HL Deb 30 October 1995 vol 566 cc1279-82

3.9 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 7 [Construction of bequests, etc. and powers of trustees.]

Lord Howie of Troon moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 4, line 7, after ("(1)") insert ("Subject to subsection (1A) below,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in raising the matter I shall repeat one or two remarks that I made in July last when the Bill was read a second time.

First, I should make it absolutely clear that the Bill has nothing whatever to do with the wider question of the closure of St. Bartholomew's Hospital. We are not talking about that but about a much narrower matter.

As noble Lords will remember, I spoke on the matter last July at the request of my old friend and colleague, Ron Brown, the former Member of Parliament for Shoreditch and Finsbury. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, will remember him well. Mr. Brown's concern was with the St. Bartholomew hospital trust, with which we are dealing in the amendments.

I wish to speak to both amendments together as one is consequential upon the other. I am merely interested in the effect of Clause 7 of the Bill and am not opposed to the merger with which the Bill deals as a whole. I wish to make absolutely certain, beyond peradventure or doubt, that the intentions of the hospital trust are continued after the merger in the same way as they were and in the manner in which the trust was originally intended to function.

The problem is that as a result of the provisions of Clause 7(1), the objectives of the charitable trust are likely to be prejudiced. At present the trustees are authorised to seek the promotion and advancement of all aspects of education at the medical college and hold the trust's assets for those purposes. Under the terms of the Bill, however, the assets of the trust will be held on different terms, as Queen Mary and Westfield College will replace the medical college as the holder of the assets. That would mean that the assets held by the trustees after the amalgamation would be applied towards the promotion and advancement of education at the amalgamated body, which will clearly not be confined to medicine and surgery, as they are at present. The crux of the matter is to ensure that the assets of the trust are devoted to medical education and not to education in general.

The Bill as it stands will permit the new body to spend its funds over a much wider range of educational functions and that would be quite wrong. The medical college building at Charterhouse Square was purchased in 1932 for the benefit of medical research with funds raised by public subscription. I believe that it is important to maintain the property for the purpose of the medical college, thereby respecting the wishes of those whose generosity originally funded the purpose.

We had a considerable debate on the matter last July and considered whether the new trustees would carry on in the same manner as at present or whether they would be tempted to change their attitude. In the course of the debate there was an interesting contribution by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, which is to be found in Hansard for 19th July 1995 at col. 351. He drew attention to the fact that the university authorities cannot always be trusted to do what they are asked. He put it in the following words: I have seen a number of dubious transactions in universities. I have seen chairs in accounting converted to the study of the more esoteric crevices of economics. I have seen bequests to teach drama used to fund lectureships in English literature. And who can forget the dismay of Lord Nuffield at seeing a college which he hoped would teach practical engineering and train industrialists converted into a temple for the social studies by that wily operator Lord Lindsay of Birker?

That was amusingly put, but it points to the fears which some people have that, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said at Second Reading, although a form of words might be agreed between the merging groups which would protect the purposes of the trust, nevertheless the changes to which the noble Lord, Lord Annan, so amusingly drew our attention last July indicate how the best laid schemes of mice and men "gang afta-gley".

Although a form of words was hoped for and promised, I do not believe that any such form has been agreed. If I am mistaken, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, will tell me. It had been suggested that the Charity Commissioners might permit changes in the trust deed in order to deal with the matter and to protect the original purpose of the trust. However, the other day I was told that the Charity Commissioners have not agreed to that course of action. Thus we are left with a situation where the form of words has not been agreed and the Charity Commissioners have not undertaken to permit the trust deed to be changed, as was hoped. That leaves us with the only possible course of action to protect the objectives of the trust: to amend the Bill in the manner which I suggest. I do not wish to meddle with the Bill, but that is the only way to ring-fence the intentions and purposes of the trustees. I beg to move.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

My Lords, it was perhaps a little disingenuous of the noble Lord, Lord Howie, not to quote the next passage in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Annan. I too remember it with the utmost pleasure. Having made the points particularly about Lord Nuffield and Lord Lindsay of Birker, the noble Lord, Lord Annan, went on to say at the end of his speech (again at col. 351 of Hansard for 19th July 1995): With great respect, although it is perfectly true that bogeys do exist, this bogey is a pumpkin, and fit only to frighten tiny tots". Therefore, I must confess that it was with some disappointment that I saw that the noble Lord, Lord Howie, had tabled the amendments. Those who were present at the Second Reading will remember that we had a splendid debate. Several former vice- chancellors of the University of London and other universities spoke eloquently in support of the Bill. I received a message today from the noble Lord, Lord Dainton, that he too assures me of his fullest support.

However, since then the Bill has been painstakingly examined by a Select Committee of this House. I am pleased to see all the members of that Select Committee present here today. They reported the Bill without amendment.

The noble Lord, Lord Howie, is perfectly right. At Second Reading he and the noble Lord, Lord McGregor of Durris, drew attention to the point on Clause 7 about the trust. They were concerned about what the effect of the Bill would be. The matter was examined painstakingly by the Select Committee and counsel for the objectors to the Bill produced a witness specifically to deal with the point. He was examined and cross-examined by counsel for the promoters, who also addressed the committee, and the committee reported this Bill to this House without amendment.

But it does not stop there. Only last week, the council of St. Bartholomew's Hospital medical college debated the issue again. It came to the conclusion that the Bill should not be amended. This amendment is not wanted; it is not required. As I said, it is not thought to be necessary by the council of St. Bart's medical college or by the chairman, Sir Anthony Dawson, and the trustees of the St. Bartholomew's Hospital Medical College Trust, or by the Charity Commission, which the noble Lord mentioned, or as I said by our own Select Committee.

Perhaps in view of the noble Lord's remarks, I might be permitted a sentence or two to say why the amendment is unnecessary. It is unnecessary because the trustees, who renew themselves, retain complete discretion to continue to use their assets for the support of medicine and research within Queen Mary and Westfield College. Nothing in Clause 7 of the Bill constrains the trustees in any way whatever. It would, of course, be another matter if the Bill were to require them to give support to non-medical matters; or if the power to appoint new trustees passed away from the trustees either to the college or to some other body. But that is not the case. Indeed, the promoters of the Bill obtained counsel's opinion to the effect that the trust's powers are not widened in the way that was supposed or assumed. I believe that that is what lies behind the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Howie. Queen Mary and Westfield College agreed with the trust that it will use its best endeavours to ensure that the trust continues to support matters relating to medicine, surgery and dentistry. A number of courses are open to it, including approaches first to the Charity Commissioners and to the courts.

I am also advised—although I entirely take the point that when laymen come to draft amendments it is not always very easy—that the amendment on the Marshalled List is defective. The noble Lord was offered discussions with the principal of the college, who wrote to him last July. He did not take up that offer. So far as I am aware, he has not discussed the matter with any of those who represent the promoters of the Bill. The fact is that the amendment moved by the noble Lord would have the effect of narrowing the powers of the trust, and the provisions would then conflict with and override to some extent the wishes of the donors who originally endowed the trust. I hope therefore that, having reflected on my remarks, on the very wide support that the Bill received at Second Reading, and on the fact that the committee examined this very point and reported the Bill without amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, will not press his amendment to a Division.

Lord Annan

My Lords, since my name was invoked by the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, I apologise for not having observed the very wise dictum, first stated, I believe, by St. Thomas Aquinas, about being economical with the truth. I did, as it were, give hostages to fortune by indicating that there were occasions in universities when the wishes of donors were not observed. However, the wish of a donor in giving a gift is a very different matter from the solemn obligations that trustees take upon themselves. That is why I entirely support the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding.

Lord Howie of Troon

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, for his very detailed reply to my remarks. I must make it clear that my intention was not to oppose the Bill, as he perhaps hinted, but merely to amend it. I also sought, as I believed, to strengthen it. The noble Lord suggested that my amendment was defective in a technical sense. The noble Lord may very well be right. That happens in this House from time to time, even when parliamentary draftsmen, and not laymen, draw up amendments.

However, in view of the fact that the debates as reported in Hansard are widely read and have greater legal strength now than once they had, and in view of the noble Lord's explanation, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 2 not moved.]

On Question, Bill passed.