HC Deb 30 March 1894 vol 22 cc1009-36
* MR. J. E. ELLIS (Nottingham, Rushcliffe)

said, he had to move, as an Amendment, That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire whether it is desirable to take measures to bring the action of the Charity Commission more directly under the control of Parliament, and to give it more effectual means of dealing with the business which will come before it. The Charity Commission, the hon. Gentleman pointed out, consisted of two parts—one constituted 41 years ago for dealing with charitable trusts, and the other constituted 25 years ago for dealing with endowed schools. The major department, as he might term it, for dealing with charitable trusts had its origin in a very long continued and exhaustive inquiry by a Royal Commission, which sat from the years 1818 to 1837. Then in 1835 a Select Committee was appointed by the House of Commons, it being composed of its most experienced Members, and including Sir Robert Reel and Lord John Russell. That Committee drew up a very interesting and valuable Report, which formed the basis of a Bill that was not passed till 1853. By that Act the Commission was constituted for dealing with charitable trusts. The Act was amended in 1855 and amplified in 1860. The Act of 1853 fell far short of the recommendations of the powerful Select Committee of 1835. It, however, gave considerable powers of investigation; it enabled the Commissioners to apply to the Court of Chancery for orders with respect to charities; and in case these proceedings were insufficient, it empowered the Commissioners to introduce new schemes into Parliament, which schemes had to go through all the stages of Bills. Application to the Court of Chancery was found to be a cumbrous and costly proceeding; and the passing of schemes through Parliament fell through and became abortive. A Select Committee of the House in 1884 again examined into the matter, and in their Report drew special attention to the fact that the Charity Commission was not represented in Parliament, that there was no Minister responsible for its schemes, and that no Members were interested in conducting them through the various stages. This was the reason why the system became abortive. By the Amending Acts of 1855 and 1860 some defects were remedied; but the remedies applied by the Act of 1855 did not nearly approach the recommendations of the great Committee of 1835. An Amendment introduced into the Act of 1860 had a more vital effect, by exempting charities of a greater annual value than £50 from the prescribed procedure, and by that Amendment the Act was shorn of much vitality and force. The Charitable Trusts Department was thus founded upon three Acts of Parliament, the latest of which was passed 33 years ago; and that fact alone was sufficient to show that occasion must have arisen for some change in the matter of procedure. He had been very much, struck by the magnitude of the interests affected. It was difficult to get at accurate figures, but a voluminous and careful Digest, which occupied many years in preparation, was laid before Parliament in 1876. It showed that the cases known to the Charity Commission at that time numbered 36,000, that the trustees connected with them held 524,000 acres of land, and that the income administered amounted to £2,200,000. Since that time a great many additional trusts had been discovered. Of the total number of trusts no fewer than 4,805, with an annual income of £227,000, had been founded since 1837. He now had to deal with the Endowed Schools Department of the Commission which was created in 1869 by an Act of Parliament. It was admittedly more or less of an experiment, and the duration of the Act was limited to four years. In 1873 there was another Committee, into whose inquiry more or less acute political and even religious controversy entered. The result was that in 1874 an Act was passed which put an end to the Endowed Schools Commission as constituted, and transferred all its powers and duties to the Charity Commission, to which two members were added. The Act expired in 1879, and he believed he was correct in stating that since that time the Commission had been kept alive by the Expiring Laws Continuance Act. Such briefly, and without minute details, were the origin and objects and powers of the Charity Commission. As to its constitution, it was sufficient to point out that there was a Chief Commissioner, with second and third Commissioners on the charitable trusts side, and 10 Assistant Commissioners (five of whom appeared on the Estimates, however, as temporary Assistant Commissioners); and on the endowed schools side there were two Commissioners and seven Assistant Commissioners. Thus the whole staff of the Commission consisted of one Chief Commissioner, four Commissioners, a Secretary, and 17 Assistant Commissioners. He left out of sight the position of Parliamentary Commissioner, which had been filled by the hon. Gentleman on the Front Opposition Bench (Mr. J. W. Lowther), and also by the hon. Member for Merionethshire (Mr. T. Ellis), but at the present moment it was not filled by anyone. The expenditure of the Commission was £15,000 in 1854; £27,565 in 1874; and the Estimate this year was £40,380. He thought he would carry with him the assent of the House when he said it was eminently desirable that there should be occasional investigation into the working of these extra-Parliamentary bodies; and even the Commissioners would assent to this, because their Reports were strewn with suggestions as to the modifications of their powers, which could hardly be carried out in legislation without being first embodied in the Report of a Select Committee. There were ample precedents for this Motion. In 1873 they had an inquiry by a Committee into the operation of the Endowed Schools Act; they had similar inquiries in 1884 and 1885 into the working of the Charitable Trusts Department, and again in 1886 and 1887 into the endowed schools work. Some very valuable recommendations were made by these Committees. Eight or ten years having gone by he thought his-proposal one which would commend itself to the House. And he believed it would be felt by many Members that this was a particularly opportune moment for his Motion. The Local Government Act of last Session, which would ever be associated with the name of the right hon. Gentleman the present Secretary of State for India, who displayed so much tact and statesmanship in conducting it through the House, cast new and onerous, duties on the Charity Commissioners. His Motion was divided into two parts. But the first and, he was free to confess, the vital part—that portion relating to the new duties he had just touched upon— was as to whether it was desirable to take measures to bring the action of the Charity Commissioners more directly under the control of Parliament. He thought it would be agreed that the present position of things was inconvenient. The Government were not responsible for the Charity Commissioners. They had a Parliamentary Charity Commissioner who sat at the Board, and was therefore a connecting link, but he had no controlling or dominant voice in the work of the Commission, and really Parliament had no control over the Commissioners themselves. They might one day have the reductio ad absurdum of the system in seeing the Government compelled to support the grant of money in the Estimates for a policy of which they did not approve. The Committee of 1884 suggested the appointment of a Sessional Committee to deal with schemes just as the Commons Committee now dealt with enclosure proposals. The recommendations of the Committee of 1886Z–7 were to the effect that the responsibility of the Commission to Parliament should be clearly defined and made complete. It was in the hope that that might be the outcome of the proposed Committee that he brought forward this Motion. Finally, a word as to the spirit in which he made his proposal. He indulged in no carping criticism as to the labours of the Charity Commission. They had in the Commission a great engine for good. They had there men of high character and great ability, who were doing their duty to the State. To the Chief Commissioner and the indefatigable Secretary he was much indebted for their unvarying courtesy. But no human institution was perfect; and he had no doubt the Commission in its working might be improved by a healthy examination by it carefully constituted Select Committee. When one went into the rooms of the Commission at Whitehall he found them rather stuffy: they smelt rather of the schools; but if the windows were thrown open a little wider, and the healthy breezes of public opinion admitted, they would get more business-like common sense in its proceedings. It was in no spirit of hostility or carping criticism that he brought forward his Motion, but he earnestly and respectfully commended his Motion with the belief that its acceptance might strengthen and develop the powers for good of the Charity Commission.

MR. HOWELL (Bethnal Green, N.E.)

said, he proposed to follow the example of the hon. Member for Rushcliffe in casting no aspersions on the conduct or policy of the Charity Commission, and he did not think it would be necessary for him to detain the House at any great length. The Motion was one which he thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer might accept without demur. He might remind the House that when a Select Committee was appointed some years ago the whole question of the charities was in a state of chaos. There had been a very long investigation, and many important facts had been brought to light, but there had been no well-defined policy; indeed, he ventured to say there was still no such policy in regard to the poorer charitable institutions. But since then circumstances had vastly changed. The changes which had been continually taking place and the circumstances of the people rendered it necessary to deal with the charities which had been left, and which might be given in the future, in a somewhat broader spirit than had been exhibited hitherto. Indeed, Parliament had found it necessary to apply many charitable bequests to purposes differing from those for which they were originally left; although, of course, the purposes were kept as nearly analogous as possible. He believed that the Commissioners themselves felt that they required larger powers and greater freedom in dealing with these charities, for at present they were constantly bound and hampered by existing provisions which were really out of date. It was with a view of enlarging and defining their powers that this investigation was now asked for. he hoped that hon. Members would agree with him that the proper time for making that investigation had come, and for having a Parliamentary Commissioner in the House in order to give Members a better means of dealing with the subject. At present the position was peculiar, as the Government had to defend acts and expenditure for which they were not responsible. They ought to have in the House a Representative able to answer all questions and to indicate the policy of the Commission. The position of the Commissioner would not be actually on a par with those of the other Charity Commissioners. He hoped that such an appointment would be made, for it seemed to him that if such a Commissioner were appointed he would have a very practical position in the House, and would be found of great service and assistance in dealing with the various questions as they came up. The Act of last Session proposed that there should be some Representative of the Charity Commissioners appointed with a seat in that House. He trusted that this part of the subject needed no further arguments on his part to induce hon. Members to assent to a Select Committee being shortly appointed. As to the second part of the Motion—namely, the desirability of bringing the action of the Charity Commissioners more directly under the control of Parliament—such a course was unquestionably now necessary in consequence of the growing need of the country. What was essential was that they should have the charities honestly, faithfully, and well administered, with due regard to the intentions of the testator, and ensuring that the class intended by him to be benefited should reap the benefit. He could not suggest a better way of securing that than by having a careful investigation made in the first instance of those charities which seemed specially to require to be under the direct control of Parliament. He was sure that if a Committee were appointed they would deal with the question faithfully and well. At present he did not think it could be said that many of the charities were properly and satisfactorily administered, or that they were administered with a due regard to the provisions under which they were specially bequeathed. He did not think that a lengthy investigation by the Committee would be necessary, looking at the facts that they would have before them; but he did think that if a Select Committee were appointed, it could do much to further the object in view, and if it were not too hampered by the terms of Reference the result of their investigations would be of the greatest value, and some useful legislation would be the result.

Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words— A Select Committee be appointed to inquire whether it is desirable to take measures to bring the action of the Charity Commission more directly under the control of Parliament, and to give it more effectual means of dealing with the business which will come before it.

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

MR. J. W. LOWTHER (Cumberland, Penrith)

said, nobody would complain of the length of time occupied by the Mover and Seconder of the Resolution; on the contrary, any criticism made would be on the ground that their speeches had treated the matter too superficially, and had glossed over altogether the really important points where difficulties might be expected. The hon. Member for Rushcliffe gave a very rapid historical survey of the causes which had led to the appointment of the Charity Commission, but he made no suggestions for improving the present method of administration; he did not deal with the causes which were said to necessitate the present stops being taken, nor did he make a suggestion as to the way in which the Charity Commissioners were to be in fact brought under the more direct control of Parliament in the future. He was very anxious to be informed on these two points; but, to his regret, as soon as the hon. Member got to the crux of the question, he looked at it steadily in the face and then quickly passed on to some other unimportant detail. A good deal of the speech of the hon. Member was taken up in considering the question of how far the Commission could be brought more directly under the control of Parliament. That was a separate question.


The words of my Motion are— To give it more effectual means of dealing with the business which will come before it.


said, be would deal with that presently. But the main point before the House was the proposal that the Charity Commissioners should be represented by a Minister in the House—a Minister to be called, he supposed, the Charities Minister, or the Minister of the Interior. He thought the House might have fairly looked to the hon. Member himself for some light and leading in the matter. he had performed a prominent and useful part on one of the Committees in connection with the matter, but he had now given them no indication of his views. The House might fairly ask why a Select Committee was now thought to be necessary at all. They had a great mass of evidence on the subject of charities already to hand, and no new subject for inquiry had been mentioned. Those who wanted information had only to turn to the Blue Books for the past few years, and to the Annual Reports of the Commissioners themselves. The question had also often engaged the attention of the House, and several Bills had been introduced, some of which had passed the Second Reading, and therefore most hon. Members were familiar with the subject. He ventured to suggest that there was ample material to work upon already to hand, and that the appointment of a Select Committee was unnecessary. If the charities were so badly managed now by the Charity Commissioners at Whitehall, he failed to see how the fact that they were to have a Ministerial Representative in the House would in any way secure the better administration of the charity trusts. His hon. Friend had pointed out numerous cases in which Special Committees had been instituted with reference to particular charities, but he seemed to have forgotten altogether the fact that nearly the whole of one Session in 1883 was given up by a Committee to the subject, as was also the Session in the following year.


The hon. Gentleman is not quoting my words.


said, he thought he was fairly quoting the argument of the hon. Member, which was that the numerous inquiries which had taken place formed a precedent for a further inquiry. He would go further, and state that a great part of the Session of 1883 was taken up by an inquiry into the working of the Endowed Schools Act, in the course of which the action of the Charity Commission was thoroughly inquired into. The whole of the Session of 1884 was taken up by a Select Committee which was appointed to inquire into the working of the Charitable Trusts Act as worked by the Charity Commission. The whole of 1886 was taken up by the Select Committee that inquired into the working of the Endowed Schools Act as administered by the Charity Commission, and a considerable portion of the Session of 1887 was similarly taken up, and then, after the lapse of only seven years, the hon. Member came and said now was the time to have a thorough and a searching inquiry into the whole working of the Charity Commission. It seemed to him that they did not let the plant live, because they were always pulling it up to see how it was getting on. He regarded it as a most unnecessary proceeding to inquire into the whole working of the Charity Commission, because, as the hon. Member pointed out, the latter part of his Instruction to the Committee would raise the whole of that question. The hon. Member must know, from having served on the Commission, what very delicate subjects were touched upon, and what considerable friction frequently arose; and when friction arose, it meant a great expenditure of time in investigating and getting to the bottom of the matter, so that it was not very likely a Committee with such a wide Instruction as this would be able to conclude their investigations this Session, beginning at so late a period as it would be before this Committee was appointed. But, in addition to that, the hon. Member also informed them that the very point which he was now anxious to refer to a Select Committee had so recently been inquired into as last Autumn. The hon. Member informed the House that a Departmental Inquiry had been ordered and held by the Treasury, and he did not think he was committing any breach of confidence when he said that amongst others, he (Mr. Lowther) himself was summoned by Sir Robert Hamilton, the Chairman of that Committee, to give evidence before them, and he detailed his evidence before that Committee. The Report of such Committee, he presumed, was now in the hands of somebody, probably the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He had not received a copy of the Report, and, so far as he knew, it had never been made public; but the Report was in the office, and if the Chancellor of the Exchequer or (he Vice President of the Council would lay that Report upon the Table of the House, at all events the House would be in a better position to judge how far (his very question, which the hon. Member now desired to go into, had been considered, and what were the views of Sir Robert Hamilton and the other very capable gentlemen who acted with him on that Committee in this particular. So much for past investigations. But the hon. Member said that the present was a very suitable time to inquire into the whole working of the Charity Commission; that the Local Government Act would come into force in November, and that it was desirable, if it was to do any good, that the new Minister for Charities and the whole paraphernalia which was to be set up, should be established and in working order before that Act was in force. Was that a reasonable proposal to make? Was it possible, with all the work the House had before it, and so short a time in which to transact it, that so thorny and difficult a subject could be adequately dealt with before that period? The hon. Member said it was a good time to inquire into the working of the Charity Commission. Of course, if they were making such inquiry it would necessitate the constant attendance of at least two of the Commissioners and probably of the Secretary. Already the work of the Charity Commission was considerably increasing in consequence of the Parish Councils Bill being about to come into force. Already applications were arriving at the Commission daily, and almost hourly, asking for advice, assistance, and instruction as to how far the Parish Councils Act, when it began to operate in November, would affect the particular charities in each locality. The work of the Commission, therefore, was already beginning in this very particular, and it seemed hardly a suitable time to take away two Commissioners and the Secretary twice a week for the whole of the Session in order that they might attend regularly upstairs instead of allowing them to carry out their duties in their office in Whitehall. He thought both the Mover and the Seconder of this Motion fell into one great error in the general view they took of the work of the Charity Commission. That great error was that they seemed entirely to have overlooked the fact that the great bulk of the work of the Charity Commission was construing Acts of Parliament. The Charity Commission, when they were established, were established almost as a branch of the Court of Equity. They had to administer the law. They could not, in the great bulk of the work that they dealt with, give scope to any private opinion which they might have, or to any great views of policy which they might desire to introduce into the administration of the charities. They had to administer the law as they found it, and not as they would wish it to be. They were, just as much as the Court of Chancery itself, bound by former decisions of the Court; they were tied up very narrowly by the Acts of Parliament of 1853, 1855, and 1860, and other Acts; they could not go outside the corners of those Acts, and he could not think that a Minister would be in a position, unless he were a legal gentleman, to administer these Acts of Parliament and to construe them, which was at present the ordinary everyday duty of the Charity Commission. If the hon. Member would look at the words of the Act which constituted the Commission, he would find that out of the three Commissioners two were obliged to be barristers of 12 years' standing. Why was that provision introduced, and a standing so very high as 12 years, which was an unusually long term, insisted upon? The reason was because it was intended that the Commission should relieve the Court of Chancery of a great part of the work which they did, and, therefore, it was necessary that the Acts should be administered by gentlemen of legal training who were capable of construing the difficult Acts with which they had to deal. During the four or five years he was at the Charity Commission he was certainly very strongly impressed with the fact that practically it was so difficult to put one's own views and desires into the administration of these charities because of being tied up in certain directions by the law which the Commission had to administer. There was another inquiry on this matter—that of the Schools Inquiry Commission—who reported that the work of the Charity Commission was divided into five heads. The first of these was the protection of charities against frauds or adverse claims. Surely that was a matter with which the Charity Commission were fully as capable of dealing as a Minister sitting in this House. It was not a matter in which policy could enter at all, but was solely and simply a matter of the construction of legal rights. The second head was "the authorisation of leases, mortgages, and sales." The same remark applied here. The third head was "the appointment of trustees," and there he admitted that questions of policy might arise, and he was sorry to think that questions of Party policy might very likely enter into that. He thought it was very desirable that they should not enter, and that was why he should be strongly against a Minister having' charge of this matter, and its being taken out of the hands of an independent body who were not swayed and did not alter from time to time, as the gentlemen who came and went from the Treasury Bench. The next head was the removal of trustees or musters, and lastly, the power of framing new schemes. There, again, the matter of policy did enter to some extent; but in that very matter of framing new schemes the Charity Commission were not able to go one inch outside the doctrine of Cy-près as laid down by the Court of Appeal. In his opinion, it would cause great mischief to introduce a Minister to deal with these matters, which it would be far better to leave in the hands of an administration independent of the changing politics of the day. That was the' original recommendation made by Lord Brougham's Commission; made by the House of Commons Committee in 1835, and made by Lord Chichester's Commission in 1849. These three inquiries went fully into the matter, and recommended as the result of their investigations that this Commission should be an entirely independent body. Nothing had occurred since to alter the status of the Commission, and it would be a great mischief if Party politics were allowed to enter into the administration of these charities. As he said, during the course of the Debates on the Parish Councils Bill, the Charity Commission was not a very popular body. The Tory Party thought it too Radical, and the Radical Party thought it too Tory; therefore, the probability was, that it did justice. Lord John Russell was strongly of that opinion, because he said in introducing the Bill to the House— It would be better that the question of the general superintendence and administration of charities should be altogether separated from any political question and from the interests of any Party. There was one other matter. As he had said, the action of the Charity Commission was subject to appeal to the Court of Chancery. If any person was aggrieved by any decision arrived at in the construction of different Acts, that person had the right of appeal to the Court of Chancery. He should not envy the position of a Minister in that. House if his decisions were appealed from to the Court of Chancery and he was overruled. If it happened once, it might pass; but if it happened more than once, he thought the Minister would never hear the end of the mistake which the Court of Chancery would have held he had made. He remembered some years ago his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Plymouth, who was Solicitor General, made some obiter dicta with regard to licences, and it was afterwards held that his view of the law was not correct. It was a great many years before his hon. and learned Friend heard the last of that from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the position of a Minister would be even worse if he, in the capacity of a Minister, gave a judgment which was subsequently overruled by the Court of Chancery. He had only this to add: If the Government thought it was a desirable and opportune moment to hold a full investigation into the affairs of the Charity Commission, and to inquire into this very matter upon which they themselves, through their agents, were at the present time informed, it did not rest in their (the Opposition) months to oppose them. He was speaking entirely in his individual capacity, and not in any way as representing his hon. Friends on that side of the House when he said that he could not conceive a, more inopportune moment for the sake of the Charity Commission and for the sake of the House itself. It was admitted it was impossible to make any change before November, and any changes which would have to be introduced would have to be introduced by legislation. He fully admitted that the powers of the Charity Commission required alteration, but he was sure the Chancellor of the Exchequer would admit that to attempt seriously to deal with a Bill of that kind, which would largely increase the powers of the Charity Commission, would be adding to such an extent to the already heavy load he had to curry that it would really break his back. He should regard it as a very mischievous thing if they were to introduce anything in the nature of Ministerial control which would tend in any way to bring Party politics to bear in these matters. He would only say that during the four or five years he had the honour of a seat at the Board of the Charity Commission he found no difficulty and no friction arising His position was simply this: that he was in the House to answer any questions that might be put (hiring the course of the Session. When the Vote came on, although he was not responsible for the details of the Vote, he was responsible for, and ready to reply upon, any points relating to the policy of the Commission. If any point had arisen upon which the judgment of the majority of the House was contrary to the policy of the Commission, then there was no doubt that a Vote would have been passed at the instigation of the Government stating their view as to the policy that ought to be followed, and there was no doubt that in such a case the Charity Commission would have at once followed the policy indicated. He hoped that no friction had arisen— although he was rather inclined to think such was the case from the way the matter was dealt with by the Mover of the Motion—between the hon. Member whom he saw opposite who had acted as the fourth Charity Commissioner in this House—


No such inference must be drawn from anything I have said.


was glad to hear it, because he was afraid, from the way in which the hon. Member put a hypothetical case, that friction had occurred. He believed that the fact of a Commissioner being present in the House, and being in touch with hon. Members both in the Chamber and also privately in the Lobbies and elsewhere, was a great advantage both to Members of the House and also to the Charity Commission itself, and he should be very 1oth to disturb an arrangement which had been so highly recommended by those who had considered the subject.


said, he was very glad to hear the Mover and Seconder of this Motion say that they had not in their mind any desire to pass any hostile reflection upon the Charity Commission, or upon the able men who administered the work of that Commission. He believed they had the entire confidence of the House and of the country, and he hoped that anything said of these gentlemen would be said entirely upon that footing. The hon. Member for Cumberland had spoken, in the able way he always spoke, on a matter with which he was very well acquainted; but he was sorry that the hon. Member, during the five years he was at the Charity Commission, thought he was a member of an unpopular body— being unpopular with the Tories for one reason and with the Radicals for another. There was an intermediate body which was strongly represented at Birmingham, but no commendation of the Charity Commission had come from the right hon. Members for West Birmingham and Bordesley, so that the Commission was unfortunate in the respect that it had been criticised in many quarters. One reason for that was not the fault of the Commission or of the Commissioners, but the fault of the position which it occupied. The hon. Member had referred to Lord Brougham's Committee in 1835, and to its having represented in its constitution a Committee independent of Parliament. There was another Commission at that time still more important—namely, the Poor Law Commission—and that Commission was independent of Parliamentary control. One of the most acute and intelligent writers who had ever treated of the constitution of such bodies—the late Mr. Bagehot—said of the Poor Law Commission— The experiment of conducting the administration of a Public Department by an independent and unsheltered authority has often been tried, and has always failed. Parliament always talked at it until it made it impossible. That was the position of the Charity Commission. Parliament talked at it and criticised its action. The hon. Member said there had been Committee after Committee on this subject. Why had there been? They had had Committee after Committee because there was something with which Parliament was dissatisfied. In spite of the ability and character of the gentlemen who composed the Poor Law Commission, it was found impossible to sustain it. The same objection applied in a great degree to all independent authorities of this kind. Parliament became inquisitive; it became more or less a judge when they had bodies of that kind; and unless they could satisfy Parliament and the House of Commons that the matters were being administered in the way that was desired, they would always have Debates, Committees, and Inquiries of this character. The hon. Member for Cumberland had given a great many reasons why this Motion should not be acceded to. He understood the hon. Member himself said that he considered the Commission was too much tied up. That was the very reason why the Commission should have Parliamentary representation. A Parliamentary Representative would state what should be done. There were, for instance, restrictions which ought to be removed, and provisions passed for protecting and freeing the hands of the Commission so as to enable them to do what they ought to be able to do. The hon. Member seemed to think that the legislation with regard to charities and the Charity Commission, like the laws of the Medes and Persians, could not be altered. That was not so, and the moment they brought the Commission into Parliament they would find what were the obstacles in the way of its legitimate and beneficial action, which could be best removed by legislation. The hon. Member also said that the Commission consisted of lawyers of 12 years' standing, and that led him to think that the Bills must have been drawn up by lawyers. In moving for this Committee there was no intention to declare in any manner the exact method in which the change proposed should be carried out—whether it should be in the relation in which the Local Government Board stood towards the Poor Law, or in the relation in which the Treasury stood to the Commissioners of Woods. Whatever might be the arrangement, he could not but think it would be to the advantage of the Commissioners themselves, as well as to the interests with which they were entrusted, that they should be brought more directly into relation with Parliament. With that portion of his hon. Friend's Motion, therefore, he was in accord. As to the second part of the Motion, it had been urged by the hon. Member for Penrith as an argument against the appointment of a Committee that the demands upon the Charity Commissioners at the present time were so heavy that a member of that body could not be spared to attend to give evidence. That was hardly to be regarded as an argument against the adoption of the Motion.


said, his point was that it was not an opportune moment, just at the time when applications were pouring in from all sides to compel the attendance of two Commissioners, and perhaps the Secretary, before a Select Committee.


said, that no doubt the House of Lords had, in the Local Government Bill, thrown some additional work on the Charity Commissioners, and this furnished an additional argument for giving them more effectual means to enable them to carry out their useful work. He should be extremely sorry to think that the Motion had anything of a Party character about it. But he did think that it would be well to give the Commissioners some more effectual means of discharging the onerous duties which they had hitherto so well discharged. Therefore, he heartily assented to the Motion.


said, he did not know whether the Vice President of the Council would take part in the discussion; but if the right hon. Gentleman did so, he hoped he would take the opportunity of informing the House whether the Government had come to any decision with regard to the Departmental Report which had been alluded to by some of the preceding speakers. he thought it was a pity that they were not put in possession of the views of the Government on this Report, and also made in some degree acquainted with its contents. With regard to the general question, he thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer was fairly to be congratulated on the lightness of heart with which he had accepted a proposal to add to the already formidable body of his colleagues in the Government. If the Charity Commission was strengthened in the manner the right hon. Gentleman had indicated, the Department would undoubtedly benefit by having a high official to tight their battles in Parliament; but he was not convinced that there would be any corresponding advantage to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He agreed that it would be well to give the Charity Commissioners more effectual means than they at present possessed to discharge their duties. He referred particularly to a point that had not been touched upon—namely, the very inadequate means the Commissioners had of securing the proper audit of the charity accounts, and he hoped the Treasury would afford them increased facilities in this direction. The remarks of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the hon. Member for Penrith must have convinced the Mover and Seconder of the Resolution that the question was one which could hardly be disposed of so speedily as they seemed to think possible, and that such changes as they appeared to indicate would involve long and anxious consideration in that House. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green had spoken of securing greater local control over the charities, but hon. Members who remembered the discussion on this point in connection with the Local Government Bill would probably feel that any proposal to further divert existing charities from the purposes for which they were intended would meet with strong opposition. He shared the opinion that the present was not an opportune moment for the appointment of a Select Committee, especially as the effect of the Reports presented by Committees during the past 10 years had been that, on the whole, the duties of the Charity Commissioners had been faithfully discharged. No complaints had been made of the manner in which the Commissioners had discharged their duties by the hon. Member who moved the Motion. he confessed, therefore, that the programme of the Government was sufficiently full to make it perhaps advisable that any step of the kind suggested should be postponed until some further acquaintance with the working of the Local Government Act was obtained. He feared there was a disposition to enter with too light a heart on the question of transferring the working of our charitable system from a non-political body to members of a political Party. He was persuaded that any such change would be disadvantageous to the administration of charity. The Commissioners, in their Report for 1893, stated that their action in applying to the relief of the sick and aged charities hitherto distributed in doles had encountered frequent opposition; but that, when once established, the system was most free from friction and discontent. he believed that there was considerable danger that if the Department were presided over by a gentleman with a seat in the House, it would find it less easy to resist the political pressure of certain constituencies, and the change would not be at all conducive to the fair and proper distribution of the charities.

* MR. RATHBONE (Carnarvonshire, Arfon)

said, there was no want of inquiry into the subject of the Charity Commission, but there was a want of the House in carrying out the results of the inquiries which had been held. A very good Commission sat in 1884 under the presidency of his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board, and the recommendations of that inquiry had not been carried out. For three years he, with a number of hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House, and with the general approval of the two Front Benches, had endeavoured to carry a Bill to put the recommendations of the Commission into operation. But as the Loader of the House had pointed out, every effort at making the Charity Commission more effective for its work had been stopped by the action of the right hon. Members for West Birmingham and Bordesley, whose most violent energies were always aroused against every effort to reform the Charity Commission. He had listened with great interest to the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham in introducing this Motion; but he thought his hon. Friend had rather misplaced the importance of the two parts of his speech. It was useless to alter the constitution of the Charity Commission unless they gave them power to carry out the work they had to do. The Commission had no power in the case of a charity over £50 a year without calling into action the power of the Attorney General and a very expensive Chancery suit that might almost swallow up the charity. The Charity Commission was utterly powerless in those very cases where its powers were most needed, and there had been an absolute waste of the charity funds of the country and an absolute loss of money, owing, he believed, to the delay in carrying out the very moderate and very sensible recommendations of the Committee of 1884. He thought there was no use in inquiring further into the matter unless the Government intended to carry into effect the recommendations of the Committee, and give to the Charity Commissioners the powers necessary to save those charity funds which were now wasted.

* SIR F. S. POWELL (Wigan)

said, that as he had had the honour of serving on the Committee of 1886 and 1887 perhaps the House would bear with him while he submitted a few cursory observations on the Motion. He could not help learning from his experience on the Committee how severe was the injury done to the Charity Commission by the conduct of that inquiry. The Committee had had before them as witnesses members of the Commission, and some were constantly in the room; but it must be borne in mind that all the time was not occupied in the room, for the Committee had to make inquiries in the office of the Commission itself in consequence of complaints made and accusations brought before the Committee. He had reason to know that the service of the Commission had been greatly injured by that long inquiry; and if the House granted a new Committee fresh difficulties would be created for a body they all desired to strengthen. He wished to confirm what his hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon had said with regard to the recommendations of the Committees not having been carried into effect by the House. The Committee of 1887 had made several recommendations, none of which had been carried into execution. One was—and he doubted the wisdom of its policy— that every new scheme of the Charity Commission should be submitted to a Standing Committee. Another recommendation was that the Commission should be strengthened by the enlargement of the numbers of the Assistant Inspectors. That recommendation had, to a certain extent, been carried out—not by the Treasury, but by the County Councils. Power had recently been given to the County Councils to contribute to the expense of inquiries; Inspectors had been appointed to hold the inquiries, and the cost fell very largely on the County Councils. A further recommendation was that the official staff should be strengthened and increased, but that had not been carried into effect either. In fact, if there had been any shortcomings on the part of the Commission during the last few years, he believed they had arisen from the neglect of the Treasury to carry out the recommendations of the various Committees. He was all the freer to make that remark, as a Conservative Government had been in Office during many of those years, and, therefore, he was complaining of his own political friends. A desire had been expressed that there should be more complete control by Parliament over the Commission. The hon. Gentleman who moved the Motion had quoted the recommendations of the Committee in 1887 in that respect, but he had entirely omitted to quote the Committee's concluding words. The Committee, after stating that the responsibility of the Commission to Parliament should be made more clearly defined, added— This may be more readily accomplished by appointing a Minister of Education. That was a clear and definite recommendation, but it had not been carried out. It referred, however, to the educational side only, and had no reference whatever to the Charity Trust side of the Commission. He believed there was a great danger, if they had a Minister in charge of charities, of bringing the political element into the administration of the Charities. In the case of the Local Government Act, which was passed last Session, with the agreement substantially of both political Parties, the only time when any heat arose was when the question of the charities came up for consideration; and he thought they should avail themselves of the lesson thus emphatically taught them. Another reason against such an appointment was that the work done by the Charity Commission was essentially judicial. The making of law was a good thing, and the administration of it was a good thing; but what he believed to be a bad thing was confusion between the administration of law and the making of law. They would have in the changes of Parties—the right and proper changes of Parties—in the House from time to time sudden changes of policy with regard to the charities, and those changes of policy must interfere in a manner highly dangerous with the administration of the trusts. he felt, however, that although the Charity Commissioners were not fully represented in the House, they had always responded to public opinion in recent years. There could be no doubt that many of the complaints made before the Committee in 1886 and 1887 had received full attention from the Commissioners. They had taken less money from the purposes of doles for the purposes of education, and had given more prominence to the technical side of education than formerly. In these points the Commissioners had acted in accordance with public opinion. He doubted very much whether there would he anything gained by a fresh inquiry, but as the Government had assented to it he would not express his opposition to it further. The Charity Commissioners had passed safely through the somewhat severe ordeal to which they were exposed by the inquiries of 1884, 1886 and 1887. Though those Committees did make some recommendations, the action of the Commissioners was substantially vindicated, and they came forth from the inquiries with increased public confidence and with greater strength in the powers of a moral character which they possessed and which they had used so much to the advantage of the country.

* MR. CARVELL WILLIAMS (Notts, Mansfield)

said, that two complaints had been made in the course of the debate against the Mover and Seconder of the Motion before the House. One was that they had presented their case in so superficial away as scarcely to justify the House in adopting the Motion, and the second was that they had suggested nothing in the way of remedy or change. With regard to the first complaint, he thought he was right in attributing the course pursued by his hon. Friends to a motive which hon. Gentlemen opposite should not fail to appreciate. His hon. Friends did not wish to appear, in asking for this Select Committee, to be moving a vote of censure on the Charity Commission. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Penrith had admitted that the Charity Commission was a very unpopular body. The hon. Gentleman had stated one cause; it would be quite easy to name others. But he intended to follow the good example of the Mover and Seconder. There were, however, two points to which he would make reference, because they formed part of the case for the appointment of a Select Committee. One was the delay—the intolerable delay as some expressed it—that took place in the discharge of certain duties of the Commission. He was not referring to the preparation of new schemes for the administration of charities, because those schemes might require protracted consideration. He was referring to the appointment of new trustees and matters of routine, which many people thought might be disposed of more quickly than they had been hitherto. He was in possession of information which showed that in some cases such matters had been in hand 9, 12, and even 15 months, when a much shorter period would have sufficed to deal with them. Ten years ago so many complaints were made, that pressure was brought to bear on the Commissioners, with the result that there was considerable improvement; but now he was informed that the delays were as great as ever. The second point to which he wished to refer was the arrears of work which the Commissioners themselves acknowledged. His hon. Friend behind him said, "What is the use of considering the constitution of the Commission unless you give them more power?" Well, he (Mr. Carvell Williams) would ask, "What is the use of giving the Commission more power if they do not make use of the power they already possess?" The Report of 1892 contained the admission that there were 2,474 charities, the particulars of which had come into the possession of the Charity Commissioners, but which they had not yet had time to enter on their Registers. A second statement was that the accounts rendered by the trustees of charities to the Charity Commissioners, in accordance with the Act of Parliament, were nearly 8,000 fewer in 1892 than they were in 1889. The Commissioners accounted for that falling off partly by reason of the increased employment of their staff in preparing Statistical Returns for the County Councils and partly because of increased applications for information; so that it was impossible for the staff to give the same amount of attention to the accounts as was given in previous years. Well, if that had been the result of the creation of the County Councils, he left the House to judge how much greater results were likely to follow the passing of the Act to which reference had already been made. The hon. Member (Mr. Lowther) himself had told them that already applications for information were coming in at a great rate. The hon. Member might be sure that these were but as the drops before the coming shower. The hon. Member behind him (Mr. Rathbone) had on this occasion, as on some others, insisted on the necessity for investing the Commissioners with greater powers than they now possessed. He (Mr. Carvell Williams) said frankly that he had always opposed that, because neither he nor a large section of the public had confidence in the administration of the existing Commission. They thought that it was not constituted so as to adequately represent public opinion, and that its methods and procedure were not in harmony with the characteristics of the times. As soon as the required changes in that direction were made, he for one should cease to be an opponent of the powers of the existing Commissioners. Complaint had been made by the hon. Member (Mr. Lowther) of the absence of remedial suggestions. Well, he (Mr. Car-veil Williams) was inclined to suggest that, while on the one hand they might increase the powers of the Charity Commissioners, and give them more work to do, it would also be highly desirable to relieve them of some portion of their burdens. Their work was very easily divisible, and be could see no reason why the work of collecting information, and such like, should not be put upon County Councils and other Local Bodies. He was in favour of the adoption of the principle of devolution in the case of the Charity Commission, and of the popularising of that body. It had been pointed out that the functions of the Charity Commissioners were, to some extent, legal functions, and that they could not be discharged except by legal experts. He had no desire to take out of their hands work which required legal knowledge and experience. Hut there were other functions which might with great advantage be placed in other hands than theirs. He thought, too, that the Local Authorities should have much greater powers than they now possessed in regard to the framing of now charity schemes. He did not share in the feelings expressed very frequently while the Local Government Bill was before them, as to the paramount necessity of having regard to the wishes and intentions of donors and pious founders. he would modernise the charities, and remove the power of the dead hand as much as possible; but so long as these charities existed he desired that, by means of the Charity Commission and legislation in the House, they should be administered so as to produce the greatest good for the greatest possible number.

MR. J. ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.)

said, he only desired to emphasise one remark, and that was as to the powers of Local Authorities and the consideration paid to them by the Charity Commissioners at the present time. His experience showed that the representations of Local Bodies to the Charity Commission, with reference to schemes bearing upon personal aggrandisement affecting their localities, had not received the attention they ought to have received. He thought that Local Authorities ought to have greater power to make their voices heard, and when the Committee came to consider the work of the Charity Commissioners they should take that into consideration. Another thing he strongly protested against was the aversion of the Commissioners to anything like popular control. They had erected harriers against the appointment of local trustees, thoroughly cognisant of the needs of a locality, in the shape of a rateable qualification. In this way they had prevented men being appointed as trustees, although the people in the district who were mainly interested in the trusts had conferred the highest honour upon those men by choosing them as their Representatives in Parliament. He thought that the time had come when the Charity Commissioners ought to pay more heed to local demands than they had paid in the past, and he hoped that one of the results of this investigation would be the sweeping away of the barriers to which he had referred. It was only with the one desire of emphasising the absurd position taken up by the Charity Commission that he had risen. He was delighted that a Committee was to be appointed.

SIR A. ROLLIT (Islington, S.)

said, it was to be regretted that both the last speakers had introduced an element of controversy into the Debate which, happily, had been absent until now. For his own part, he welcomed more Parliamentary interest—he would not speak of control—in the administration of the Charity Commissioners. He would add that he hoped Parliament would do more now in relation to these matters. It was well to have control, but had Parliament always exercised that supervision and care in relation to the work of the Charity Commission which it should have done? He ventured to think that in the past Parliament had neglected its duty in two respects. Educational schemes had been systematically brought before the House at a time when Parliamentary criticism was impossible— namely, after 12 o'clock at night. From that point of view Parliament itself was very much to blame, and if delay had taken place Parliament had contributed to it by its inability or unwillingness to find time to discuss these subjects. Take another case in which Parliament had neglected its duty. The Charity Commission was unpopular a few years ago because of the diversion of charitable funds to educational purposes. He did not say there was nothing to be said for it. In some cases the charitable funds were wasted and were better applied to education; hut, on the other hand, the House had now come to the conclusion that that policy was both wrong and a mistake— that the diversion from the poor to the middle classes of those funds originally left for the poor was unjustifiable both in principle and practice. Parliament was to blame in consequence of the unseasonable hours at which such matters were discussed. He hoped that Parliament would take care in future that such discussions should take place at a time when they would be effective. They should give Local Bodies more control over the administration and application of charities. These bodies were on the spot, and had a better opportunity of judging what would be advantageous to them than anyone else, and a reform in that direction might very well take place. He only wished to add that, in his opinion, the Commissioners had done a great public work in the help they had given to technical education in Loudon. Their action had not been marked by those delays and subjects of criticism which had been applied to them in other directions. As a Metropolitan Member, he thought London was greatly obliged to them for the gradual rise of those industrial institutions which were so material to the development of London.

Question put, and negatived.

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire whether it is desirable to take measures to bring the action of the Charity Commission more directly under the control of Parliament, and to give it more effectual means of dealing with the business which will come before it.

Resolved, That this House do immediately resolve itself into the Committee of Supply.—(Mr. Acland.)

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Deputy Speaker do now leave the Chair."