HC Deb 02 February 1948 vol 446 cc1529-34

Order for Second Reading read.

6.53 p.m.

Mr. M. Philips Price (Charity Commissioner)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

As a rule, it is not necessary for the Charity Commissioners to trouble this House with a matter concerning the variation of a trust. However, in this case it is thought to be necessary because Sutton's Hospital in Charterhouse is a rather exceptional case. The view is taken that this trust cannot be altered without the consent of Parliament, because it was set up under Statute. In 1611 a Royal Charter provided funds for an almshouse and a free school for poor persons. I should like to make it clear that the well known school at Charterhouse is not directly affected by this alteration in the trust, though, of course, originally it comes from the same foundation.

The Charter of 1611 was confirmed by Act of Parliament in the reign of Charles I, in 1627. That is the reason it is felt that any alteration of the trust must have the consent of Parliament. Under the original Charter, a preacher was provided to preach and teach the word of God to the inmates. This provision was confirmed by the Act of 1627. A house was provided, and a sum of £350 a year. In addition, there was appointed a master for general administrative purposes. Under the terms of the trust the master must he a clergyman of the Church of England able to assist the preacher in divine service.

In 1941 the buildings of Charterhouse in London suffered serious war damage. Some very fine old buildings were destroyed. The governors consider it desirable to set by funds for the purpose of assisting in the restoration of these buildings. In addition, it is expected that insurance money will be available. The Charity Commissioners gave permission in 1929 for the trust to dispense with a preacher when it was found that economies were necessary. That decision was later confirmed. In 1941, after the bomb damage, the Charity Commissioners gave permission for the sum of money set by for the preacher to be set by in future for restoration work.

It is generally felt, and the governors agree, that it is unnecessary to nave both a master and a preacher, because both are members of the Church of England and both are able to conduct divine service. What the governors want is that the office of preacher shall be dispensed with and that of master retained. The Charity Commissioners agree with this suggestion, which will save a sum of money. Among the governors is the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Bill consists of two Clauses, the first of which confirms the scheme approved by the Commission in 1929, and again in 1940, to dispense with a preacher. Clause 2 cites the short Title of the Bill. There is a somewhat lengthy Schedule which sets forth in detail the scheme of the Charity Commissioners in 1929 and the variations suggested in 1940 and 1942.

7.0 p.m.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe (Liverpool, West Derby)

On behalf of hon. Members on these benches, I would like to say that we offer no objection to the Second Reading of this Bill. In fact, the principle that there should be recourse to this House after the comparatively short interval of 321 years is one which commends itself to us highly. With regard to the trust and its religious aspect, the hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House has shown that not only are the religious aspects to be well regarded, but that the Archbishop is a trustee and will be able to have it under his hand. For all these reasons, we are prepared to support the Bill.

7.2 p.m.

Mr. Wilson Harris (Cambridge University)

I do not desire to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill, which has been so felicitously moved by the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Philips Price), but I think it is an occasion when we should have a full knowledge of the circumstances, and I am impressed by the paucity of the details which have been given us by the hon. Gentleman. He gave us so little information that I should like to impart some' myself, and also, I hope, elicit a little more from him.

The hon. Gentleman began his story in 1611, but, of course, it began in 1349, the year of the Black Death, when Sir Walter Manny, who I have no doubt was a lineal "ancestor" of the present Secretary of State for War—purchased six acres of ground at Smithfield in order to bury the victims of the plague, and it continued to be used for that purpose until 50,000 had been interred there. After that, he took the slightly insanitary step of building a monastery on top of them. That monastery, in spite of its inauspicious start, existed and prospered for many years until King Henry VIII came to the Throne. It was then dissolved, and its prior was beheaded in accordance with the practice then prevalent, to which I take no exception at all.

To take the position of Mr. Thomas Sutton, although he is embedded in the Schedule to this Bill my hon. Friend made no reference whatever to it. It is extremely important to know who he was, and whether his activities were such as would commend themselves to this House. I am glad to be able to assure the House that they were. Sutton made a large fortune out of coalmining, which deserving persons, unhappily, are no longer able to do; we prefer the Coal Board which loses money rather than makes it. With this money, Sutton founded this institution of Charterhouse in the year 1611, when a number of other eminent persons were engaged, for better or worse, in translating the Authorised Version of the Scriptures. He also contributed money for fighting the Spaniards in the Armada, and equipped a vessel which distinguished itself considerably in that engagement.

Let us turn for a moment to the Schedule to this Bill, to which my hon. Friend paid so little attention. I see there a most disturbing statement. In spite of the various provisions in the preceding Measure, the establishment of the hospital will henceforth cease to include a preacher. If we are to start on that road, we shall find before long that this House will cease to include a Chaplain, and from that it is only a step, if I may say so with all reverence, to ceasing to include a Speaker.

In this matter of the preacher, my hon. Friend gave us a little further information, because he said that the duties which properly attached to the chaplain are to be discharged by the Master, but I should like to ask him whether he has received any representations, from the "National Union of Chaplains" on this matter, because it seems to me to be a piece of blackmail into which we ought to look further. We were not told what happened to Charterhouse during the Great Fire of London in 1666. Perhaps my hon. Friend did not tell us because, in fact, nothing happened to it, since it was outside the zone of that conflagration. But he might have referred to the fact that Colonel Newcome, who attained such mastery over the Latin language, made historic use of the term "Adsum" as an inmate of Charterhouse. Having made these further points clear, I am content to leave the Bill in the hands of my hon. Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean.

7.6 p.m.

Mr. Walter Fletcher (Bury)

I have heard with horror that I am a product of a plague pit. I believe I am one of the few hon. Members of this House who are old Carthusians, having been educated at Charterhouse. I do not know whether any of them will wish to address the House, but I would like to call attention to Thomas Sutton and to the Founder's Prayer which I heard for about four years nearly every day of my life at term time.

Mr. Vane (Westmorland)


Mr. Fletcher

It went like this: Thomas Sutton, our municifent benefactor, by whose great benefit we are here maintained for the promotion of piety and good literature. I think it is only education like that"—piety and good literature"—which has produced the result that all four old boys of that school are sitting on this side of the House. The piety has been referred to as being preserved, although we are getting [...]d of the preacher, since the master will carry on that duty. But what about good literature? I should like to be assured that the action now being taken will not diminish the opportunities for the study of good literature by those who have the advantage of being educated at this school. These old institutions are so easily swept away, and the economic reasons that are put forward sound so very forcible that, no doubt, nobody would presume to vote against them.

I feel that we want a little more reassurance from somebody, and I hope that, hi the face of this very old and splendid institution, we shall not pass this Bill very lightly. I do not know whether any other voices of old Carthusians will be raised in support of this theory that piety and good literature should be advanced and may be just as useful in helping one in a Parliamentary career as in any other. Perhaps the tour of us shine with a peculiar light, and that is no doubt due to the fact that we were educated under that principle.

7.8 p.m.

Mr. Vane (Westmorland)

May I who received such education as I may have thanks to the generosity of Thomas Sutton, say that I do not think hon. Members need have any fear that the founders' objects of piety and good literature will be seriously damaged by the provisions of this Bill. When that particular hospital was founded, there were two institutions side by side in London, and now there are only 60 old gentlemen and the Master considers that he can cater for their needs himself without the aid of a preacher. There is, however, one question which ought to be of great interest to this House, because, after all, this is a hospital not far away from where we are now, a place of pleasant architecture designed for old gentlemen who may have fallen on not too good times. We do not know whether, before very long, we ourselves may not have need to apply to spend our remaining days in this admirable institution, where the same sort of gossip as we indulge in in the smoking room can be continued indefinitely. One other point which was mentioned by the hon. Gentleman who spoke before me, was that many distinguished people had been educated there. There was even one Prime Minister who was, we were told, among the least distinguished but now I am afraid that record has been lost to Haileybury.

Mr. Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)

I gather that this refers to the hospital buildings. It has not been made quite clear whether the old gentlemen are to be Old Carthusians. If they are, it would appear to me to have been slightly improper that so many Old Carthusians should have spoken without declaring their interest. Perhaps the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean will make that clear.

Mr. Philips Price

I understand that there is no provision in the trust that they must be only Old Carthusians; it is open to all. There is an additional reason, of course, why this House should vote for this abolition, because, as the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) informed us, we might all find ourselves in that position some day. It may be that I, being an Old Harrovian, would not have quite the same chance as an Old Carthusian of getting in, but I know that, in fact, there is no actual privilege for any one class of the community, from whatever source they may have come. It is open to all.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second Time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House for Tomorrow.—[Mr. Joseph Henderson.]

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