§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD CRANWORTH
, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, that the object of the measure was to relieve a very meritorious class of Her Majesty's subjects from what they conceived to be a hardship inflicted on them by the Mortmain Act. By that Act languishing and dying persons were restrained from improvident alienations of lands for charitable purposes when on their death-beds and the Act made it necessary that such gifts should be made at least twelve months prior to the death of the donor, and that the deed of gift should be enrolled in the Court of Chancery within six months of its execution. This of course excludes gifts by will. The Act extends even to lands purchased for a full consideration, except that in such cases there is no necessity that the purchase should be made twelve months before the death of the party conveying. But the necessity for enrolment extends to these cases as well as to gifts of land. The Act applied to the smallest quantity of land, and even a small plot of ground, intended for objects beneficial to the entire community, such as for a site 234 for the erection of a meeting house or a mechanics' institute, could not be given without conforming to all the provisions of the Act. Now, in the case of large gifts of land these provisions acted, no doubt, beneficially; but in such cases as those he had referred to the enrolment could not possibly serve any useful purpose. He might, perhaps, remark that a similar Bill to the one now before their Lordships was introduced in the last Session of Parliament, and was sent up to their Lordships with the approbation of the House of Commons; but during its passage through their Lordships' House the noble and learned Lord who then held the Great Seal (Lord Chelmsford) proposed a new mode of registration which the promoters of the Bill regarded as so objectionable that they preferred that the law should remain in its present state. A gentleman interested in the promotion of this measure had handed him a paper, from which it appeared that the enrolment in one case had cost a little over £9, and in another £6. This charge was of small moment in the case of large gifts of land, but was felt in the case of small plots as a grievance. These expenses might not be very heavy, but if they were attended by no advantage why should they be incurred at all? The Bill therefore provided that all grants of land for a full valuable consideration (except by will) to trustees on behalf of any body of persons associated together for religious purposes, or for the promotion of education, arts, literature, science, or charitable purposes, for the purpose of erecting thereon buildings for such purposes, shall be exempt from the provisions of the 9 Geo. 2. c. 36 and 24 Vict. c. 9.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(Lord Cranworth.)
§ LORD ROMILLY
said, he approved the general principle of the Bill, but he could not agree with his noble and learned Friend as to the uselessness of registration. He intended to move some Amendments in Committee, because he felt convinced that the enrolment complained of by the noble and learned Lord was attended with considerable advantages in the case of small charities. This enrolment, in fact, made it impossible that these charities could be deprived of land which had once been given to them. He had made inquiry upon the subject, and he was informed that the highest expense known to have been incurred for this purpose was £3 7s.
235 The cases alluded to by his noble and learned Friend must have been very peculiar and unusual in their character, and he should be obliged if his noble and learned Friend would favour him with the details, so that he might verify them. At present the fees, though not large, might be reduced by the Lord Chancellor, with the consent of the Treasury. When the Bill got into Committee he proposed to move Amendments which would have the effect of doing away with some of the preliminary steps in the enrolment— steps which were totally unnecessary. The result would be that these small charities need not employ any solicitor; but that everything might be done by their own secretaries at an expense of about 30s. or 40s.
§ LORD CHELMSFORD
said, he agreed with his noble and learned Friend that it was most desirable to prevent any secret grant or alienation of land given for religious and charitable purposes, and it appeared to him that the most effectual way to secure that object was by requiring that all those grants should be enrolled. There could be no practical objection to such a course, which need not he attended with inconvenience or any great expense. His noble and learned Friend, on the previous occasions when he moved a measure similar to this one, had invariably made enrolment one of the conditions upon which those gifts should be valid; but he had altered his views since, and had given their Lordships no satisfactory reasons for his change of opinion, or why the principle of enrolment should not be maintained; and his noble and learned Friend (Lord Romilly) had shown that such enrolment could be effected easily and cheaply. He (Lord Chelmsford) should certainly support any Amendment in Committee which would provide for the enrolment of those grants.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
said, he did not rise to offer any opposition to the second reading — on the contrary, he thought that the object of the Bill was exceedingly good and laudable. He had ever been inclined to support measures proposing to effect the acquisition of sites for these purposes in the easiest and cheapest manner. But he wished to observe that the opinion of the country upon the subject did not appear to be so general or unanimous as his noble and learned Friend who moved the second reading supposed it to be. He should have thought 236 that the various bodies throughout the country, who were proprietors of chapels built upon small pieces of land, would have been anxious to reduce to a minimum the expense attending the acquisition of sites. But he found that to be by no means the case. He had received a deputation from, a Conference of the Methodist body, representing an enormous number of chapels throughout the country which had been built upon small pieces of land granted for the purpose. Their statement was remarkable. They said it was true that the object of the Mortmain Act originally was to prevent secret conveyances of land for religious and charitable purposes; but where a small piece of land was sold out and out to build a chapel upon it there was no reason to apprehend any mischief from the secrecy of the transaction. The Act had, however, in practice, answered a larger and more important purpose, inasmuch as it had brought about a system of registration of the trusts of small pieces of ground which had proved of the highest possible advantage. The Methodist body stated that they had not a regular stationary body of ministers in their chapels. They were men who went about from place to place. Consequently the deeds of those trusts were generally loosely kept, and some of them had been lost. The result was that all traces of the boundary disappeared, and encroachments were occasionally made which gave rise to disputes as to the exact nature of the trusts, and the obligations which were imposed upon the trustees. The enrolment was, however, attended with this great advantage, that they could procure from the Court of Chancery for a few shillings an office copy of the trust deed, if required. Although that was not the object of the Mortmain Act, yet as it had sprung out of it and proved to be beneficial he (the Lord Chancellor) thought they ought to consider whether it would not be well to secure it by a special enactment. It appeared to him that all practical objects would be secured if those trust deeds were required to be filed, like affidavits, instead of enrolled, and the expense of doing so would be very trifling.
§ Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Tuesday, the 22nd instant.