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SIR SAMUEL ROMILLY, M. P.
HENRY BROUGHAM, ESQ. M. P. F.R.S.
ABUSE OF CHARITIES.
"Whoever will examine the state of Grammar Schools in different parts of this kingdom, will see to what a lamentable condition most of them are reduced. If all persons had equally done their duty, we should not find, as is now the case, empty walls without scholars, and every thing neglected but the receipt of the salaries and emoluments."
Per Lord Kenyon, C. J. 6 T. R. 493.
"It is absolutely necessary, that it should be perfectly understood, that Charity Estates all over the kingdom are dealt with in a manner most grossly improvident; amounting to the most direct breach of trust."
Per Lord Etdon, C. 13 Ves. 580.
VOL. XIII. Pam. NO. XXV. A
My Dear Friend,
I Have resolved to throw together in a letter, several facts and observations respecting the abuse of charities, and especially respecting the bill, which, as chairman of the education committee, I introduced into parliament last session. I prefer this mode of bringing the matter before the public, to making a statement in my place; because I shall in my own justification be under the necessity of touching upon several things personal to myself, and which I should therefore most unwillingly obtrude upon the house, whose kind indulgence, as I often experience it, I am very reluctant to abuse. It seems also material, that the subject should be fairly laid before the country without waiting for the meeting of parliament, which may not take place until after Christmas.
Whoever has been permitted by the courtesy of the house, or authorised by the appointment of a committee, to undertake the management of any important legislative measure, is responsible, in the first instance, for its success; and if he has, by influence which he could not resist, been prevented from pursuing his object in his own way, he owes to himself the duty of shewing to whom the blame of the failure belongs. Yet I hardly think I should have been induced to give this explanation in the present case, had the comparatively insignificant question of my own conduct been alone involved in it. My belief is, that great as the errors are which have been committed, some good may yet be attained by directing the public attention to the proceedings under the act; while, at all events, the defects of that measure, and of the steps already taken to execute it, can only be supplied by a full discussion of the whole subject.
I believe there never was a measure brought forward with more deliberation than the bill for inquiring into the abuse of charitable funds. The education committee of 1816, having observed many instances of malversation, and of negligence in the management of such property, recommended a parliamentary commission, as the most effectual and economical mode of bringing to light the still more numerous cases of abuse which every one suspected to exist. In 1817, the committee again met; but my illness prevented it from doing more than repeating the recommendation of the former report. We knew well enough that a bill might easily have been carried through parliament during the remaining part of the session; but sufficient time for maturing the details of the measure was wanting, and we felt the propriety of avoiding every thing like rashness, even at the risk of being charged with procrastination. As soon as we were again appointed, last March, we applied ourselves to the subject of the bill, and its introduction being recommended in our report, I was instructed to move for leave to bring it in. I did so early in April. Every day's inquiries in the committee demonstrated the necessity of the measure, and threw light upon its details. Skilful professional men assisted me in preparing the bill; it underwent a minute discussion above stairs; it was then communicated to his Majesty's ministers and to the law officers of the crown; and, as there was reason to apprehend that the principal opposition to it would be made in the lords, it was submitted to the highest legal authority in that house, as well as to the secretary of state for the home department, to whose province, I was informed, the subject in an especial manner appertained. About ten weeks elapsed from its introduction to the passing of the act; the whole time being occupied in discussing its provisions, and in altering almost every part of them again and again. I believe it was printed not fewer than six times.
If the framers of the measure cannot be accused of rashness or impatience, so neither are they liable to the charge of party-feeling or of undue prepossession in favor of their own views. The committee, composed of above forty members, taken indiscriminately from all parts of the house, have agreed in every matter that has come before them from the first day of their appointment in 1816. I do not recollect a single instance of a division. Of course, 4s always happens in committees, the regular attendance was confined to a few upon whom the labor chiefly devolved; but these were for the most part gentlemen who differ with me in politics; and a constant communication being maintained between those who took an active part in the inquiry and those who attended but .seldom, the least dissension among us would have led to an immediate assembly of the greater part of our numbers. I have there. fore a right to assume that a real and complete unanimity prevailed among us in all our proceedings.
Having the fortune to take an active part in the political business of parliament, and to be involved in its contests, I was peculiarly solicitous to avoid every thing that might seem to proceed from party attachments or dislikes. For a proof of this, I appeal to those members of his Majesty's government with whom I had the honor of communicating from time to time; and I am confident they will admit that I received every suggestion of theirs with the greatest respect. Indeed the changes which I adopted at their desire, sufficiently prove that, if I am liable to any charge, it is to the imputation of having surrendered too many of the provisions originally made in the bill. It is material that a few of these changes should here be mentioned.
As the bill at first stood, the commissioners were to be named in it. The ministers proposed that the appointment should be vested in the crown; that is in themselves. To this important alteration the committee with extreme reluctance submitted, rather than assented. We were aware that upon the fitness of the persons selected to carry on the inquiry its success mainly depended. We had before us the examples of the commissions of public accounts, and of naval and military inquiry, from which the country had derived the most signal benefits, chiefly, as we conceived, because the acts establishing those boards had nominated the members who were to form them. No private selection of commissioners, how conscientiously soever it might be performed, could give the same security against improper or inefficient appointments. Without accusing the minister to whose department it belonged, of so foul a crime as a wilful prostitution of patronage in this most delicate matter, we felt that all men in high office, are beset by applicants; that they must frequently trust to others for their information as to individual merit; and that private friendships often blind very respectable persons in the reports which they make or the suits which they prefer. We could not indeed believe that the secretary of state was capable of choosing men whom the place might suit, rather than those suited to the place; that he could shut his eyes to the claims of acknowledged merit, and prefer unknown persons backed by powerful supporters; or that, instead of regarding their fitness for the new office, he should bestow the salary as the wages of former service. Least of all did a suspicion ever enter our minds that care might knowingly and wilfully be taken to avoid those men, whose zeal for the cause, and whose habits of investigation gave a certain pledge that all abuses would be sifted to the bottom, and that the guilty would in no station be spared.