked, if the right hon. Gentleman would not accept an Amendment here, would he do so later on? The right hon. Gentleman had intimated that the Amendment of the hon. Member for Rugby would be accepted. He would point out that if such Amendment were accepted, if a donor left a charity in the hands of any private trustees, the Parish Council might immediately have a majority on the Board of Trustees. He asked whether the Government would be disposed to accept an Amendment later on in the event of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Rugby being accepted?
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
said that, although the hon. Member was not an old Member of the House, he was acquiring a very astute and tactical mode of procedure, and of putting questions which evinced his diplomacy. They would deal with the Amendment when they arrived at it. If the Committee saw fit to adopt the Amendment of the hon. Member for Rugby, he admitted the situation would, to a certain extent, be altered; and when the Amendment to which the hon. Member had referred was proposed, he should be prepared to state the views of the Government.
§ MR. H. HOBHOUSE
denied that the Amendment would introduce any unnecessary complications, and it was desirable to secure that neither Churchmen nor any other class should have injustice done to them in future. He would point out that if a donor left a charity to his parish, and made the Vicar and Churchwardens his trustees, the law would step in and supersede them; but that in the case of a charity left to the 659 ministers and deacons of a Nonconformist chapel, the law would not step in, and it would continue to be administered by the representatives of the Nonconformist Body. Was this equal justice between the two bodies? He thought that the Government might have made this small concession to the feelings of the members of the Established Church. However necessary it might be with regard to past charities to substitute representatives of the Parish Council, yet in the case of future donations there was no such reasons. It might be assumed that the donor intended the charity to go where he actually placed it, and it would be a monstrous injustice if, on account of possible ignorance of this most unjust law, his gift was placed in other hands entirely from those in which he intended it to be placed.
§ MR. W. LONG (Liverpool, West Derby)
thought the right hon. Gentleman hardly appreciated what was meant by conciliation upon so difficult and important a question as that concerned by this clause. The right hon. Gentleman had declined to answer the question as to what the Government would do when they came to a particular Amendment, and had entrenched himself behind the position that it was not in conformity with the Rules of the House to deal with Amendments which had not been reached. That was hardly a correct description of the position of the Opposition. The speech of the Solicitor General the other evening had entirely altered the position of the Government with reference to this particular question. The Solicitor General, speaking for the Treasury Bench, indicated to the Committee that it was the intention of the Government to accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for Rugby. It was a mere play on words to say "if" the Committee accepted the Amendment at a later stage, when one of the Ministers had told them that the Government, with their majority at their back, were going to accept the Amendment of a private Member of the House. He submitted, therefore, that this Amendment was a perfectly reasonable one. His hon. Friend intended it to apply to those cases where the testator designated the Incumbent and Churchwardens as trustees of his charity. The right hon. Gentleman 660 hardly realised what the effect of the Bill would be on Churchwardens. They would cease to be in any way civil officials or parochial officers, and would remainly solely officers of the Church; therefore, when by accident the Vicar and Churchwardens had been selected as trustees, upon what principle of justice or fair play could it be urged that this Bill should apply as if they were, as now, partly ecclesiastical and partly civil officers? This Bill affected most important interests; and if the Government wished the Bill to pass with0020comparative ease they must be something more than conciliatory in their methods. It was impossible to force a measure of this kind through unless a disposition was shown to meet the Opposition when they submitted a reasonable and moderate proposal like the present. This was a most moderate proposal. What harm could it do? It only affected those cases where the testator had evidently selected those men who would be Church officials, and Church officials only, after the passing of this Act. It was not a happy augury for the consideration of subsequent Amendments if so reasonable, moderate, and simple a proposal as this could not be accepted. He believed its acceptance would be a good commencement, and it could do no injustice, but, on the contrary, would prevent injustice being done by the operation of the Act.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)
did not know if the Committee quite understood the position. He could scarcely believe that the Government would insist upon their proposal. He did not speak as a Churchman, but as he understood the position it was this: Suppose a Unitarian in a small town made a gift during his life or left one after his death for the general benefit of the community, naturally he would choose as trustees the Unitarian minister and deacons of the Church, because he would have confidence in their administration of the trust. The Jews and the Wesleyans might follow the same course; but if a member of the Church of England chose the Vicar and Churchwardens of the parish, those Church officers were to be superseded because they were no longer civil officers. It appeared to him that nothing more unjust, more partial, or more unfair could be imagined. There 661 was a question he should like to ask of the right hon. Gentleman, and that was this: Was this provision to apply to towns and urban districts? Someone near him said "no." If that were so, then a man in a town or urban district could do this thing, but a man in a rural district would not be able to do it. If a Nonconformist had a right to leave money as bequests to the minister or deacon, or both, why should not the Churchman have a like privilege with regard to his own denomination? If he could not have it, then the Church was deprived of a power which it ought to possess, and this deprivation placed it in a position of inequality. He was opposed to the Government upon that point, and he did not know why there should be any savage animosity displayed by them in regard to it. He did not speak as a Churchman at all; but he was sure the President of the Local Government Board would be disposed to make this . concession were it not that since he had been overruled by the Chancellor of the Exchequer it would seem to be the desire of the right hon. Gentleman and his supporters to not pass this measure. They, on the other hand, wanted to pass it, and, therefore, they wished to lighten it in respect of these complicated questions—questions that did not belong to a Bill relating to local government, and provisions which were so unfair that they could not be taken in the ordinary way as parts of the Bill that ought to be passed.
§ SIR J. GORST (Cambridge University)
said, the Government did not seem to appreciate the position of the Churchwarden after the passing of this Bill, as laid down by the Solicitor General the other day. The President of the Local Government Board must have forgotten that under the new Act the Churchwarden ceased to have any civil power of any kind whatever. If anyone wished to create a public charity he could not put the matter into the hands of the officials of his Church. If he attempted to create the officers of the Church the guardians of the charity, by this Bill the Parish Council would come down and take it out of their hands. He was sure that, if the Government would recognise this fact, their sense of justice would allow them to make some alteration 662 in the Bill. There was an important alteration in the position of the Churchwarden, and that alteration was that he was not to be a civil officer. He became under the Bill a purely ecclesiastical officer. It was clear, therefore, that by refusing this Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Wigan they would deprive members of the Church of a right which remained with members of other denominations in the Kingdom. He repeated that he was sure if the right hon. Gentleman realised the position, he would be willing to make the concession.
§ MR. H. L. W. LAWSON (Gloucester, Cirencester)
said, he thought there had been unnecessary discussion of the matter, mainly on the ground that the Bill created an inequality. It was impossible to discuss the present Amendment without having in view that they were going to bring parochial charities generally within the clause. Of course, the Churchwardens did not cease to be ecclesiastical officers, and charities left them for spiritual purposes would come under the definition of "ecclesiastical purposes" in Clause 58. The Church was not going to be placed under any disadvantages, because, where they were going to deal with parochial charities generally, the Church would be in the same position as the other denominations. [Cries of" No! "] He said yes, however. When charities were placed under a particular body for the common purposes of the parish, the Amendment would really place the Church of England in a position of advantage over other denominations. [Cries of" No!"] He said so for the simple reason that the other bodies would come under the general treatment in the matter of parochial charities. He hoped the Government would not listen to the request that they should agree to the Amendment.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Sir J. Gorst) says he thinks we do not appreciate the position of the Churchwardens under the Bill. We do appreciate that position; but I am sorry to say that I entertain some doubts as to whether the right hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bordesley (Mr. Jesse Collings) understand this Amendment. 663 The Member for Bordesley spoke of the great injustice that would be done in the administration of charities; but he voted the other night for the transfer of the whole of these charities to the Parish Councils, which would have ousted the Incumbents as well as the Churchwardens and Overseers. It is impossible for us to deal with this matter now. The hon. Baronet is dealing with Churchwardens and Overseers, and the proper time to look at the bearing of the whole clause as affecting them is when the Amendment of the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Cobb) comes up for consideration. There is not a lawyer in the House who does not know that it would be one of the easiest matters possible in the future to prevent the operation of this clause. The present proposal would be a most unprecedented mode of legislating, and most impracticable. It is an extreme pity to import into a mere drafting Amendment charges of "savage animosity against the Church of England." The right hon. Gentleman said we did not gain by such "savage animosity." I do not believe that there is any savage animosity towards Nonconformists, or that Nonconformists are capable of savage animosity against the Church. I can only repeat that this is not the time for the consideration of the Amendment. I do not wish to minimise the importance of the subject, but the Amendment involves no principle to which we can assent.
§ MR. WHARTON (York, W.R., Ripon)
said, there was one matter to which he would draw attention. If this Amendment were not accepted, what would be the effect upon all trusts in the future? The Churchwardens would not be capable of being trustees. What would be the manifest result? It would not, he thought, be very pleasing to hon. Members in this House. Bequests would be left to the Vicar or the Rector. He would be an ecclesiastical personage; the Churchwarden would not; but it seemed to him that they were entitled to become trustees, whereas, by the reading of the Government, if the Churchwarden and the Vicar were the trustees, the Parish Council could come in and take the whole control out of their hands—or, at any rate, a majority would become the rulers of the trust against those to whom 664 it was left for administration. Trusts must, therefore, be left to the Vicar and the Vicar alone. That, he thought, would be a source of dissatisfaction to the clergy and the Church of England; yet that would be the result unless the Amendment was adopted.
§ MR. PICTON (Leicester)
said, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bordesley referred to the Nonconformists. He (Mr. Picton) was one. The right hon. Gentleman based his support of the Amendment on the ground that a legacy might be left to the Church, and that the officers of the Church would be in a position differing from that of the Nonconformist. Well, there was a very marked difference between the two cases. The members of the Nonconformist, or Independent, churches did not say that they represented the whole nation; they did not live on National funds. They were always told that the Church of England was a National Church—that it was the representative of the English people, in this ecclesiastical aspect—and if money be left to that Church for parochial purposes, the Imperial Parliament, which was also National and representative of the people, could, if it wished, say that this should be given over for the benefit of the parish. The Church was National; so was Parliament. And to say that this was robbery of the Church, because the charities were to be managed by one set of Englishmen instead of another, was to assert that which was absurd and preposterous. There was only one way out of this, and that was by having the Church disestablished and disendowed.
§ MR. W. LONG
said, whether the attitude of the Government and their friends on this question was one of savage animosity towards the Church he was not going to say; but they could hardly say that the hon. Member who had just sat down was not animated by a savage animosity. The President of the Local Government Board was aware of the feelings that prevailed in certain quarters on the Church question, and that he by no means represented the feeling entertained by members throughout England, and he hoped it would be realised that some of those feelings were induced by savage animosity. [Cries of" No," and "Oh!"] It was all very well to say 665 "Oh!" He did not charge the hon. Gentleman behind the right hon. Gentleman; he referred to others, and he would like to remind them that what they heard in the House on this subject was not what they heard outside the House, and that many looked with favour upon attacks made upon the clergy and the Church of England. Many people considered that the measure itself was an attack upon the clergy and the Church. It seemed to him that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board did not realise the full force of the Amendment. He thought they really should have provision made with regard to benefactions left to the Churchwardens, and he was sorry the Amendment could not be accepted.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir W. HARCOURT, Derby)
I think, Sir, we might now come to a decision upon this question. I deeply regret that such words as "savage animosity against the Church of England" should have been used. It is curious that the charge should have been made by a right hon. Gentleman who himself proposed to exclude the Incumbent from any share whatever in the control of the charities under consideration. The hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. Wharton) has declared that the result of the proposals of the Government would be that these trusts would be vested in the clergy of the future. An arrangement that would have that result is surely not a sign of savage animosity against the Church of England.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
We do not want them to be the sole trustees. If clergymen should not desire to be sole trustees the matter can be arranged in another way. All that a donor who dislikes the clause need do is to call his gift an ecclesiastical trust, just as a small boy who draws a lion writes above it, in order that there may be no mistake, "This is a hon." The Government do not desire to interfere with future trusts the creators of which desire that they should escape from the operation of this Bill in the guise of ecclesiastical charities. The object of the supporters of the 666 Amendment can thus be effected otherwise than by the extraordinary solecism of declaring that the measure should apply to trusts up to 1894, but not afterwards. I cannot see how by taking that course you would show an absence of savage animosity towards the Church. I do not wish to extend the Debate; I am anxious that we should not put this principle in the Bill, and I hope the House will now be able to come to a decision.
§ MR. WHARTON
said, he should like to ask who were the individuals who could be nominated to a trust, together with the Vicar, who would be free from the interference of the Parish Council?
§ SIR J. GORST
thought the Solicitor General (Sir J. Rigby) was not likely to corroborate the law as laid down by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Would the hon. and learned Gentleman say that if a man wrote at the top of a trust deed that the trust was an ecclesiastical one it ipso facto became one? He wanted the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Solicitor General or some Liberal Member of Parliament to answer this simple question:—A member of the Church of England desired to found a non-ecclesiastical charity, and to vest it in the minister and officers of his Church. How is he to do it?
§ MR. BYRNE (Essex, Walthamstow)
said, he would put the question in another form. If a gift were made to an Incumbent, could he appoint anyone to act with him? Supposing the gift were to the Incumbent and such persons as he should name, could he appoint the Churchwardens of the parish for the time being? As he read the clause, the answer to the question must be in the negative. It would be competent for a person to make a gift to the minister of a particular Nonconformist church, and the deacons of that church might be appointed trustees. It would be impossible, however, to appoint Churchwardens in an analogous case. Thus the officers of the Church of England were being treated in an exceptional way from officers of other Churches.
§ MR. C. HOBHOUSE (Wilts, Devizes)
said, he would submit that they were not now discussing the question which was raised by the Amendment. They were discussing another matter altogether.
§ MR. HENEAGE (Great Grimsby)
said, the Government had a right to answer the question put by the right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Gorst). If anyone wanted to leave money to the Vicar and Churchwardens, were they the only persons to be ousted by this Act? If the testator chose to name a blacksmith or a carpenter they could act, but not the Vicar and Churchwarden. They wanted to know, was that the position that the Bill would create? If a person were anxious to benefit a parish, would he not have the privilege of saying that the Vicar and Churchwarden should act for him? Surely this important question demanded an answer.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
said, the Committee should insist on hearing a reply from some Member of the Government. In the speech he had made the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that anyone who wished to leave a secular charity which should be subject to the law relating to ecclesiastical charities would merely have to write the words "ecclesiastical charity" at the top of the instrument creating the gift. The right hon. Gentleman not only laid down the law, but illustrated it in a peculiar way by referring to the case of a child who drew a lion and wrote at the top of the drawing, "This is a hon." But supposing it were an elephant, and not a lion, what then? Which was to prevail, the drawing or the description? The right hon. Gentleman's view was one that was not likely to be accepted in a Court of Law. He hoped they would have an answer from the Solicitor General.
§ MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
said, they were bound to continue this discussion until they had obtained a distinct answer to a most distinct question put by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University, and also by his hon. Friend behind him. They could not get an answer until the Solicitor General spoke. They should remember that members of the Church of England would have to set to work to evade this Bill, when it became an Act, if they wished to leave their money to a Church charity. If the Government, through the Chancellor of the Exchequer, could not answer them upon this point, the Solicitor General could possibly give them his description of it. He thought they were bound to press 668 this matter. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board had departed from his pledges, and they must press this home on him over and over again. He had told them distinctly what he was going to do, and he had afterwards allowed the Committee to depart from the principle he had laid down. He had no doubt been subjected to pressure by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Prime Minister, and the Solicitor General, and all of them, and he had at last changed his position. He (Mr. Bartley) declared most emphatically that the Church of England was being treated in a way that no other Religious Denomination was treated. He appealed to the Prime Minister, who had been a. member of the Church of England for the last 84 years, or very nearly. Why did the right hon. Gentleman sit there and allow the Church of England to be treated in a way in which he would not. for a moment allow a Dissenting Body to be treated. The right hon. Gentleman knew that if anyone got up and suggested the least interference with Jews, Roman Catholics, or Dissenters, there would be at once an outcry raised against it, in which the Opposition would join; but the spirit of animus against the Church of England in which the Bill was framed was to be allowed to operate unchecked. The idea was—and it had been so stated in many quarters—that the Bill was ultimately to lead to Disestablishment. The Government were so weak that they could not give the Church of England what was fair and honest—that was to say, equal treatment with Dissenting Bodies. They ought to press on this Debate until they got an answer. The right hon. Gentleman opposite had been asked a most distinct question—namely, how was a man who belonged to the Church of England to give money to a charity without its being grabbed at by the Parish Council? That was a reasonable thing to ask, and if no answer was now returned, and they had to go to a Division without an answer, the question would be pressed home on every Amendment.. If they were to sit, well, they must sit and fight it out. He warned the President of the Local Government Board that he was not going to have an easy time this side of Christmas or afterwards.
§ MR. REES-DAVIES (Pembrokeshire)
I beg to ask whether the observations of the hon. Member are relevant to the Amendment before the Committee?
§ MR. BARTLEY
said, he noticed that whenever a Member became warm, and began to press the Government a little, someone rose and said the proceeding was out of Order. The Opposition were not so often out of Order as all that. They intended to attack the Government on this subject a great deal, because they thought that the backbone of the measure should be fair treatment of the Church as well as of Dissenters. They had objected all along to the alteration which the clause embodied, their contention being that when these changes in regard to charities were made in the villages all denominations should be treated alike. It was intolerable that the Government should allow the Church of England, which had done so much for the people of this country, to be attacked for Party and political objects.
§ COMMANDER BETHELL
said, he would propose to amend the Amendment by inserting after the words "provided that," the words, "so far as relates to Churchwardens." Perhaps that limitation of the Amendment would remove one of the objections of the President of the Local Government Board. The effect of that would be to place the Established Church in a position of complete authority with other Religious Bodies. That was all that the Opposition were asking. They only desired perfect equality, and after the extraordinary resistance the President of the Local Government Board had offered to the Amendment, probably he would be able to see his way to making a concession if the proposal were submitted in an improved form.
Amendment proposed to the proposed Amendment,
After the words "Provided that," to insert the words "so far as relates to Churchwardens." —(Commander Bethell.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be inserted in the proposed Amendment."
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
I am at some loss to understand on what the Government base their present action 670 with regard to this Amendment. As it stood originally on the Paper they thought it too general in character and complained of its generality of character. But they have made no attempt whatever to answer the specific questions put to them by gentlemen on this side of the House and on the other side of the House with regard to the position of the Churchwardens in the case of future charities. They have never told us by what means members of the Church of England are to be enabled to carry out their wishes in connection with charities and their own Church than members of any other denomination can carry out. That question was put to them in tones sometimes of entreaty, sometimes of menace, but to both they have remained absolutely deaf. I do not think that is the usual way to conduct a Bill. It certainly is not the way to conduct a Bill with success. At all events, gentlemen on this side of the House have been anxious to meet the Government half-way. The Government have not explained their objection to the Amendment. We are ready to limit the Amendment in such a way that it shall simply and solely have the effect of putting members of the Church of England on a footing of equality with the members of other denominations, and no other effect. If the Government can show that it would give members of the Church of England special privileges, or does more than carry out equality between the sects, let them do so; but if they cannot, in Heaven's name do not let them come down here and inflict a deliberate disability on one communion, while they preach on every platform in the country the doctrine of what they call religious equality! That is a plain issue to put before the Government and the Committee. If you can show that when these words are added to the Bill an undue privilege will be granted to the Church of England, we shall not press the point; but if you cannot show that, in Heaven's name give us that equality for which even members of the Church of. England have a right to ask!
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
The right hon. Gentleman, whom I am very glad to see in his place again, complains that the Government have given no answer. Well, I think it will be admitted that I have myself inflicted many speeches on 671 the Committee in the course of the Debate.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
I admit that the Amendment proposed narrows the question down to the Churchwardens, but the answer still remains the same. If the right hon. Gentleman were arguing as to the past or as to ecclesiastical charities, I could understand him. But this clause deals not with sectarian or denominational charities, but with public parochial charities for the benefit of the parish, and the Government have laid down that in cases in which certain officers of the parish have been inserted as trustees another mode of election shall in future take place. I can assure the hon. Member for Islington that I shall be ready to justify both my position and consistency in the conduct of this Bill when it is attacked at the proper time. But this clause has been in the Bill from the very first; no change whatever has been made in it. Of course, it is very easy for an astute and clever lawyer like the Member for Cambridge University, or the hon. Member for Epsom opposite, to say this or that set of words will not do and then to attempt to draw the Solicitor General, so that he may be cross-examined as to what words he would suggest. That would lead on to endless debate. Any competent lawyer in Great Britain could advise his client who was anxious that the administration of a charity should for the future be under specific ecclesiastical management.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
I am not going to be the right hon. Gentleman's lawyer, nor is the Solicitor General called upon to advise him. If he wants an answer let him go to his own lawyer —it is a lawyer's place to advise people how to make their wills. This Amendment has nothing to do with the crux of the clause or the debatable points of it. When we come to the Amendment which proposes to extend its operation then will be the time to discuss that point, and on that Amendment I shall be prepared to state what the views of the Government are. The present Amendment is what I may call a piece of bad and slovenly drafting, and ought not to be inserted in the Bill. It would be well 672 now to come to a Division, so that we may approach what is really the debate-able point.
§ SIR H. JAMES (Bury, Lancashire)
I think one word of not unfriendly protest ought to be spoken against the doctrine just submitted to the House by my right hon. Friend. The very simple question has been asked of the Government—namely, how a person wishing in the future to make the Churchwardens trustees of a secular charity can do so. No answer has been given, and now my right hon. Friend says, when directly questioned, that neither he nor the Solicitor General is called upon to act as lawyers in order to tell hon. Gentlemen how that can be accomplished. But we are not asking for advice as individual Members. The House of Commons is asking for advice. I should say that the presence of lawyers in the House would be an unmitigated evil if they could not assist the House on such questions as these. [Cheers.] I understand by those cheers that those who support the Government think that the presence of the Solicitor General would be an evil if he were not to give us the advice that this House is entitled to receive. I do not believe that in the experience of the oldest Members of the House such a position has ever before been taken up by a Government. Those who are in charge of the Bill refuse to tell the House what is the construction to be put on this clause if it remains as it is. We who are to determine whether this is a proper subsection to pass or not are unaware at this moment what construction the Government put upon it. It must be assumed of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General continues to answer the question put to him by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge, which was a suggestive question, that he agrees with the suggestion contained in it. If he wished to contradict it he would say that he differed from it. Can he not tell us how in the future a Churchwarden could be appointed a trustee for a secular charity? In his silence the House must understand that for the future the Churchwarden is to be the only person who cannot be the trustee of a secular charity under the will of the donor. It may be that in past 673 times a donor had no other trustees he could select, and would say—"I take these persons because I assume they will be persons of trust." I quite admit the principle that the dispositions of past times must be modified according to the changed circumstances. But in the future a donor will know—if he construes the Solicitor General's silence rightly—that he cannot select Churchwardens as his trustees, for if he does the trust will puss away into other hands. Is that equality? Are you to pick out, for some reasons which the Solicitor General will not explain, not the Vicar, nor the Incumbent, but the Churchwarden, and say that he is the one person who shall not act as trustee of a secular charity? The National Church in this matter claims equality with other churches. It surely is entitled not to be placed in a worse or inferior position to other Religious Bodies, because it is the National Church. If it has a great duty to fulfil as a National Church it ought not to be deprived of the advantages of that position. Equality demands it, and that is all that is asked by the Amendment.
§ MR. TALBOT (Oxford University)
said, it was now gravely proposed by Her Majesty's Government that the Churchwardens of the Church of England were to be the only persons to be disqualified from becoming the trustees of parochial charities. That was the simple issue before the Committee. When they were told that this was a Bill to reform the charities of the country —to establish a body whose chief function was to regulate the local charities—was it right to import into the measure a case of inequality so gross that every fair-minded man outside the House must feel it? Why should the Church of England be treated like this? What had she done to merit this unequal treatment? She asked for no supremacy; but why the officers of every other religious community should be allowed to hold parochial charities and Churchwardens ex officio should be excluded surpassed his imagination. The right hon. Gentleman opposite had not answered the question as to why that inequality existed.
§ MR. TALBOT
Can the right hon. Gentleman deny that after the passing of the Bill Churchwardens will be disqualified as such from holding any position as trustees of a charity for the benefit of the parish? No other individual will be so disqualified. Is that a state of things that is tolerable? The Government say they do not believe it exists, but we controvert that statement, and we ask them to substantiate their contradiction.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
We certainly have arrived at a most extraordinary position, which appears to be one of marking time while the Solicitor General is making up his mind. I do not recollect any similar occasion in my experience. A perfectly civil and a perfectly appropriate question has been asked of the Government, and the Government absolutely refuse to answer it. I believe in the Courts when a witness refuses to answer the Court sometimes commits the witness. In the present instance it is the Government which is committed by the silence of the Solicitor General, because we may clearly take that silence to be an admission of the point which has been put to the Government. It may in the future discussion of this matter be taken, therefore, for granted that this Bill is going to put upon the Churchwardens of the Church of England a disability which it does not put upon similar officers in connection with any other denomination. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board says there is no inequality in that. I believe he is the only man in the House who is of that opinion. Does the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer suggest —I think he did in the speech he made at an earlier period—that this is a Tory Amendment? Not a bit of it. It is an Amendment which was suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean, and to which he said when we last discussed the question he would give his hearty adhesion. It is perfectly evident that the Government had some reason for their action when they said that they would not consent to treat a bequest to Churchwardens in past times as necessarily an ecclesiastical bequest or a bequest which should involve ecclesiastical administration. They were right in saying that, because it may well be 675 that in the absence of other officials a bequest was made to the Churchwardens without the least idea of necessarily involving ecclesiastical administration. But after this Bill is passed that can no longer be said. Churchwardens have been marked with a special ecclesiastical character by the provisions of the Bill, and consequently, if hereafter any testator leaves his money to the Churchwardens, he must do it to secure ecclesiastical administration. You say that in the case of the Church a man shall not be allowed to appoint Churchwardens as trustees; if you are to have equality you should go on to say—neither shall a man do so in the case of the officers in any other denomination whatsoever. In that case I could understand the President of the Local Government Board saying there was no inequality. The right hon. Gentleman made another objection. He said this would be slovenly drafting. We are pointing out to him that contrary to a distinct pledge he has given he is creating an inequality, and when we ask him to correct that inequality, he thinks it sufficient to say the Amendment would be slovenly drafting. Well, what is the drafting of this Bill? Never, I should think, in the recent history of Perliament has a Bill been brought forward which has been drafted with such slovenliness. The proof of that is that from day to day Amendments are being poured in of the most important character by the Government themselves. Discussion after discussion, absolutely new, which was not contemplated when the Bill was introduced, is continually taking place upon Amendments put upon the Paper from day to day from the President of the Local Government Board. I want to point to one other piece of slovenliness. We are going to say that the Churchwardens of a rural parish shall not in future be the trustees of a charity; but the Churchwardens in an urban parish may be. It is perfectly absurd with such anomalies in the Bill to complain of the slovenly drafting of the Amendment, which, as I said, was suggested by a strong supporter of the Bill, and a Member of the House who cannot be accused of any leaning towards a spiritual power. I really hope that even at this late period the Solicitor General will consent to admit or deny the proposition which has been put 676 before him. If he does not, all I can say is that for any loss of time which occurs in consequence the Government, and the Government alone, are solely responsible.
§ MR. PIERPOINT (Warrington)
said, he did not think they ought to go to a Division without having this question answered. It was a pity to see the Solicitor General writing an essay when he ought to be considering what answer he should give. If he was unwilling to answer the conundrum himself, he might at least prompt someone else to do so. [Cries of "Divide!"] It was all very well for the President of the Local Government Board to say that the way out of the difficulty was for a testator to employ a competent lawyer. But it must be within the experience of most Members that some competent lawyers were notoriously incompetent. They found a presumably competent lawyer in the person of the Chancellor of the Exchequer propounding the law to them.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I did not propound the law; I attempted an apparently unfortunate joke. I said, in reference to the argument that these were ecclesiastical transactions, that a testator might settle this difficulty by writing at the top of the bequest "This is ecclesiastical," like the boy who writes under a picture on his slate, "This is a hon." I should not imagine that that is giving an opinion on a subject of law. It is not likely I should attempt to dictate to hon. Members, who have so little sense of, humour, on points of law.
§ MR. PIERPOINT
I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that when in future he perpetrates an axiom of law of this kind, he should write above it, "This is a joke." I have great respect for the right hon. Gentleman, both as a wit and as a lawyer, and I would respectfully urge him before the Division is taken to give some answer to the question addressed to the Government.
§ Mr. Channing rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put;" but the Chairman withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ Debate resumed.677
§ SIR J. GORST
I think that before the question is put, the Committee should realise the exact position in which it is placed in regard to its privileges and rights. I am sorry that those who held the office of Law Advisers of the Crown in the late Government are not present, but the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury (Sir H. James) stated as a proposition which ever since I have been in the House of Commons I have understood to be undoubted—namely, that the Attorney and Solicitor General are the Legal Officers of the House of Commons. [Mr. W. E. GLADSTONE dissented.] The right hon. Gentleman opposite shakes his head, but I have heard that statement made over and over again. [Mr. W. E. GLADSTONE: And always denied.] No; not always denied. I do not remember an instance since I have had the honour of a seat in this House where a question has been put, not by a single Member, but practically by the whole House, and the Law Officer of the Crown has sat still and refused to answer. If I alone, or any single Member, asked the question, the Solicitor General might refuse to answer it, but the question has been repeated by the Leader of the Opposition and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and from every quarter of the House. If the House goes to a Division without the Law Officers of the Crown giving their opinion upon this point a new departure will be made in the procedure of the House of Commons, and we shall part with one of our most valuable privileges.
§ MR. FISHER (Fulham)
said, there was one additional reason why they were entitled to ask for the opinion of the Solicitor General, and that was that they had a right to know the intention of the framers of the Bill. This afternoon they had the President of the Local Government Board contradicting the hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford in his interpretation of the Bill; but that contradiction was only by a shake of the head. They had a right, therefore, to ask the Solicitor General to say what was the intention of the framers of the Bill as regarded the position of the Churchwardens in the future — whether the Churchwardens could or could not be appointed as trustees of secular charities? That was a 678 question they were entitled to ask, and to which they would again and again insist on having an answer. It was idle for the Government to disclaim savage animosity to the Church of England. It ought to be distinctly understood that every man who voted against the Amendment was imposing a cruel disability on Churchmen. [Laughter.] Some hon. Members might think this a laughing matter, but Churchmen did not think so.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I suppose this refusal of the Government for more than an hour to reply to the question put with perfect courtesy—this persistent refusal—is almost a unique experience in our Parliamentary annals. What is the course ordinarily pursued by any Opposition treated with this contumely? I got up to ask the Government whether they meant to adhere to their procedure, or whether they meant to do that which would prevent us taking the only course which is open to the Opposition—namely, to move to report Progress. I understand that the order in force up to September is not now operative, and I shall, therefore, Mr. Chairman, move that you do report Progress and ask leave to sit again in order that we may come to some conclusion as to the manner in which this discussion is to be carried on. The Government have absolutely no defence in this matter. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board told me, with perfect courtesy I admit, that he was not my legal adviser, that the Solicitor General was not my legal adviser, and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not my legal adviser. I do not propose to go in a private capacity to any of those learned gentlemen for legal advice. But I go to the Government as a Government to ask them what their own Bill means. Can they tell me what it means? We have put on it an interpretation which is clear, which is not contradicted, and which, if it be true, undoubtedly places the Church of England at a disadvantage as compared with other sects. Is it true or not? If the Government will not answer the question will they state that it is an unfair question? If it is not will they answer it? It is impossible for us to go on discussing a Bill bristling with legal points if, when we raise a pertinent question affecting 679 the interests of the Church of England, to which the whole body of gentlemen on this side of the House are devotedly attached, we cannot get a plain and simple answer to a plain and simple question. We are expected to carry on the discussion of this Bill under conditions that the House has never asked us to apply to the most twopenny-halfpenny road Bill hitherto. I hope the Government will see that they are not treating the members of the Church of England fairly, and that they are not treating themselves fairly as custodians of the time of the House. I venture to think, when I look at the Benches opposite, that there is not a single man sitting behind the Government who does not in his heart know that the whole of this controversy might have been stopped if an hour ago the Government had told us what was their intention—whether it was to inflict disability upon the Church or whether it was to put the Church upon an equality with other sects? I hope we may now bring this rather painful scene to an end, and that the Government will, in the interests of expedition and of time, meet the wishes of the Opposition in the spirit in which, throughout the whole of my experience, the wishes of the Opposition have always been met. I beg to move to report Progress.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir J. RIGBY, Forfar)
I have not so very much difficulty, Mr. Mellor, in dealing with this question. I appear not in answer to the summons of the Committee, however, and I protest that unless it be the summons of the Committee there is no reason why I should appear at all. If it had been the general opinion that I ought to speak, of course I should have been very glad to do so from the first, but I understand it is from the opponents ,of the Bill, and from them exclusively, that this claim has been made. If I am rightly informed—and I confess that, as far as my own personal experience goes, it is a very short one indeed—as to what has been the practice of the House, it has always been competent for the Government of the day to say that the Law Officers are not to intervene in a Debate 680 until, at any rate, they are satisfied that on both sides of the House there is something like a unanimous wish that they should do so. [Opposition cries of "Oh!"] I am not stating that on my own experience, but I am told by those who have the greatest experience that that has been the invariable practice. I hope in a very few minutes to put my views on this question before the Committee, protesting at the same time that I have no more power of expressing the mind of the Government than have other Members of the Government. The substance of this question is, are you or are you not doing an injustice to the Church of England?
§ SIR J. RIGBY
Well, an inequality. It is declared that nothing more than equality is asked for, and I suppose the Church of England would repudiate any inequality in their favour as much as they would object to any inequality against them. Can you in the future appoint Churchwardens as trustees because it is said they are in the same position as Deacons of the Nonconformist churches? I submit that you cannot, and for more reasons than one. First of all, there is an established practice which to my knowledge has prevailed among Nonconformists as well as members of the Church of England—I say to my knowledge, because I have referred to the cases—there is an established practice throughout the country, recognised in common forms of conveyance and recognised by solicitors and their clerks, of making gifts to the Incumbents of churches or to the Churchwardens without the Incumbents or to the Churchwardens and the Overseers. There is legislation creating the Churchwardens and Overseers a Corporation for the purpose of receiving charity lands and holding charity funds. Those Acts have not been repealed, and whatever Act of Parliament you pass now the practice which has so long prevailed will assuredly continue. Therefore, when you say you are asking for equality you are in a most substantial manner asking for privilege and favour. It is presumed that Churchwardens hereafter will be members of the Church of England. You must alter the law before you can make this the case. One of the Churchwardens who hereafter will be 681 elected by the Vestry may or may not be a member of the Church of England. In many cases he will not be a Churchman, and therefore in demanding this privilege for Churchwardens you are not demanding it for the Church of England but for the nominee of the Vestry against the nominee of the Parish Council. That is clearly not to be allowed. There might have been more substance in the demand if it were confined to the case of the Rector's Churchwarden. Incumbents are necessarily members of the Church of England, and we are asked why, having made a concession to the Incumbents, we should not make one to the Churchwardens also. The cases are not similar. It is said that we are putting a difficulty in the way of those who wish to create parochial charities, because we are preventing them appointing members or officers of their own church as Trustees. My reply is that they can appoint members of their own church in every case except that of the Churchwardens. They can put in any other officers they like to name, including the Incumbent. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, they may secure that the administration of the charity shall be confined to members of the Church of England by giving the Incumbent power to appoint Trustees. I grant at once that under this Bill as it now stands you cannot make Churchwardens come from time to time as though they were successors in a corporate capacity. That is the one thing you cannot do, and that is the thing you ought not to be allowed to do, because otherwise you make it an exclusively Vestry appointment, and introduce, in all cases, nominees of the Vestry into this quasi-Corporation. I think it is not an unjust view to take, that the Church of England, if it has privileges, must also consent to suffer a little inconvenience. What you want to get, under colour of equality, is an anomalous state of things, in which you will keep up the Vestry as against the Parish Council. [Opposition cries of "No!"] You must do so under this Amendment; you cannot help it. I will give a challenge in my turn. I will challenge those on the other side to say how you can put in a quasi-Corporation without doing this. You must amend your Amendment, at any rate by making 682 it apply only to the Churchwarden appointed by the Rector; and I venture to say that if you do that, the position of affairs will be scarcely understood in the country, and you will be perpetually having attempts made to vest these charitable gifts in persons who are supposed to be in the nature of an Ecclesiastical Corporation, at any rate. It is ' because the Church of England has in times past had, and now has, so strong a hold not only over ecclesiastical, but over secular business, that it is necessary, before this Bill is carried out, for us to exclude the Churchwardens for the future from a position which would, for many reasons, be one of great advantage to the Church. I oppose the Amendment, and I am entirely in accord with the resistance which has been given to it by other Members of the Government.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
Before it is withdrawn, Sir, I wish to say a few words. I do not intend to continue the discussion on the legal point dealt with by the Solicitor General, but I wish to refer to the perfectly extraordinary and novel doctrine he has laid down with regard to Parliamentary practice. I understood him to say that, no matter how important a question may be, no matter how great may be interests represented in it, no matter how relevant it may be, the Government still has a right to refuse all information in answer to a question put by its opponents.
§ SIR J. RIGBY
I did not intend to convey that idea, and according to my recollection I used no such words. It was not the question of the Government I was discussing, but the question of a subordinate Member of the Government being singled out to express the wishes of the Government, although they may have been already fully expressed.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I certainly think that the Solicitor General was unfortunate in his use of language to express his meaning. What did he say? He said that they were entitled to refuse to answer questions when they came from opponents, of the Bill. I noticed the words. I was prepared thereupon to ask the Solicitor General to tell the Committee whom he calls the opponents of 683 the Bill. This Bill has gone through its Second Reading without a Division, and, as far as I know, there is no threat to oppose it on the Third Reading. Then it must be that everyone who attempts to amend the Bill is counted by the Solicitor General as an opponent. In that case he will probably have to include among the opponents of the Bill a very large proportion of his own supporters. I object altogether to be included in the Solicitor General's list of opponents of the Bill. I understand that the Solicitor General intended to say, and perhaps did say, not that the Government had any right to refuse to answer a question, but that an individual has such a right. That is an answer entirely besides the question. We mentioned the Solicitor General, believing that he would be probably selected to express the view of the Government on a strictly legal point, but we asked for an answer from the Government; the application was not confined to the Solicitor General. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. A. J. Balfour) distinctly made an appeal to the Government as such. The Solicitor General lays it down that a member of the Government is entitled to refuse to give an answer to a question. [Cries of "No!"] If that applies to the Solicitor General I suppose it applies to every other Member of the Government. If, however, this disability—it is a new disability—applies only to the Solicitor General, and he is the only person the Government cannot trust to express his opinion, will the Government tell us to whom our questions should be addressed in future? I certainly would not have risen if I had understood that we might hope to have answers to our questions from the Government. If we are to be deprived of the privilege of hearing the Solicitor General, we shall be certainly satisfied by hearing the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Question, "That those words be inserted in the proposed Amendment," put, and agreed to.
That the words 'Provided that, so far as relates to Churchwardens, nothing in this enactment shall apply to charities founded after the passing of this Act,' be there inserted.
§ Mr. Lloyd Morgan rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put;" but the Chairman withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ MR. GRIFFITH-BOSCAWEN, proceeding with his speech amid cries of "Divide!" and interruptions, said the reason given by the Solicitor General for the opposition of the Government to this Amendment was that Churchwardens were nominees of the Vestry and would not, after the passing of this Bill, be even ecclesiastical officers—
§ Mr. Hunter rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 199; Noes 166.—(Division List, No. 363.)
§ Question put accordingly, "That those words be there inserted."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 171; Noes 207.—(Division List, No. 364.)
§ MR. LEES KNOWLES (Salford, W.)
moved, after the word "Overseers," in line 26, to insert the following words:—And as if the deacons or other officers of other religious denominations as such were so specified.The Government had expressed their wish to treat all Religious Bodies alike and fairly, but if the Bill passed in its present form they would be treating one Religious Body—namely, the Church— unfairly. The Churchwardens as such would be, with regard to charities, under disabilities. He contended that if the officer of one religious denomination was to be put under certain disabilities then the officers of other religious denominations should be put under the same. He did not know why Churchwardens should be placed under disabilities. In the case of ordinary trustees, before they could be removed from their trust, it was necessary to show there had been on their part either gross negligence, mismanagement, or misconduct in dealing with the trust, yet it had not been alleged that the Churchwardens had been guilty of any of these things, therefore, there was no 685 reason for placing them under these disabilities. He begged to move the Amendment.
In line 26, after the word "Overseers," to insert the words, "and as if the deacons or other officers of other religious denominations as such were so specified." —(Mr. Lees Knowles.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
The answer to the Amendment is this: The Overseers and Churchwardens mentioned in this clause are to be parish officers. To a certain extent, they are officers of State elected by the whole population for public purposes. We are dealing with them only in that capacity. Deacons, on the other hand, are voluntary officers of a voluntary community. I still maintain, notwithstanding all that has been said in the last Debate, that I think the view of the Solicitor General is unanswerable, and that is that no disability has been imposed on the Church of England. We cannot accept this Amendment. We are dealing here with public officers elected by the people. Deacons are not elected by the people, but by the Church.
§ SIR J. GORST (Cambridge University)
I understood the Solicitor General's observations to be quite the contrary to what has been stated by the right hon. Gentleman. I understood him to admit that if the Act was passed the Church could not appoint the officers of the Church as trustees of a public charity. I think that is an unfortunate disability to impose on the Church. The whole country will understand it to be a disability that will be imposed on the Church by the Bill. It is bad for the Church, bad for the people, bad for the charities, and it is cruel and unjust. But I do not want to inflict any disabilities on the members of any other Religious Body. If the Church is to suffer, let her suffer; but do not let us be parties to imposing on any other Religious Body or religious community the injustices which this unjust Government chooses to impose on the members of the Church of England. That is the view I take of the Amendment, and I hope my hon. Friend will not pursue it. It would be an ungenerous thing for those who are fighting for full freedom for the members of the Church of England to be parties 686 to placing disabilities on any religious denomination. I think it is desirable that members of Religious Bodies who wish to devote their money during their lifetime or after their death to public beneficent purposes should be allowed to choose the religious denomination to which they belong as the administrators of their bounty. I lay that down as a general principle in the interest of the public. If the Government deny that capacity to members of the Church of England, let us not deny it to members of other Religious Bodies.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
The view taken by the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down will, I am sure, tend to shorten the discussion on this Amendment. From his point of view nothing could be more consistent than his attitude and his arguments. He thinks we have inflicted an injustice on the Church of England. I am not going to argue that question over again. The point raised by this Amendment is, in my view, a simple one. It is a proposal for a simple disability, and, as the right hon. Gentleman has stated, it is a proposal to inflict a disability unjustly, because in the opinion of hon. Gentlemen opposite another injustice has been inflicted on the Church of England. They seemed to justify the proposal on that ground. But take it for granted that the minority was right and the majority was wrong in imposing this disability on Churchwardens on account of their previous position, is that a reason why you should go out of your way to impose this disability without regard for any reason whatever except for the vindictive satisfaction— if I may use the term—of those who think they themselves have also been injured?
§ MR. VICARY GIBBS (Herts., St. Albans)
said, he agreed with his right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University that two wrongs did not make a right, and he, therefore, could not support the Amendment. The President of the Local Government Board had told them that he entirely agreed with the views expressed by the Solicitor General that no inequality was suffered by the Church of England in this matter. He understood the hon. and learned Gentleman to say distinctly that the Church of England would suffer inconvenience in the matter; but that as she had received 687 certain advantages in the past owing to the fact that she was the National Church, now that a Liberal Government was in Office she should expect to receive evil things. Though he was in thorough sympathy with the feelings of his hon. Friend in proposing the Amendment, he could not support it, because he thought it would justify the action taken by the Government in regard to the last Amendment.
MR. STANLEYLEIGHTON (Shropshire, Oswestry)
said, he thought they should look at the logic of the matter. If the Amendment were no hardship to the Churchwardens, it would be no hardship to any Dissenting Body. The difficulty they had in dealing with the question was that every Member of the Government who spoke took up a different position. The right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill said he did not in any way desire to place the Church under any disability. But the Solicitor General said—"What does it matter if the Church does suffer some little inconvenience?" He would also like to point out to the President of the Local Government Board that the Nonconformist Bodies were not altogether voluntary bodies. It had been declared by law that they were established bodies. The Committee had been told that for the future Churchwardens should be nothing less and nothing more than ecclesiastical officers; that they should belong entirely to the Church, and have nothing to do with civil business. But the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill now declared that he would look upon the Churchwardens as civil officers—
§ MR. PICTON (Leicester)
I rise to Order. I desire to ask, Mr. Mellor, whether it is in Order to discuss the substance of an Amendment that has been disposed of?
The hon. Gentleman has no right to discuss an Amendment that has been disposed of, but he is referring to it merely for the purposes of this Amendment.
§ MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON
said, the matter was so plain that it did not need to be impressed on the Committee. But what they wanted to impress on the country was that, under the pretence of a Bill for Parish Councils, the Go- 688 vernment were really placing disabilities on one Church which they were afraid to place on another.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
MR. FISHER (Fulham) moved—
In page 10. line 26, at end, to insert,— "Provided that this enactment shall not apply to any charity founded by any donor living at the time of the passing of this Act unless the consent of such donor has been obtained.
The right hon. Gentleman had endeavoured to obtain from the Government a provision that the Act should not apply to charities less than 60 years old. The Government said they could not accept the Amendment, because they maintained that there was no presumption that the donors of the charities intended to give the administration of the charities to ecclesiastical officers. But that argument as to presumption would not avail the Government in this case at all. There could be no question as to the presumption of a donor still living. The intentions of such a donor were still obtainable. All they had got to do in such a case was to find out what was the intention of the donor when he drew up the draft of the deed by which he gave the administration of a charity to trustees who were distinctly ecclesiastical in character. There were hundreds of such cases in which the trust had been made to the Vicar and Churchwarden, distinctly as an ecclesiastical organisation, in order that the character of the administration of the charity might be ecclesiastical. He could not conceive what argument could be brought to bear in support of a proposal that where a donor was alive they might over-ride his distinct intentions, and say that this Act should apply to his charity. If the Government did not accept at least the spirit of the Amendment, they would not be only doing a very great injury to those Church people who had been generous enough to give these benefactions, but they would be adding insult to injury by refusing to consult them as to their intention, and they would also be inflicting a grievous blow on the poor by helping to dry up the sources of charity.
In page 10, line 26, at end, to insert,— "Provided that this enactment shall not apply to any charity founded by any donor
living at the time of the passing of this Act unless the consent of such donor has been obtained."—(Mr. Fisher.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
I frankly admit that this Amendment is of great importance and demands the most careful attention of the Committee. I may say that the Government have given it full consideration. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was unable, yesterday, to accept the Amendment of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin, because it would have secured perpetuity of exemption for charities of the last 60 years. But what we have got to look at is what will be the effect of this enactment, supposing that it will be passed in its present form, on what I may call existing and living charities. If the Amendment of the hon. Member for Rugby should be accepted, it would at once submit all parochial charities, no matter what the date of foundation may be, to very considerable interference in the composition of the parties by whom the charities are to be administered. I admit that it is a strong step to interfere with charities while their founders are still alive. The Amendment of the hon. Member, of course, excludes testators altogether. It would simply deal with charities, the donors of which are alive at the time of the passing of the Act. We admit that where a testator has selected ecclesiastical officers in recent times as trustees, he may have in his mind the intentions of having the charity administered by the officers of a certain religion, and the only justification, as John Stuart Mill has said, for prematurely interfering with dispositions of donors and testators is to prevent the immediate execution of some positive mischief. That does not apply to this case. But we do not think that the limit of life is a very practical one. It is open to the objection that if a man lived only one day after the passing of the Act his charity would be perpetually exempted from the operation of the Act, whereas, if he died the day before, his charity would at once be brought within the purview of the Act. What the Government are prepared to recommend to the Committee is that the enactment, whether as it stands on the Paper or as it may be 690 amended, shall not apply to any charity until after the expiration of 30 years from the date of its foundation. That limit fairly guards all existing interests, and it is in harmony with the recommendations of previous Commissions. The trustees of no charities shall be interfered with until that charity has been in existence 30 years. I do not want any expression of the Committee on our decision at this point. I merely state what our intentions are, but we must wait till we come to the end of the clause before we can move in the matter.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for having very clearly explained the general policy which the Government have adopted with regard to the length of time in which charities are to be free from the interfering action of this clause. But now let me point out that really what he has promised to do when we reach the end of the clause is not only no substitute for the Amendment now before the Committee, but has no relation to it at all. The right hon. Gentleman thinks that no charity should be interfered with until 30 years have elapsed after the charity has been given. When the proper time comes I shall be prepared to argue that that is a very brief time in which to respect the wishes of donors. But at present we are on a very different point, which is this—whether a man during his lifetime, having made a deed giving funds for a charity, and finding the deed interfered with by Act of Parliament, ought or ought not have the right of re-making that deed? If I give money to a Public Body for a charity, and an Act is passed interfering with the machinery by which that body were carrying out my intentions, and making changes which would have prevented me giving the money could I have anticipated the action of the Legislature, surely it is only fair to permit me, the donor, not to withdraw the money from puplic use, but to reconstitute the machinery by which it is to be disposed in accordance with my original intentions and my intentions at the present time? The right hon. Gentleman has offered no argument against that proposal at all. He has said the Amendment of. my hon. Friend does not cover a great many of the cases which he wishes to cover, and I agree with him; but in addition to the 30 years' protection which 691 he proposes to give, why should he not allow donors who are alive to re-constitute, after the Bill has passed, their charities in accordance with their original intentions? That is a proposal for which we expect support in every part of the House, when we reflect that it should be the policy of this House to encourage men by making it easy for them to spend their money for beneficent purposes during their lifetime. It seems to me that my hon. Friend's case is so clear, that the broad question of principle and policy ought to guide us, that I cannot doubt that the right hon. Gentleman will see his way, at all events, to meet my hon. Friend in some degree with regard to the specific object he has in view.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
The right hon. Gentleman requests us to say that if a man has made reasonable disposition of a property, and the law comes in and makes a reform which affects the legal destination, there ought to be the power with the individual who made the arrangement before that alteration in the law to revoke and change that disposition. But has such a thing ever been done? [Cries of "Speak up!"] I never heard such a contention as that made, that because there was a reform in the law that parties living who made those dispositions should have the power to revoke and change their destination. Certainly that is a matter that we could never assent to.
MR. J. LOWTHER
I was unable to follow the right hon. Gentleman in the analogy he has drawn. As I understand him, he says the proposal of my hon. Friend behind me, carried to its logical conclusion, would involve corresponding power being given in connection with real estate—that is to say, that a settlor who had made arrangements with regard to real property could, in the event of the law being changed, revoke the arrangement. That is as I understood the right hon. Gentleman, and I would not be disposed to disagree with him if he would suggest the adoption of such a principle. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that though many of us are disposed to find fault with the intervention of Parliament in the disposition of real estate, that interference has always assumed the shape of affording greater 692 freedom with regard to the ultimate disposition of property. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman can quote an instance in which Parliament has imposed additional fetters in the way of a person disposing of his right to the enjoyment of his estate. In fact, the interposition of Parliament, mischievous as I think it has often been, has always been in the opposite direction. All that is asked by this Amendment is that if a person during his lifetime realises the fact that Parliament has altered the disposition of his property, that he should resume his liberty of action and be entitled so to amend his disposition and arrangements as to enable his original intentions to be carried into effect. That is simply conferring the bare rights and the ordinary claims anyone might have—to dispose of his property as he thought fit. I cannot understand how the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer can seriously argue that my hon. Friend's proposal would run counter to any established principle of law. As I have shown, Parliament has endeavoured to confer additional freedom—has removed the fetters upon settlements, and in no case has it imposed fresh ones, and, therefore, my hon. Friend's proposal is one that might be properly accepted.
§ MR. L. HARDY (Kent, Ashford)
said, he had an Amendment on the Paper somewhat of the same nature as that of the hon. Member, and perhaps it would meet the case if the hon. Member would add to his Amendment these words—Provided also that the original donor may if he or she disapproves of the transfer of the appointment of trustees to the Parish Council, revoke or vary the trusts upon which such charity or endowment was founded.In that case the original donor would be able to take the Churchwardens out of the trust and put in others that would be suitable to his or her views. With regard to what was said by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he would point out they were not entering upon the point he had raised. So far as charities connected with the dead were concerned, it was impossible to discover what the actual intention of the donor was; but that was not the case with regard to living donors, whose wishes could be ascertained. He had a case in mind which first called his attention to this subject in his own con- 693 stituency, where a lady who was still living within quite recent years founded almshouses for the benefit of the poor of the parish, and appointed the Vicar and Churchwardens as the trustees. This lady did not wish the foundation to go to the Parish Council, and he thought she should have the right of saying that when she made her trust she appointed the Churchwardens in their ecclesiastical and not in their civil capacity. There was another case mentioned by the hon. Member for Dorset, where a charity was founded, and the donor did not wish that to pass to the Parish Council. They had had many other cases of the same sort, and he would urge upon the Government whether they could not meet their religious views on this subject, and yield a little in this matter. He was very much surprised that a red herring should be drawn across the track by the mention of the 30 years' limit, as it did not apply to this at all. He hoped the hon. Gentleman would not object to attaching a portion of his Amendment to the Amendment before the Committee, and that the Government would see their way to accept it.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir J. RIGBY, Forfar)
said, he did not understand his right bon. Friend who had charge of the Bill to have said the Amendment which he suggested was at all the same as the one before the Committee, but it was aimed at the same object, and would have the merit of greater uniform advantage and general application to "any donor living at the time of the passing of this Act." His right hon. Friend had already pointed out that it would not do so, and it would be unreasonable if a man happened to die before the passing of the Act, before his intentions as the founder could be found out, that he should be kept just outside. The very numerous cases in which these parochial charities had been founded by subscriptions—many of the subscriptions being from anonymous donors—would be left outside. It had been said there was really a sort of equity, a sort of right that a man who had made a settlement should have a voice as to the alteration of it. He quite agreed, so long as there was no motive of public policy to the contrary. It was the work of a Conservative Government, the work of a Conservative Lord 694 Chancellor—one of the most distinguished of our time—to make such alterations of the law as were made by the Settled Lands Act. In his earlier days and during his early practice at the Bar, in the management of estates it was thought one of the most sacred obligations to leave land exactly as settled by those who had gone before and not to interfere with that, but to leave it there without power of sale or anything else. By the Settled Lands Act, not the settlor, but a person who might be quite different to the settlor, had a right so far to undo all the provisions the settlor had made, that the law which the settlor said should be kept in perpetuity might be sold. That Act dealt with all settlements, whether made before or after, or partly before or partly after the passing of that Act. Under that Act they might alter the entire destination of the property itself. It had been said that if any Amendment of that sort were made in this Bill the donor ought to come in and be able to vary the trusts. [Cries of "No, no! that is not the Amendment."] He had the Amendment that was placed upon the Paper before him, and it said—The original donor may, if he or she disapproves of the transfer of the appointment of trustees to the Parish Council, revoke or vary the trusts upon which such charity or endowment was founded.
§ MR. FISHER
said, that was another Amendment, and he had not given his assent to tack that on to his Amendment.
§ SIR J. RIGBY
said, he agreed it was the Amendment on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. L. Hardy), who got up and said his Amendment might be tacked on to the present Amendment, and one of the terms of that Amendment was that the original donor might revoke or vary the trusts. He agreed it was not the present Amendment, and therefore he would not go into it except to say that it could not for a moment be accepted by the Government; consequently any attempt to amalgamate it with the present one, or to extract any opinion from the Government in favour of it, must fail.
§ SIR M. HICKS-BEACH (Bristol, W.)
I think that the argument of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General, if I may say so with all 695 deference to his great knowledge, is scarcely a fair comparison with regard to the Settled Lauds Act. Of course, the Settled Lands Act gives the powers he has stated; but when an estate is sold under those powers, the produce of that sale still remains subject to the trust, and no alteration whatever, I believe, under the Settled Lands Act can be made in the trust that has been created; therefore it appears to me that the argument the hon. and learned Gentleman has drawn from the Settled Lands Act absolutely falls to the ground. There is no proposal in the present Amendment to vary the terms of the trust, no proposal, as might be gathered from the argument of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to enable the donor to take back to himself money he has given or to apply it to other purposes. All that is asked is this: that whereas the donor has constituted a certain trust for certain purposes, if the Legislature, during the life of that donor, so alters the trustees as to render probable what hon. Members opposite expect, and what some others fear—that the new trustees shall devote the moneys of the trust to purposes different to that the donor intended, that then the donor shall be able to secure that the money shall be devoted to the purposes he originally desired. It seems to me it would be an intolerable proposition that when a man has given money, let us say to the Vicar and Churchwardens of a parish, as has been pointed out by hon. Members behind me, for certain purposes for the benefit of the poor in that parish, that during his lifetime Parliament should come down on him, and say—"We deprive you of your trustees; we will hand over your money to another body altogether, and they shall distribute the money of your trust." It. is certainly expected that they would not distribute the money as the Vicar and Churchwardens would. I hope my hon. Friend will take the sense of the Committee upon the Amendment.
§ SIR H. JAMES
I think the argument of the right hon. Gentleman has gone beyond the suggestion before the Committee, and I would ask the Government whether they could not make a concession to a certain extent in the direction of the Amendment. I do not think that any donor should have power to revoke a trust; all you can do is to allow him to 696 deal with the appointment of trustees. Inherently every donor during his lifetime has power to alter the trustees. Now the law steps in and says to a living donor—"We know you have appointed trustees; we will alter them, and cause you to have some other trustees than you wish to execute your trust." The Settled Lands Act has no bearing whatever; that Act was passed to allow greater freedom of action in the management of estates. If the law comes in and says—"You shall not for public policy accomplish the object you wish," is it unnatural to allow the donor to say—"I accept that proposition, but allow me to select another trustee who will not be objectionable?" Is not that less arbitrary than the law saying—"It is public policy you should not have this trustee, but we insist you shall have another outside from the voice of the parish?" It cannot be unreasonable for him to say—"Let me who gives the property say whom the trustee, not objectionable to the law, shall be." That is the suggestion I venture to make, and if accepted all the difficulty would pass away.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
We cannot, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would not wish us to, put it in here. There is an Amendment that comes after this where it would be more effectual. Wherever it is inserted it must be after the Amendment of the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Cobb). If that is admitted all I would say is, that the Government are prepared to accept a limitation in that direction, but I think that 30 years or some other limit would be better than a variable term. My hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General has pointed out, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bury (Sir H. James) will at once see, the enormous difficulty there would be in dealing with a great number of donors, some of them anonymous subscribers. Wellington College was founded in commemoration of the Duke of Wellington by public subscription, and it would be impossible to refer to all the donors of that charity. All I want to do is to indicate to hon. Gentlemen opposite that the Government are prepared to meet this difficulty when the clause is proposed; and when we come to that clause let us look at the case as a whole. There are practical difficulties in the way of introducing the donors at all. If you take 697 a period of 30 years—unless the donors make their disposition very early in life, which is a rare case—very few would be living after 30 years from the disposition of the trust. I want to avoid premature discussion, and if we are to discuss this question now we can come to no decision, because we have told you we cannot accept the Amendment as it is on the Paper, but at the same time we say that into this clause a time limit of some sort should be inserted. I know a case of a Member of this House who founded a charity within the last five years, and it would be a gross injustice to take the trusteeship of that out of the hands of the present trustees. We admit that injustice, and frankly say we are prepared to deal with it when we see what the Committee will do with the subsequent Amendment. This Amendment we cannot accept. Recognising the force of its principle, we do not resist it in hostility to its principle; but we contend that principle may be better met in another manner. What I ask the Committee is, not to have a perfectly futile discussion on this Amendment now. It is a difficulty which need excite no Party feeling; but it is a practical difficulty to be met in a practical way.
§ SIR F. S. POWELL (Wigan)
said, he rose only to suggest that it would be for the convenience of hon. Members if the President of the Local Government Board would place the words of the Amendment it was proposed to introduce upon the Paper as soon as possible. If that were done hon. Members would be able to consider the terms of the proposal, and it would materially assist the discussion.
§ MR. VICARY GIBBS (Herts, St. Albans)
said, the President of the Local Government Board referred to a case of a Member of the House who five years ago gave some money on trust, and said he would be no party to the gross injustice of changing the trustees. He (Mr. Gibbs) did not know who the Member was, or what his age might be; but supposing he should live for another 30 years after the passing of the Bill, then the right hon. Gentleman was perfectly ready to inflict this gross injustice upon him. It was perfectly true that this Amendment would, unfortunately, still leave many donors subject to the injustice. That they quite saw and recognised, but 698 because they were not stopping every leak in the Bill was no reason why they should not attempt to stop one, and they said the position would be improved if this Amendment were accepted. He could not himself see, because there were difficulties in the way, why they should not make the attempt in those cases where there was only a single donor, during his lifetime, at any rate, to allow his intentions to be carried out. With regard to the Settled Lands Act, he could not see any analogy between that Act, which interfered with the rights of private persons' interests, and interference with the wishes of those who had given their money for purposes of public advantage. Surely it was a matter of public policy that every advantage should be given to men to give their money for the public good. If they wilfully interfered, as they were doing now, they would be discouraging people from giving money for these objects without any reason or advantage, and would be interfering with the plan a man had laid down for the distribution of his money.
§ MR. STOREY (Sunderland)
thought a great deal of time had been spent on what, after all, was a comparatively trivial portion of the Bill. For his part, he thought the difficulty they were now discussing could be got over by right hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House meeting and settling the exact terms of the proposal whilst the Committee went on with another Amendment. He entirely agreed that the wishes of a living donor ought to be considered as much as ever public policy would allow. That opinion was shared by other independent Members on his side, and he thought if right hon. Gentlemen on both sides would meet in the old-fashioned way they could very soon settle what was not a Party question in a practical and business-like manner.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said, this Amendment went but a small way, and would affect but a small number of people. It simply provided that where the donor was living at the time of the passing of this Act his trustees should remain as they were, and should not be deprived of the trusteeship. It would only apply to those donors living at the time of the passing of the Act, and would go no further than their 699 trustees. They had been asked to accept a limitation of 30 years as amounting to the same thing. But it had nothing to do with the matter. This was a reservation of the equitable rights of a small number of people, and was an Amendment the Government might fairly be asked to accept.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
said, the hon. Member who had just spoken and others also had omitted to notice a very serious difficulty that had been pointed out. If they proceeded upon the basis of the life of a donor, what were they to do in the case where there was a plurality of donors? There were cases in which the donors were not few but many—often a multitude. How did the Amendment embrace the case of these donors? If there was equity in the case —and there was—it ought to be applied to the case where donors had combined and executed a joint enterprise, just as much as in the case where a single donor had acted for himself. What the Government proposed was, that they should have a remedy which should embrace both these equities, and not exclude the equity where the donors were in a plurality, or where there was a multitude of men. All the donors, whether single or many, were embraced in the proposal of the Government. They wanted not to get rid of the substance of the question, but to see whether they could not deal with it in a manner far more comprehensive and impartial by taking as their basis not the life of an individual, but the date upon which the trust began to operate.
§ MR. FISHER
was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say he considered there was an equity in this case. It appeared to him that the only objection which was raised by the Government to his Amendment was that it did not cover other cases to which equity attached. But because he could not meet all cases there was no reason why he should not meet some definite and distinct cases. The Amendment which the President of the Local Government Board had indicated he would put down did not meet the point he (Mr. Fisher) had brought forward, and unless he could get some more satisfactory assurance from the Government he should press his Amendment to a Division.
§ MR. KIMBER (Wandsworth)
contended that the limit of 30 years, or, indeed, any limit, would leave the injustice unremedied. A very few years ago, in his own constituency, a trust was founded for the benefit of any and all persons in the parish, of which five or seven gentlemen were appointed as trustees who were well known from their predilection for temperance principles. It so happened that these gentlemen were mostly Conservatives, and, whether within 30 years or afterwards, if they swamped these five trustees by nominees of the Parish Council they would altogether change the personnel of the, administrators of that endowment, and they would have placed it in the hands of people not known, and not known to be supporters of temperance principles, and they would have given the direction and diversion of funds which were comprised in the endowment. The principal part of the trusts of that endowment were comprised in the persons in whom, its administration was reposed, and it was all very well to say that when new trustees were appointed they would still be found to administer the trust in accordance with the document by which the trust was created. But when these trusts were not defined in words, but contained in the spirit of the men in whose hands the administration of the funds was given, he said that the appointment of new trustees, and especially of a majority, would be to alter the trusts in defiance of the intention of the original donor. This donor was still alive, and the limitation of 30 years would, if this trust had been in existence 20 years, 10 years hence have subverted the whole of the trust endowment, and placed it in the hands of persons not only unsympathetic to the objects of the fund, but who might divert it to wholly different purposes. He could give an instance in which this very thing had happened. This same gentleman thought it would facilitate the execution of the trust by appointing a committee. That committee was not selected with the same care that the founder of the trust exercised when he appointed the trustees. A little political occasion shortly arose, and the committee used the premises of the trust for actually condemning the donor of the trust for certain opinions which he had embraced. He submitted, 701 therefore, that this was a case which the Amendment proposed by the right hon. Gentleman would leave untouched and unremedied, whatever limit was proposed, the injustice which would be inflicted.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
would venture to suggest that it would be serving the general convenience of the Committee if his hon. Friend withdrew his Amendment now on the understanding that it was brought up in a more appropriate place, in connection with the Amendment of the hon. Member for Devizes.
§ SIR A. ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
said, if his hon. Friend went to a Division he should support him, though it was obviously wise and prudent, after the declaration of the Government, that the course just suggested by the right hon. Gentleman should be taken on the understanding that the Amendment was taken later on in connection with the one indicated. The two proposals; that of the clause and the present Amendment, were quite consistent, and all the arguments had been in favour of a limitation and also the recognition of a life interest in this matter.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ *MR. COBB, having been called on by the Chairman,
§ *MR. TOMLINSON rose to a point of Order. He said the Bill was a Bill to make better provision for local government in England and Wales, and was introduced as a non-contentious Bill to carry out part of the policy of the late Government with certain extensions. It might possibly be urgued that some of the provisions in the clauses which had already been passed went beyond the scope of a Bill for providing local government for England and Wales. They were now coming to a clause which, he ventured to submit, had nothing to do with local government at all. The Amendment, which was to be moved, proposed to deal with every parochial charity, not being an ecclesiastical charity. He said that the question of the management of charities was not within the purview of local government; it never had been so treated by the law or by any Government, and without an Instruction to that effect he submitted the Committee 702 could not deal with the proposition involved in this Amendment.
said, it was too late to raise any objection to the title of the Bill, which should have been taken in this House before the Second Reading. I have carefully considered this question, and I think that as Sub-section 2 has been passed by the Committee and is in the Bill, the Amendment is revelant to the sub-section, and that no Instruction is required.
*MR. COBB (Warwick, S. E., Rugby) rose, to move the following Amendment:—
In line 26, at end, insert,—"(3) In the case of every parochial charity, not being an ecclesiastical charity, the Parish Council shall, notwithstanding that the number of trustees may have been fixed by the instrument creating the charity, or by any scheme for its administration or otherwise, appoint such a number of additional trustees as will cause the number of trustees, who are either elected by ratepayers or parochial electors or inhabitants of the parish, or appointed by the Parish Council or parish meeting, to be a majority of the whole body.
He did not, he said, propose to deal in any way with the observations made by the President of the Local Government Board as to the proviso the right hon. Gentleman intended to move. He should like to consider the proviso before accepting it; but at first sight, so far as village charities were concerned, he could see no objection to the 30 years' limit suggested. He wished to thank the President of the Local Government Board very much for having announced that he would accept this Amendment. He thought he was entitled to do so, to some extent, on behalf of many thousands of villagers, because he firmly believed if they rightly used the provisions of the Bill which was now before the House, the Amendment which he proposed would confer what the villagers had been asking for for a great number of years— namely, to have a reasonable share in the management of their charities, they being surely the persons most interested in them. The principle of the Amendment was to give in every case of a non-ecclesiastical parochial charity a majority of elective trustees, and in the term elective he included the election or appointing by the Parish Council of trustees. This Amendment differed in one important respect from the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for South Somer-
set. His (Mr. Cobb's) Amendment ousted no trustee, but it increased to this extent the operation of what had already been done by Sub-section 2—namely, it compelled the Parish Council in every case to appoint trustees so that the majority of the elected trustees might be on the trusteeship of every parochial charity. He had never been able to understand why so much alarm had been expressed as to this Amendment. It did hardly anything more than extend to a third of the parochial charities what Sub-section 2 had already done for two-thirds of them. It was true that it made it to some extent compulsory instead of permissive; but, although Sub-section 2 was to some slight extent permissive, they must remember that the permissive part of it—namely, the fixing of the number of trustees that were to be added to the existing trustees—was placed in the hands of the Elective Body. That was the Parish Council. He would refer to some figures given to him in reply to a question he put to the hon. Member for Merionethshire (Mr. T. E. Ellis). The hon. Member took only 311 cases of parochial charities out of the many thousands which existed, but he told them at the same time that these 311 cases gave very much the proportions that might be taken generally to indicate the character of nearly all the charities, and he had since ascertained from the Member for Merionethshire and the other prominent Members of the Charity Commission, that the investigation subsequently made and the figures taken out in regard to different parts of different counties gave the same proportions. The Committee might, therefore, take it for the purposes of this Amendment that the figures which the hon. Member gave showed fairly accurately the proportions in which the different trusteeships were divided. It came substantially to this: Out of 311 cases, there were 181 cases where the Incumbent and Churchwardens and Overseers, or the Incumbent and either the Churchwardens or Overseers, or Churchwardens alone, or the Churchwardens and Overseers were trustees of charities. There were other charities where the Churchwardens or Overseers, or both, were trustees; and there were other trustees as well. It was hardly too much to say on these figures that they made up 204 out of 311.
Of course there might be some other cases where it did not apply, but they were very few. In these cases if they made it compulsory on the Parish Council to do what Sub-section 2 already indicated, the Bill already gave a majority of elective trustees. What were the other cases not touched at present by the Bill? There were 107 cases, and of these 31, or about one-tenth of the whole number of parochial charities, were cases where the Incumbent alone was the trustee; 22 where the Incumbent and others, not being Churchwardens or Overseers, were trustees; and 54 were cases of private co-optation, of which 36 were co-optation without any sanction at all, and 18 of co-optation sanctioned by the Charity Commissioners by means of advertisements. In Sub-section 2 these were not touched, or only touched to the extent of where there might be some representative trustees. Just to show what would be the result if some such Amendment as this were not introduced, he would take the case of two contiguous villages. In one there might be a trusteeship with the Incumbent, Churchwardens, and Overseers. In that case the Parish Council having under the sub section the right to substitute trustees for the Churchwardens and Overseers, it was obvious that taking two Churchwardens and two Overseers the elective trustees would be four-fifths of the whole body, whereas in the neighbouring village with six co-optative trustees there would in that case under the sub-section be no elective principle whatever. Then there was the case where the trustees were the Incumbent and Churchwardens, and out of the whole 311 cases there were 140 of that class. In that class of case it was quite clear that under the subsection two-thirds of the trustees would be elective, while in the other case, where there were co-optative trustees none of them would be elective. He thought every Member of the Committee would see that such a result would be almost ridiculous, and it must cause great dissatisfaction to the inhabitants of a village who did not have elective trustees to see close to their doors a village that had a majority of elective trustees. He would take very shortly the other cases where under the sub-section there was no elective element whatever. He would take the case where the Incumbent alone was the trustee.
Those cases were one-tenth of the whole number. Why, he asked, should the Incumbent be the sole trustee of non-ecclesiastical parochial charities? The Incumbent had been appointed not on account of his clerical office, not because he was connected with the Church of England, but because he was well known, respectable, and a public man. He was appointed to represent the whole parish, and very likely for the reason that there had been no representative body in whose hands the donor could place the charity. If this Amendment was accepted, it would not oust the Incumbent in any way, but it would compel Parish Councils to add elective trustees, so as to give them the majority. In the cases of co-optation there was a large number in which the trustees had been co-opted without the smallest authority, without any legal right even—where a number of trustees had by their mere will gone on appointing trustees as one died, and so on, which was altogether illegal. In cases like that was it not more just in every way that the trustees should be appointed by some elective process? He would only deal with two objections made to his proposal. One great objection would be that the effect of the Amendment would be to largely increase the number of trustees; that the trustees should be a large and numerous body. It might be inconvenient in some cases to have 20; he could not, however, conceive in many cases so great a body as that. Unless there was something important to do they would not all attend. But these were all matters of simple detail as compared with the great principle of allowing the people the management of their own charities. There was another objection—that with regard to the appointment of trustees of a charity not strictly according to the wishes and intentions of the person who set it up.
§ An hon. MEMBER: Hear, hear!
§ MR. COBB
An hon. Member said "Hear, hear!" but that was done every day, and he did not see how the objection could hold. It had been done by the Charity Commissioners in a very large number of cases. In regard to the action of the Commissioners, the principle of his Amendment was already admitted. It was a very common case, 706 he was told, for the Incumbent, the Churchwardens, three representative and three co-optative trustees to be appointed under a scheme, and in such a case there would be a majority already, and his Amendment would have no effect whatever. The principle of the representative majority had been affirmed in this House. In May, 1886, Sir John Swinburne carried a Resolution; he would not read all the words, but it was to the effect that every scheme ought to provide for the majority of trustees being directly elected. That went very much further than his proposal, because it applied to every charity, however large, in the country, whereas his Amendment only applied to rural parochial non-ecclesiastical charities. The Resolution was seconded by the present Secretary to the Local Government Board (Sir Walter Foster), and was supported by a number of hon. Members. A Division was taken upon the Motion for Adjournment, which was negatived by 73 to 59. That was accepted as a decision upon the question and the Resolution was finally agreed to without a Division. That was, he would admit, a very small Division; it was what might almost be called a snap Division, but although on that occasion 17 or 18 Members spoke, there was only one, Lord Francis Hervey, who spoke against the principle of a majority.
§ MR. COBB
said, he understood the hon. Baronet did not speak against the principle, although he gave several reasons for not adopting the Resolution at that time. The right hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Courtney) appealed to Sir John Swinburne to withdraw his Resolution, not on account of the principle of the elective majority, but because it would include charities like Christ's Hospital, and he pointed out how ridiculous it would be to have the local people in the parish appointed trustees in such a case. The right hon. Member did not say a word against the principle, but remarked, in regard to the Division, "the victory is highly significant and cannot be lost sight of." His object now was to see that principle carried out. He might also refer the Committee to the Report of the Charity Commissioners for the present year, which was also in favour of his Amend- 707 ment. In that Report they went into the origin of the appointment of representative trustees, and pointed out the difficulties they had to deal with. They concluded by saying that they anticipated that many questions which had been the subject of controversy in the course of the gradual changes in the body of trustees of charities would be set at rest in the constitution of the District and Parish Councils. The Charity Commissioners, in fact, seemed to invite some direction from the House as to what they were to do in future in respect of schemes. The adoption of the majority principle would set this question at rest. He would conclude by again thanking the right hon. Gentleman for accepting the Amendment, which he now begged to move.
In page 10, line 26, after the word "Overseers," to insert as a new Sub-section the words,—(3) In the case of 2very parochial charity, not being an ecclesiastical charity, the Parish Council shall, notwithstanding that the number of trustees may have been fixed by the instrument creating the charity, or by any scheme for its administration or otherwise, appoint such a number of additional trustees as will cause the number of trustees who are either elected by ratepayers or parochial electors, or inhabitants of the parish, or appointed by the Parish Council or parish meeting, to be a majority of the whole body."—(Mr. Cobb.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
I must say that when this Amendment was put from the Chair, I was surprised that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board—whom I am sorry not to see now in his place, because I am going to advert directly to him— did not at once rise for the purpose of making a statement. In my opinion, the time has come when that statement has got to be made.
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; Committee counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
In the earlier discussions on this clause charges of breach of faith have been made against the right hon. Gentleman. It has been said by a good many Members that he made a statement on the Second Reading on the Bill with which his present action 708 is entirely inconsistent. In view of that charge the right hon. Gentleman said he was waiting for an opportunity to make a statement on the subject, and that he would avail himself of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Rugby for the purpose. That statement is what we are now awaiting. It cannot be possible that the Government are going to wait until all the Amendments are disposed of before the right hon. Gentleman makes the statement which I confidently believe he intends to make. In our opinion, that statement ought to be made before we dispose of the present Amendment. I do not want to put that unfairly or unreasonably. Our contention is that the present action of Her Majesty's Government, as announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in regard to this Amendment, is absolutely and wholly inconsistent with the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board on the Second Reading. I do not want to labour the point at this stage, but what I want to point out is that if undertakings of this description are not to be binding between the two sides of the House, the business of the House cannot properly be carried on. The statement on the Second Reading was of a character binding not only on himself—and I believe the right hon. Gentleman will thoroughly respect that understanding—but on the whole of the Government. No Member of the Government can escape from the responsibility of the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman on the Second Reading. The right hon. Gentleman himself, since the Second Reading, has put on the Paper an Amendment which comes on at a later stage. Many of my friends are prepared to contend—and I think I am inclined to agree with them— that even that Amendment violates the spirit of the undertaking that he gave on the Second Reading. But whether that is so or not, that Amendment is a comparatively small alteration compared with the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Rugby, to which the Government declare they are prepared to assent. We on this side say, or I, certainly, say, without hesitation, that the Amendment of the hon. Member for Rugby is a gross violation of the undertakings which the Government have entered into with us, and I appeal to the 709 good faith of the right hon. Gentleman at this stage, and without delay, to give us an explanation of the reason for the change of front of the Government. I ask him to tell us at once and straightforwardly, as I know he will, what are the arguments that have influenced him in assenting to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Rugby.
MR. J. H. ROBERTS (Denbighshire, W.)
said the people of Wales felt very grateful to the hon. Member for Rugby for bringing forward his Amendment, and they highly appreciated the friendly attitude of the Government towards it. The Amendment was more urgently required in Wales than in England, for the simple reason that most of the parochial charities in Wales were controlled by a very small minority in the country. The question involved in the Amendment was whether charities left for the benefit of the parishioners generally were to be dispensed by one section and for one section of the community, or whether they were to be administered for the benefit of the community at large. The case in Wales was a peculiar one. A great many of the parochial charities there had been left for the maintenance of the poor, and the party which controlled the charities in the Principality seemed to be under the impression not only that the poor were always with them, but that the poor were with them only. In 1889 an application was made with regard to the management of the charities in the County of Denbigh. It was pointed out that these charities were managed in a very unsatisfactory manner, and the result was that a special Commissioner was sent down to the county to make an exhaustive inquiry into the matter. Members who would take the trouble to examine the complete Report of that Committee would find ample arguments for supporting the Amendment. He would mention one case. It was that of the Ellis Davies charity in the parish of Cerrig-y-Druidion, a remote part of the county. Two hundred years ago the donor left certain property, stating explicitly that it was to be used for the benefit of the poor in the parish. How was that trust administered? A large portion of it was applied absolutely for the benefit of the Church parishioners and a large portion of it was applied in aid of the 710 Church schools at Cerrig-y-Druidion. Unless the Amendment was adopted a very grave and very general evil in Wales would not be touched. He, therefore, heartily supported the hon. Member for Rugby's proposal, and hoped the Government would continue to regard it with a friendly eye.
§ SIR F. S. POWELL (Wigan)
said, that some reference had been made by the hon. Member for Rugby to the part he (Sir F. S. Powell) had taken in the Debate in the year 1886 on the Motion of Sir John Swinburne. He had spoken against the Motion for reasons he had already stated to the Committee—namely, that a Committee was then sitting investigating the case, and that it was premature for the House while the Committee was sitting to arrive at a decision. He (Sir F. S. Powell) was at that time serving on the Committee, and took a great deal of interest in their proceedings. They passed this Resolution—The Committee fail to satisfy themselves that the Resolution could be practically carried out.Therefore, they had on the one hand a snatch Division taken at 2 o'clock in the morning, and on the other hand the Report of a Committee which sat for not less than two years investigating the subject. But he had a further objection to the Motion of the hon. Member, and that was that it seemed to him a somewhat severe proceeding to deal universally in the same way with all these charities. The action of the Charity Commissioners had been of a different kind. They had investigated each case on its own merits. They had in many cases—he thought in all— sent down Inspectors to inquire into the conduct of the charities. They had heard what was to be said in the districts, and framed their schemes, and each scheme was adapted to the special wants of the charity. In the present case the proposal was that the House of Commons should at once, without special regard to the circumstances, and without deference to the real feeling of the localities, deal uniformly with all the charities. He ventured to say that a proceeding of this kind was not in the interest of the charities, and was contrary to the policy of Parliament. The policy of Parliament always had been that, whereas the charities were first of all granted with reference to local wants, 711 any reform which took place in them should be of such a character as to meet those wants. That was an entirely different policy from that of the hon. Gentleman. Then the hon. Gentleman had made some reference to co-optative trustees. He (Sir F. S. Powell) had not the honour to be a member of a parochial charitable trust, but he had for some years taken considerable part in the management of endowed schools, and he had no hesitation in saying that the interposition of co-optative trustees was highly beneficial to those charities. They supplied in many cases a want which was much felt. At any given time the trustees knew what kind of man was required to carry out the administration of the trust. They might be weak in administration; they might be defective in educational knowledge; or they might require some gentleman who was skilled in finance, and they would choose a person having the knowledge and skill required to fill the vacancy. With reference to the proposal of the Amendment, he did not find that any Committee of Inquiry had ever favoured the notion that a majority of the trustees should be of a representative character. There was, no doubt, a recommendation that there should be a representative element amongst the trustees. That was the opinion of the Committee which sat in 1884 to inquire into charitable trusts generally, and it was also the opinion of the subsequent Committees of 1886 and 1887 that' there should be an element of representation in the case of endowed schools. It was the recommendation of the Committees that the representative element should be a strong one. He believed that at the present time it was the practice of the Charity Commissioners dealing with ordinary charitable trusts to appoint a considerable proportion of representative Governors—he believed, in fact, that the recommendations of these two Committees were wholly and completely carried out, and that it was not now necessary for Parliament to interfere with any severe and drastic legislation of the character proposed by the hon. Member. It was desirable that there should be a representation of the locality in the administration of the charities, but the question was whether that representation should be partial, or through some elective body, or whether 712 it should be a predominant representation. He believed a middle course was the best and safest and easiest. He was of opinion that the charities should be dealt with by the Charity Commissioners as occasion arose, each scheme being adapted to the circumstances of the case after careful investigation.
§ MR. PERKS (Lincolnshire, Louth)
said, there was only one point on which he would venture to trouble the House, and that was the relation of this clause to Nonconformist charities. Of course, a great deal would depend on the phraseology which they would subsequently adopt in the definition of "parochial charity." It must be evident to those who were anxious to put under the control of the Parish Councils parochial charities which had hitherto been under the direction of the National Church that they must be prepared to apply precisely the same doctrine to parochial charities of a like character under the control of Nonconformist churches and chapels. It would be manifestly unjust to apply to parochial charities under the control of the Established Church a doctrine which they were not prepared to extend to parochial charities of a kindred nature under the control of Nonconformists. After all, Nonconformists had contributed largely in many parts of the country to the charities of the Established Church. It was within the knowledge of many of them that Nonconformists were fulfilling the duties even of Churchwardens. There was a Nonconformist Churchwarden in his own parish of Chislehurst in Kent. In regard to the Amendment, the object, of course, was that charities should be distributed in accordance with the idea of the founders, and he was quite prepared to admit that when, for instance, a Wesleyan had left a fund for distribution amongst the poor generally, and had not specified the poor of any particular chapel or creed, that fund should be distributed amongst the poor of the whole parish. He should say, however, that there were certainly not more than 20 Wesleyan charities of a such a nature established in the rural parishes of the country. The chief reason why he strongly supported the Amendment was because he believed it would conduce to a more equitable distribution of charities which had been manifestly intended for all the parishioners. In the Division of Lincolnshire 713 he represented, which joined that of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. E. Stanhope), there were a large number of Nonconformists in all the villages, and it was a fact that the charities in those places, for some reason or another, gravitated into the hands of people closely connected with the Established Church. He was not bringing any charge against the managers of these particular charities, but, unquestionably, the state of things was that in villages where 60, 70, and 80 per cent. of the parishioners were Nonconformists the members of that Religious Body had no share whatever in the distribution of the parochial charities. He, therefore, supported the Amendment, believing that it would conduce to the more equitable distribution of charities which had been intended by the founders for the full benefit of the parishioners.
§ MR. RADCLIFFE COOKE (Hereford)
said, the Amendment did not appear to him to be as extensive in its operation as would seem at first to be the case. The hon. Member who had just sat down said that the grouping of parochial charities flowed rather in the direction of Churchmen than in the direction of Nonconformists. The Amendment would go a very short way to remedy such an injustice if it existed. It had, however, already been remedied. The second sub-section practically settled the status of what were called Church charities, as it enacted that the Parish Council should oust both the Overseers and Churchwardens, and elect trustees in their place. The present Amendment dealt with a much more limited class of parochial charities, those in the hands of private trustees. He found himself, to a great extent, in agreement with the proposition of the Government on the subject of Church or parochial charities. He thought it entirely reasonable that if Representative Bodies were established in these parishes, they should have the power of dealing with a matter so important to the inhabitants over whom they would rule as the charities of the place. He was also decidedly of opinion that it was desirable that the Parish Councils, being elective bodies, should have a voice in the appointment of trustees. He thought that those on the Opposition side of the House spoke too much of Church property and Church charities. Whom did these charities 714 belong to? They belonged to the poor of the parish. The difference between a private and a public trust was that in the former the trustees knew to whom they were to distribute the funds, whilst in the latter they were given a discretion. It was a question of this discretion which had been agitating the Committee for the last two nights. Some hon. Gentlemen opposite desired to get the trusts out of the hands of the Church, because they thought that the discretion of the Church and of the Incumbents and church officers had not been well used. They knew that it could be abused. The hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. A. C. Morton) had admitted that when he was a trustee he had practically abused the trust by committing one injustice with the view of redressing a previous injustice. It was not contrary to experience that persons, acting from religious or from interested motives, would favour some classes of the community over others. One could not shut one's eyes to this defect in human nature. One-might wish all people to be perfect, but,, as a matter of fact, one knew they were not. The only way to guard against such things was to give more persons than one the power of distributing these funds. When he came to the words of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Cobb), it appeared to him that it was of too sweeping a character. The Amendment placed on the Paper by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. H. H. Fowler) provided that the added trustees should in no case exceed one-third of the Governing Body. He did not see why, where there was no religious difficulty in the way, there should be a majority of elected trustees over persons who were already presumably suitable for their posts. There was an Amendment on the Paper in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) which, if accepted by the Government, would, he thought, meet the case. One result of the action the Government were now taking would probably be to prevent people from leaving charitable donations: to the poor of the parish by will or otherwise. Of course it was desirable to be charitable, but there must be cases in which charities had thoroughly 715 demoralised the people in small localities. He should not object if the result anticipated by some hon. Gentlemen on that (the Opposition) side of the House, and benevolent people, instead of waiting till they were dead to benefit their neighbours, acted a more charitable part by themselves supervising the distribution of the benefits they intended to confer.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Horn-castle (Mr. E. Stanhope), who spoke half-an-hour ago, brought a rather serious charge against both the Government and myself. I should just like to repeat in a House, which is fuller than it was when he made that allegation, exactly what I understood him to say. I understood him to say that the present action of the Government was absolutely and wholly inconsistent with my statement on the Second Reading, and that if an understanding made by a responsible Representative of the Government was not to be regarded as binding business could not be carried on. The right hon. Gentleman intimated also that my Amendment violated the spirit of that undertaking, and that, although it was a small alteration compared with the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. Cobb), it was nevertheless a gross violation of the undertaking the Government had given.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. I did not use those words with regard to his Amendment.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly within his right in challenging the action of the Government and my own part in that action. As, however, I do not agree with the construction he has placed on my conduct, I must trouble the Committee for a few minutes while I recall the history of the attitude of the Government with reference to these charities, and the statements I have made on the two occasions on which I have had the honour of addressing the House on the Bill generally. When I brought the Bill in I stated on behalf of the Government that the House would understand the true and broad dividing line which we drew between civil and ecclesiastical matters, and I went on to say— 716We do not touch the parish in its ecclesiastical aspect at all. We do not interfere with its ecclesiastical functions or power. But in all civil parishes Churchwardens are ex officio Overseers. We see no necessity that they should continue in that capacity in the future. We therefore provide, &c.I then said—We propose to transfer to Parish Councils the powers and duties of Churchwardens, except as respects the Church or ecclesiastical charities.Of course, even in a long speech such as mine was on that occasion, it was impossible to go in detail into all provisions of the Bill; but the Bill was printed within a very few days of my speech, and the clause which we have been discussing for the last two or three days was in the Bill when it was introduced to the House, and has therefore been before the country for seven or eight months. A broad distinction was drawn between ecclesiastical and non-ecclesiastical charities and the determination—or rather, I should say, the desire of the Government was to ensure that every secular function now performed by the Churchwarden or any other officer of the parish should be vested in the representative of the parish elected at a parish meeting and forming part of the Parish Council. For a long time no doubt but little discussion was raised in the country' with regard to what I may call the controversial aspects of the Bill, attention being more generally directed to the financial and constructive parts of the Government proposals. It was not until the month of August that a representative of the Church of England drew public attention to the fact that the Bill as drawn seriously menaced the interests of the Church, and the points raised by Mr. Dibdin's letter in The Times were also discussed by various official utterances, newspaper articles, and speeches. Four points were specially marked out for public notice. The first and foremost point to which prominence was given, was as to what the position of Church schools would be under this Bill. It was maintained by many high authorities of the Church that the wording of the Bill would justify an interference by the Parish Councils with the trusteeship and management of these schools. In the second place attention was called to the very large number of buildings, some of which had been erected in recent years, for the pur- 717 poses of the Church, and which had been used for religious purposes in connection with the Church, partly of a missionary and partly of an educational character, while others had been used for general parish purposes and for organising the parish work of the Church. It was suggested that these rooms were seriously menaced by the provisions of the Bill. The third point related to a subject which has now happily been satisfactorily settled—namely, the powers which the Parish Councils should have over closed churchyards. The last point related to the subject which has occupied the attention of the Committee for the last 48 hours, and with regard to which my alleged breach of faith has arisen— namely, to whom is to be given the power of managing the non-ecclesiastical parochial charities, or what are more familiarly called "doles." In the letter which Mr. Dibdin wrote to The Times on the 30th August he called attention among other things to the doles, and said that—They represent the Church's endowments in trust for the poor.That was undoubtedly a very neat and an almost epigrammatic phrase, and it has been used again and again in this controversy. Mr. Dibdin went on to say that this form of charity might not commend itself to modern ideas, but that was not the matter they had to decide, which was whether or not the Church officer whom the founder, being desirous to establish not merely a charity, but a Church charity, appointed as his almoner is to be displaced in order that the secular control of the Parish Council may be substituted, Mr. Dibdin said that that was the effect of the Bill. Therefore there was in August the distinct allegation made that the control of the Church officers over Church charities might be displaced in favour of that of the Parish Councils. Mr. Dibdin added—I object to the seizure by the State of Church property held in trust for the poor, as strongly as to other forms of disendowment.Mr. Dibdin's letter resulted in a discussion being raised upon the subject of the Bill. Meetings of Church, Organisations were convened. Rural Conferences and Synods were held; there proved to be general unanimity of opinion with respect to the schools and parish rooms; there were some differences with regard to the 718 churchyards, and there were very grave differences of opinion with respect to the question of doles. Two lines of thought came prominently into view—one, following Mr. Dibdin, objected to the disendowment of the Church trust for the poor, and the other contended that this formed no part of Church organization or Church property, and that there was no reasonable objection to be taken to the Bill on that ground. I could give the Committee a great many justifications of the latter opinion, but will only call attention to one or two. Speaking at the Church Congress at Birmingham in October last, in his opening address delivered in the presence of a large number of the episcopate, as well as of the clergy, and a still larger number of strongly devoted laymen, the Bishop of Worcester, said—The transference of doles and charitable trusts to other hands than those of Incumbents and Churchwardens does not seem to me fraught with any appreciable mischief.This was the official statement of one of the Bishops of the Church of England made in the presence of a large number of other Bishops, and not disputed or questioned at the time.
§ MR. S. LEIGHTON
The right hon. Gentleman will allow me to say that at the Congress at Birmingham there was a special meeting on this very subject.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
I am quite aware there was a meeting at which the hon. Member for Oswestry delivered a very powerful speech in favour of the views he has maintained in this House. I am not saying that the Bishop's views were universally accepted, but I was pointing out that he declared clearly his belief that the proposed change was insignificant, and he did so in the presence of the leading members of the Episcopate. I will quote one other authority, that of a paper which emphatically represents what I may call the strongest Church opinion of the day—I mean The Guardian. That paper is conducted with very great ability; it is entirely opposed to the present Government; it is, if I may say so, generally hostile in its criticisms of myself, and therefore may be taken to be a fairly impartial witness in these transactions. The Guardian, shortly after the meeting of the Church Congress, found fault with many parts of the Bill, but went on to say that— 719As for doles or gifts administered for the benefit of all parishioners irrespective of creed, the mere fact of management by the clergy or Churchwardens does not constitute them ecclesiastical charities, nor—and I recommend this strongly to the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Tomlinson)—can the substitution of Parish Councillors be interpreted as in any sense robbing the Church.In many such cases, continued The Guardian—The clergy will be relieved of a thankless and invidious task, nor should it be forgotten that wherever trust deeds exist the administrators of the charity, whoever they may be, will be equally bound to observe the terms of the trust.I have now indicated to the Committee what was the state of the controversy when Parliament met in the Autumn. No doubt it is in respect of the speech that I made in moving the Second Reading of the Bill that the right hon. Member for Horncastle founds the very severe charge he has brought against me. Let me ask the Committee to mark how I dealt with each once of the great complaints against the Bill on that occasion. First I referred to the case of the schools. Hon. Members will agree with me that an agitation of considerable magnitude arose with regard to control of the Church schools, and it was asserted in strong language that the Government were endeavouring by a side wind to interfere with the management of those schools, and that in so doing they were violating the promises which we had given not to touch ecclesiastical property. It was my duty to vindicate not only the Bill but myself against the charge, and I endeavoured to show that the actual wording of the Bill was not capable of being twisted in the direction that had been given to it with respect to schools. But I went further, and said that in consequence of doubts that had arisen on the subject the Government were prepared to introduce words into the Bill for the purpose of setting this question completely and finally at rest. I have fulfilled that promise, and I have placed upon the Paper a clause to which no objection has been raised from any quarter of the House. I hope, therefore, that that controversy is at an end, because I shall move the 720 insertion of the clause at the proper time. The next point was with regard to the management of the parish rooms. I have never attempted to conceal from myself the difficulty of dealing with that question, because the parish room is just one of those institutions in which it is most difficult to separate the secular element from the ecclesiastical element. I, however, laid down the principle that where parish rooms are used for religious and Church purposes they should not come within the purview of the Bill, but that where they are used merely for literary or educational purposes they should be regarded as coming under a general trust for the purposes of the parishes, and that the Parish Council should be represented on the management. I endeavoured to deal with the management of closed churchyards as involving a purely sanitary question, and have accepted an Amendment to the effect that as long as the cost of their maintenance is not asked to be defrayed out of the rates the management of them shall remain in the hands of those who now control them. Now we come to the question of doles, and as my character has been attacked, I think I am entitled to reply. On the occasion of the Second Reading, I said that we proposed to interfere with parochial and not with ecclesiastical charities. Parochial charities were divided into four groups, i.e., charities for the benefit of a class such as widows and orphans, charities to be distributed in a particular mode, such as gifts of coal or clothing, charities for the general benefit of the poor, and charities purely ecclesiastical. With the last named I did not interfere. But I laid down the principle that an eleemosynary charity, administered by the officers of the Church, was not a Church charity. I stated that that was the law of the land, and that position has not been controverted. But does the hon. Member for Preston say that that is not so?
§ MR. TOMLINSON
I did not controvert that; but I contend it does not carry you to the extent of changing the trustees of the charity.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
That is not the point I am dealing with. The principle I have laid down may be unjust and inequitable, but it is the law of England,, and it has been decided over and over again. In saying that such charities. 721 should be treated as general charities, I used the words which have been so much quoted, apart from their context. I must ask the Committee, therefore, to bear with me while I repeat the words. They are—We are prepared to contend that those doles which are for a general charitable purpose and not exclusively for ecclesiastical purposes are parochial charities; and although we do not for a moment propose that the rector or any trustee properly appointed should be removed, or dispossessed, or interfered with in his trusteeship, we claim that the Parish Council shall have the right to elect, instead of the Vestry, trustees in those cases.This is the manner in which I dealt with the main questions raised in regard to the Bill. It is with these parochial and non-ecclesiastical charities we are dealing. If the Committee are now to come to any just decision on the question of parochial, non-ecclesiastical charities, they must either accept or reject the distinction which I have laid down between ecclesiastical and non-ecclesiastical charities. You urge that the Government have pledged themselves not to interfere with ecclesiastical charities, and you say that some particular charity is ecclesiastical. We reply that it is not, and so the argument goes round and round in a circle. If these were ecclesiastical charities, I say the Amendment would be wholly and absolutely inconsistent with the pledges of the Government, and that it would be a gross breach of faith for the Government to interfere with the management of ecclesiastical charities. But from the first day that the Bill was brought in and all through the discussions I have invariably maintained the opinion on behalf of the Government that charities for general purposes are not ecclesiastical charities. I put it to hon. Members opposite, whether after they have heard from me the objects of these parochial charities it can be maintained that they are connected with religion in any way except that religion is the inspiring motive of eleemosynary charity? The income of the parochial charities of the country amounts to about £2,200,000. The Charity Commissioners' Report of 1877 divides them up in the following classes:—For educational purposes, £667,000 a year; for clergy, lecturers, sermons, &c, £91,000 a year; for other Church purposes, £113,000 a year; for Nonconformist churches and 722 ministers, £38,000 a year. These are clearly what are called ecclesiastical charities. Then I come to apprenticeships and advancement in life, including, I believe, portions to young maids on marriage, £88,000 a year. You cannot call that a Church charity or an ecclesiastical charity. Then there are for parochial and other public uses £67,000 a year; for hospitals and dispensaries £199,000 a year; for almshouses and pensions £552,000 a year; and for distribution among the poor in money or kind £383,000 a year. So that nearly three-quarters of the whole income is strictly for parochial and secular charities —for relieving the poor, for advancing poor people in life, and to provide pensions and almshouses for them when they are worn out. Can hon. Members really say that these are Church charities? I am going to give them two more quotations from The Guardian. After I had made my speech on the Second Reading The Guardian wrote—The two chief fears about the Parish Councils Bill, viewed from the ecclesiastical side, prove, as we have all along expected, to have no solid foundation. It is not meant to touch Church schools; it is not meant to touch parish rooms where they have any properly ecclesiastical character. On the other hand, it is meant to touch parish charities when the beneficiaries are not necessarily Churchmen. We do not at all say that in this last respect it will invariably carry out the founder's intention. It is quite as likely—at all events, in the cases of doles which he directs to be distributed in church, or for the receipt of which he makes attendance at a particular service a condition— that he meant to confine his beneficence to Churchmen, as that he proposed to extend it to all the parishioners. But if this contention could ever have been put forward with any chance of success, the time for doing so has long passed. It has been settled law for more than 30 years that the appearance of these and similar conditions in a bequest does not exclude non-Churchmen from taking their full share of the benefit. The only claim that these charities have to be counted as ecclesiastical is the fact that the distributors are Church officers. If this , be so, we are unable to see any advantage in exempting them from a Parish Councils Bill. A charity, in the administration of which she is forbidden to pay any regard to this qualification, seems to us to be one of those secular acts which the Church may either do herself or leave to others, according as the circumstances of the time suggest. … . The new democracy has an absolute confidence in its own ability. It believes itself omniscient; it looks forward to soon becoming omnipotent. To imagine that it will leave parish charities in the hands of the Church because the Church knows what is good for it better than it knows itself would be to plant ourselves in a fool's paradise. What- 723 ever happens these charities will be dissociated from the Church; the only choice open to her is whether she shall give them up cheerfully or submit to have them taken from her. Where no principle is involved—where they are not in any strict sense her property—there ought, we conceive, to be no hesitation as to which course she should take. Nor need we be much disturbed at the prospect of incapable administration. The history of dole charities has not been invariably an edifying one, and, though the Parish Councils may, and probably will, begin by making mistakes at least as great as any made in the past by clergy or Churchwardens, experience will teach them something, if it be only diffidence in their own ability to make the world perfect. We suspect that there is a fund of undeveloped faculty in the agricultural labourer which will do good service to the community, provided that he is not tempted to spend other people's money with no controlling sense that he is spending his own at the same time.A week later they returned to the question, and again repeated the law that the character of a charity could not be decided by the character of the persons appointed to administer it. That is not only the decision of the law, but it is in accordance with common sense. In that article The Guardian said—We are not speaking of the intentions of donors. It may be an unwarrantable perversion of the9e to intrust the administration of a charity to any class .of persons but the class named in the instrument of foundation. But this has no bearing on our present argument. The interference with donors' intentions would be precisely the same if the distribution of the fund were placed in the hands of the highway inspector. The Church is not in any special sense the guardian of founders' intentions; she is so only when those intentions are distinctly ecclesiastical. It is admitted that the substitution of other distributors will make no change whatever in the persons who are to receive the dole. They are the poor of the parish now; they will be the poor of the parish when the Parish Councils Bill has become law. Not one of the persons who benefits by it now does so in right of any ecclesiastical character he may possess. He benefits by it simply because he is poor, and lives in a particular place. If any charity designed for the benefit of the poor becomes an ecclesiastical charity simply because the Incumbent of the parish is included among the trustees of it, what should be said of a bequest of money to be distributed by a parish doctor or a Police Magistrate? Does the one thereby become a medical charity or the other a police charity? And might a Bill to substitute some other person for the doctor or the Magistrate be reasonably opposed by the College of Physicians or the Local Police Authorities by reason of the medical or police character of the gift? We do not deny that in some cases, perhaps in many cases, the donors wished the incumbent as such to be the administrator of the bequest, and that had they foreseen the Parish Councils Bill they might have adopted some other form of words 724 to give effect to this desire. But in many other cases it seems to us at least equally probable that they wished nothing except that the distribution should be entrusted to someone who was likely to know the circumstances of the recipients. It would surely be unwise for the Church to stand in the way of a change which is generally desired, on the ground that the founders of these charities may have intended something which they did not express in words.These are very clear expressions of opinion. They describe the attitude which I took up in my speech on behalf of the Government. The Bill contemplates the transfer of these charities, and only these charities, from ecclesiastical to secular control. Now, what is the position of the Charity Commissioners in the matter? In their last Report they say—The partial development of a representative element in bodies of Charity Trustees, which had thus been gradually effected, was directly stimulated by the following recommendation of the Select Committee of 1884:— 'Your Committee, while of opinion that the powers and duties conferred upon the Commissioners may be safely extended to charities which have hitherto been exempt from their jurisdiction, would accompany that extension by a more direct recognition of the wishes of localities. In the administration of charitable funds the stimulus of private interest is absent, and the best available substitute for it is a direct and official responsibility to the inhabitants of the district.' We have been encouraged by this authoritative expression of opinion, and by subsequent discussions in Parliament upon the application of the system of representation to the appointment of charity trustees, to extend the practice of introducing a representative element into all bodies of trustees constituted by our schemes, in the case of charities applicable for the benefit of the poor, or of the inhabitants generally of a particular place. …. We anticipate that many of the questions which have been the subject of controversy in the course of the gradual changes, which we have here sketched, in the composition of bodies of trustees of charities, will be set at rest by the constitution, now apparently imminent, of District and Parish Councils. We have, indeed, already derived considerable assistance in this respect from the facilities for the indirect representation of large areas afforded by County Councils.'The policy of the Charity Commissioners, then, is clearly the introduction of the representative element. I put down an Amendment providing that the additional elective element on the body of trustees should be one-third. I am not going to shrink in any way from the proposal I have made. But my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby was not satisfied with that Amendment, and he proposes that the elective element should be one-half. 725 [Cries of "More!"] Well, a majority. He proposes one-half plus one. Practically I propose one-third, and he proposes a majority. I thought it necessary to ascertain what was the actual practice of the Charity Commissioners in framing schemes for the management of charities, and I find that it is to introduce a majority of representative trustees. And practically the clause which is in the Bill, and which was in the Bill when first introduced, would give a majority of elected trustees in from 60 to 70 per cent. of the charities. Reference has been made to an answer given a few days ago by a member of the Government who represents the Charity Commission in this House. In that answer it was shown that of the 311 charities referred to 204 would be covered by the Bill as it stands without any Amendment whatever. The Charity Commissioners give another illustration with reference to charities in the County of Northampton, showing that of 331 parochial charities rather more than two-thirds would be covered by the Bill as it stands, without my Amendment or the Amendment of my hon. Friend, and that in those cases the elected trustees would be in a majority. There are only 101 of these charities to which my Amendment, or the Amendment of my hon. Friend, would apply, and in 49, or half of these, there is no question of an Incumbent or Churchwarden at all, the trustees being elected by co-optation. Again, I have this day received information from the Charity Commission, stating that of the 19 rural schemes now under their consideration the Amendment of the hon. Member for Rugby would apply to one only. What I want the Committee to see is this—that although I admit—and I am not going to depart from it—that my hon. Friend's Amendment does go largely beyond the Amendment I put down, yet its operation is singularly limited in extent. The principle which I laid down in my Amendment, and which the Government have all through laid down, is this—the introduction of the elective principle of trustees. Under the clause which the House has already passed, two-thirds of the charities of the country will have a majority of elected trustees. The question now is, How far will the 726 Committee extend that principle? Every man thinks his own view the best. I am not going to pretend to the Committee that I have altered my opinion. When I put my Amendment down I did so with forethought and with care; but in a case of this sort, which involves no matter of principle, people are entitled to have their own opinions, and hon. Members opposite know—it would be cant for them to pretend that it is not so—that in administrative matters Ministers have to consider the opinions of their Party on questions of this sort. I could tell the Committee, if it was not a breach of confidence, of cases where former Ministers when a Bill was passing through the House deferred to their friends behind them. I do not deny that the majority of the supporters of the Government considered that this clause should go further than it does. There is no question of principle involved. You say that is a breach of faith; but I think I have given sufficient evidence to refute that charge. The Committee have already given the elective principle in 70 out of 100 cases, and it is for them to say whether they will extend it to the remaining 30. From the first down to the present day the Government have never wavered with reference to the distinction between ecclesiastical and non-ecclesiastical charities. We have always upheld the doctrine that a charity given for Church purposes is an ecclesiastical charity. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer said yesterday, when we come to the Definition Clause we shall be prepared to consider every suggestion made to us in the matter. We are not going to stand rigidly by the words in the Bill if hon. Gentlemen can show that any particular ecclesiastical charity has been left out. But parochial charities, we hold, are the property of the public, and ought to be administered by representatives of the public duly elected. Our position has been clear and consistent throughout, and although I find no fault with 'hon. Gentlemen for criticising my action or that of the Government, I respectfully appeal to the House that no case has been made out against me of having-broken my pledge and adopted a policy wholly inconsistent with my statement on the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
I am not going to follow the right hon. Gentleman over the whole field he has traversed. I intend to limit myself to particular points in which we think the Government have departed from the original position which they took up in this matter. The right hon. Gentleman himself has gone over the whole field of his relations with the Church question. He seems to think that it is a case of character. He wanted to show that in all questions affecting the Church he has dealt fairly and reasonably with the objections that have been raised, and to argue from that that in this particular case, as to which we have grave doubts on the subject, he has also dealt with perfect fairness with the Church. Now there is no doubt that at the outset the Government were prepared to make an absolutely clear distinction between ecclesiastical and civil charities. Our difficulty is that we are not able to accept the definition of ecclesiastical charities contained in the Bill. The whole question depends upon the definition of ecclesiastical charities which the Government are prepared to adopt. It is admitted by the right hon. Gentleman himself that the definition in the Bill is defective, and he has put down an Amendment upon it. He also says that when we reach that Amendment Members will be entitled not only to discuss the definition, but to suggest any other. I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman will find the definition on the Paper wholly inadequate. The right hon. Gentleman has alluded to the case of schools, and has put down an Amendment excluding them from the operation of the Bill. On that point I have not a word to say, but with reference to parish rooms the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman is not so satisfactory. I will not discuss that point now, but I want to give the Government fair warning that when we come to the Definition Clause we will have to raise the question whether the Government are not including a number of parish rooms. We then come to other parochial charities. I am perfectly prepared to rest the case I am about to make upon the speech of the right hon. Gentleman himself. The right hon. Gentleman tried to make out that we contend that when 728 the Vicar and Churchwardens are nominated trustees that fact constitutes an ecclesiastical charity. We never asserted anything of the kind. What we did assert was that in many cases when the Vicar and Churchwardens are named in the trust the person who gave the money intended that Church officers should be the persons to administer it. Whether the trustees are Church officials or the officials of any other denominations, we equally contended that these persons had in many cases been nominated as instruments through whom charities should be administered, and it is monstrous to contend, whatever may have been the intention of the donors, that these charities should be taken away from ecclesiastical officials and transferred to other persons. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to his speech on the Second Reading of the Bill. He says that he does not for a moment propose that a Rector or any trustee properly appointed should be removed, or dispossessed, or interfered with in his trusteeship; but that he proposes to give to the Parish Council instead of the Vestry the power to elect trustees in these cases. In other words, the effect of the pledge given by the right hon. Gentleman on behalf of the Government is that the Parish Council would be substituted for the Vestry as the authority to appoint trustees in cases where the Vestry now possesses that power, but the Amendment which the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to accept violates that engagement, and does something very different from that which the right hon. Gentleman laid down. He is going to give a majority to the elected representatives, and as the power of the Vicar has already been indirectly taken away, the Government are not adhering to the spirit of their promise. To that extent they are departing from and violating the solemn pledges into which they had entered with the House. There may be many other cases where there are sole trustees of parochial charities, and in these cases it is equally unfair by the Amendment of the hon. Member for Rugby to allow the Parish Council to have the right of nominating trustees so as to constitute a majority of the trust. The Committee might have been prepared to accept the proposal that in these cases the Parish Council should have the 729 right to appoint a certain number of trustees, but the acceptance of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Rugby is a gross breach of faith by the Government, and constitutes a fearful innovation upon the proposals which have hitherto been made.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
It was my lot last night to witness a Parliamentary incident which is of rare occurrence. I was charged in Debate by the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down that in the short speech which I delivered I confined myself to the subject of the Amendment which was before the Committee. Perhaps that does not too often occur. I am, however, disposed tonight again to commit the same offence, and strictly to confine myself to the Amendment now before the Committee; but as the right hon. Gentleman has advanced matter which is of serious character, I ought, before going to the Amendment, to advert to the charge which he makes against my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board of having been guilty of a breach of faith. I wish, to a certain extent, to widen the front of that charge, and to say that the responsibility of my right hon. Friend's speech in all its main points was fully accepted by the whole of the Members of the Government. Consequently, if my hon. Friend is in any degree chargeable with what the right hon. Gentleman imputes to him, I accept the accusation, and I accept the responsibility as falling upon all alike. On a former occasion I heard the charge that the Government had departed from the speech of my right hon. Friend in proposing the Second Reading, when he said that trustees were not to be interfered with in the exercise of their functions. I understood that the charge then made, so far as those words were concerned, was that those trustees were to be flooded by a number of trustees brought in under the Amendment of the hon. Member for Rugby, and that our acceptance of that Amendment was a breach of faith, inasmuch as it was an interference with the functions of trustees. I contend, Sir, that there is no foundation for this charge in connection with these particular words. They constitute no interference with the freedom of a 730 trustee or with the function of a trustee, although a change takes place in the balance of interests and opinions on the body of trustees with which he is connected. It would be just as equitable, in my opinion, to contend that the freedom, independence, and privilege of a Member of Parliament are interfered with by the electors of this country when, having had the felicity of being in a majority in one Parliament, he goes to the country and not infrequently finds himself in a small minority in another Parliament. That has happened, I suppose, to us all. Unquestionably I have been conscious of it, on more than one occasion; but I never heard any Member of a minority in this country complain of his freedom being interfered with or his function diminished because, unhappily, those who agreed with him in the House did not form the same proportion of the whole body they had formed in another and more happy and more Elysian period. As far as these words are concerned, we dismiss that charge. Now, as I understand it, another charge is founded upon different words; those are the words of my right hon. Friend in which he stated that he did not propose the dispossession of the trustees. The right hon. Gentleman contends that in these words my right hon. Friend limited himself to this very narrow scope in explaining the provisions of the Bill—namely, that he meant no more than this, and he conveyed no more than this to the House: whereas already the elective principle has a certain province assigned to it in the choice of one of the Churchwardens by the Vestry as a general rule, all that he proposed by the Bill was to transfer that privilege of electing one Churchwarden from the Vestry to the Parish Council. I contend boldly and without fear of contradiction that it is impossible in reason and equity so to limit the meaning of the speech of my right hon. Friend, and I contend it because of the nature of the Bill which was presented, and because of the contents of the Bill at that very time. Nobody can suppose that my right hon. Friend was ignorant of the contents of his own Bill in its capital provisions. No one would contend that there was any ambiguity about those provisions of the Bill as it stood then. It contained the provision for the removal of Churchwardens and Overseers 731 as it has since been adopted by the Committee. Therefore it is utterly impossible to limit the meaning of my right hon. Friend in the manner attempted by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. Fully accepting the responsibility of these words, I contend there is no foundation for the charge he has made. The right hon. Gentleman goes beyond that, and he finds further basis for this accusation in our assent to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Rugby. There, I contend, he has still less of a shadow of foundation for any charge amounting either to a breach of faith, or to a departure from, or an extension of, the policy of the Bill. The Amendment does not dispossess anybody; it does not remove anyone from office; it does not require, it does not bring about, the removal of a single person; it raises one principle and one principle alone, and that is, that in parish charities, administered by trustees and under the control of the Parish Council, not being ecclesiastical, a majority of those trustees shall be elected. It is impossible to found upon that contention and provision any charge, I do not say of breach of faith, but even, in my opinion, of departure from the original policy of the Government. The speech of my right hon. Friend on the Second Reading of the Bill contained no promise or engagement of any kind that the elective principle should be applied only to the introduction of a minority of the trustees. It is perfectly true my right hon. Friend gave Notice of a Motion the effect of which would have been to limit the number of elective trustees to a minority of the entire body. My right hon. Friend, with perfect ingenuousness, has told the Committee to-night that in his own personal preference he leans to that arrangement. But he thinks, and I agree with him in thinking, that the main, the vital question ultimately determining the whole case is not so much the number of elective trustees introduced into the body as the introduction of the elective principle itself. Depend upon it the introduction of the elective principle in a form not like that of a Vestry, where it is limited and hampered, but in a form such as that which is contemplated by this Bill, and through the medium of a Parish Council, even if it were limited to a minority, ultimately determines the virtual predominance of that elective 732 minority over the majority of non-elected trustees if, unfortunately, a difference arises between them. With reference to the possibility of that difference I must own my surprise, when I consider we are dealing in the main with the rural parishes of the country, at the mode in which it has been assumed all along through these Debates that these elected trustees would be persons fundamentally at variance and perpetually at war with the old trustees of these charities. Surely the parishes are not in such a state of hopeless chaos or irreconcilable dissension as to give any ground for these gloomy forebodings. Undoubtedly, the principle of election will introduce a freer air, and will gradually and satisfactorily modify, in my opinion, the conduct of these trusts; but the idea that there will be perpetual discord and violent conflict between the elected and the former trustees I believe to be a mere vision. Therefore I contend that the introduction of the elective principle is the most important matter we have in view. I now come to the consideration of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Rugby, and I speak solely on the question he has debated—namely, he provides that the elective members shall constitute a majority of the trust. Is that a sound and reasonable principle, or is it not? It involves the displacement of nobody. It involves this:—We have by our laws encouraged—not merely permitted, but we have permitted and encouraged—the multiplication of these small parochial charities. They have been, generally speaking, the posthumous bequests of individuals. That is the general rule. I spoke with but moderate respect last night of that class of bequests upon their general and ordinary grounds, but I am prepared to admit this—that as we do permit deathbed bequests with a very great range of liberty to testators, we ought in equity to allow some reasonable term within which the bequests of these testators shall not be interfered with. That is not the question now before us; that remains for separate discussion. The principle laid down by my hon. Friend is the principle that the majority of the trustees are to be elected. Well, Sir, we have come to the conclusion that the time has arrived when the close character of these trusts ought to be modified, and, these trusts being 733 dated more or less remote, we conceive that it is rational to admit and rest upon the principle that these charities which had been given for the benefit of the parish at large, not for ecclesiastical purposes, but without that limitation— that these charities which had been so given and, in the long run, having had a course, and a very long course, of free and unchecked predominance, should for the future be placed in the main under the control of the community for whose benefit they were intended. We hold it, in the first place, far more rational that the principal control should reside in that community rather than it should reside in the literal stipulations of men who have died for the most part many generations ago, or in the independent judgment of two or three persons who for the most part were unconnected with the general sentiments of the parochial community. If the control is to be placed in these local communities at the present day and under present circumstances, how ought that control to be exercised? Evidently through the elective principle, but, in my judgment, exercised through the elective principle asserted, as my hon. Friend proposes to assert it, by the election in all cases by a majority. I do not stand upon that, important as it is, for it is most important. It has been shown by the hon. Member and others that already you have made provision under which the majority of trustees will be changed in by far the larger number of cases. But I contend that, if the community are to have a voice, and a voice through the medium of election, the natural form for the expression of their will is that they should choose the majority. That is a mode which is agreeable to the customs of this country, and to the ideas and traditions embodied in all its institutions. You may have a minority in opposition in some instances to a considerable majority, but I am certain that that minority would not have unfair treatment. I contend that the natural, constitutional, traditional, and English manner of representing the voice of the people is by a regularly appointed and regularly constructed majority, not in the least degree because I am afraid of constant collision between the Rector on the one side or the Churchwardens and the elected trustees on the other, but because it is 734 the simple, natural, regularly-known, and ordinary constitutional method of giving effect to the principle we have deliberately adopted. That appears to me to be a case not requiring a great length of discussion, or time, or any great amount of dispute. By all means let these charges against the Government be prosecuted if you like. We shall be and are quite ready to discuss them, and have not the least desire to avoid them. We propose a just and reasonable principle, and if that principle is to have a natural and proper scope given to it, the scope is the natural and proper one which is expressed in the Amendment. For my part, I thank the hon. Member for Rugby for having proposed what I think is evidently the natural, just, and legitimate method for the settlement of this question, and I rejoice very much that this Debate, turning as it does on matters of great importance, has been distinguished by an absence of the warmth which perhaps has characterised some of our less important discussions. I feel the utmost confidence that the Committee will by a decisive majority go with the hon. Gentleman in the assertion of this principle —that in the future regulation of the Parish Council, subject to the minor qualification I have already stated, the true principle of popular control shall be asserted—that there shall be a majority of elected representatives.
§ SIR M. HICKS-BEACH (Bristol, W.)
The speech of the right hon. Gentleman may be divided into two parts. In the first place, he attempted to justify his colleague, the President of the Local Government Board, against the charge made by my right hon. Friend of breach of faith in regard to this matter; and, in the second place, the right hon. Gentleman gave various reasons in favour of the course now taken by the Government, which appear to us to show the accuracy of the charge of my right hon. Friend. What did the right hon. Gentleman do? He absolutely threw overboard the reasoning and argument of the President of the Local Government Board. He asserted the principles upon which Her Majesty's Government desired to deal with these local parochial charities in the future. They 735 were all to be placed under popular control and administered by a majority of elective trustees. If we had had the speech which the right hon. Gentleman has just delivered made to us on the Second Reading of this Bill it would have given rise to a lengthy Debate, and the proposals of the measure would have been received in a very different way from the way in which they were received. We have, I am sorry to say, been deluded by the right hon. Gentleman. What did the President of the Local Government Board do? He made the speech which my right hon. Friend the Member for the Horncastle Division has quoted, and in attempting to give effect to that speech, he placed on the Paper the Amendment to this clause, in which the elective trustees are never to exceed a minority of one-third of the total body. That was the interpretation by the right hon. Gentleman of his own speech. It is absolutely inconsistent with the concluding part of the speech of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister endeavoured to explain it away by telling us in a torrent of words that there was no difference between the elective trustees being one-third of the body, and their being a majority of the body. I think the right hon. Gentleman would find it a pretty considerable difference whether he was supported by one-third of this House or by a majority. It is obvious that the whole control of the trust will rest in different hands. The right hon. Gentleman argued that we need not be afraid of that, and said that there will be no conflict between the elective trustees and the old trustees. But that conflict is what hon. Members behind him expect and desire. It is what the hon. Member for Rugby intends by his Amendment. He desires that the old trustees should be outvoted by the elective trustees. If he was satisfied with the mere representation of elective trustees which was accorded by the Government up to yesterday, why was he not content with the Amendment of the President of the Local Government Board? There is an obvious and vital difference between them. The President of the Local Government Board placed that Amendment before us as embodying his own views. He told us that he had framed it with care and forethought, and after full consideration as to the 736 best mode in which his statement made on the Second Reading of the Bill should be properly carried out. The right hon. Gentleman told us honourably and straightforwardly that so far as his own opinions are concerned he adheres to every word of that Amendment. Why has he thrown over that Amendment? Because he has been thrown over by his own colleagues. Why have they thrown him over? Because their Party have compelled them. The right hon. Gentleman has confessed that he accepts this Amendment not because he thinks it better than his own, not because he thinks it a fair carrying out of his own words, but because the majority of his Party are in favour of it. This is another instance of slavery to a section of their followers of which we have seen so much in the past history of this Government, and it is not to be justified by the specious declamation and rhetoric of the Prime Minister. We contend that by this Amendment the whole character of this clause has been changed. We contend that you are unfairly interfering with the existing trustees of those parochial charities, contrary to the pledges you have given to the House, and, after the speeches we have already heard, we shall go into this question at length, because we believe that it is absolutely unfair to the present and future administration of those charities, that it is contrary to the intention of their founders, and that it is based on an absolutely incorrect idea of the manner in which they have been administered for the welfare of the community.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
As I understand the real gravamen of this charge, it is this: The reason why it has been so warmly taken up by hon. Members opposite is that they think something unfair has been or will be done to the existing trustees. It is said that this Amendment would operate prejudicially to the vested interests and the rights in, those trusteeships held by the Church of England. That is the point of the objection. When that apprehension is entertained do hon. Members opposite believe that the elective trustees will be hostile to the Church of England? We are told over and over again that the Church of England is in the majority all 737 over the country. Whenever that is stated not to be the case the denial is most indignantly repudiated. It is said that the national Church has everywhere the support of the majority of the people. If that is so, a majority of the elective trustees will not be hostile to the claims of the Church of England. There must be some lurking doubt, therefore, in the minds of hon. Members opposite when they entertain those apprehensions as to whether the Church of England is in the majority; and if the Church of England is in the majority of opinion in any particular parish, then the elective trustees will not be hostile to the existing trustees with reference to the interests of the Church. The majority will return elective trustees who are not hostile. Therefore, I cannot understand this view on the part of hon. Members opposite that the elective trustees will necessarily be persons hostile to those interests. But there is no foundation whatever for that apprehension. The notion of increasing the number of elective trustees as a measure intended to be hostile to the Church is not an apprehension that appears to me to be well-founded. The Prime Minister has shown that if the trust is public property it ought to be administered for the advantage of the public, and if that is so, then it must be administered by a majority of the community. The right hon. Gentleman opposite said that the President of the Local Government Board never intended in connection with those elective trustees that there should be a majority. But that shows that he did not attend to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. In the Bill there was a majority of elective trustees in 75 per cent. of the whole charities. That is to say, that where the charity was vested in the parson and the Churchwardens, if you remove the Churchwardens, who are two in number, and put in their place two elective trustees, you at once create a majority of elected trustees. That was in the Bill itself. Therefore my right hon. Friend, on the face of the Bill, asserted the principle that the elective element was to be in a majority. By this Bill as it stands we give a majority to the elected 'trustees in three cases out of four. Then the question is what is to be done in the fourth case? We proposed to give in that case one-third and my 738 hon. Friend behind me proposes to give one-fourth. Can there be anything less well founded than the indignation of the right hon. Member for Bristol, who says that because the Government in the conduct of a Bill modify a clause in consideration of the feeling of the majority of their party, therefore they are slaves and are being dictated to? It is a thing which is done by every Government in the conduct of every Bill; and no Bill can be, or ever has been, conducted except on those principles. I have been in the House for the last 25 years, and I can answer for the Bills conducted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol as well as for those of any one else. All this simulated fury is misplaced. In a very small proportion of these trusts a proposal is made to alter a certain number relating to the trustees in accordance with the views of a majority of our supporters. That is the ground on which this charge of bad faith is made. It is a storm in a tea-cup. But the thing under discussion is not the character of the Government, but the character of the clause. Is it a sound proposition or not that, in dealing with public property and public trusts for the benefit of the general community, the voice of the community shall be in a majority? That is a sound and sensible principle, and it is the ground on which we stand. Whoever made any other proposal, made, in my opinion, a proposal not equally good. If we take Amendments from the Opposition, are we not to take them from our own Party? Are we to be not infallible as against the Opposition, but infallible only as against our own Party? We say that these closed trusts are to be open. We do not go as far as the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, who would allow the old trustees no place at all, and who would have swept them out altogether, putting the Parish Council in their place. In some respects I am sorry that that Amendment was not carried. But it was a little too strong for us, and we were not able to go quite as far in Radicalism as my right hon. Friend. We have preserved the Incumbent against his destructive wishes; and having done that, we still plead that there shall be a predominance of popular sentiment. The whole thing turns on a simple and obvious issue. If you have open trust, is the voice of the 739 majority to be that of the people or of someone else? We say that the majority should be given to the people and the community in whose interests the trust was bequeathed; and for that reason we shall support the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I do not rise for the purpose of following my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the latest of his many declarations of principle. I feel that if I were to do that—if I were to take my right hon. Friend seriously—he would very likely accuse me of a lack of humour, and say that he had only meant it for a joke. Therefore I pass over his latest observations, and I approach the subject under the consideration of the Committee from rather a different standpoint than that which has been taken by those who have preceded me. I sympathise with a great deal that was said by the Prime Minister with regard to the advantage of popular representation upon these local charities, and I showed my desire the other night to extend that popular representation wherever it could be done fairly, without injustice, and without breaking faith with the Committee. But the present Amendment raises two perfectly distinct questions. The first is, whether the action of the Government is in contradiction of the pledges of the Government? Quite independent of whether we think the pledges of the Government right or wrong, it is in the interest of Parliamentary procedure that anything in the nature of a pledge given by a responsible Minister, speaking on behalf of his colleagues, should be strictly observed in the spirit as well as in the letter. The second point is, whether the Amendment is on its own merits one which can be recommended to the Committee? As to the first point, no one is going to accuse my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board of any conscious or intentional breach of faith. We know enough of him to know that that would be altogether foreign to his nature. But it remains the fact that he gave a pledge which is absolutely definite, and which cannot be explained away 740 by all the ingenuity of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and of the Prime Minister. My right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board does not, I think, quite understand the point which has been pressed upon him. He takes great pains to show that the charities with which we are dealing are not ecclesiastical charities. I will not argue the question. I will assume that we are dealing solely and entirely with parochial charities which are secular as to their distribution although they may be ecclesiastical as to their administration. My right hon. Friend said with regard to them that the Government did not intend that any trustee should be removed or dispossessed or interfered with except in the cases in which the Vestry had now power to deal with them. Now, does the present action of the Government coincide with that pledge? The Government accept this Amendment, which proposes to place a new body on the Board of Trustees, which new body is to exceed in numbers the old body, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister says that does not interfere with the existing trustees. He went further. He said —"We are adding trustees; we are not displacing the existing trustees." Well, I will test that. Suppose that by a happy chance we could add 40 Unionists to this House of Commons. Should we not displace somebody? I really think it is a confusion of terms to say that if you add a majority to an existing body you do not interfere with it. That is the first point upon which we say the present action of the Government in accepting the Amendment is distinctly in violation of the pledge which the Government gave. But the second case is even stronger. That is the case to which we referred in a previous discussion when we were told that the President of the Local Government Board would reserve his defence till the present occasion, and therefore we we were not able to appreciate his answer until now. The President of the Local Government Board says we will not dispossess or remove any trustee except a trustee who is now dealt with by the Vestry. But this removes a trustee who is selected by the Incumbent and not by the Vestry, although the President of the Local Government Board gave a distinct pledge that it should not be done.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
Oh! do not be in a hurry. I do not require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to remind me what my right hon. Friend said. What he said made, as it always does, an impression on my mind. The President of the Local Government Board said that he would not depose or remove any trustee except a trustee not dealt with by the Vestry. But he does now remove a trustee selected by the Incumbent and not by the Vestry, and his excuse is that when he said that there was a Bill before the House under which that removal was to take place. Here is a Bill before the House for Second Reading. Objection is taken to the Bill on the ground that it will injure the Church, because it will interfere with the Church control of parish charities, and in order to reassure hon. Members who take that objection the President of the Local Government Board with the Bill before him says—"Do not be afraid; we do not intend to do this." I am told the Bill does it. Then I say, bring the Bill into harmony with the pledge. The pledge was given subsequently to the introduction of the Bill. If there is any contradiction between the two, it is not the pledge which has to give way to the Bill, but the Bill to the pledge. The issue has been reduced to a small compass, but it is an issue after all of personal honour. I am sure as soon as the President of the Local Government Board understands the point that we have put, he at any rate will feel himself bound to carry out the pledge he gave. Now, I come to the merits of the Amendment. The Amendment is introduced as a concession to the views of Radicals like my right hon. Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean, the Member for Somerset, and myself. [Laughter, and cries of "Oh!"] Well, I can fairly claim that, because after the Member for Somersetshire had made his proposal it was rejected by the Government, and after the arguments which I addressed to the Government and the observations of the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme they gave way. Therefore, I claim to have some part in the concession. I say that if it was intended as a concession to the views 742 we then put forth, it is not a satisfactory concession. The Government yielded to our pressure, and what we wanted was that the parish through its Council should have control of these charities. Now the Amendment does not give that. Let me take some objections, which, though objections of detail, are still of importance. The Parish Council under this Amendment can only do one thing, and that it must do whether it likes it or not. They must appoint a number of trustees which shall constitute a majority of the Board. There are three objections to that. It may be that the existing number of trustees is very considerable. In that case it would be absurd that in connection with any charity where you have already six, seven, or eight trustees to appoint seven, eight, or nine additional trustees who are quite unnecessary to carry on the business. It forces the Parish Council to do what no sensible Council would ever think of doing. Again, you are dealing with small charities in small parishes, where there are not a great number of people who are qualified to deal with business of this kind. The Parish Council may find it difficult to select from the parishioners a sufficient number of men to carry out the Amendment of the Member for Rugby. Suppose as trustees they are called upon to elect seven members and they can only find two or three who are only qualified for the position. Why are they to be forced, in addition to the two or three they possess, to put on the Board four or five others who are not qualified for the position? You have this ridiculous result—that under this Amendment the Parish Council may be forced to elect a majority of trustees in order to swamp a minority in whom they have absolute confidence. It is curious that many of these so-called radical Amendments, so far from enlarging the power of the people to control these charities, actually limit and lessen it. An Amendment I have on the Paper would have the effect of preventing a statutory obligation being imposed upon the Parish Council to elect any particular number of trustees, while it would invest them with a discretionary power to elect a certain proportion of trustees. What do you mean by a Parish Council? You do not mean a Parish Council of to-day, but a continuing body. What you have done is 743 this—you have given to the Parish Council of to-day the right to appoint trustees over whom hereafter they will not have the slightest control, and who may themselves control the charity in opposition to the wishes of the Parish Council. It is perfectly ridiculous. That will be the curious result of an Amendment put forward with the avowed object of giving the people, through their Parish Council, a more complete control over these charities. I know that I am in a minority when I say by all means let there be popular control over these charities, many of which have undoubtedly been much abused in the past, by handing over, not to an outside body like the Charity Commissioners, about whose misdeeds I shall have something to say later on, but to the representatives of the people, the income of those charities. The corpus of the charity should be protected, because it does not belong to the present, but to future generations. What I complain of regarding the Amendment is that while it pretends to give popular control it does nothing of the kind, while it forces on the Parish Council an obligation which may prove to be a great burden.
§ MR. WARNER (Somerset, N.)
said, he desired to speak on this subject because hon. Members opposite had been unfair in accusing hon. Members on his side of the House of desiring to attain the object in view through animosity to the Church. He had done as much for the Church of England, perhaps, as many of those who claimed to be its champions, and he believed that the best thing they could do for it was to popularise it, and remove from it those things that tended to make it unpopular. He believed this Amendment would do a great deal towards quelling the cry which was going through the country for Disestablishment and Disendowment. He denied that the Amendment compelled the Parish Council to elect a majority. As the Amendment read it only gave the Parish Council power to make a few more trustees, so as to bring up the elected members into a majority. They had absolute trust in the right hon. Gentleman who had brought in the Bill, and they would support him, looking upon him as a Leader who had conducted this Bill with great 744 ability, and one whom they could trust even though he had been sometimes enticed into conceding something to hon. Gentlemen opposite.
MR. J. W. LOWTHER (Cumberland, Penrith)
said, the Committee were now, as he understood, approaching a discussion on the merits of this particular Amendment. He did not propose for a moment to enter into the dispute which had been raging now for an hour with regard to the pledges given by the President of the Local Government Board. He was perfectly content—and he was sure the House was perfectly content—to leave the matter entirely as it stood. [Cries of "Agreed!"] He really thought he might be allowed to proceed, as he did not often trouble the House. He thought it must be admitted that this proposal was really a gigantic one, because it was going to deal with all charities throughout the country not affected by the second sub-section of the Bill. This was really a gigantic proposal for dealing with charities throughout the country, and he confessed that he was anxious to give some reason why the view which was embodied in it should not be taken. It was proposed by the Amendment to sweep away all the existing arrangements with regard to charities and to place powers which Parliament had by a series of Acts extending from 1812 to 1860, expressing the mature judgment of Parliament, entrusted to the Court of Chancery and the Charity Commissioners into the hands of the Parish Council. If that was the way they were going to legislate he thought they should have some fresh arrangements as to procedure. They were now dealing with an Amendment which was not strictly relevant to the Bill and its subject-matter. The subject of a majority of trustees elected as proposed was a most serious one. He had the greatest faith in the elective element. Over and over again maladministration and demoralisation had taken place where the trustees were a close body, and the admission of elective representatives threw light upon the transactions of the trustees. But it was a different thing to admit one or two elective representatives and to admit a majority. Two Select Committees of the House had investi- 745 gated this subject and had distinctly pronounced against placing a majority of elective trustees on these Boards. In 1884 a Committee of which the First Commissioner of Works (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) was chairman sat and took a great deal of evidence and considered the questions most carefully, and reported that, although it was desirable that a number should be elected, they were not in favour of the number being a majority. And again, in consequence of the action of the House in 1886, another Committee sat which considered the question and came to the same conclusion. He was looking over the evidence a very short time ago, and he came across a passage that might carry some weight with the House and hon. Gentlemen opposite. Lord Hobhouse—
§ An hon. MEMBER: Oh!
MR. J. W. LOWTHER
said, he did not know why the hon. Member should deny that Lord Hobhouse was a very distinguished public servant and one of great experience. He was examined before the Committee, and he expressed the opinion that while it was desirable that the Local Authority should have the power to appoint some of the trustees, they should not be entitled to appoint a majority of them. They had, therefore, by investigation at the instance of the House, two very distinct pronouncements, and they had the carefully considered evidence and judgment of men like Lord Hobhouse. There was only one other point. The President of the Local Government Board was anxious that some improvement should be introduced in connection with dole charities—that some better system of distributing alms among the poor should be devised. Any proposal to reform dole charities would, he felt sure, be resisted by the representative element on Trustee Boards. The right hon. Gentleman might think otherwise, but he thought he would find that that would be the case. He knew from his (Mr. Lowther's) experience at the Charity Commission he had always found that any attempt to deal with the dole charity created trouble with the localities concerned, and he did not think the feeling was any different now. The representative element on Trustee Boards 746 would probably put difficulties in the way of changes which the President of the Local Government Board wished very justly to introduce with respect to doles. He could not help regretting that the Government had run away from the pledges standing in the name of the right hon. Gentleman. He regretted very much that they accepted this proposal, which so completely altered the state of things all over the country, and which swept away at one fell sweep a series of Acts of Parliament dealing with this question, and which militated very strongly against what he believed the right hon. Gentleman and he (Mr. Lowther) were both anxious to see done in this matter.
§ MR. H. HOBHOUSE
said, he intended to move an Amendment to the Amendment. The question now before them, as embodied in the Amendment, was more of the character of a Charity Reform Bill than anything else. The Amendment of the hon. Member for Rugby would be an excrescence on the Bill. Personally, he had no objection to the application of the representative principle; but he did object in the strongest manner to the method in which the application was now proposed to be effected. That method was crude, hasty, and indiscriminate. He did not think that the introduction of the elements that would be added by election in this way could tend to the harmonious and efficient administration of the funds of the trusts. They were legislating very much in the dark. They had not defined "ecclesiastical charity" or "parochial charity." They had a right, therefore, to assume that most country charities would fall under this clause. He would show how it would work. He was connected with a body of co-optative trustees, 12 men of the highest standing in the county, who had always administered their charity efficiently and well; yet, under the present proposal, these 12 gentlemen were to be swamped by the appointment of 13 representatives of one small parish. There was another body with which he was connected, consisting of nine Governors of a school, acting under the scheme of the Charity Commissioners. The scheme had only been in force three years, and the work had been done most satis- 747 factorily. All the Governors were appointed by the County Council, and now the proposal was to swamp them by the addition of 10 more Governors, who could not be as well qualified to do the work for the simple reason that the best men had already been chosen. He believed these to be fair examples of the way in which the clause would work. He did not think the right hon. Gentleman had the slightest idea as to how the clause would work. When they were discussing the case of Churchwardens the other day, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir C. Dilke) said that there were exceptions which would have to be dealt with by the Charity Commissioners. In this instance there must be exceptional cases, too—more even than in the other —in which the danger of maladministration would be very great. The hon. Member for Rugby referred to the Resolution passed in 1886 by this House, but he did not give the words, which were that—Every scheme of the Charity Commissioners ought to provide for the majority of the trustees being directly elected by the ratepayers in the locality.This majority was agreed to in a small House, but all the responsible Ministers in the then Liberal Government voted in the minority. [Cries of "Divide!"]
§ MR. TOMLINSON (Preston)
said, he rose to Order. There was so much noise below the Gangway that it was impossible to hear the very important speech of the hon. Member.
I hope hon. Members will remember that the hon. Gentleman is in possession of the Committee.
§ MR. H. HOBHOUSE
said, he was speaking of the Division of 1886. Amongst those who voted as he had stated were responsible Ministers, including the present Chancellor of the Duchy (Mr. J. Bryce), and the present Minister of Education (Mr. Acland), men whose opinions upon the question were most valuable. They had also voting against it Mr. Childers and Lord Play-fair. So much for the Resolution to which allusion had been made. When they considered that they had to place against this Resolution the Reports of two Select Committees of the House, who 748 had declared such a policy to be impracticable, there was no doubt on which side the balance lay. [Cries of "Divide!"]
§ MR. H. HOBHOUSE
said, he thought gentlemen who were interested in the matter would agree that it would be unfortunate to bring the system that was now advocated into operation. [Cries of "Divide!"] The Charity Commissioners had been loyal to the policy advocated in the last Report on the subject. They had continued to introduce the representative element, and his Amendment would exempt modern schemes—schemes which had been made with this principle fully in view, during the last ten years. [Cries of "Divide!"] Under his Amendment the principle of an elective majority could be carried out by proper machinery, but it did not by a general enactment swamp the trustees. He thanked the Committee for the patience it had extended to him, and he begged to move his Amendment to the Amendment.
Amendment proposed to the proposed Amendment,
In line 1, to leave out the words "every parochial charity," and insert the words "any parochial charity which is not included in the preceding sub-section and for which a scheme providing for the election or appointment of representative trustees has not already been made under the Charitable Trusts Acts or the Endowed Schools Acts."— (Mr. H Hobhouse.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be inserted in the proposed Amendment."
§ It being Midnight, the Chairman left the Chair to make his report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.