HL Deb 15 June 1841 vol 58 cc1513-8
The Lord Chancellor

rose to move the second reading of the Charitable Trusts' Bill. He said, the objects of this bill were very simple and most important. It had been intimated to him, that there were some objections to this bill; but, as he was totally ignorant what those objections could be, he must wait to hear them. The object of the bill was to secure to the poor the benefit of the property devoted to their assistance; and that was attempted to be effeced in two ways, applicable to different species of property. The first object of the bill was applicable to all charities; it was to avoid the expense which was necessarily and constantly incurred when new trustees were appointed. Whatever the nature or origin of the trust, and whoever the trustees might be, they, of course, were liable to be trustees by death; and it therefore became necessary to appoint new trustees; and on their appointment it was necessary that there should be a transfer of the charitable property to those new trustees, as they could not perform their duties properly without such transfer, and there was, therefore, continually great expense thrown on the trust fund in paying the attorney employed, for stamps, and for the expense of the conveyance. These expenses, of course, lessened the benefit of the charitable trust to the poor. The object of the bill was, to make the act of appointing new trustees ipso facto vest the property in the trustees so appointed. The other object of the bill was not a mere question of expense, but a question in many instances of actual loss to the poor of the property. Their Lordships were called on to turn their attention to the subject, and to do what they could to prevent the inconvenience which had arisen from a defective statute. In the Municipal Corporations Reform Bill their Lordships might be aware that a provision was made for removing charity trusts from such corporations as they were vested in, or from persons, members of corporations, where the property was vested in individuals, but still under the jurisdiction of the corporations. He was not informed of what had taken place when that bill (the Municipal Corporations Bill) passed through their Lordships' House, nor could he explain how it was, that that enactment, as it regarded these trusts, was left as it stood in the statute. The words of the statute were,— That all the estate, right, interest, and tide which at the time existed in the corporation, or in any individual holding it for the corporation, shall continue till the 1st day of August, 1836, or until Parliament shall otherwise order, and from, and after that time shall utterly cease and determine; and after that period the Lord Chancellor, or the Lords Commissioners of the Great Seal, shall have powers to make such orders as they see fit for the reappointment of such trustees. The 1st of August arrived, and Parliament had taken no steps, nor made any provision for these trusts. Those therefore who had an interest in these trusts had applied to the Lord Chancellor for the appointment of trustees. But though the trustees had been appointed, there was nothing in the act to enable the Court of Chancery to vest the property in the trustees. Trustees had been appointed, but what was to become of the legal title of the estates? It was obvious that those who held them before ceased to hold them on the 1st of August, 1836; but Parliament did not vest the property of these estates in any other persons, and it had been a subject which had greatly puzzled conveyancers to determine, what had become of the legal estate. Some supposed that the legal estate was escheated to the Crown; some to the heir-at-law of the original founder of the charity; but it had been established beyond all controversy, that it was not gone to the trustees. It was very true, that in many instances this question had not been raised; but the tenants under these trustees had paid what they knew was due. But it was equally true, that in many other instances this had not been done, and that those who held trust property had put the trustees at defiance, and asked them to show their title, which was to prove, that they had the legal estate in them to give them legal power and authority to compel those tenants to pay what was due; and in very many instances, the trustees not having that legal power to compel payment, the objects of the charity hail been defeated, and the trustees could not administer it to the poor. He had unfortunately been made very much acquainted with these evils, and had had very many communications from persons who had found it impossible to compel payment, and the only way to remedy this defect was by the authority of Parliament. This clause of the bill then before their Lordships proposed, that the legal estate and interest of the property, of which the persons so appointed were trustees, should by this act be vested in them, He should suppose that their Lordships would approve of the objects of this act; it was the only means of checking the evil which existed, and he should hope, that it would pass, and restore to poor persons those various charities which would be affected by it. He concluded with moving, that the bill be read a second time.

Lord Lyndhurst

having presented a petition from 2,000 bankers, merchants, and others, inhabitants of Bristol, praying against the Bill, would state very shortly his ground of objection to it. It was a Bill which embraced very important considerations, and questions of very great difficulty; and he conceived that a Bill of this description ought not to have come up to that House at such a period of the session, and particularly in the state in which the two Houses of Parliament were placed at the present moment. The object of this Bill was to confirm and complete the title of those trustees who had been appointed under the Municipal Reform Act. He had no inclination or disposition whatever to do anything to assist the title of those persons. A great number of these trustees consisted of Dissenters from the church of England, and a great part of the property to which the trusts referred consisted of estates, originally granted for purposes connected with the church of England, and of advowsons. The trustees therefore became entitled to present to livings. This was a reason why he thought their Lordships ought to confirm the title of the trustees. With reference to the corporation of Bristol, he learned from the petition which had been intrusted to him, that the number of trustees appointed for the management of the estates of the city amounted to twenty-one; ten of them were Dissenters, and of the eleven who professed to belong to the church of England, some were tolerably lukewarm in their professions. A great number of the estates had obviously been granted for the benefit of members of the church of England, and there were three advowsons among the property. When the Municipal Corporations Reform Bill was under their Lordships' consideration, what course had they pursued? It was urged that many corporations possessed advowsons, and their Lordships deemed that those advowsons should be sold, and until that was done the presentment should vest in the Bishops of the respective dioceses. A remedy was therefore pro vided for that particular evil; but the case of charitable trustees possessing advowsons had been overlooked. Had their Lordships' attention been called to it, they would doubtless have made some similar provision, and he was the more entitled to say so, because he found in the Irish Municipal Act an enactment providing that none but corporators belonging to the church of England should interfere with property bequeathed for the benefit of the church of England. On these grounds he objected to anything tending to confirm the title of these trustees. It was owing to the neglect of the Government that a general Bill on the subject had not been brought forward before. The present measure ought to be considered by a committee up-stairs, and was not fit to be passed at that late period of the session. He opposed the whole Bill, for the first clause, though drawn up in general terms, would by a side-wind effect the purpose he objected to. He moved that the Bill be read a second time that day three months.

Lord Brougham

expressed his surprise at the opposition of the noble and learned Lord. An omission had been made in the Municipal Bill, which gave rise to a most pernicious state of things as regarded the administration of charitable property; and if their Lordships did not pass the present Bill, not only would Dissenters not have the patronage of this church preferment, but nobody else would. He could not see what danger could arise to the establishment, if in some corporations Dissenters should have the appointment to livings. There was nothing in the law of the country to prevent Dissenters presenting; and even Jews might do so in some parishes where they were rate-payers. All that was required was, that the party presented should be qualified under the Uniformity Act.

The Earl of Warwick

had a petition to present against this Bill from the corporation of Warwick. That corporation possessed property of much value, which they stated was not charitable, but bequeathed for the purposes of the church and the corporation; and the petitioners contended that this property ought not to be taken away from them. He should certainly vote against the Bill.

The Lord Chancellor

, in reply, observed, that under existing circumstances the property to which the Bill referred was in a state that rendered it impossible to be managed. The objections of his noble and learned Friend rested on facts; but of those facts no proof whatever was before their Lordships, and, even if they were, that would be no reason for preventing the people from the enjoyment of the rights which this measure would confer. His noble and learned Friend had also complained of the Government having left the former enactment imperfect, under the pledge of bringing forward some other measure to regulate charitable trusts, but that no such measure had been passed. He could only say, that one of the first measures which he had had to propose to their Lordships after having a seat in that House was a measure for that purpose, but it was thrown out by their Lordships.

Lord Lyndhurst

said, that with respect to what had fallen from his noble and learned Friend as to there being no proof of the facts on which he had objected to this Bill, all he (Lord Lyndhurst) wanted was a committee to inquire into the facts of the case.

The House divided on the question that the Bill be then read a second time. Contents 36; Not-contents 52: Majority 16.

List of the NOT-CONTENTS.
Canterbury Midleton
Armagh Hawarden
DUKE. Gort
Rutland Cunning
MARQUESSES. Canterbury
Salisbury BISHOPS.
Exeter Bangor
Camden Rochester
Ormonde Gloucester
Winchilsea Willoughby de Broke
Shaftesbury Saltoun
Abingdon Sondes
Morton Southampton
Haddington Kenyon
Galloway Douglas
Warwick Calthorpe
Hardwicke Bayning
Clanwilliam Bolton
Mountcashel Carbery
Bandon Redesdale
Rosslyn Colchester
Wilton Bexley
Harrowby Wharncliffe
Verulam Lyndhurst
Brownlow Stuart de Rothesay
Beauchamp Heytesbury
Somers Ashburton
Paired off.
Duke of Buccleuch Lord Hatherton
Duke of Argyll Earl of Rosebery
Duke of Dorset Lord Strafford
Duke of Buckingham Earl of Thanet
Marquis of Bute Bishop of Norwich
Marquis of Ailsa Bishop of Durham
Earl of Eglinton Lord Belhaven
Earl of Airlie Lord Clifford
Earl of Aberdeen Lord Montfort
Earl of Dartmouth Lord Dacre
Earl Cadogan Earl of Erroll
Earl of Wicklow Lord Bateman
Earl of Clare Lord Crewe
Earl of Lucan Earl of Zetland
Earl Manvers Duke of Bedford
Earl of Glengall Earl of Scarborough
Viscount Sydney Marquis of Anglesey
Viscount Combermere Earl of Leitrim
Lord Colville Lord Byron
Lord Walsingham Earl of Morley
Lord Rolle Lord Talbot of Malahide
Lord Forester Earl of Uxbridge
Lord Feversham Earl of Yarborough
Lord Tenterden Lord Hill
Lord Cowley Marquis of Headfort
Lord Skelmersdale Lord Stanley of Alderley
Lord Abinger Duke of Norfolk