HC Deb 06 March 1906 vol 153 cc408-24
SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derbyshire, Ilkeston)

rose to call attention to the schemes of the Charity Commissioners; and to move, "That, in the opinion of this House, schemes of the Charity Commissioners for the reform, new constitution, or amendment of trust deeds of charities other than ecclesiastical charities should in all cases provide for the removal of disabilities of trustees in respect of their religious opinions, and for the election of a majority of the trustees by representative authorities." He said that a Select Committee which sat twenty years ago arrived at the conclusion that it was exceedingly desirable, in order to create public confidence in the administration of the charities, that the representative element should be fully recognised in all schemes of the Charity Commissioners for the ordering of charities in the future. After the report of that Committee, which was generally accepted as satisfactory, people looked forward to this rule being observed, and he believed that in many instances the Commissioners had endeavoured to carry it out. There had, however, from time to time been glaring instances when opportunities of doing away with the disabilities in regard to the old-fashioned office of trustee had been neglected in the formation of schemes. The Select Committee said that in all cases of the constitution of I trustees it was desirable that as the administration of charitable trusts had not the stimulus of private interests at work they should have as the best available substitute direct official responsibility to the inhabitants of the district. That was the only way to insure that they got a perfect and unbiassed administration of public funds. He had called attention to this subject before, and, although he was then speaking to a House of Commons composed largely of Members of the present Opposition, he was beaten by a majority of only twenty-five when the normal Government majority was 130, which showed that that House was not very hostile to his contention in this matter. He on that occasion called attention to the scheme which dealt with the Hospital of St. Cross at Winchester, in regard to which the Charity Commissioners had neglected to provide for the representative principle. This institution came down from the middle ages and provided pensions for old people from various parts of the country. Under a scheme of the Charity Commissioners the only elected trustee was to be a member of the Town Council and they coupled with that the condition that he should be a member of the Church of England. This was a humiliating and degrading condition, as the charity was open to those professing all religious creeds. Moreover, a Mayor of Winchester, who was a Nonconformist had under this regulation been debarred from taking part in the administration of this charity. That condition ought to be abolished by some Resolution of the House and, if necessary, by an Act of Parliament to prevent such invidious distinction being made in the future. He felt it his duty in 1901 to bring this matter before the House and to argue that the principle of administering these schemes should be as far as possible to introduce the representative element, and he put this Resolution on the Paper to-day because he wanted the Charity Commissioners in drawing up such schemes in the future to pay more attention to the recommendations of the Select Committee to which he had referred. It was desirable in the public administration of these charities that public men—representatives of various public bodies—in the districts should have a voice in the administration of these public funds. He admitted that in some respects the Charity Commissioners were in a difficult position, and the hon. Member for the Elland Division would probably say there were legal difficulties in the way of carrying out this Resolution. In the first place charities over the value of £50 did not come under the Charity Commissioners except at the request of the trustees who might apply to the Commissioners to alter or modify their scheme. In such a case it seemed to him that the Commissioners might very well say to trustees that if they had the trouble of drawing up a scheme and making various alterations for the benefit of the charity and to ease the labours of the trustees, they on the other hand must give some concession and enable the Commissioners to make the scheme more popular. It was surely out of date that the old system of coopted Members should be kept up. Personally, such Members might be estimable gentlemen, but they lacked the virtue which only came from a representative capacity. He had known charities with huge incomes mismanaged and used for private ends because there had been only coopted trustees, The principle of cooptation had been tried, and had failed in the experience of all men who had to do with public; institutions, and it ought not to be I continued in the administration of these E charities. He wanted the Charity Commissioners of the future to do away; as thoroughly as they could with the principle of cooptation, and to introduce the sweetening influence in the administration of these charities of electing men who belonged to representative bodies in the localities. In addition to that he would like to see the Charity Commissioners do away with those mediaeval restrictions in regard to the religious views of those who administered a public charity. He did not wish to interfere with charities concerning a religious persuasion, but there ought to be no restrictions as to a man's religion when appointed a trustee on other charitable bodies, and on these grounds he urged this Resolution to the favourable consideration of the House. It might be said that if they interfered too much with these schemes the Charity Commissioners might lay themselves open to legal proceedings. He would rather see that than take no steps in the right direction, because he believed a few such proceedings would awaken public opinon to the gravity of this abuse, and would soon bring about necessary legislation to prevent the Charity Commissioners from being so harassed in the execution of their public duty. He did not think they in the new House of Commons, filled with a new spirit, and passing resolutions almost of a revolutionary character, such as had been done this evening and on previous occasions this session, ought to hesitate in taking a step such as he asked to-night in order to widen the bounds of liberty in the choice of trustees for the administration of public funds, and do away with restrictions which were out of date with regard to the religion of a man who managed funds for the benefit of his fellow-citizens.

MR. GODDARD (Ipswich)

seconded the Resolution. He said it was difficult to conceive of any real objection to the Resolution. It used to be said in regard to these charities that such charities belonged to the Church of England and therefore all the trustees should belong to the Church of England. He submitted that that was quite an obsolete contention in the present day, and the practice in all modernised charity schemes had been to open the door so that a much more representative body of trustees could be appointed, representative not merely of public opinion and of the public interest, but representative also of the various religious denominations who took just as much interest in these charities as did the particular churches with whom it might have been they originated. It used to be contended that the recipients of the charities which would be affected by the Resolution were compelled to attend services of the Church of England, but he was sure every hon. Member must know very well that there were a great many charity schemes now where the recipients still had to attend services of the Church of England in order to receive the charity, but where the trustees were not necessarily members of the Church of England. He himself a year or two ago was elected to be chairman of a board of charity trustees, although he was a Nonconformist, and all the recipients of this charity had to attend the Church of England in order to receive the special gifts. He thought it was time that this sort of practice should be done away with. There might have been a reason for it originally. No doubt in olden time the church door was the easiest place for the distribution of doles and charities given under these schemes, but the time had now come when all such barriers of intolerance might be swept away, and when the representation on public charities should include every part of the community.

Motion proposed, "That in the opinion of this House, schemes of the Charity Commissioners for the reform, new constitution, or amendment of trust deeds of charities, other than ecclesiastical charities, should in all cases provide for the removal of disabilities of trustees in respect of their religious opinions, and for the election of a majority of the trustees by representative authorities."—(Sir Walter Foster.)

MR. RAWLINSON (Cambridge University)

said he ventured to say a few words in opposition to this Resolution, which might be characterised as dangerous and ill-considered. He took it that the desire of the House would be to encourage rather than to discourage people of a philanthropic turn of mind in giving and leaving their money to charitable purposes. Such a Motion as this must deter, he imagined, the vast majority of those who left their money for philanthropic purposes from doing anything of the kind, for the majority of those people left and gave their money from religious motives, and not from motives unconnected with any sectarian body. Take, for example, one of the greater philanthropic bequests in London, the Polytechnic. When the late Mr. Quintin Hogg left his money for that object he was not actuated in any way by any feelings of love or affection for the Church of England, and he might have objected to any member of the Church of England being on the governing body. He did not make such a stipulation, but he might have made it well within his rights, and what right would the hon. Gentleman who moved this Resolution have to say it was public money? It was not public money, but was left by an individual for a particular purpose, and who was actuated by a particular motive. Were they to have a trust of that kind governed, forsooth, not by men who had put their hands in their pockets, but by representatives of local bodies? He ventured to suggest that this was a dangerous and unfair Motion. He would turn to various other institutions in London which had done unmixed good to the community; he referred especially to the institutions founded by the public schools and universities of this land. Was it to be said that the people who had gone to great sacrifice to find money in aid of one particular Church or sect were to be told that they were not to have the right of nominating the trustees, that what the mover of the Resolution described as mediaeval distinctions were to be swept away; that the question of whether a man was an atheist or a religious man was to be wiped away, and that the control was to be left to a local body in the district where the charity happened to be situated? Such a Motion was unjust and unfair in the ex- treme. The hon. Member who seconded the Resolution was a religious philanthropist, and had founded a certain institution in Ipswich which certainly had done most excellent work; but how would the hon. Gentleman like a Churchman and a Conservative to be put upon the governing body of that particular charity? Surely the person who paid the piper was entitled to call the tune; and if any one were philanthropic enough to give money, by will or in his lifetime, to found any particular charity, he had sufficient confidence in this Parliament, in spite of what the mover of the Resolution said about the new spirit, to distinguish between what belonged to them and what belonged to somebody else. This Motion was not only unjust and revoluntionary, but absolutely dishonest in its effect, as tending to take away from people that which was their own, and it would not be for the public good, as it would discourage people who were anxious to give their money for philanthropic purposes.

MR. RAINY (Kilmarnock Burghs)

said that whatever the intentions of the Motion were, the question it raised was, how far the power of the dead hand was to govern the liberties of the living people It was very obvious that if certain monies were received, say for university settlements, it would be very improper for any outside person to interfere with them; but the proposition was that if the people he was referring to were to go to the Charity Commissioners to get powers to do something which they could not themselves do, they departed from the original trust, and the question should be decided in accordance with common sense and common justice. There was a remarkable instance during the last Parliament of how strict legality might do gross injustice not only in the case of a corporation but over the length and breadth of a great nation, and that nation was still suffering from the processes of law. Therefore he was not content to sit still to-night and not protest against the idea that any man, however rich, benevolent, or clever, might dispose of that which was really the property of the State. His proposition was that no person, however far-seeing, could foresee the conditions in which ultimately his money must be applied. In the process of time all trusts must lapse, and when a trust lapsed it was forfeited to the Crown and became the property of the State. He could quite understand that if there was no guiding principle laid down by this House or by those responsible in these matters, it was a most difficult business for the Charity Commissioners, with all the problems which came before them. He was not disposed to criticise harshly any action they had taken, but he did want to protest against the idea that any test of a sectarian nature was necessarily a religious test. It was one of the most pernicious doctrines prevalent in England that any one who did not agree altogether with the Church of England was a non-religious person. For his part, he refused to circumscribe the kingdom of Christ within the limits of the Church of England, or any other particular body of Christians. A remark fell from the hon. Gentleman who last spoke that they might destroy religion by broadening the basis of a charity in such a fashion that the Christians of this country might have a common share in it.


said he never mentioned anything of the kind. The whole basis of his argument was that those who left charities, for instance to Nonconformist religious bodies, were entitled to have that intention respected, and the same argument would apply to Jews, or Roman Catholics, or whatever religion they chose.


said the remark just made by the hon. Gentleman brought out exactly what he wanted to call attention to. The hon. Gentleman talked about his Church as a religion, and all other Christian Churches as other religions. It was not so. There was one Christian community.


said that surely the hon. Gentleman had not so argued. He had said distinctly that each member of each religious body was entitled to leave his money as he thought fit to members of a particular religious body. He (Mr. Rawlinson) did not even mention the fact that he was a member of the Church of England, although he was one.


said his argument was that in so far as both the Church of England and Nonconformists were common to the Christian religion it was not necessarily an inherent lapse of trust if a property left to one or the other passed from one body to the other. [OPPOSITION cries of "Oh."] Well, he would not press the point, as it seemed to be a matter of contention. The matter he wished to come to was that if there was a way of carrying out the original intention of the donor in its completeness the attempt should be made, but when it became apparent, as it had in many cases, that this was impossible, what was merely accidental should not rule the whole trust, but the intentions of general benevolence should prevail, and there should be a constitution whereby those who were the living representatives, who could alone benefit under the trust, should have a voice to decide what should be done with that which was left for their benefit and on their behalf.


said he wished to confine his remarks almost entirely to educational charities. He desired, however, to express regret that such pointed allusions should have been made in preceding speeches to the Church of England. Those who made those remarks entirely forgot that there were large Nonconformist institutions in existence. In his old university-town of Cambridge, for instance, there was a splendid institution under the management of the Wesleyan body—the Leys Schools. It would be little less than a scandal and an outrage if in the event of any alteration in the scheme governing that institution it should be liable to the provisions of this Resolution. It would be practically confiscation. That was by no means the only school in the hands of the Wesleyan body. There were such schools in Yorkshire and other counties, and the remark he made in reference to the Leys School would apply to them also. Speaking as an educationist, he respectfully differed from the adverse remarks as to co-opted trustees. He was a member of important grammar schools under the management of a scheme framed by the Endowed Schools Charity Commission. There were co-opted members, and he ventured to say that their services were equal in value to the services of the most intelligent and assiduous members. One great advantage in co-option was that when a vacancy occurred the other trustees knew what was the real element in their body. The gentleman must be some one cognisant with the management of real estate, and he would look round amongst his acquaintances, and find a man best suited to act for him. He felt quite sure that no election by an outside body would meet the difficulty.


pointed out that educational trusts did not come under the Charity Commissioners and, therefore, they were not affected by his Resolution. ["Yes, they do."]


Educational charities would come under this Resolution. The only charities which would be excluded would be those which come within the four corners of the Endowed Schools Acts. There are a great many educational charities which are not under the Endowed Schools Acts, but they would all come under the Resolution of the hon. Member.


Surely, they would never suggest that such schools should be governed on the principle of popular election; it would be impossible to work a great grammar school, for instance, upon such lines. Then there were schools for persons suffering under some kind of infirmity, such as the Blind School in Manchester, Such institutions were maintained by voluntary subscriptions and how could they claim that they should be placed under a popularly elected Board? The same argument applied to hospitals. If the House examined this proposal closely they would find difficulties upon every side. Nobody denied the necessity of changing trustees from time to time, but it did not follow that all the principles upon which charities were founded should be abolished and everything sent to the wind. This Resolution was of a sweeping character and carried everything before it, and if adopted he felt sure it would produce an amount of embarrassment which the framers had not contemplated, and it would do a great amount of injury to charities, more especially to those of an educational character.

MR. TREVELYAN (Yorkshire, W.R., Elland)

said that this resolution had come upon him at a rather early stage of his connection with the Charity Commissioners, but he was glad that the question had been raised so soon in the existence of the present Parliament. He reminded hon. Members that the Charity Commissioners were not armed with arbitrary powers of interfering with any charity at any time, and providing schemes for any charity out of their own brains. That was not exactly their position, for their action was circumscribed in various ways. They were bound to consider the wishes of the pious founders, though they had also to modernise those wishes and intentions. The proposals of his hon. friend had, he thought, been the subject of misconception on the Opposition side. They related to charities which were non-ecclesiastical, and it undoubtedly was the desire of the Commissioners in those cases where there was no apparent object in the trust in having people of a particular denomination upon it to open the position of trustee to people of all denominations. But they could not in all cases undertake to override the express wishes of the founder if the latter had chosen deliberately to leave the charity to the administration of men likeminded to himself. He was told that as a matter of fact there were few such cases among non-ecclesiastical charities. He hoped his hon. friend would be satisfied with the assurance that the object of the Commissioners would be, so far as was legal and reasonable, to remove such limitations. He would now pass on to what he thought was the more important part of the Resolution, and that was the representation of public bodies such as borough or parish councils on boards of trustees under new schemes. He had been gathering information with regard to the action of the Charity Commissioners during the last few years, and in most of the schemes representative trustees were included to strengthen the boards, and in many of them the representative trustees were in an actual majority. He would say frankly that his own sympathies were strongly in favour of as large a representative element as possible. There were obvious advantages from adopting this principle, because close corporations were never desirable, and indifference very often followed in consequence of the methods of management not being scrutinised by representatives of public bodies, and, therefore, it was in the interests of those charities that there should be public representation. No doubt if the founders of the oldest of these charities had lived in these days they would have had recourse to public bodies as being the best means of finding out who were the important citizens most suited to administer their charity. It would be the continued policy of the Commissioners to give an increasing share of consideration to the claims of public bodies. But it could not always be done. The Charity Commissioners were not all powerful people, and he thought legislation might be required to carry out what was now proposed. The Commissioners generally waited until trustees expressed a wish that they should interfere, and it was only in very flagrant cases where the Commissioners originated their interference. With smaller charities they were sometimes able to do that, and the Commissioners had exercised a compulsory jurisdiction at times. They had, however, no power to exercise original jurisdiction over charities with an income of more than £50 a year, and in such cases the trustees had to come to the Charity Commissioners if they wished them to take action. Consequently it was part of the policy of the Charity Commission not to lay down any cast-iron rule, which might deter such applications in cases where they had no compulsory jurisdiction. The Charity Commissioners desired an extension of their powers, so that larger charities might come within their scope. If the Resolution were amended by the insertion of the word "possible," so that it would read "in all possible cases," he would not be so averse to it as he was in the form it at present stood.


I will accept the suggestion of my hon. friend to insert the word "possible." My Resolution is intended to be a direction rather than a command.

Amendment agreed to.

COLONEL LEGGE (St. George's, Hanover Square)

thought that neither the Mover of the Resolution nor the hon. Member representing the Charity Commissioners understood the effect of the Resolution, and, therefore, it ought to be withdrawn. It was not treating the House with proper respect to bring the Resolution forward in this way, and the best course would be for the right hon. Member to take his Resolution back, remodel it, and bring it forward again in a new form.

SIR EDWARD CLARKE (City of London)

joined in the protest which had been made against the course which had been taken by the hon. Member for Elland. He understood the speech made made by the representative of the Charity Commissioners was one directed against the Resolution as it stood on the Paper, which he said was quite unacceptable because it appeared to pledge the House to direct the Commissioners to do that which they could not by law obey. The Resolution was now to be altered by putting in the word "possible." He wished to point out what an absurdity that alteration was. It could not be suggested that the original Resolution was intended to apply to all cases possible and impossible. The word "possible" was implied in the original Resolution, and now it was contended that the insertion of this magic word would alter the Resolution so much that it at once became acceptable to the representative of the Charity Commissioners. Really, the Resolution was an absurdity on the face of it. The Commissioners could only be called upon to act in certain important cases, and when they were called upon by the trustees to deal with a charity it was on the ground that in certain respects the provisions of the trust had become inapplicable to existing circumstances, and then the duty of the Charity Commissioners was to draw up a scheme which should be as nearly as possible the former and original scheme, only altering it where it was absolutely necessary. The Charity Commissioners had no further right than that. The hon. Member who moved this Resolution said its effect might be that there would be some action taken in Chancery, and he thought that would be a good thing, and would be very useful. He thought so too from many points of view, but until the law was different from what it was to-day those who wished to institute experiments with regard to the power of the Charity Commissioners would only find that the Court was obliged to decide against them over and over again, and no matter how many actions were brought the result would be the same. Under these circumstances, surely it was unreasonable to ask the House to pledge itself in this very odd way to a Resolution which could have no operative effect at all, which had been shown by the representative of the Charity Commissioners in this House to be inapplicable to the circumstances as they at present existed, and which did not appear to be understood by the hon. Member who moved it.

MR. BRIDGEMAN (Shropshire, Oswestry)

said the hon. Member who represented the Charity Commissioners had stated that, if those pious founders who lived years ago, and left money to institutions connected with religion, to be distributed by people belonging to the same religion as themselves, had lived in the present day, the probability was that instead of leaving as trustees of their charity permanent boards consisting of members of their own religious bodies, they would have consulted the local municipal authorities to find out who were the most suitable people to administer their charities. Personally, he had not heard of many instances himself of people with charitable intentions leaving their money to borough or parish councils to be administered for charitable purposes, and he could not believe that the people whose charities were aimed at by the Resolution were in any doubt as to their intentions in leaving their money. He did not think the mover of this Resolution had made out any case of hardship under the present law. He had mentioned one case in which the Mayor of Winchester was disqualified on account of his religious opinions, but he did not allege that in consequence of that disqualification the particular charity to which he referred was badly administered. The hon. Member for Ilkeston, according to his own confession, did not realise the scope of his Resolution, and therefore he would ask him not to press it now, but to take time to consider the exact nature of the proposal which he intended to move. The seconder of the Resolution stated that the intention of the Resolution was to take money belonging to the Church of England and give it to others to distribute. No doubt many people were interested in money which did not belong to them, but that was no reason why they should be allowed to administer it.

And, it being Midnight, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed to-morrow.