HC Deb 24 March 1919 vol 114 cc183-6

Order for Second Reading read.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

This is a very brief Bill, and the necessity for it arises because, after the cessation of hostilities, certain charities in Scotland found themselves in the possession of funds which they could not distribute because the object for which the money had been subscribed to those charities no longer existed. The most familiar case is that of the charitable funds which were raised for the very deserving purpose of assisting our prisoners of war in Germany. In Scotland it is impossible to distribute these funds now without judicial authority, and the ordinary process which is involved in that matter is to present a petition to one of the divisions of the Court of Session for authority to devote the funds to an object which is nearly connected with that for which the funds had been subscribed. In order to obviate the expense and delay of that procedure, this Bill proposes that the committee which held the funds should be entitled to distribute them in accordance with some cognate scheme which has been approved of by the Local Government Board, or that the charitable body should have the right to hand them over to some charitable institution approved by the Local Government Board. Accordingly, the abject and the scope of the Bill is simply to enable those charitable bodies to distribute their money now in accordance with the law, and to relieve those who have administered these charities of the responsibility which they held under the original statute in connection with these funds. The Bill has already been passed in another place, and I venture to ask the House to allow it to pass through all its stages now.


I think it is recognised that some machinery such as is provided in this Bill is necessary to deal with the situation which has been created in regard to war charities in Scotland. I believe in England there is no such similar machinery provided. I believe that they have to make an appeal to the Court in order to obtain permission to transfer a sum of money to any particular purpose, which might have no relation to the object for which the money was originally subscribed. I hope my hon. and learned Friend will not take all the stages to-night. I should be prepared to propose in Committee that the scheme proposed by the Local Government Board in Scotland should lie upon the Table of the House, and receive the assent of the House before it became law. I am sure it will create a deal of controversy as to the way in which the money is to be disposed of. Personally, I am not at all sure that the Local Government Board is the best body which might be selected for this purpose. I only hope my hon. and learned Friend will not press it to-night, so that any Members may have an opportunity of moving Amendments in Committee if they desire to do so.


Members of the House are well aware that in Scotland, as in other parts of the country, during the War a very large number of committees sprang up for the purpose of collecting funds for various War charities, and also for the purpose of disposing of them as long as the need existed. There is no doubt in Scotland at the present time a very large amount of money which we might regard as being temporarily difficult to dispose of because of the cessation of the War and the disappearance of need for which the funds were subscribed. Unfortunately, this Bill proposes to place it in the power of committees which were appointed in the various localities to dispose of their balances, but I want to emphasise most strongly that many of the committees were not in the least democratic in character. They were quite useful for the purpose for which they were created, but the people will require some say in the disposal of the money which remains over. This will lead, I am very much afraid, in some of the larger communities in Scotland, to a wild scramble on the part of the various charitable associations and agencies for the benefit of funds which survive, and that, I think, is highly undesirable. I would very much rather that the Government, in introducing this Bill, had proposed that we should have some centralised machinery whereby the money might be disposed of, and I had intended to suggest that it might be handed over to some agency, to some local authority, town or county council, or, at any rate, some popularly elected body in Scotland, which would apply the money to the best of their ability in accordance with the intentions of the people who subscribed the funds, and more particularly under the protection of some control on the part of the people through these popularly elected bodies or authorities. That is not proposed by the Bill at all. The Committees which were set up to collect the funds are apparently given almost unlimited powers, subject to the approval of the Local Government Board, and I think that is a weak part of the scheme. The sole object of these very brief and inadequate remarks is to secure some form of popular control in the disposal of the money, and I think that that will be best achieved by the adoption of the proposal which would pool the money under the direction of the local authority, and see that it was given to necessitous and deserving objects in the localities. The committees were purely temporary in purpose and outlook. They cannot possibly, in many cases, apply these funds even to schemes which were similar to schemes for which they were collected, because with the War the schemes have disappeared and the needs too. I think, therefore, the way suggested would be a better way of dealing with these funds.


I rise merely with the object of adding my protest to that of my hon. Friend opposite that the Government should desire to take all the stages of the Bill to-night. I am glad, from the gesture of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor-General, that that is not the case, because this Bill deals with very large sums of money subscribed for by the public of Scotland, who have absolutely by this Bill no say in the way their money is to be expended. A great deal might be done on the lines suggested by the last speaker by some locally-elected body, who would have the right to speak as to the disposal of the money, or the alternative suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy, that a scheme should be drawn up and lie on the Table of the House, so that the Parliamentary representatives of the people concerned should have the right of bringing consideration to bear upon the very large sums of money involved.