§ Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [29th October], "That the Bill be now read a Second time."162
§ Question again proposed.
§ Mr. E. BROWN
This is a Bill which I regret to stop at this time of the evening. Its range is so wide, its scope so unexpected and the powers given to the Department under Clause 3 are so extraordinary, that it ought to be the first Order of the day if the Government are serious in their desire to pass it into law. I have very grave doubts as to whether I ought not to move that it be read a Second time upon this day six months, 163 and for this reason: I am in no doubt whatever that Clause 3, if unamended, ought not to be passed. My views as to Clauses 1 and 2 are not the same. They are much milder and east in a very different form, which has the backing of a Report of a Home Office Departmental Committee on Charities in 1927—Command Paper 2823. In October last we had a Debate of about 45 minutes, in which three short speeches were completed, and I then began a speech which I hope to complete before eleven o'clock to-night. The Home Secretary then, in his usual tactful way, made a very delightful and plausible speech in favour of the Bill, but, unfortunately, he did not give the House enough detail to enable it to make up its mind as to the merits of the Bill. Therefore, I hope the House will permit me briefly to recite what the Bill attempts to do.
This is a Bill to provide for the investigation and regulation of charities that appeal to the public for support. The Bill falls into three main parts. Clause 1 gives power to the Charity Commissioners to inquire into the affairs of collecting charities. Clause 2 gives power to the Charity Commissioners to regulate collecting charities. Clause 3, which requires to be turned inside out, is a wonderful illustration [Interruption.] I would point out to members of trade unions opposite that this particular Clause may very easily gravely injure them in certain operations of trade unionism. I would advise hon. Members opposite, before they give their vote for the Second Reading, to turn to the Debate on the Accrington Corporation Bill of last year, and to read the speech then delivered by the present Secretary of State for War, in which he warned the House of the danger of giving to a local authority the precise powers that the Home Secretary is asking for in this Bill.
The illustration that the right hon. Gentleman gave was this: Suppose, he said, that a trade union or any other organisation desired to make a collection from door to door in its own area for a distressed fund for miners. It would have to go for a licence; its collectors would have to be licensed before they could collect for the charity. It does not require much imagination to understand that a licence might not be granted 164 in certain circumstances if particular people had the power of giving or withholding the licence.
Therefore, although the hour is late, it is not my fault that the Bill has been brought up at this time, and my public duty compels me to bring to the notice of hon. Members the scope of the powers for which the Home Secretary is asking in Clause 3. I desire to put certain questions to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department since the Home Secretary has exhausted his right to speak in this Debate. Clause 3 provides that the Secretary of State may make regulations—unspecified and unstated—enabling him to do three things: (a) He may permit persons to make or cause to be made visits from house to house for the purpose of making appeals for support for any collecting charity. (b) Persons may be permitted to make or cause to be made in places of public entertainment or public refreshment, collections for any collecting charity. (c) Any collecting charity may cause collecting boxes to be exhibited in any shop for the purpose of making appeals for support for the charity. Those are the three things which may be secured if the House passes the Bill in its present form by giving the Home Office the power to make regulations which are not specified.
The Home Secretary informed the House that some of the objections to the Clause in the Accrington Bill had been removed. He said he had received a deputation of the larger collecting charities, including, I presume, such organisations as the Salvation Army, the British Legion, organisations for the blind and other charities of that kind. I understand he made an arrangement with them. What the arrangement is I do not know. Whether or not he is going to give them some kind of committee on which they may be represented was not disclosed, but before the Bill gets a Second Reading, we are entitled to know what organisations were received, and what promise was made to them to abate the stringent opposition which they put up against this proposal when it was made in a local Corporation Bill in Lancashire. My attention was called to the Accrington Bill by the Salvation Army. When the Salvation Army was being persecuted in Torquay 40 years ago, my father, although not a member of the organisation, went out and carried 165 a banner for them, and I have always been interested in the work of the Salvation Army and I suppose that was why they approached me. The Salvation Army have had their objections partly or mainly removed, but what is the position of the smaller charities who were not represented on the deputation? What will be the position of organisations which may be formed for perfectly good causes after the Bill becomes law? If this Bill had been law 40 years ago the Salvation Army would never have been regulated to collect from door to door and from house to house, because it would not then have been one of the big collecting charities, such as those which have had the advantage of putting their case to the Home Secretary as highly organised national bodies with powerful followings. These are weighty considerations and ought to receive attention from private Members in all parts of the House. I put to the Under-Secretary the questions which have arisen in my own mind and I do so without comment. Before I vote for the Second Beading of the Bill I want satisfaction on these points.
(1) Is it possible for the Secretary of State to inform the House as to the composition of the deputation of the great charities who consulted him and with whom he appears to have made an arrangement? If this information is not confidential it ought to be given to the House and the names of the organisations represented ought to be frankly stated so that we may know who has been consulted and who has not. The Departmental Report estimates that the number of charities in this country is 80,000 and obviously 80,000 organisations could not have been heard by the Home Secretary.
(2) If this cannot be done and the information is confidential, were any of the smaller charities consulted or how many of the 80,000 can fairly claim to have been represented at the conference which allowed the main objection to the proposal to be withdrawn?
(3) What type of regulations is in the mind of the Home Office?
(4) Who is to be responsible for their administration and operation?
(5) Is there to be any machinery for consultation with unorganised charities?
166 (6) How will the views of new organisations or of the competing claims of national and local benevolent societies be met?
(7) Is it contemplated that regulations may be made that no charity shall be able to collect from house to house without the approval of a local authority?
(8) Is the licence given to a committee or organisation to cover all individual collectors, or is each individual collector to get a personal licence? As the Clause is drafted I am quite in the dark on this point.
(9) What has the Secretary of State in mind with regard to the danger of strangling new endeavours? For instance, some 40 years ago the Salvation Army which is now one of the great charities was a struggling and persecuted organisation and any other new and worthy organisation may have to battle for its life. How is a similar organisation to be heard under the new proposals?
(10) Are the great missionary societies of all churches included in the list of societies consulted? As far as these great organisations are concerned the great part of their collecting is done by children from door to door organised through the Sunday schools of churches of every denomination.
(11) Is any special regulation designed with regard to collections or concerts or local whist drives, the selling of tickets for such things, or for local infirmary collections, or have the organisations concerned in those things been consulted among the other bodies?
(12) Were the trade unions consulted with regard to the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston (Mr. Shaw) when a similar proposal was made in Clause 180 of the Accrington Bill, which was rejected partly owing to the right hon. Gentleman's powerful appeal?
The last question is this: Is there to be any right of appeal—and I apply this question not merely to Clause 3, but to the other parts of the Bill also—and, if so, to what authority? I think those are very reasonable questions and questions which the House will agree demand an answer before, at five minutes past ten, after an hour and a half's debate, a Bill of the scope of this Bill gets its Second Reading. May I be allowed to quote 167 from the Report of the Departmental Committee about this matter, because while it is fairly closely followed in some respects in Clauses 1 and 2, it is not by any means followed in Clause 3? Paragraph 121 of the Report says:The simplest method of supervising door-to-door-collections appears to be by framing regulations similar to those for street collections; but in order to secure uniformity—the need for which is clearly much greater—we suggest that the regulations should be made, not by the police authority, but by the Secretary of State, and should apply throughout the country.That is a very significant paragraph. Why not the police? Surely if a fraud takes place the police should be the competent authority to decide as to who are the persons to have the licence, if we desire to save subscribers from fraud, and if the police are not in favour of the proposal, can it be that they do not wish to work such a proposal? If it is not to be the police authority, and the Secretary of State is to make regulations, this House ought to be told, in answer to the question which I put, among others, precisely what form of authority is contemplated by the right hon. Gentleman for the application of these extraordinary powers. Paragraph 122 of the Report says:The essential point of the supervision should, in our opinion, be control by way of licensing an individual to make collections in a specific police area for a specific charity on the application of that charity. The police have told us that they cannot undertake to investigate the character of every street collector owing to their very large numbers. We imagine that the number of door-to-door collectors in the aggregate would be very much less if licences were made compulsory, but if the issuing, or at least the viséing, of a licence in each area is considered impracticable, the grant of licences should be safeguarded by providing that applications are made to the police authority either where the headquarters of the charity are situated or where the collector usually resides.That is the Report. As I understand the Bill, the Home Office contemplate making their regulations effective through the police authority, despite the Report, which says that the police authorities do not desire to take this onerous and difficult task. Our people in the past have respected the law because the law was usually passed after adequate debate and with a fair amount of general consent. Our people have had a very canny way 168 of finding a great capacity for breaking laws that do not carry such consent behind them and have not had such debate. More than that, the people are getting a much lower regard for law since we had the third kind of law, not law made in this House, not law made in the Courts, but law made by Regulations and by Orders through Government Departments.
To give one illustration of that, I would refer to the speed limit. That is a law of the land that is daily broken, not merely by citizens outside this House, but by those inside the House, who drive ears. There is another very ordinary illustration, and that is street betting. If an ordinary citizen passes along by a corner and sees a "bookie" giving his slips, and spots a policeman coming, to use the workmen's phrase, he is not adverse to giving him the tip that the "cops" are coming. The reason is very simple. He thinks that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor, and he has no respect for that law, and there is no general consent behind it. Clauses 1 and 2 have a great deal to be said for them, but unless we can get assurances about the form of Clause 3, this House should hesitate to give a Second Reading to the Bill, because I regard Clause 3 as so vague in its drafting that it is one of the worst samples of legislation by reference that this House has ever been asked to pass.
§ Sir KINGSLEY WOOD
The hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown), who has just spoken, has made one of his usual powerful statements, but I am rather sorry he began his speech by making an apology. There is no need for the hon. Member to apologise when he opposes a Bill introduced by the Home Secretary. Surely the new regulations which have been laid down by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) do not mean that hon. Members on the Lioeral Benches need apologise when dealing with the merits of a Bill of a purely non-political character. I do not think this Bill would really affect votes in many ways, and I think the hon. Member might take his courage in his hands and need make no apology for his very powerful speech. This is an occasion, surely, when we can all exercise that independent co-operation indicated by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs.
169 This is an important Bill, affecting the great charitable institutions of the country, and I think I can say that, in common with most Members of the House, I have been approached from, time to time with regard to its provisions. When it is realised that under this Bill, at any rate as presented to the House, the Charity Commissioners could absolutely close down a charity in this country without any right of appeal, I think it will be agreed that it calls for scrutiny from every hon. Member in the House. It is true to say that the Home Secretary, after he had introduced the Bill and in response to a suggestion which was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy), said that there would be some provision made with regard to the right of appeal. What that appeal may be, what he had in his mind, he did not indicate, and the first question that I want to put to the Under-Secretary of State is this: What exactly is the appeal which is to be allowed to the charities of this country, which may, under various Clauses of the Bill, after an inquiry has been made into their affairs, be practically wound up?
It would be useful, I think, if I amplified what the hon. Member for Leith has just said with regard to the very drastic provisions of the Bill affecting charities both large and small. A number of charities which call themselves national charities, which have been in communication with the Home Secretary at various conferences, have made certain objections to these provisions, and he has made some suggestions to them by way of meeting their difficulties. Every hon. Member will agree that we have to protect not only the national charities, but the many small charities operating in particular localities, banding together perhaps only a small number of workers but who are vastly interested in the work that they are doing. The House might very well direct their attention to their interests and rights. Let me remind the House that under this particular provision the Charity Commissioners are in the first place given the right to inquire into the affairs of any collecting society. A very curious provision is inserted in this first Clause, because it says,If upon the representation of the council of any county or county borough or of a chief officer of police it appears to the Charity Commissioners.… that there is 170 reasonable cause to believe that any collecting charity ought to be regulated under this Act,various powers are given them. That is very vague phraseology. It is difficult to define what should be brought within that particular representation. Many hon. Members will have experience of legal decisions in matters of that kind, and they may say that this follows a particular precedent, but I do not recognise it. What it really amounts to, apparently, is that if any council of any county or county borough like to make representations to the Charity Commissioners, not on any specific grounds, but because they have some sort of objection or complaint as regards a specific charity, they can appeal to the Charity Commissioners, who, in their turn, without—at any rate for the moment—any specific right of appeal to any court of law, can put into operation the very drastic powers which are contained in this Bill. They can, for instance, order any bank which happens to have the money of the charity to withhold payment to the people who actually invested their funds there, and they can order this particular charity to be wound up.
That is a very drastic power to give. I am confirmed in that in some respects by the Report of the Departmental Committee. I could understand it if the Departmental Committee who inquired into the charities of the country had said that fraud was rampant, that the great majority of charities were being used for bogus purposes, that a large number of people were living on these charities, and that they ought to be stopped; but that was not the report of the Departmental Committee. I am glad to say, from the point of view of the charities of the country and of the good credit of the nation, that they found that out of 80,000 charities, only about 100 could be said to be preying upon the public. That hardly justifies the drastic provisions of this Bill. I do not think many people would say that you are entitled to impose stringent conditions upon the great body of charities in this country, national and small, and that because 100 rogues are preying on the public you ought to be able to bring in a Bill of this very drastic character. Clause 3 is certainly a very drastic power indeed. Perhaps 171 the hon. Gentleman who is going to reply will refresh his memory by looking at Clause 3. There it says that the Secretary of State may make regulations as to the conditions under which persons may be permittedto make or cause to be made visits from house to house for the purposes of making appeals for support for any collecting charity.Does that mean that before any charity, any missionary society or trade union benevolent fund—[Interruption]—if there are such things—or any society in connection with the great Roman Catholic Church or the great Protestant churches of the country is allowed to make visits from house to house it has to get a permit from the Home Secretary? That is a very extraordinary idea. [Interruption.] If, as the hon. Member who interrupts in those dulcet tones suggests, they cannot do it now, then surely there is very little necessity for this Clause 3. I invite the Under-Secretary to make a note of this for the purpose of his reply. Is it suggested that the Home Secretary is to make special regulations for every individual charity, or are they to be regulations which apply to all charities up and down the country? If he tells me the Home Secretary is going to make regulations for particular charities, I think it will lead to a very difficult state of affairs both from the point of view of Home Office administration and from the point of view of the charity itself. If, on the other hand, he tells me the Home Office is going to make general regulations, then I suggest that regulations which will be applicable to a great national charity such as Dr. Barnardo's Homes or the National Children's Homes may work very hardly in the case of a small society. Before the House passes this Bill we want to know what the Home Secretary has in mind.
I also want to put this point to the Home Secretary. I have been requested to do so by the London County Council, who have administered previous Acts with considerable efficiency. I think they have already put certain questions dealing with the repeal of certain Acts before the right hon. Gentleman. They state that a Memorandum was submitted to the Departmental Committee in accordance with the resolution of the council in July, 1925, and evidence was given, and that—this is 172 a proposal of the council which I think is well worth consideration:Stated shortly, the proposals of the council subject to certain important provisos, were that all charities should be dealt with on the same lines by means of a consolidation Act and that all collecting charities which had to be regulated should be dealt with generally on the lines of the War Charities Act, 1916, and the Blind Persons Act, 1920, that is, by a system of registration, but with certain modifications of the provisions of the Acts mentioned.What the London County Council say is, "If there is any question about the administration of charities, let them all satisfy a competent authority and become registered." I do not think many charities would object to that mode of procedure. When the Salvation Army, for instance, or any other charity, was registered it would know that it had satisfied the licensing authority and that it would be free to carry out its beneficent work, and it would not be subject, as at the present time, to some body coming down upon it at a moment's notice without its knowing, from anything laid down in an Act of Parliament, what it was that was required of it. What they suggest is that there should be a system of registration. They say:The Bill, if it becomes law, will presumably apply to war charities and charities for the blind, but no proposal is contained in the Bill for the repeal of the two Acts under which these charities are at present dealt with. Thus there will be an overlapping of functions. The question arises whether, if the provisions of the intended Act are regarded as adequate for dealing with charities generally, there is any reason for continuing the Act of 1916 and the registration provisions of the Act of 1920.The Under-Secretary of State will, I know, readily appreciate this point raised by the London County Council. With his knowledge as a member of the upper branch of the legal profession, he will no doubt see the necessity of the repeal of the two Acts or Parliament which have been referred to by the London County Council. Those are the points which they have asked me to put before the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State far the Home Department.
In conclusion, I would say that I do feel that we shall have to give further consideration to this Measure after it has gone through Committee, and when we know what the right hon. Gentleman proposes with regard to the right of appeal, 173 and how he proposes to deal with charities, that is to say, whether he is going to deal with them individually or whether he is going to make general Regulations. I also say that any Regulations which he makes and which are not provided for in this Bill ought, before they become law, to receive the confirmation of this House. I think that is only fair to the great charities and to the small charities of the country. Trusted as no doubt the right hon. Gentleman is in certain quarters, I think he will be the first to agree that in matters of this kind, in which so very many people give very valuable service and do a great deal of good, he should not take powers in this particular direction without them at any rate receiving the confirmation and affirmation of this House. Therefore, speaking only for myself on this matter and on this occasion, I do say that we shall have to examine this Bill very carefully indeed in Committee. I do not propose to divide the House on this matter, but I think hon. Members in all parts of the House will agree that we must be fair to the great institutions up and down the country, and to the small ones as well, which have done very good work. Simply because there have been some 70 or 80 rogues who have lived by this particular method of attracting money from the public by bogus means, we must not be led into harming the genuine institutions which have done so much good. I think we should guard very carefully the provisions contained in this Bill, so that we do not do any undue harm to, or put vexatious Regulations or restrictions upon, the great number of institutions which are doing such excellent work.
I know that it is sometimes a bit of a nuisance to be stopped by a collecting box or to be worried to give a contribution to some charily; but, after all, none of us is blind, and we all are well aware of the great amount of good work which has been done by institutions of that kind, of all the various religious beliefs and denominations, and coming from all sections of the community. Nobody helps those charities more than the working men and working women of the country. Many of those charities are manned by working men and working women; many of them represent the lifework of a very large number of people in what are called, for want of a better description, humble walks of life: and I should be very sorry 174 indeed if through a Bill of this kind we stopped in any way their beneficent activities, or interfered with the good work which they are doing.
I hope that the Home Secretary will have regard, not perhaps to what I have said, but certainly to what has been said by the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown) in much better terms than I have used. I hope he will have regard to the natural apprehensions which many of us feel as to the possible effects of the provisions of this Bill, and that he will see that nothing is done to interfere with the beneficent work of the very large number of small and big institutions up and down the country.
§ Mr. HANNON
I will not detain the House for very long, because I want the hon. Gentleman to have the fullest opportunity to reply, but I would like to associate myself with what has been so well said by the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown) and by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood). This Bill, in Clause 3, is introducing into the legislation of this country more drastic procedure than, possibly, has been presented to this House for a long period in any Measure suggested for its consideration. The charitable work performed by voluntary bodies of various kinds in this country is one of the outstanding features of our social life, and it would be a monstrous thing to set up this inquisitorial system at the instance of the Secretary of State in order to examine every sort of proposal which people are carrying out in order to give effect to the dictates of charity in this country.
Let me say that the charities with which I am particularly concerned are those great charities that are carried on in season and out of season, frequently in circumstances of great difficulty, by the Catholic Church of this country. There is, for example, the magnificent work which is being done by the Sisters of Nazareth. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman if he is going to set up a sort of inquisition for examining into the motives and purposes and policy of these splendid workers in the cause of charity, who go from house to house and receive subscriptions to enable them to minister to the needs of the poor, and who minister frequently to the needs of poor people who have no possible means of being helped from any other source.
175 I can say without any qualification that the great charitable societies of this country working in association with the Catholic Church have nothing whatever with which to reproach themselves throughout their whole record as having ever done anything to violate the great principles which should govern charities of this kind. But, under a Measure like this, with such provisions as are contained in Clause 3, some twopenny-halfpenny official is going to exercise positive control over the directive faculty of these charitable orders, and to prevent them from carrying on the valuable work which they have done for so long. I am quite certain that the hon. Gentleman does not contemplate anything of that kind, and I hope he will respond to the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Leith and my right hon. Friend the Member for West Woolwich as to modifying the drastic provisions of this Clause in order to safeguard the great, helpful and uplifting work that is being done by these particular organisations for charitable purposes associated with the Catholic Church.
I would like also to ask the Under-Secretary what this Measure is going to cost the country in additional cost of administration. How much will have to be provided by the Charity Commissioners for the personnel that must be attached to their present Department in order to carry on the work contemplated by this Measure? We ought to know in this House how much all these new projects for State control of every kind of voluntary effort in this country is going to cost the taxpayer. The Under-Secretary of State, of course, is not particularly concerned about the taxpayer so long as he is tending to establish universal Government control over the activities of the nation. This is an instance in which, above all others, charitable people ought not to be stifled, in which voluntary work in the great cause of helping the poor ought not to be circumscribed and limited, and in many instances destroyed, by legislation by reference of the kind contemplated in this Bill.
The hon. Member for Leith very properly referred to the continuous trend in this House towards legislation by reference. Almost every single Measure that is introduced gives power to a Secre- 176 tary of State or the head of some Department to make secondary legislation for the direction of the activities of the people of this country. Here is a case to which objection can be taken on the strongest possible grounds. The efforts of charity in helping the poor, in bringing into contact with the beaevolent intentions of the people those who need charity, is to be limited, restricted, cabined and confined at the instance of a Government official. I associate myself with the hon. Member for Leith, who has done great service by the expenditure of time and thought that he has given to the examination of this Measure. I hope we shall have the benefit of his help in Committee in recasting this project in a form which ultimately, while serving the purposes of the great charities, will prevent any kind of fraud upon the benevolent, and will at the same time secure that the great cause of charity in this country shall not be stultified.
§ Mr. BOWEN
I conceive that the Bill is drafted to deal with some recognised evil. If that be the case, I hope the Under-Secretary will tell us what that evil is. If it can be tackled adequately without a Bill, which may arouse a good deal of controversy and opposition, I think we shall be better able to deal effectively with it. I have been looking at Clause 3, and I beg the hon. Gentleman to tell us if it is anticipated that some modification of the Clause will be made. There is no time for me to examine it in detail, even if I felt competent to do so, after the speeches that we have heard. I do not look upon this as a party question at all. I ask my hon. Friend to tell us in what respect some protection can be given to the tremendous work done by our hospitals in seeking support. I gather from some people who object to the Measure that they regard with considerable apprehension the possibility that they may be treated as pedlars before they can appeal to the public for funds for a public institution. There is another small point. As I read the Clause, there is the possibility of estopping any spontaneous opportunity which may present itself for the gathering of money for charities. I was present at a meeting last night and someone spontaneously suggested a collection for a charity that is conducted in the neighbourhood, and a fair sum was 177 collected. As I read the Clause, it will not be possible to do that kind of thing in future. I beg the hon. Gentleman to give us his assistance in that regard.
§ Mr. PHILIP OLIVER
We must all be very grateful to the hon. Member for his most interesting intervention in the Debate, because the points which he has brought before the House are very gravely exercising the minds of a large number of people who are concerned with some of our most important charities. This Measure was considered, especially Clause 3, by the Northern Association of Hospital Secretaries in October last year when it was first before the House. They are a very responsible body, and the meeting that considered the Measure was the largest attended meeting that it has held. The secretaries and superintendents of no fewer than 30 of our hospitals were there from towns like Manchester, Liverpool, Warrington, Bradford, Leeds, Sheffield, Hull, Chester, Stockport and Oldham. The secretaries of all the great infirmaries and hospitals of these towns were very much perturbed indeed as to the effect of Clause 3 on their finances. The hon. Member has stated the cause of their perturbance, which is the effect that the Measure may have upon their voluntary collections.
Let me point out what the effect will be. A big hospital will almost certainly have what is called a workpeople's fund committee. There are committees in connection with our hospitals staffed by working people who spend their spare evenings sometimes in making a mass attack upon some particular districts. They go round from door to door. There are other hospitals which have beds or cots supplied by particular districts. The person responsible is somebody who lives in the district. It may be the parson's wife, or it may be some widow or some person in small circumstances. Under this Measure the regulation mustprovide that no such visits or collections shall be so made or caused to be made.… as aforesaid, except by persons licensed for the purpose by such officer of the police as may be designated for the purpose.When this Bill was printed, the first thing I did was to go to the secretary of one of our big Manchester hospitals and ask him what the effect of that would be upon those voluntary collectors. The first thing he said was, that they would refuse 178 to go to the police at all. Why should voluntary collectors, giving up their spare moments after a hard day's work, go to the police to be licensed? There is absolutely no justification for it. Another gentleman who is the secretary of a big body which will be known to the Home Secretary—the Manchester and Salford Medical Charities Fund—says the effect of this Measure will be that the sensitive-minded collectors will throw up the job, whereas the people who will keep on are the sort of pushing and forcible people, who, though they may be good collectors, are not always of the best reputation. These things are very gravely perplexing the minds of those responsible for our big hospitals.
I am quite sure that hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House realise that those of us who have spent a good deal of time in the administration of hospitals think a good deal about them, just as they think a good deal about the administration of their trade unions, and that we should object as much to the licensing of our collectors as they would to the licensing of their trade unions. There is absolutely no reason, where you get a perfectly well-established institution or charity, why these Voluntary collectors should be licensed. There is a way out without this licensing, and it was the way pointed out by the Home Secretary on the 29th October, when this Measure was introduced. In introducing the Measure he described it as:a Bill designed to investigate and regulate collecting charities where and when, on the submission of a local authority, such a course is deemed to be advisable.Then he referred to the existing legislation already mentioned, the War Charities Act, 1915, which sets up a full system for the regulation of charities—legislation which has worked so well that it was adopted in the Blind Persons Act, 1920, and extended to certain post-War charities. The Home Secretary went on to say:these provisions are working satisfactorily and are achieving their purpose. The existence of these provisions for the supervision of charities would naturally call attention to the desirability of applying some similar kind of control to the large number of collecting charities which are outside the Acts to which I have referred."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th October, 1929; cols. 143–4, Vol. 231.]179 I agree; everyone connected with charities would agree. Why does not the Home Secretary, instead of producing this Bill, with supervision extend the existing legislation to charities which are not yet controlled by that legislation? The War Charities Act prohibits appeals by any charity unless that charity is registered, and it is registered usually with the local authority. No charity is allowed to be registered unless it has a responsible committee of not less than three persons, and unless it keeps proper books of account, and unless those proper books of account are open to inspection. That was a perfectly rational system of control and publicity of accounts, which was tried when numerous charities were springing up during the War. Why does not the Home Secretary simply extend the provisions of that Measure to all other charities, instead of introducing this police supervision? Police supervision is very objectionable. Not only is it objectionable, but it will cast a very heavy burden upon the police themselves. I have already referred to the Manchester and Salford medical charities. There is one collecting charity which has 2,000 voluntary workers. Every one of those voluntary workers would have to he licensed by the police, under this Measure. If the licence is to be of any use, inquiries will have to be made into the character and antecedents of all those volountary workers. That will place an enormous burden upon the police, and all because it is said that there are a few rogues. What does the Report of the Departmental Committee say on the subject?We see no ground for doubting that the great majority of charities are managed not only honestly but with reasonable prudence, and that such dishonesty as does exist is due mainly to the recurring operations of a few people, either known or suspected to be fraudulent, whose gains, in all probability, amount only to a very small part of the vast sums which are given for charity.If those rogues are known, as they are known, by the police, why bring in an elaborate Measure of this kind, in order to fetter and in some cases to curtail the revenue of well-established charities? I hope that the Secretary of State when he further considers this matter will come to the conclusion that everything that he desires can be obtained by extending 180 the operations of legislation already upon the Statute Book to those charities which are not yet within the War Charities' Act.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Short)
When my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made his speech in moving the Second Reading of the Bill he indicated that its provisions were based upon the recommendations of a Departmental Committee. That Departmental Committee was appointed by his predecessor, now Lord Brentford, as the result of representations made to him by the charitable societies which have awakened, and quite rightly awakened, so much interest in this Debate. My right hon. Friend is seeking to promote this Measure, which would have been introduced, I presume, by his predecessor had he remained in office. The speech of the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown) implied that the Home Office are seeking to impose this Bill upon the House. We are doing nothing of the kind. We are seeking to meet the demand put forward not only by the charitable organisations themselves but supported by the recommendations of the Departmental Committee.
What are the objects of the Bill. We seek to provide a means by which investigation can be made into the affairs of a collecting charity which is suspected of fraud, or of being grossly mismanaged. The Departmental Committee was satisfied that there was a certain measure of fraud, and they recommend that more stringent steps should be taken with a view to preventing that fraud.
We propose, in Clause 3, which has given rise to a large amount of criticism, to empower the Secretary of State to make regulations governing house-to-house collections, collections made in places of public entertainment or public refreshment, and the exhibition of collecting boxes in shops and similar places. That seems to me to be somewhat different from the suggestion made in some of the speeches. Let me say at once that my right hon. Friend recognises, of course, that Clause 3 is by no means perfect. It rightly gives rise to anxiety and to questions founded upon a proper anxiety to see that the interests of these great charitable organisations are properly pro- 181 tected. Consequently, my right hon. Friend will be prepared, in Committee, to make, shall I say, drastic Amendments to meet the views of the House as expressed in all quarters, and thereby secure, if possible, unanimity when the Bill passes through the Committee stage. We propose so to amend the Bill as to permit an appeal to be made to the High Court against an order of the Charity Commissioners for the regulation of a charity under Clause 2. We propose to permit an appeal to the Quarter Sessions against a refusal to licence any collector on the ground of bad character, and to permit an appeal to the Charity Commissioners against refusal to licence on the ground of fraud or mal-administration of the charity itself. An amendment will be necessary to effect the first and second provision, but the third, to which I have referred, will be accomplished by means of regulations. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to suggest that the representing authority in Clause 1 could make representation without any good ground at all, but what does Clause 1 say? It says:If …. there is reasonable cause to believe that any collecting charity ought to be regulated.I think those words are sufficient to indicate that the representing authority must have grounds to submit before they can hope to avail themselves of the provisions referred to.
The regulations will apply to all charities, but the war charities which are now governed by various Acts of Parliament will be exempted, as provision will be made by amendment. With regard to the point put to me about the deputation, let me say it included the British Legion, the Church Army, the Church of England Society for Waifs and Strays, Dr. Barnardo's Homes, the National Children's Homes, the National Institute for the Blind, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, St. Dunstan's Blinded Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen, and the Salvation Army. The hon. Member also asked the type of regulations we had in mind. They will be based, in principle, on the recommendations of the Departmental Committee and in form on the Home Office model regulations for 182 street collections under the Police, Factories (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1916.
All charities, national or local, will be subject to these regulations. So far as the refusal of licences is concerned we do not desire to cripple new enterprises, and we hope to prevent an arbitrary refusal of licences and to ensure that they are not refused on arbitrary grounds. To prevent any discrimination against new enterprises, licensing officers will be required to grant a licence unless the person in respect of whom the application is made is under the age of 21 years, or is of bad character or otherwise not a fit and proper person to be a collector, or where the charity is not being carried on in good faith for charitable purposes, or is not being properly administered or is not keeping proper accounts of receipts and expenditure. My right hon. Friend in framing these regulations is most anxious that they should be drawn in a broad and generous spirit, that nothing in them shall be calculated to cripple charities, national or local, which are above suspicion and where there is no suggestion of fraud. The regulations will be drawn in such a way as not to interfere with the creation of new charities. Indeed, we shall seek the cooperation of the great societies I have mentioned; we shall welcome the advice and assistance of all charities, no matter whether they are large or small, and in this way safeguard the interests of the contributing public and the interests of all charities concerned. The regulations will be published, and as a result of our experience they can be amended from time to time in order to meet the ever-changing needs of the community.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
I quite agree with hon. Members who have spoken from all parts of the House that this Bill is of so important a character, touching as it does so many of the philanthropic interests of the community, that it is worthy of more discussion. I have listened most carefully to the Debate, and the House ought to be grateful to the hon. Member who initiated it. But from every part of the House there has been a strong and well reasoned hostility to this proposal. The Under-Secretary of State has made a most extraordinary plea for the acceptance of this Bill by hon. Members like myself. He said that it was conceived 183 in the mind of the late Home Secretary. Even at this hour of the night I am not prepared to vote for a bad Measure be cause it was fathered by Sir "William Joynson-Hicks. He also told us that it was drafted by a departmental committee appointed by the late Home Secretary—
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Thursday.