HL Deb 04 August 1836 vol 35 cc891-901
The Lord Chancellor

, in moving the second reading of the Charitable Trustees Bill, reminded their Lordships, that it was resolved last year to insert a clause in the Municipal Corporation Act to allow charitable trusts to remain in the hands of the existing trustees until the 1st of August in this year, unless Parliament should pass some other measure prescribing other regulations. That time was now past, and their Lordships were called upon by the exigency of the case, as well as by the petitions which had been laid upon the table of their Lordships' House, to provide some measure for the future, as well as for the better, administration of the charitable trusts. For that purpose the House of Commons had passed the Bill, the second reading of which he now moved their Lordships to agree to. The noble and learned Lord then proceeded to quote from the Report of the Commissioners appointed to inquire into charitable trusts, the cases of Exeter, Truro, Cambridge, Ipswich, and Winchester, in respect to the corporations of which the Commissioners had reported, that in some cases a considerable portion of the charitable funds placed in their trust had been devoted to purposes of bribery and corruption at elections, and in others malversation and waste had been practised to a great extent. The noble and learned Lord said, that in referring to those cases it was not his intention to point out to public censure any particular individuals belonging to those corporations, or to say which of them might or might not be guilty of the transaction stated, but to show generally that the Commissioners had made out a case which proved, that great misappropriation and mismanagement were chargeable upon some corporations in whom the charitable funds had been invested. The reasons why a similar Bill was not passed last Session were, he believed, first, the late period of the Session at which it was brought before the House, and, secondly, the great difficulty which was felt in providing a proper remedy for the evils which were acknowledged to exist. He regretted that the present Bill had not been brought before their Lordships at an earlier period of the Session, but he trusted, that as the subject was a most important one, they would not begrudge the time which they might be called upon to devote to it, in order to come to a conclusion as to the mode in which charitable funds should be hereafter administered. The Bill proposed plans which he thought likely to meet with the support of their Lordships. It would secure the election of individuals proper to be entrusted with the management of the funds in question; it would secure an investigation into the mode in which those funds were administered; and it provided for the publicity of the accounts—a sure safeguard against mismanagement. The new trustees were to be elected in a manner least likely to engender party feeling, and at the same time, in places where there were two parties, to meet the wishes of both. The council of each borough would first meet, and having ascertained and fixed the number of trustees, they would call upon the burgesses to elect them; but it was provided that each burgess should vote for only one-half of the number of trustees, thus giving both parties in the borough an equal chance. The trustees, not being a corporation, were to elect their own chairman, but in the event of their being so equally divided as not to agree in electing a chairman, the mayor was to be the chairman. The trustees were to be elected every three years. That was the outline of the Bill; the other parts of it related to minor regulations among the trustees, who were to appoint their own treasurer and secretary, and to make such arrangements as they might deem necessary to carry into effect the objects of the respective charities.

The Earl of Falmouth

wished to take the earliest opportunity of replying to some observations which the noble and learned Lord had quoted from the Report of the Commissioners with respect to the corporation of Truro having been guilty of mismanaging the charitable funds committed to its care. He could not let it go forth to the public that Truro had been convicted of such conduct, without putting in his protest against such a statement. It was true that the Commissioners had made that statement in their Report; but in his opinion, and in the opinion of persons who were best acquainted with the corporation of Truro, there never was a more iniquitous Report. The corporation of Truro would have proved that at the bar of their Lordships' House, if they had not been prevented by a summary process, on which it would not become him to express an opinion. Truro had been convicted without a fair hearing, but he strenuously protested against that conviction; and he would say, before their Lordships and the country, that there never was a corporation more incapable of mismanagement of charitable funds than that of Truro; it was composed of men who were above suspicion, and although he was unwilling to make comparisons, yet with respect to property, education, and qualifications for good local government, there was no comparison between the late corporation and that which had been called into existence by the new law. It might be suspected, that he was connected with the corporation of Truro; he might have been if he had thought proper to adopt certain manœuvres, but since the passing of the Reform Bill he had had no connexion whatever with the corporation. He was, however, acquainted with the facts of the case, and he must protest against Truro being again pointed out as an instance of mismanagement of charitable funds.

The Duke of Wellington

would acknowledge, that their Lordships were bound to find some means for the proper administration of charitable funds; but he wished to point out to the House, that the noble and learned Lord had adverted only to some of their past proceedings in reference to this subject. Their Lordships would remember, that in the course of last year, when this subject was under consideration, a noble and learned Lord (Lord Brougham), whose absence from that House he sincerely regretted, more particularly because if he had been in his place he believed they would have been spared the pain of the present discussion, but that noble and learned Lord moved the clause in the Municipal Corporation Bill, now in existence as an Act of Parliament, under which the persons who now administer those charitable trusts referred to were to continue in power untill the 1st of August in this year. The object of that provision was to give the noble and learned Lord time to consider of a measure to be proposed to this House for the future regulation of those trusts. That was the professed object of the noble Lord, and he (the Duke of Wellington) must confess, that he agreed in that proposal, because he felt, that there was no man in this country who had given so much of his attention to that subject, and therefore so capable, as that noble and learned Lord, or at all events, more capable, of producing to that House a proper measure for the administration of those trusts hereafter. Their Lordships had not had the advantage of the presence of that noble and learned Lord this year, and for that reason, as they had, in the course of the present Session, upon the question of certain amendments upon the Corporation Reform Bill being discussed, inserted a clause to continue the present trustees for another year, up to the end of the next Session of Parliament, in order to give time to that noble and learned Lord to come into his place in that House, and to propose a measure for the future administration of these trusts; or, if the noble and learned Lord should, unfortunately, not be able to attend in his place in that House, that some other noble Lord might come forward and place such a proposition before their Lordships as would be worthy of their adoption. Now that was a part of the question to which the noble and learned Lord, in moving the second reading of the Bill, had omitted to advert, but which he ought to have borne in mind, because, in point of fact, the House now stood precisely in the same position in which it did last Session, because provision had been made for the temporary administration of charitable trusts—that was to say, up to the 1st of August next year. No step had been taken which could prevent any measure which the noble and learned Lord, whose absence they all lamented, might think proper to propose; the question was left fairly open. As to the measure which the noble and learned Lord had now recommended to the House, the object of which professed to be to appoint trustees for the better management of those charities which had been left by beneficent individuals to their fellow-citizens, and which he believed had been generally well managed, although it appeared that some persons had been accused of mismanagement, but of which there was not much proof, he did not expect they would be much better administered hereafter. The mode of electing trustees proposed was similar to that in the case of assessors under the Municipal Corporation Reform Act; but there was a wide difference in the nature of the offices; the duties comprised not only a regular mode of keeping and auditing the accounts, but the administration of the patronage of those charities; and he was not disposed to give that administration to either party in these corporations. He regretted exceedingly that corporations had been formed on party principles at all; but he objected still more to those parties being invested with a power over the patronage of these charities, and he believed that the noble and learned Lord, to whom he had so frequently alluded, had that object principally in view, and wished to prevent the patronage of those charities from being at the disposal of parties in corporations. With these views, he would recommend the noble and learned Lord to adhere to the rule which had been adopted by the House already, to secure which he should move, that the Bill be read a second time that day three months.

Viscount Melbourne

begged to submit to their Lordships that the cause stated by the noble Duke did not afford sufficient ground to warrant their Lordships in delaying the progress of the present measure. The noble Duke had stated, with great accuracy, that his noble and learned Friend (Lord Brougham), whose absence they all regretted and deplored, had intended to bring in a Bill for the general supervision of all charitable trusts, and therefore it was that the clause to which the noble Duke had referred had been introduced. It was also perfectly true that when the Bill for the amendment of the Municipal Corporations Act was in Committee, a clause was introduced containing the arrangement as to the administration of these funds, until the same period in next year, as was enacted in the Municipal Corporations Act of last year. But he begged to call the attention of the noble Duke and the noble and learned Lord (Lord Lyndhurst) to the fact that he (Lord Melbourne) took an objection altogether to the introduction of the clause, because, as he had then stated, its introduction was likely to interfere with the course of legislation; he was, however, told that the clause only provided for things remaining as they were until Parliament should otherwise direct. He, therefore, contended that that circumstance ought not to be any bar to their considering any measure that might come up from the other House of Parliament in the course of the present Session. He thought, therefore, that although the clause in question had been adopted, it ought not to be pleaded in bar of going to the second reading of the Bill before their Lordships. He begged also to state, that the fact of his noble and learned Friend's having intended to introduce the Bill to which the noble Duke had referred, ought to be no bar to their Lordships proceeding with the present mesaure, because the Bill so intended to be introduced by his noble and learned Friend, was to be a general measure applicable to all charitable trusts, and for the purpose of affording a more easy remedy for the abuse of these trusts than the courts of law of the country at present supply. It never was the intention of his noble and learned Friend to supersede all local administration of these charities, because it was absolutely necessary that there should be some local power to whom the authority of administering these charities should be confided, in the places where they exist. It was an argument in very common use in that House, that the lateness of the period of the Session ought to induce their Lordships to pause in passing Bills. Now that was a very proper argument to use, if the Bill to which it referred was of a complicated nature, and required much consideration; but if it was a short Bill, distinct, clear, and simple in its enactments, then that was only a formal mode of objection, and had nothing real or substantial in it. He would not enter into the subject as to whether these Corporations had abused the charitable trusts or not; but that they had used them for political purposes was a ground of charge against many of them, and perhaps, in some instances, not without good reason. There must be a local control of charitable trusts, and where could it be better placed than in the hands of the people of the town? and that was what was proposed to be carried into effect by the present Bill. If any objections existed as to the details of the measure, they might be considered in Committee; but as it was an admitted fact that these funds were placed in improper hands, would it not be folly not to remove them into others? Would it be justifiable to leave them where they now were, if a remedy could be found? If, therefore, the present Bill would do that, and suit the circumstances which were to be provided for, surely it ought to pass. It was highly necessary for the due administration of justice, in the first place, that such should be the case; it was also prudentially necessary in the second because, if the proper administration of these trusts were not provided for, they would prove the source of great evils, rather than of benefit, to the places to which they belonged. It was also imperatively necessary that they should be administered without a view to party interests, or to party politics. He thought the present Bill well calculated to effect these objects; and he did not think there was anything in the arguments of the noble Duke to induce their Lordships to refuse to go on with the measure.

Lord Lyndhurst

said, true it was, it was a very short Bill; yet the subject was a most difficult one to deal with; indeed, as much so as any that could be proposed to Parliament. The Bill was introduced into the House of Commons on the 7th of June; it was much discussed there, divisions took place upon it, and it did not come up to their Lordships' House until the 29th of July, and it was not until that very morning that the prints of the Bill were in circulation. Under such circumstances it was, that their Lordships were now called upon to discuss the merits of this question. Now what was it which passed last Session on this subject? His noble and learned Friend (Lord Brougham) objected as strongly as any individual could do against a principle which was contained in the original Bill —namely, that the election of the trustees should be vested in the town-council. He proposed to strike out that clause, that proposition was adopted, and the clause to which the noble Duke had referred was introduced in its stead. The measure intended to be introduced by his noble and learned Friend (Lord Brougham) did not relate to the charitable trusts, of Corporations alone, but to all the charities in the kingdom, and for the framing of such a measure his noble and learned Friend was, of all men in England, the most competent. In consequence of the absence of his noble and learned Friend the clause extending the period to the 1st of August next was adopted in the Municipal Corporations Act Amendment Bill, in order to afford his noble and learned Friend the opportunity of redeeming the pledge he had solemnly given to Parliament. If their Lordships did not allow him to have the opportunity of redeeming that pledge they would be acting inconsistently with the view they took last Session. The objection to the clause in the Bill of last year was, that the trustees were to be elected by the town-council, who were party men. How was this objection met by the present Bill? Why it increased, because it placed the election in the hands of the burgesses at large. Would they not be party men, and would they not administer these trusts on party principles? But then he knew it would be said, that, in order to prevent partiality, no person could vote for more than half the number of trustees to be elected. The result of this would be, that there might be an equal number of each party, and the most bitter conflicts would take place between them. Was there ever a principle so absurd? The charitable funds were to be administered by two parties, who were equally divided as regarded the questions that were to come before them for decision. But, then, there was a device framed; and these devices, he observed, were always creeping in to get rid of an obvious difficulty—the chairman of the trustees was to have the casting vote. If the trustees did not elect a chairman, then the mayor was to be chairman. He would belong to the Ultra-liberal party; and, considering the parties to be equally divided, the mayor would then turn the balance in favour of his own party. To this principle he had the strongest possible objection, and he thought it insurmountable. Be it remembered also that a great portion of these charitable trusts belonged to members of the Established Church; but they would be administered by Dissenters, seeing that the election was to be vested in the burgesses at large. He begged it to be understood that he cast no reflection on that body. He knew among the Dissenters from the doctrines of the Church of England there were to be found men of great piety, of learning, and of most exemplary character; but he did not choose to accede to the proposition of appointing Dissenters to administer the funds belonging to the members of the Established Church. He knew he should be told that having admitted Dissenters into Corporations by the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, they ought to have this power. But that was a doctrine to which he could not accede. Upon these grounds, shortly stated, it was, that he opposed the second reading of the Bill, which he considered fraught with mischief and inconvenience. Now what was it they were to expect from the operation of this Bill? By the Municipal Reform Act, Louth School was exempted from its operation; but under this Bill it would come under the Corporation. He called upon their Lordships to look at one of the petitions which had been presented from Louth. The petitioners did not say, that that school was not well managed; but they said it was improper that it should be a grammar school, and that it ought to be turned into a commercial academy. Was not this a touchstone to show what the intentions of the provisions of the Bill were, and did it not show that it was intended to give to Dissenters the control over funds which were intended only for the benefit of members of the Established Church? Now, he, for one, would never consent to such a proposition. He, therefore, concurred in the motion of the noble Duke, in order to give his noble and learned Friend (Lord Brougham) an opportunity of redeeming his pledge, not only as regarded the charitable trusts of corporate towns, but of every other town throughout the kingdom.

The Lord Chancellor

said, the question was not whether their Lordships agreed to all the details, but whether the principle of the measure was one which they would reject. With regard to the case of Louth School, to which his noble and learned Friend had referred, that had been not only an educational charity, but a municipal charity also, but by the Municipal Reform Act, the municipal portion was taken away from under its former trustees, and the educational portion continued in their hands. The House of Commons had not yet finally decided upon the rejection of, or the acquiescence in, the Amendments made by their Lordships in the Municipal Corporations Act Amendment Bill. He begged their Lordships to consider what would be the state of these charitable funds, and of the persons whose existence depended upon their application, if that Bill should be lost. The consequence would be, that every borough which had any charitable funds to administer would be under the necessity of applying to the Court of Chancery. He hoped their Lordships would enter into the consideration of this measure, particularly as it would not interfere with any general measure which might be introduced.

The Marquess of Lansdowne

said, that when the noble and learned Lord stated, that this Bill vested the rights and the patronage of the Church of England in Dissenters, the real objection which the noble and learned Lord entertained, although he did not choose to state it in those words, was to the majority of the burgesses and inhabitants in the various towns. The noble and learned Lord objected to their having the election of the persons by whom the charities instituted for their benefit should be administered.

Lord Lyndhurst

said, the noble Marquess had altogether mistaken his argument. The case which he (Lord Lyndhurst) had put, with respect to the interference of Dissenters, applied not to charities, as the noble Marquess seemed to suppose, intended for the general benefit of a town, but specially dedicated to purposes connected with the Church of England.

Lord Ellenborough

regretted, that the effect of rejecting this Bill must be to continue for another year the administration of charitable property as it now stood; but, whatever inconveniences might arise from such a state of things, he thought it would, nevertheless, be preferable to passing a measure such as this, including, as it did, many provisions to which he had the strongest possible objection. For any delay which had occurred in legislating upon this subject, his Majesty's Government were alone to be held responsible.

The House divided on the original question: — Contents 22; Not-Contents 39: Majority 17.

List of the CONTENTS.
The Lord Chancellor Minto
Leinster Duncannon
Richmond Holland
Clanricarde Lyttleton
Headfort Melbourne
Lansdowne Plunkett
Tavistock Prudhoe
Westminster. Torrington.
Charlemont Bristol
Ilchester Hereford
DUKES. Warwick
Cumberland LORDS.
Wellington Bayning
Bute Colville
Ormonde De Lisle
Salisbury Dunsany
EARLS. Ellenborough
Abingdon Farnborough
Bandon Gage
Beauchamp Gort
Brownlow Lyndhurst
Falmouth Maryborough
Glengall Montague
Harrowby Redesdale
Liverpool Strangford
Mansfield Wharncliffe
Rosslyn Armagh
Canterbury Gloucester
BISHOPS. Lincoln
Cork Oxford

Bill put off for three months.