I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. The object of the Bill, which is a very short one, is to increase what are known as the cy-pres powers of the Commissioners of Charitable Donations and Bequests.
The expression cy-pres means “as nearly as possible” and the legal doctrine of cy-pres is this, that where there is a gift or trust for a charity which can be substantially, but not literally, fulfilled it will be made effective by applying it so that the intention of the benefactor may be carried out as nearly as may be practicable. Thus, where a gift is made with a clear charitable intention, the gift will not be allowed to fail because it cannot be applied to the particular purpose originally intended, if such a purpose was specified. In such a case the law will substitute another way of applying the gift that is as nearly as possible to what the donor wanted. An instance of the application of the cy-pres doctrine is a bequest for the building of a church in a place where there is already a church which had not been built at the time the bequest was made. In such a case the funds may be applied to the repair and decoration of the church. Another illustration is a gift to a non-existent or unidentifiable institution, as for example, to a specified but non-existent institution for providing free meals for the poor, in which case the gift may be applied to an existing institution performing the same sort of charitable work. Likewise, if a gift is declined by a particular charitable organisation it may be applied to another charitable organisation of the same kind which is willing to give effect to the donor's charitable intentions.
The powers of administering charitable trusts cy-pres are vested in the High Court, and, to a limited extent, in the Commissioners of Charitable Donations and Bequests. Under Section 6 of the Charitable Donations and Bequests Act (Ireland), 1871, the commissioners' powers are confined to cases not exceeding £300 principal sum or £30 annual amount. In such cases, where it is found unlawful or impracticable to apply the donation or bequest according to the donor's direction or intention, the commissioners may, if they think fit, apply it or direct its application to such charitable and pious purposes as they shall judge to be best, having regard to the intention of the donor.
The sums mentioned in Section 6 of the 1871 Act now represent very small charitable gifts on account of the fall in the value of money since 1871, and the commissioners have asked me to have the amounts increased. The increases suggested, namely £2,000 principal sum, in the case of personal property, £60 rateable valuation in the case of land, and £100 annual sum, are specified in Section 1 of the Bill, which proposes to substitute a new Section for Section 6 of the 1871 Act.
There are at present about 20 small charitable trusts, exceeding £300, and not exceeding £2,000, in each case, which will have to be administered cypres and, in the ordinary way, applications to frame schemes would have to be made to the High Court. In these cases, the expenses of High Court proceedings would be out of proportion to the amount involved, with the result that there would be a disproportionate loss to the charities concerned. In these circumstances, the commissioners are holding their hands, so that the Oireachtas may consider an amendment of the law on the lines of this Bill.
There is in course of preparation a comprehensive Bill to consolidate and amend the whole statute law in relation to charities. This Bill, as Deputies are aware, has already been introduced. It will be based to a great extent on the report of a committee established by my predecessor to consider the matter. Unfortunately, the Bill has taken longer to prepare than we anticipated and Deputies will probably want plenty of time to examine it when it is available in the near future. In the meantime, I am asking the House to consider the Bill now before it which proposes what, I trust, is a non-controversial amendment of the existing law for the purpose indicated.