HC Deb 21 February 1895 vol 30 cc1361-72

Motion made, and Question proposed That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her to be graciously pleased to withhold Her consent from the Scheme of the Charity Commissioners relating to the Charity of George Jarvis to the inhabitants of the parishes of Staunton-on-Wye, Letton, and Bredwardine, in the county of Hereford, which Scheme is now before Parliament:"—(Mr. Rankin). The hon. Member contended that the Scheme was against the will of the founder and the wishes of the beneficiaries, against the justice of the case, and impracticable to be carried out as it now stood, and many other schemes might be found that did not take the money from the inhabitants connected with the Charity. The income of the Charity had been spent upon clothing, fuel and medical attendance, and also upon schooling. It was true that schooling was not mentioned in the original will; but for some time £225 a year had been spent upon schooling, and the rest for the benefit of the poor inhabitants of the three parishes. The scheme now proposed cut down those purposes, except the schooling, to £946 a year, instead of £2,290. Adding what was allowed by the Charity Commissioners for school purposes, namely £350, to the £946 allowed for non-educational purposes, there was a total of £l,296, which was £1,219 less than the parishes had in £1822. The other property of this Charity had also been diverted against the will of the founder and certainly against the wishes of the beneficiaries. He held in his hand a resolution of the newly-formed Parish Council of Taunton-on-Wye strongly protesting against this scheme, which took away £1,400 from the inhabitants of the three parishes. A good deal had been said about charities being managed by Parish Councils; let those who had advocated this put their doctrines into practice by supporting Parish Councils which now stood up for the rights of the people. A petition had been sent to the Education Department signed by 480 adults, who were nearly all the persons entitled to benefit under the Charity. They complained bitterly that they had not been consulted, as they ought to have been, about a matter so closely affecting themselves. A good deal of correspondence had passed between the Trustees, the Charity Commissioners, and the Education Department, but there had been no consultation with the people who were immediately concerned. He appealed to the House on the justice of the case. To him it appeared to be fundamental that so long as a bequest could be morally and legally applied, so long as it did no harm, so long it ought not to be diverted from the uses specified by the founder. If confidence were once shaken, and if it were found that bequests left for particular purposes would be diverted to others, then the fountains of charity would be dried up and the poor would suffer. He quoted figures refuting the suggestion that the Scheme had had a bad effect by causing a rush of needy persons into the parishes. The recipients of the Charity regarded what they received not as charity, but their just due, and money which had been left to them. It was said to be an impracticable Scheme. Last year the income was £2,675, and the expenditure £2,203, leaving a balance of £472. If instructors in cookery and laundry work were appointed and paid out of the funds there would be a deficit of £313. This could only be met by cutting down what had been given to the poor and "skimping" them in every way. Other plans might be submitted. Many things might be done with the £14,000. In Staunton-on-Wye was an excellent building which might be utilised as a school of technical instruction for boys and girls. It might be used also as a convalescent hospital, to admit, perhaps, inmates from the whole of the county, which was very much wanted in Herefordshire. It might be used usefully, perhaps, in a scheme for establishing old age pensions. He appealed to the Vice President of the Committee of Council on Education to make some concession to them in the matter. He thought the Charity Commissioners might well pause before they severed this £14,000 from these three parishes. He urged, too, that the parishes should have a greater representation on the governing body. At present there was only one representative from each of the three parishes on the governing body, and he thought there should be at least double that number.

MR. JESSE COLLINGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)

said, the case of the hon. Member for Herefordshire was simply that the poor of the three parishes named, should be allowed to have and enjoy their own property. The matter was not one of local concern only. It was another of the numerous schemes which had been brought forward by the Charity Commissioners for years past, to deprive the poor of the possession of funds which absolutely belonged to them, and the fact ought to bring shame to those who proposed the schemes. He was sorry to hear the hon. Member say something about concession, the matter was not one for concession, and none would be accepted. He hoped the House would not permit the real point of issue to be confused by details. The point was whether this sum of £14,000 left to the poor of the parishes referred to should be taken away from them in order to found some grand scheme of higher education for the county of Hereford. The intention of the donor in this case was singularly clear. He expressly laid down that none of the money should be spent in buildings, yet in 1850 the Trustees got a Bill through Parliament for the building of a large palatial school for higher education, costing £20,000. The Trustees had also been putting aside £500 or £600 a year out of the Charity, for the maintenance of the school, and the consequence of this shameless confiscation was that while years ago the widows, the infirm and the worn-out labourers of those three parishes received £10 a year from the Charity, the funds were now so reduced that they received only the miserable pittance of 8d. per week, and if the Scheme proposed was adopted the charity would be still further reduced. He was glad to be able to say that the wealthy and influential classes of the district, to their honour, declined to accept the proposed scheme of higher education if it were based on the confiscation of money that belonged to the poor. It had been the custom of the Charity Commissioners when they saw any property which could possibly be devoted to the purposes of higher education never to rest until they got it into their hands, and in this way scheme after scheme had been brought forward by them since 1850. At times there had been agitatation against those schemes; then they were withdrawn for a while, but always to be brought up again. Hon. Members would be told no doubt by the Vice-President that there were good features in the present Scheme. Yes there were. The poor people were graciously permitted to have a small portion of their property. He hoped the House would take a decided stand in this case, and that it would show its strong disapproval of a course of action which for years past had worked great misery, privation, and wrong doing towards the poorer classes of the country. They might be told also that under the Endowed Schools Act the Charity Commissioners had no power to apply this money to old age pensions. That might be so, but they were not obliged lo take the money away from the poor; for they might leave it to furnish the 8d. a week to them, or to assist them in other ways. They would be told that the Trustees were favourable to the Scheme. But if that argument was to be advanced he would ask the Vice President to read the letter of the Trustees of May 4th 1894, which distinctly stated that although they themselves were willing to accept a modification of the Scheme, they would not guarantee that the modification would be accepted by those locally interested. They were told that the Commissioners always paid attention to the public opinion of the locality. In this case they were going dead against it; and nothing would influence them to forsake the objectionable policy that they had adopted. The Charity Commionners should be told, and he hoped they would be told by the vote of the House that the public feeling of England would no longer be outraged by this spoliation of the property of the poor, and that they must give in to the expressed will of the people. If even the Socialist or Collectivist policy, which meant the confiscation of other people's property, should be in the ascendant, those who advocated it would be able to point to the action of the Charity Commissioners as a justification of their conduct. Looking at the winter they had gone through, when this small income might have brought some comfort to the poorer classes of these three parishes. He hoped the House would not be led away by any argument in favour of details, but would vote on the general principle, and decide that the property of the poor was considered by the House to be as sacred as the property of any other class.

*MR. CYRIL J. S. DODD (Essex, Maldon)

desired that the House might reject the Scheme and establish a precedent which he hoped the Charity Commissioners would take to heart. Liberals were bound to condemn the Scheme, because they had recently been passing legislation to enable parishes to control their own affairs, including to some extent their charities. About £14,000—or perhaps £17,000—would be taken from the three villages to which that sum belonged, and to which, under the will of the founder, it was left for benefiting the poor. The inhabitants in meetings had denounced the scheme, the Parish Councils of the villages had condemned it. The Officials of the Charity Commission framed it. It should be rejected for its own defaults, and as a precedent for future schemes. There was ample scope for this sum if it remained in the villages; and he regarded the Scheme as one which really showed the mischievous policy of giving the Charity Commissioners a free hand.


said, the income under this scheme was about £2,500 a year, and was divided under an order of the Court of Chancery, into two parts—one was the non-educational part and the other the educational part; and however much they might wish to make one part larger at the expense of the other, it would be impossible to do so as the law stood now. Roughly speaking one was about £1,000 and the other £1,500, and the method in which the non-educational part was spent at present was in providing doles in kind and through the medical officer, £320; clothing, £120; coals, £128; nursing, £128; medical officer and drugs, £248. One of the first things they were asked to do was to secure this money and obtain good interest for it, which was readily done, and no doubt to the satisfaction of the Trustees and everybody else, as it was invested in India 3 per cents. What were the proposals now? First of all there were the schools. The three village schools were for three parishes which, according to the Charity Commissioners' scheme, were to have £250 a year in addition to the grants which they earned from the Department. The Trustees asked that the £250 should be increased to £350, which he willingly consented to do, and the income of the day school now was approximately £4 per child, which was about double the cost of that in an ordinarily good Board School. A special provision was made for technical education by technical instructors in agriculture, cookery, and laundry work, to which he did not think his hon. Friends opposite or anybody else would object. That might cost about £300. Then there was a sum of £450 which was spent for repairs, and some further items which brought the amount up to about £1,100. Thus £1,000 a year was spent in non-educational charity, and about £1,100 a year on education on a population of not quite 1,000. The idea of the Scheme was that that was sufficient to meet the wishes of the district, and when it was before the Education Department he admitted that there was no very strong expression of opinion to the contrary from any large number of the people. The real pivot of difficulty was the £385 a year which one clause in the Scheme proposed to give to county scholars. If those scholarships were distributed at the rate of £20 a year for three years, there would not, after all, be a great number of county scholars, and considering the principle which underlay a matter of this sort, the money might very fairly be kept in the parish, and not distributed over the county, where it would not have very much effect. These matters were questions of degree really, and not questions of principle. If they were not, the London Polytechnics would not have been established. When the City parishes became emptied of the poor the charities of those parishes were transferred to the general benefit of London, and the Polytechnics were founded. He thought the best course in this case would be to preserve all the main features of the Scheme, and that an Amendment should be made as to the county scholar part of it. He did not think the hon. Gentleman opposite wished to destroy the arrangement for the schools and the technical instructors, or the settlement as to the £980 for the non-educational part. If consent were withheld from the county part of the Scheme, the only part which took any money outside the parish, that would be hung up for the time being and would be considered with a view to the money being devoted in some way more satisfactory to the people of the place; and that part of the Scheme which was satisfactory might be allowed to pass. That was the suggestion he should make to the hon. Member for Herefordshire.

MR. M. BIDDULPH (Herefordshire, Ross)

thought it was a great pity that the inhabitants of the parish were not consulted. If that had been done it would have been found that there was every disposition to meet the requirements of the Commissioners. There was a large building erected, saving thousands of pounds, and he could not help saying that very little consideration was shown to the inhabitants of the parishes whose desire was that the money should be spent in a manner conducive not only to the benefit of the parishes, but the surrounding neighbourhood. He hoped the House would not allow this Scheme to pass and so permit further delay to take place.

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

said, if he were to offer any advice—there was no reason why his hon. Friend should take it, he spoke only for himself—he would say that he thought opposition should not proceed further after what had fallen from the Vice President of the Council. He considered that the proposal he had made was a very fair proposal. He understood that his hon. Friend was desirous of increasing the amount spent in eleemosynary purposes.


To maintain it.


The scheme as it stands maintains it. It placed the £1,000 a year in a safer position than it was at the present time; but if his hon. Friend wished to increase the sum he did not think he could do it by rejecting this scheme. This sum at present might be spent in eleemosynary grants or not; but this Scheme made it certain that it would be spent in the future. The whole amount diverted from these three parishes would be a sum of £385 a year, which was to be laid aside to be dealt with in a future scheme; but the Vice President of the Council had made a proposal to the House—namely, that this sum should accumulate for a certain number of years. The Charity Commissioners, the Education Department, the Parish Councils of the locality, the County Council—all, if given further time for the consideration of this matter, would, in the end, be in a better position to arrive at a just conclusion as to the way in which the money could best be spent. He thought, therefore, that the proposal of the Vice President was a fair one, and that the House might reasonably assent to it. The rejection of this Scheme would not help forward in the least the projects of the right hon. Member for Bordesley and the hon. Member for Hereford. At present the Charity was governed, not by a scheme of the Charity Commissioners, but by an Act of Parliament passed in 1852. The apportionment of the Charity Fund was effected under that Act, and that apportionment must continue until altered by another Act of Parliament. Considering the amount of Legislation which already awaited their attention, and realising what divergent views prevailed in that House respecting these Charity Schemes, he thought they could hardly hope to pass a Bill dealing with this subject in the present Session. As he had said, if the Scheme now proposed should, unfortunately, be rejected, the views of his hon. Friend behind him and of the right hon. Member for Bordesley, would not be furthered in any way; if, on the other hand, the proposal of the Minister should be accepted, it would be still possible to deal with the subject on a future occasion, when, probably, more light would have been thrown upon it.

Mr. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)

observed, that the hon. Member who had just sat down had said that a division had been made in this Charity under an Act passed in 1852. That was true, but he asked the House to think of the enormous change in public opinion that had taken place respecting these matters in the last forty years. They did not want to be governed by the Act of 1852, and if there was not time now in which to amend and alter that Act it was right in the interests of Charity and the persons concerned that the matter should be postponed until they could deal with it on principles very different from those on which the Charity Commissioners had acted hitherto. The observations of the Vice President of the Council had been conciliatory and he made no complaint against the right hon. Member or the Department over which he presided. He understood from the right hon. Member that the Government would agree to an amendment which would remove £14,000 of this Charity from the operation of the present scheme, the sum so removed being allowed to accumulate with interest until such a time as the matter could be dealt with in greater accordance with modern principles. That in itself was quite satisfactory, but there were other parts of the scheme which were open to the gravest objection. These parts of the scheme would take the management of the charity from the hands of those in whose hands it ought rightly to remain, and there were other proposals which, he believed, would in the course of time have the effect of changing the schools which were nominally for the benefit of the agricultural class into schools which would be used by a superior class of persons. These points ought to be carefully considered by the House, and as they had not the opportunity of considering them adequately now, and as a very important part of the scheme was to be withdrawn already, with the consent of the Government, he held that the wisest course to take would be to withdraw the whole scheme. There was another point to which he attached great importance. He wanted the whole of this scheme to be withdrawn in order, once for all, to teach a lesson to the Charity Commissioners. Since he had been in Parliament—now for 18 years—he had protested against the conduct of the Charity Commissioners. Again and again they had deliberately endeavoured by every means in their power—and he thought sometimes that they had taken advantage of circumstances they ought not, to set aside public opinion and popular feeling in these matters to obtain moneys left for the benefit of the poor and to use them for other purposes. He did not object to their taking possession of those charities in order to further the cause with which they were connected; he did not criticise the application of those funds, provided they were maintained for the same class for which they were intended; but it was a monstrous thing to find that hundreds of thousands of pounds were being taken from the charities of the poor and devoted to what was practically the education of the upper classes. It was perfectly monstrous that the House should allow this kind of thing to go on. The Charity Commissioners were indefatigable. They had received a rebuff time after time. In the time of the late Government they brought forward one scheme under which they proposed to take a large scheme amounting to many thousands of pounds—it was the Dauntsey Charity—and to deal with it in a similar fashion. The Conservative Government defeated their proposals and secured the rejection of the scheme in the House of Lords. He sometimes thought that this was a point in favour of that ancient institution; but now surely the supporters of a Liberal Government were not going to allow their Government to be less liberal in a matter of this kind than the Conservative Government. He appealed to the Vice President of the Council to allow the House on this occasion by its vote to make a protest against the action of the Charity Commissioners; and on that account he earnestly hoped that if the House divided it would divide against the whole Scheme.

Mr. H. H. COZENS-HARDY (Norfolk, N.) moved an Amendment to the Motion excluding all that part of the Scheme which related to the Herefordshire Educational Endowment. The effect of the Amendment would be to provide that no portion of these Charity funds would be removed from the three parishes in question, and to hinder any part of the Charity from being applied to a different class of the community from that which was originally intended.

THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir R. T. REID,) Dumfries, &c.

said, there could be no surprise that the Amendment had been moved, as indeed it was moved at the wish of and in concert with the Vice President. The whole point for the House, was whether the Amendment was a fair solution of the difficulties in and the objections to the Scheme. The main complaint of the hon. Member for North Hereford, was that sums of money were being taken away from the three parishes and were being diverted to county as opposed to parochial purposes. It was therefore proposed that that part of the Scheme should be withdrawn and held over for further consideration. That seemed to be a reasonable offer, which ought to close the discussion.

*SIR M. HICKS-BEACH (Bristol, W.)

said, he hoped his hon. Friend would not accept the offer. Nobody had defended the Scheme except one hon. Member, who was prejudiced in its favour to start with. The result of the Amendment would be that £14,000, would be held in suspense for an indefinite period. Surely it was much more sensible that the whole Scheme should be sent back to the Commissioners for further consideration.


said he did not think the Charity Commissioners laid so much store as he did on such part of the Scheme as would be left if the part dealing with county scholarships were struck out, and certainly he would not press against the feeling of the House.

Amendment withdrawn, and Motion agreed to.