HL Deb 04 August 1848 vol 100 cc1135-43

The LORD CHANCELLOR moved that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.


rose to object to the Motion. It must be in the recollection of the House that a right rev. Prelate on a former occasion expressed a strong hope that it was not the intention of the Government to persist in pressing this Bill at that period of the Session, and he cordially concurred in this opinion. Before they proceeded with the measure, it should be shown that there were circumstances of an urgent character which had presented themselves to Her Majesty's Government, so as to prevent them proceeding with this measure; but this had not been done. He deprecated the practice of introducing into that or the other House of Parliament measures at such a period of the Session, when it was clearly impossible that they could meet with due consideration. He believed that there was no reason whatever why this measure was not brought forward at the opening of the Session, and he certainly had not heard a shadow of excuse made why it had not then been brought forward. They had been told that the Bill was similar to that which was introduced last year. If that was the case, the Government should have made up their minds to have brought it forward at the commencement of the Session; for during the whole Session he had been urging on the Government not to crowd measures before the House at the end of the Session, and leave the House of Lords no business to attend to at the early part of it. It would appear that Her Majesty's Government were in full possession of this measure; there, therefore, could have been no difficulty in introducing it to the House for discussion many months ago. A right reverend Prelate had put a question some months ago to the noble and learned Lord on the woolsack, as to whether it was the intention of the Government to bring forward a measure for the better regulation of the management of charities; and the noble and learned Lord answered that it was possible that some measure might be framed in the course of the present Session for dealing with minor charities. After this question had been put by the right reverend Prelate, not less than three months had been allowed to elapse, namely, to the middle of July, before the noble and learned Lord moved that this Bill be printed; and the Bill was brought forward for discussion last week in the absence of four-fifths of the Members of that House, and at a period of the Session when the ther House was overwhelmed with the consideration of business. At such a period a measure was I brought forward for discussion which involved principles altogether new, and embodied the most extensive changes. The noble and learned Lord admitted that some of the changes proposed were of great importance, and were a departure from the principles hitherto acted upon in the management of charities, and he therefore consented to throw over a great portion of his propositions, but added that he was anxious to pass that part of the Bill which related to the minor charities in the present Session. This was not the manner in which the Government should be carried on for the purposes of legislation, or in which measures which that and the other House were called on to pass should be framed. He understood that it was intended in the present Session not to pass any portion of the Bill connected with educational charities, but that these must be attended to at any early period of the next Session; he would therefore suggest, as so largo a portion of the Bill was to be postponed, that they should put it off altogether until the commencement of the next year, when the whole subject could be maturely considered, instead of proceeding to deal with it by piecemeal. If noble Lords would examine the clauses which were to be retained in the Bill, they would observe that although it pretended to deal only with charities with revenues under 30l. a year, yet that, practically, it allowed every charity to be placed under its operation. It was certainly desirable to have the power of checking the expenditure of charities, the revenues of which were under 20l. or 30l. a year, summarily and without expense; but it was a question as to whether or not the County Courts were the fittest tribunal to adjudicate in the matter. If they looked to the expense of these courts, there could be no doubt as to its being very large. A return had recently been laid on the table as to the expense of some of these courts on a portion of the Home Circuit. It appeared that the total number of plaints lodged before the courts was 22,000. The total number of judgments given was 18,000; but not one-half of the amount of these judgments had yet been paid into court. But for these 18,000 judgments the fees of the court amounted to 4,000l., and those fees constituted 25 per cent of the whole of the money paid into court. He believed these courts were to have the power of making orders for the management of charities, without any restriction on the Judges. He objected to invest any body of men with such a power without ample notice being given for the consideration of the matter. Then how were these courts to be set in motion? What security was there against the whole amount of the funds of these charities being absorbed in litigation in these courts? He found, also, that there was no restriction as to the costs of appearing in a case of this kind, for the Judge might make the award in any manner which he thought fit, and this without any appeal, for the judgment was declared to be final. Now, suppose the case of any charity connected with the Established Church, any Dissenter residing in the place where the charity existed, if he pleased, might apply to the Judge to make a new scheme for the management of the charity, and for which he might be liable to none of the expenses, but might saddle the charity with charges more than the whole amount of its revenue. This was a large power, which should not be delegated to such tribunals without the most full consideration, and without ample checks. It was true that a statement of any proposed new scheme for a charity must be published in the county newspaper; but there was no provision in the Bill for hearing objections to it, for after the Judge had promulgated the scheme, they were told that he must deposit it in some public place; but there was nothing to prevent its being carried into effect, however objectionable it might be, for the decision of the Judge was final and conclusive. On the 19th of July, when this important Bill was introduced, it was admitted by the noble and learned Lord on the woolsack to be of a most novel character, and which should receive full consideration, as it involved principles of no minor importance. Was it too much, then, for him, on the 4th of August, when they were invited to proceed to the consideration of a Bill the introduction of which had been postponed from February to July, to ask noble Lords to postpone it from August to next June? At this time also the House of Commons was so overwhelmed with business, that they were obliged to sit from twelve in the morning to two or three on the following morning. He was astonished that Her Majesty's Government should think it to be decent to introduce this important Bill, and send it down to the House of Com- mons, where it could only go through the mere form of passing it through its various stages. Seeing, then, that this Bill might have been introduced at an earlier period of the Session, and trusting also that the House would not sanction the principle of postponing the introduction of all measures into this House until the end of the Session, but at the same time admitting that in some respects the measure might be made useful and valuable, but on the principle that such a Bill should not be introduced at such a time—and if any inconvenience should arise from postponing it, it arose from the course of proceeding on the part of the Government—he trusted that their Lordships would think that he was justified in moving that the Committee on the Bill be postponed until that day three months.


said, that it appeared to him that the objections of the noble Lord were not so much to the principle of the Bill, for he had intimated that hereafter he might be induced to support it, as to the time when it was introduced. Now this objection would apply to every measure which might be brought forward at a late period of the Session, and even to one which might contain provisions which it was essential to pass without delay. He would undertake to prove to their Lordships in a very short space of time that there were enactments proposed in this Bill which were of very great necessity, and the delaying of which would be attended with great inconvenience. Although some of the provisions of the Bill which he now asked the House to assent to, were new, the subject had long been under the attention of the Government. The present Bill contained some very pressing matters, but there were other provisions on the subject which he had originally introduced into the Bill. These, no doubt, were of very great importance, but they did not call for the immediate decision of Parliament. He had thought that the plan which had been proposed with respect to the minor charities would meet with the approbation of all, and that the tribunal which had been selected, to which they were to be referred, would not have been objected to. If the noble Lord would look at matters dispassionately, he would see that it was not one which it was necessary to delay for the purpose of long consideration. He could not help feeling that the noble Lord had not taken notice of the real objects of the Bill, or of the evils to which it was intended to he applied. Was the noble Lord aware that at present, as regarded the large proportion of the charities which at present existed in this country, there was no remedy which could be applied with respect to the maladministration of their funds, for their revenues were so small that they never would bear the expenses of applying to the Court of Chancery. It had always been felt that some means should be devised for the management of the funds of such charities. There had been great difficulty in finding a proper jurisdiction, for formerly no local jurisdiction like the County Courts existed. It was proposed some years ago to make a number of new tribunals, specially for the superintendence of these charities; but this proposition was objectionable in consequence of the expense and patronage which would be involved in the adoption of the plan. They had thus had two years' experience of the mode of carrying on local jurisdiction in these courts; and on reflection he felt strongly they were well able to undertake the duties imposed by this Bill. The noble Lord complained of the expense of these courts. When they were first established it was impossible to tell with anything like exactness the amount of fees which would be required to defray the expenses of the courts; but after mature deliberation a table of fees was drawn up. It appeared, however, that the amount of fees received in some of these courts was so large that in some instances the Judges and officers of the court had received more than they ought to have received. After the experience which they had had, and after they had been able to calculate the expenses of the courts with some accuracy, he was ready to admit that it would be proper to reduce the fees, so that the amount collected should not be more than was necessary to pay the expenses of the courts; and he hoped before long a plan would be adopted by which the fees would be reduced one-half. Every one of the Judges of the County Courts had accepted office with the distinct understanding that they were to perform any duties which Parliament might impose on them, without having any larger remuneration than that which they received under the County Courts Act; and it was extremely important that when the salaries were about to be fixed, it should be clearly ascertained what dutes there would be to perform. That was one very good reason why Parliament should at once determine whether it would, or would not, transfer to the Judges in question the proposed jurisdiction. The passing of this Bill was, however, most important in relation to the charities themselves. It was proposed to deal with 48,000 charities, for a large proposition of which there were no trustees provided, and no means of ensuring their satisfactory administration. The funds would, under the provisions of the Bill, he paid into the hands of the treasurer of the County Courts, who was to be the depository of the legal estate; but, instead of that officer having the management of the property, its administration was to be left to the trustees. If their Lordships would allow the Bill to go into Committee, he would then state what alterations he intended to suggest; but no satisfactory discussion could take place before, inasmuch as there was no objection to the principle of the measure. He would observe that there existed at present a great want of the means of local investigation, and it was Proposed to take powers for supplying that defect. It was extremely desirable that such arrangements should be made, that parties would not he obliged to bring all their witnesses and papers up to London. No one need be afraid that the proposed jurisdiction would be abused; but if any better mode of preventing abuse could be suggested than that Provided by the Bill, he should he happy to assent to it. He again submitted that the Bill ought not to be rejected because it had not been introduced sooner. If good in itself, it should be allowed to pass. Even as regarded the objection of time, he must remind their Lordships that the Bill had been before them three weeks, and that there was no other urgent business pressing on their attention at that moment.


regretted that the noble and learned Lord had treated the objection to the time when the Bill had been introduced in the manner that he had done. It was all very well to talk about three weeks being enough to consider the Bill; but there were several parts to which he objected, and he could not, in so short a Period, form a correct opinion of the details of such a subject. The Bill had been withheld until a period of the Session when many Peers were absent, and when there was no opportunity for proper deliberation; and he thought their Lordships would, under all the circum- stances of the case, be fully justified in postponing the consideration of it until next Session.


said, he must vote against going into Committee. He fully admitted the greatness of the evil; but it did not follow from that that he should take at random the first moans of meeting it which might be suggested. The very circumstance that these charities were so numerous, made it the more imperative that their Lordships should legislate with care, and make themselves acquainted with all the details. The measure was one especially of a parochial character; the charities affected by it were almost all of early foundation; and it was impossible, within so short a space of time, to acquire the requisite amount of information. Nearly all that was most important in the Bill was not to he found in the Bill of last year. No care was taken by the framers of the measure to prevent any possible abuse of the jurisdiction to be exercised. A shrewd Dissenting attorney, holding the office of Judge, might, under its operation, divert Church property from its proper object, and apply it to objects not contemplated, on the ground that he thought the new application would be beneficial. It was alien to the character of that House to sanction such a method of dealing with property of that description. On a former occasion, indeed, the noble and learned Lord on the woolsack had stated that he was opposed to the giving powers to Commissioners to change trusts, observing that to do so was to act on a novel principle in legislation. Yet the noble and learned Lord now proposed to give such powers, not to Commissioners, or to persons of high standing, but to every Judge of a County Court in England. Much as he (the Bishop of Oxford) desired to see some remedy provided for great and admitted evils, he felt that had legislation on such a subject was exceedingly dangerous; that while it was very difficult to retrace a wrong step, it was very easy to do an injustice; and he thought the House ought to have an opportunity of further considering the subject before it came to a division. Unless the Bill were fairly considered by a Select Committee, and fully deliberated upon by their Lordships, the passing of it could lead to no satisfactory result.

On question that the word "now" stand part of the question, House divided:—Contents 21; Non-Contents 17; Majority 4.

List of the CONTENTS.
The Lord Chancellor. BARONS.
Lansdowne Camoys
Clanricarde. Colborne
EARLS. Byron
Waldegrave Monteagle
Grey Campbell
Minto Beaumont
Auckland Milford
Granville. Wrottesley
Morley Leitrim
Strafford. Eddisbury.
Paired off.
Earl Spencer Earl of Malmesbury
Earl Fortescue Lord Colchester
Lord Foley Lord Templemore
Lord Sudeley Earl of Stradbroke
Bishop of Norwich Earl of Tankerville
Earl of Radnor Lord Sondes
Earl Fitzhardinge Earl of Digby
Bishop of Hereford Lord Skelmersdale
Lord Crewe Earl Jersey
Duke of Grafton Earl of Cardigan
Lord Brougham Duke of Beaufort
Earl of Scarborough Lord Forester
Earl of Charlemont Lord Beauchamp
Lord Carrington Earl of Hardwicke
Lord De Mauley Earl of Glengall.

House in Committee.

Amendment made; other Amendments moved and negatived. Report to be received.

House adjourned.