« PreviousContinue »
were afraid that a certain degree of carelessness or easy goodnature, the almost necessary attendant upon official habits, might be shown in the selection; and that he whom we were willing to believe incapable of voluntarily converting into a job the most sacred part of his patronage, or of taking precautions to screen the enormous delinquency of robbing the poor, might from imperfect information, and in the hurry of a busy department, choose commissioners far less adapted to the objects of the act than those upon whose fitness a public decision by the voice of parliament should be pronounced. To assist the legislature in making this selection, we had applied ourselves with much attention in the committee, canvassing with perfect freedom the qualifications of many gentlemen who were at different times offered to our notice. And we were prepared to propose a list, in which was to be found the name of no one connected, however remotely, with any of ourselves. I may add, as far as regards myself, that all but one were of political connexions adverse to my own; that I'was upon a footing of intimacy with none of them; and that one gentleman, of undeniable qualifications having been proposed, I desired his name might be no more mentioned, as he happened to be a near relation of mine. Some persons, whose opinions I highly respect, deemed that we acted unwisely in abandoning this main point of the nomination. But we only gave it up when we found the ministers determined to oppose the bill, unless they were allowed to name the commissioners. We still trusted that the
power would not be abused ; and we looked to the wholesome control of parliament and the public for a security that the work would be done with diligence, upon whomsoever it might devolve.
The next change of importance, related to the quorum. The whole excellence of the measure consisted in the ambulatory nature of the board; because, beside the great saving of expense, unless the commissioners repaired to the spot, it was quite vain to expect an effectual investigation of the various particulars relating to local abuses. But, as the performance of this duty would be both cumbrous and endless, if the whole commissioners were to go round the country in a body, it was provided that they should divide themselves into budies of two each, and that four boards should thus at the same time carry on the inquiry, with an expedition greatly accelerated, and with a salutary rivalship among themselves. The ministers in the house of lords, changed the quorum from two to three, and left the whole number of commissioners eight, as before; thus reducing the number of boards from four to two, and leaving two commissioners wholly unemployed. As it is perfectly well known, even to beginners in arithmetic, that eight is not divisible by three, I am reduced to the necessity of suspecting that the authors of this change have no serious intention that the board shall ever be divided at all; and that they mean to make the commissioners proceed by written interrogatories sent to different parts of the country. It is already stated out of doors that such a plan has been formed; I can only say, that it must render the whole inquiry a perfect mockery; and the labors of the last session, for the correction of abuses, will have ended in adding one of peculiar grossness to the former number, by the creation of about a dozen sinecure places.
An addition was proposed by his majesty's ministers, which we cheerfully adopted, regarding it as an improvement. They suggested the propriety of naming six honorary commissioners, who might form a superintending and central body, to advise and to regulate the proceedings of the whole. The personages who were proposed to fill this department, united to great weight in the country, commanding talents and confirmed habits of business. I need only mention the speaker, Sir W. Grant, the Marquis of Lansdown, Lord Grenville, and the Bishop of London, to justify the satisfaction experienced by the committee at this part of the arrangement. It seemed even to furnish a security against the consequence of any defects in the choice of the stipendiary commissioners; and some, whose confidence in the measure had been shaken by that choice being left in the crown, felt it revive when they were told that such men as I have named, would at all events be placed at the head of the department.
The changes made in the powers of the commissioners were as important as the alterations in the construction of the board. They were deprived of all authority to prosecute their inquiries, unless by the consent of every person whom it might be necessary to examine; and they were only permitted to carry on even this ineffectual investigation, into a class of abuses neither the most numerous nor the most flagrant. It seems hardly credible, that any affecting to have at heart the great objects of the bill, should have so crippled its powers and narrowed its objects. Nevertheless, such i lament to say is the undeniable faet. In the first place, as to the powers- We had originally given the commissioners the same authority which rendered the naval and military inquiries so effectual. Imagining that persons concerned in any abuse might be unwilling to give evidence against themselves, or to produce documents which made them liable to refund large balances due to the poor, we had armed the commissioners with the power of compelling the production of papers, and obliging every one to answer such questions as did not criminate himself. The ministers in the house of lords peremptorily insisted upon this provision being
struck out. They said it was harsh—but why should any one complain of being forced to do what it is every one's duty to do, and what no one can refuse to do unless with the design of concealing some malversation? They represented it as indelicate to respectable trustees—but can any respectable trustee complain of being called upon to disclose the particulars of his conduct in the execution of his trust? They described it as unconstitutional---yet the same powers are possessed by all courts, even by commission ers of bankrupt. They called it unprecedented—yet they themselves, when in office with a truly great minister, the renown of whose naval exploits alone eclipses the glory of his civil administration, had furnished the precedent which we followed ; had passed the
very act from which we copied verbatim the clause in our bill. They attempted, indeed, to escape from this dilemma by various out
My Lord Chancellor said that he had always disapproved of that provision in Lord St. Vincent's act; yet he suffered it to pass without a division, and was, with my Lord Ellenborough, the principal advocate of the measure. My Lord Sidmouth contented himself with observing, that many persons had objected to Lord St. Vincent's bill ; but assuredly his lordship, then minister in the house of commons, was not of the number; for he strenuously defended it against Mr. Canning, who alone, of the present cabinet, opposed it. A feeble effort was made to distinguish the objects of the two inquiries. But as to their importance--can any one maintain that the expenses of the dock-yards demand more rigor. ous investigation than the disposal of funds destined by benevolence for the relief of wretchedness; or that the conduct of the person who uses a sum of the public money, without authority, and then replaces it, shall be sifted by every means of examination which can wring the truth from interested reluctance ; while he who pockets thousands a-year belonging to the poor, shall only be invited to disclose the state of his accounts in order that his undue gains may cease, and his past accumulations be refunded? Then as to the nature of the two inquiries—can it be contended that the power of examining all private merchants' accounts, in substance possessed by the naval commissioners, was less liable to abuse, or in itself less vexatious, than the power of examining the accounts of trustees, filling a public office? As for the clamor excited against the clause respecting title-deeds, no one who had read our bill could be deceived by it for a moment; because the possessor of a deed was only obliged to produce it, in case it related wholly to the charity; if
any other matter whatever was contained in it, he was allowed to produce a copy of the part relating to the charity.
All our arguments, however, were unavailing. It was resolved that the commissioners should have no powers; and what is very remarkable, the bill had been suffered to pass through all its stages in the commons without any objection being made to this essential part ; although Mr. Canning and others had given notice of an opposition, and were present at all the debates upon it. The alteration was reserved for the upper house, where one of the ministers proposed it, and none of his colleagues objected.
The objects of the bill were as materially limited, as the powers of the commissioners had been crippled.
First, they were prohibited from inquiring generally into the state of education, although a great saving both of time and expense to the public would have been effected by allowing them to make that inquiry when they visited any district for other purposes.
Secondly, they were no longer to examine abuses of all charities, but only of those connected with the education of the poor. A most unfortunate change in the constitution of the board-for every one was aware how many malversations existed in charitable insti. tutions wholly unconnected with education, and it was obviously a more natural, as well as more economical course of proceeding, to authorise the commissioners to look into these at the same time that they were examining the others, than to send one set of functionaries to investigate school charities, and then dispatch a second body to go over the same ground, in order to see what the former had been ordered to overlook.
The instruction under which the committee acted, confined its inquiries to charities connected with education. Nevertheless, we had accidently been made acquainted with abuses of a very gross description in other charities, which the powers of the commission, as now restricted, cannot reach. We found that one corporation in Hampshire, entrusted with the management of estates worth above 20001. a-year for the use of the poor, let them for 2 or 300l. on fines, and would give no account of the manner in which those fines were applied. The same body, it was stated, employed a sum of money confided to it for charitable purposes, in payment of its own debts. Ae Mere, in Lincolnshire, is an endowment for a warden and poor brethren of a very ancient date. The warden and his lessees seem to be well provided for, whatever
be the lot of the brethren; the estate consists of 650 acres, five miles from Lincoln; it is let for only half-a-guinea an acre, though it pays neither tythe nor poor's rate ; and 241. ayear is the whole sum allotted to the poor brethren. The bishop of the diocese is both patron and visitor; he has given the wardenship to his nephew; and the former warden resigned it upon being promoted by the same prelate to a living in his gift. The
son of that right reverend person is master of Spital Hospital in the same county. Besides other landed property, he is in possession of one estate worth 6 or 7001. a-year in right of his office; and all that he pays to the poor is 271. 4s. to four or five pension
At Wellingborough, in Northamptonshire, there are lands belonging to different charities, of which only one is connected with education ; a short time ago they were let for 681., although worth near 11001.; and the trustees at one period enjoyed the leases. In the parish of Yeovil in Somersetshire, there are estates possessed by trustees, and destined to four different charities, one only of which is a school. Limited as the commissioners now are, they may examine those trustees as to one part of their trust; but
they must order them to be silent as to the other three. They may inspect the deeds and accounts relating to the school revenue, but they must suddenly shut the book when they perceive any mention of the other charities. And yet all the four seem to have been equally abused. An estate worth 7001. a-year only educates seven or eight boys; lands valued at 11 or 12001. a year only afford a wretched pittance to sixteen paupers ; and property worth 1501. a-year is let for 21. Is. 4d. chiefly to the trustees themselves. There are two estates belonging to the poor
of Croydon, which ought to bring between 1000 and 15001. a-year, and yet are worth nothing from being badly let on 90 years' leases ; but into this the commissioners must not look, when they go to examine the abuses in the hospital, because those estates are unconnected with education. In that hospital itself, they will find but little within their jurisdiction; it is, indeed, full of abuse, but only a small portion of the charity belongs to the school, and even that is protected from inquiry by the appointment of a visitor--which leads me to the next head of exemption.
Thirdly, among charities connected with education, there was introduced a large class of exceptions, comprehending, not only the universities and the public schools down to Rugby, but generally all charities having special “visitors, governors or overseers.” Now it happens, that almost every considerable charity is subject to special visitation; consequently what remains for the operations of the commissioners lies within a sufficiently narrow compass.
This last alteration of the bill, we justly viewed as a matter of extreme regret. For of the many instances of gross abuse, which had come to our knowledge, and some of which will be seen in the evidence now made public, there was hardly one which this clause did not withdraw from the jurisdiction of the commissioners. Thus Pocklington school, with a large revenue, had been suffered to fall into decay, so that only one boy was taught,