§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Colville)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
768 The main purpose of the Bill is to postpone the operation of certain Acts which were passed through Parliament earlier this year and which would in the ordinary course have come into operation on 1st January next. This step is being taken because of the difficulty which under present conditions would arise if we have to bring these Acts into operation on the date originally intended. The Government are fully alive to the fact that all these Acts are useful and valuable Measures, and it is with reluctance that we have to introduce this Bill. I can assure hon. Members, however, that we are anxious that there should be no further delay in bringing the Acts into operation than is warranted by the circumstances. Clause 1 provides for the postponement of the three Acts mentioned in the Schedule to a date prescribed in each case by an Order-in-Council. The first of the Acts is the Adoption of Children (Regulation) Act, 1939. Sections 1 to 6 of this Act provide for the registration and supervision of adoption societies by local authorities and for the making of detailed regulations by the Secretary of State with which the registered adoption societies must comply. Section 7 requires local welfare authorities to exercise control over certain cases where a third party intervenes in the adoption of children under nine years of age; and Section 11 requires a licence to be obtained from a court before a child can be sent abroad for adoption.
The operation of these provisions would place on local authorities, welfare authorities and the central Government Departments an extra burden of work which cannot be regarded as being essential for war purposes, and in all the circumstances the Government have come to the conclusion regretfully that it would not be desirable to attempt to bring the provisions into effect before the end of the war. The Act provides for Sections 1 to 6 to be brought into operation on an appointed day to be prescribed by the Secretary of State. We feel that it would be more appropriate if the postponement of these Sections were effected by Statute rather than by the Secretary of State merely refraining from making an Order declaring the appointed day. Among the supporters of the Bill is the name of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, who in a private capacity was mainly responsible 769 for the passage of this Act. She is in entire agreement that it would not be desirable, as things are at present, to put the Act into force. Section 8 of the Adoption of Children (Regulation) Act and the corresponding Scottish provision are not to be postponed. These provisions amend in certain respects, as experience has shown to be desirable, the conditions to be satisfied by applicants for adoption orders in certain cases where the applicant is the mother or the putative father of the child. They are distinct from the rest of the Act and there is no reason why they should not come into operation on 1st January as it was originally intended.
The second Act in the Schedule, in which I, as Secretary of State for Scotland, am much concerned, is the Marriage (Scotland) Act, 1939. This Act was passed to abolish the form of Scottish irregular marriages of which the Gretna Green marriages are the best-known examples. In place of the irregular marriage it provides a suitable form of marriage before a Registrar. The Government consider that this reform is very desirable and that it should be made operative as soon as it can properly be made so, but we have come to the conclusion, after careful consideration, that we ought not to allow the Act to come into operation on 1st January. The reason is that the effect of the Act on Scottish social customs will be a considerable one. During the last war about 6,000 irregular marriages, on the average, were registered annually, and the figure in the last few years has been about 4,000. We feel that the ground must be adequately prepared before the introduction of the new form if misunderstanding is to be avoided, and that we require a little longer time in the present circumstances for that purpose. If the Act were brought into operation in the early months of the war there is an undoubted risk of invalid marriages being contracted in good faith by persons who have failed to appreciate the changes in the law. We are, therefore, taking a little longer time in order to prepare the ground for this important change. It is proposed that there should be a temporary postponement of the Act and the appointed day will be fixed in the light of future circumstances; but, unless the conditions make it impossible, it is my intention to fix 1st July, 1940, for the coming into operation of the Act.
770 The third Act in the Schedule is the House to House Collections Act, 1939. Under this Act any society or person proposing to make such a collection will have to obtain permission from the proper authority, which, in the case of national charities, is the Secretary of State, and, in the case of local collections, the police authority or, in Scottish burghs which are not counties of cities, the magistrates. The Act contemplates that every collector shall have a certificate of authority and shall wear a badge, and that these and other matters of detailed administration should be left to the Secretary of State to deal with in regulations. These regulations will be necessarily somewhat complicated. They have been discussed with the bodies concerned, and we will shortly be issuing them. Even so, however, a good deal of work has still to be done and the time is now too short to enable all the authorities concerned to deal with the applications and charitable organisations to make the necessary arrangements before 1st January.
We feel it desirable that the Act should he brought into operation at the earliest possible date and that there should be no delay. It will, we recognise, impose certain additional work on the authorities concerned, but the police are anxious that there should be this increased control over collections for charities, especially at a time when a number of new applications may be made for war purposes. It is, therefore, proposed that the Act shall be postponed for only three months and that an Order-in-Council shall be made bringing it into operation on 1st April next. In this connection I may perhaps mention that a proposal has been made that legislation should be introduced on the lines of the War Charities Act which was passed during the last war, and that proposal is under the consideration of the Government.
§ Mr. Keeling
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that subject can he say when it is proposed to lay the draft Regulations under that Act before the House?
§ Mr. Colville
I cannot give a date. I said they had been discussed and that they would be made available very shortly, and I really mean very soon indeed.
§ Mr. Colville
Probably. A number of local authorities in Scotland are very anxious to get this Act into operation as quickly as possible and regret that it has had to be postponed. We have come to the view, taking all the circumstances into account, that we are not ready for it, and we have to make this postponement, but we hope to get the Regulations out as quickly as we can.
§ Mr. Westwood
Did I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that these Regulations will be available before the Adjournment? I understand that we are to adjourn next Thursday.
§ Mr. Colville
I said that I hoped so, but I could not be quite certain. We are very near to the point of making them available, and I hope that they may be ready soon. They have been the subject of some discussion with the authorities concerned. As my hon. Friend knows I have often been urged by the Scottish local authorities to do nothing without consultation, and in this case there has been consultation, and I know that has been happening in England as well.
Coming to Clause 2, the purpose of that is to express in clear and unambiguous language the purpose of certain Amendments to the Adoption of Children Act, 1926, and the Adoption of Children (Scotland) Act, 1930. It seems probable that the drafting of the Amendments has failed to express their intentions. It is a drafting change which alters in no way the intention of the Act but makes clearer some points which, I am afraid, were not clear owing to not quite correct drafting.
Turning to Clause 3, the position here is that under Section 140 of the Law of Property Act, 1922, the lords of manors and owners of land out of which manorial incidents formerly issued had the right to apply to the Minister of Agriculture for an award determining the amount of compensation to the lord for the extinguishment of these incidents. The Section provides that such application may be made during the period of five years from the 1st January, 1936, to 31st December, 1940. It further provides that where no such application has been made before the end of next year no compensation shall be payable in respect of the extinguishment of the incidents. Clause 3 of this 772 Bill provides that no application can be made from the date of the introduction of this Bill until the date of the termination of the war, but that applications may be resumed on that date and may be made at any time during the following 12 months. This substitutes a period of 12 months from the end of the war for the period of 13 months during which applications may still be made. It also provides that the date after which no compensation shall be payable shall be correspondingly extended. The reason for the postponement is simply that the work involved is of a very intricate nature. The staff of the Ministry necessary for dealing with the applications is required for work more closely associated with the present emergency, and there is the further point that it would appear to be undesirable that tenants, who are frequently quite small property owners of limited means, should be called upon to pay the compensation—which in some cases will be to them quite a substantial sum—during the present emergency. It is therefore proposed that instead of the period ending at the end of next year a period up to 12 months from the termination of the war shall be allowed for applications to be made.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies
It is not our intention to oppose the passing of this Bill, but I would inform the right hon. Gentleman that we regard this method of approach as a very cumbersome and complicated one, and in some ways a little unnecessary too. I was rather intrigued to hear the right hon. Gentleman blaming the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health for something connected with this Bill.
§ Mr. Davies
He was speaking as if she was acquiescing in the postponement of this Measure. She nods assent to that; but I venture to say that if she were not a Member of the Government but were sitting on a back bench she would be standing up to oppose it, as was her custom before she became a Member of the Government. People have a habit somehow of changing their minds when they change places in this House. That is by the way. I do not propose to deal with any part of this Bill except that relating to the House to House Collections Act. There are hon. 773 Members here who know very much more about this subject than I do; they were members of the committee whose recommendations brought this Measure into being. We have yet to understand why it is to be postponed. There were inquiries for many months, if not years, into bogus charities and the committee referred to came to the unanimous conclusion that Parliament ought to deal with the problem. Parliament did deal with it and, if I may say so, in a very effective way by passing fairly early in this year, 1939, the Act now under discussion.
Frankly, if there is one reason above all for implementing the provisions of that Act at once it is the coming of the war. Those who exploit our charitably-minded folk will be more active in that ugly practice during the war than in peacetime. Therefore, while we do not intend to oppose the Bill now before us we do offer a strong protest against the postponement of that particular Act. I should like whoever replies for the Government to tell us whether, when the Act comes into operation, presumably about the 1st April, 1940, we may take it for granted that any charity which is in existence at that date will require a licence just as though it commenced operations after 1st April. Supposing a charity were started now or next January and this Act is to be put into operation at the beginning of April next, do we understand that that charity will require a licence as if it began operations after the commencement of the Act?
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peake) indicated assent.
§ Mr. Davies
The hon. Member nods his head, and I accept that because when a Tory nods it is as good as an answer of a kind any time. I pay them that doubtful tribute in passing. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will forgive me if I give one or two illustrations of what is happening even now. These mushroom, bogus charities are already cropping up. They call themselves by the most grandiose names; and it is amazing how the public respond to some of them without any inquiry whatsoever. I hope that hon. Members who live in the country will forgive me saying one thing. It dawned upon me long ago that it is quite possible that people who send money by post from the provinces to some of these so-called 774 charitable organisations provide a livelihood for a few people in London on a higher scale than is enjoyed by those who send their sixpences and shillings. I thought we were not a gullible people. At any rate, there are no gullible Members on this side of the House. I wonder why the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health laughs at that?
Let me quote one or two illustrations to show how this thing is already becoming a menace. Here is one which is cropping up at the moment: The "Cigarettes for the Tommies Fund." I am told that this organisation was formed about a month ago; it is a purely personal venture on the part of two young men in the early twenties. There is no committee of any kind controlling the fund. These two young men formerly ran a stamp-collecting business which failed as a result of the coming of the war. They pay one-third of the total collections to the collectors and a salary for themselves, of course. Another case is submitted to me of two ladies who are running a bogus charity. It is very strange how twos go about this job; to check each other, possibly, lest they should go wrong. Let me ask the hon. Gentleman who represents the Home Office that when the police make investigations into the accounts of these societies they will not be satisfied with anything less than expert auditors. There are people collecting for these funds who pay themselves a salary before they put a penny down in the accounts. A lay auditor is not sufficient for the purpose of investigating at the instance of the police and the Home Office into these transactions.
Here is another case: "Picture postcard Charity Scheme." It is a purely personal venture on the part of one man. Postcards are to be sold in packets at 6d. on the understanding that 3d. is passed on to a war charity. There is another: "War Relief Fund and Royal Charities Appeal." If you put the "war" in and "Royal" too, the money comes in. Scotland Yard will probably know more about it than both the right hon. Gentleman and myself combined. After quoting those illustrations I want to make a protest; the police authorities knew that the Act was passed, and they have not made the necessary preparations 775 for seeing that it was put into operation on 1st January, 1940, the date that Parliament decided. We are supposed in this Parliament to be master of all the police and the Home Office too. The Secretary of State for Scotland is, after all, only the servant of the House of Commons. I am sure that he will not challenge that statement.
Let me say quite seriously that we are very sorry that the Government have not made arrangements to put this very necessary Act of Parliament into force on 1st January next year. I have made a few inquiries and I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that there are persons collecting from door to door constantly, and that householders give them three-pences and sixpences merely to get rid of them. Some of these collectors are making a good livelihood by very doubtful means. The right hon. Gentleman has not made out a case for the postponement of this Act and I sincerely trust that what is said to-night will make it absolutely certain that if we now postpone the Act for three months there will be no excuse put forward later on to postpone it still further.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Dennis Herbert)
I was unwilling to interrupt the hon. Member, to whom the House always likes to listen. But a great part of the speech of the hon. Gentleman was a breach of the rule—which, I must confess, is often more honoured in the breach than in the observance—that it is out of order and improper on the Second Reading to discuss one of the Acts of Parliament included in the Schedule. Although I allowed the hon. Member to make his remarks I must warn the House that I cannot allow further debate upon the advisability or not of any particular Act being in the Schedule. That is a matter to be discussed in Committee. This Bill is in some respects similar to the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, which has just been read a Second time; that is a form of Bill we are well accustomed to, and it is a recognised rule that the inclusion or not of a particular Bill in the Schedule cannot be debated on Second Reading.
§ Mr. Radford
Will a Member who is pressing not for the postponement of all these Acts but one specific Act be able to raise his objections on the Committee stage?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Certainly. It is purely a Committee point whether the Act should be included in the Schedule or should not be included. I do not want to press this rule too strictly, but it would be improper to have a Debate to-night on one particular Act which it is proposed to postpone. The Committee stage is the proper stage for that discussion to take place.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies
Might I try to purge my offence by saying that I was speaking very nearly from the same kind of brief as the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
That was the one reason why I allowed the hon. Gentleman to proceed with his speech. But he got a great deal more out of the brief than the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. R. C. Morrison
In view of the fact that, wittingly or not, the right hon. Gentleman went into considerable detail as to the advisability of postponing this Act and that he went into it Clause by Clause, and in view of the fact that you allowed considerable latitude to my hon. Friend, would it not be for the convenience of the House if you took the Debate on that matter now, on the understanding that on the Committee stage the matter be allowed to go through without discussion?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
It is out of my power, in the position which I now occupy in this Chair, to say what should be done in the Committee stage. But that course would be a rather topsy-turvy way of doing it.
I would ask for your guidance with regard to this question of asking for certain Acts to be postponed. Where our agitation is that of urging the Government not to postpone. or to alter the date, can we put our case why these Acts should not be postponed?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Certainly. The hon. Gentleman can put down an Amendment to leave out a particular Act.
§ Sir Joseph Lamb
I do not want to transgress in any way the Ruling which you have given, but I would ask the right hon. Gentleman who is in charge of the Bill whether, having heard the Opposition voiced in the House to the inclusion of the House to House Collec- 777 tion Bill, he will give favourable consideration to the question whether it should not be excluded by Amendment on the Committee stage.
§ Mr. Edmund Harvey
I hope that the Government will be able to meet the Opposition by advancing the date proposed for the operation of the Bill. If a dale could be fixed intermediate between the 1st April, which is the date the Government propose, and the 1st January, I believe that would substantially meet objections.
§ Mr. Colville
I apologise. I would be willing to consider with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary the possibility of an earlier date being chosen. The reason for the postponement was, as I explained, that we were not yet ready with all the authorities to bring the thing into operation. I will consider with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, although I suggest that the proper time to discuss it is on the Committee stage.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Westwood
With regard to the reference made by the Secretary of State for Scotland to the Marriage (Scotland) Act, 1939, he mentioned the date 1st July, and it would be admitted by anyone who realises the effective and drastic change in Scottish marriage law proposed in this particular Bill that we are discussing, that adequate time would be required to be given for the knowledge to be got across to the maximum number of people in Scotland so that mistakes which might happen could be avoided. However, I do suggest that between now and the Committee stage the Secretary of State should definitely make up his mind and be able to announce to the House that the postponed date is actually 1st July, so that the Department responsible will be able to get on with the actual publicity work which will be required between this particular discussion of the Bill and the actual coming into operation of the Act as a result of making the appointed date 1st July.
§ Mr. Colville
In case there should be a misapprehension, I said that unless circumstances made it impossible the date would be 1st July. I had in mind that only war circumstances of a nature which we cannot foresee would prevent my making the date 1st July.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Major Milner
The war has been an excuse for a good many things, and I am one of those who regret that the Government thought it necessary to bring in this Bill. I find little ground for it in the reason put forward by the right hon. Gentleman. As I understand it—and he did not tell the House otherwise—no local authority has made representations to the Government on the subject, and it is principally the local authorities which are referred to. I take it that the Association of Municipal Corporations are willing to undertake the operation of these Acts of Parliament. That being so, it is a reflection on the Government's administration that they are apparently not ready to operate these Acts notwithstanding the many months of opportunity they have had. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the irregular marriages in Scotland, and it would be presumptuous on my part to deal with the many irregularities which we all know exist in Scotland. I will not deal with that subject further, except to say that there is no ground for what the right hon. Gentleman said with regard to the postponement of the Adoption of Children Act. That is entirely a matter for the local authorities and I see no reason why in the main, in regard to the extension of the existing law, it should be postponed. If a little latitude were given to local authorities I am sure they would rise to the occasion.
Then we come to the Bill to which my hon. Friend has referred in particular, the House to House Collections Act. The right hon. Gentleman was quite ineffective and put forward no good reason whatever for the inclusion of that particular Act. It was passed in July last and the regulations are practically ready. Again, a little latitude might perhaps get over the difficulty.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I hope the hon. and gallant Member will not forget one of the things which I said. If I may say so, what has already taken place shows 779 the advisability of that rule because this kind of debate is much more suited to Committee in which a Member can speak more than once.
§ Major Milner
I do not intend unduly to transgress your ruling, Sir Dennis, but I would submit that, the right hon. Gentleman having given in detail the reasons for the postponement of the operation of these particular Acts, in fairness to those in this or any other quarter of the House they should be at liberty to submit reasons why the operation of these Acts should not be postponed. The right hon. Gentleman, if anyone, is at fault in this matter. I would only say this, that there is no difficulty whatever in putting this Act into operation. I sat on the committee. The committee provided the whole of the local authorities in the country with a code as to what they should or should not do. I am not sure that they did not, indeed, provide the Government with the regulations upon which the Government have been sitting for six months. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will, with his right hon. Friend, consider the matter, because I have here instances which I shall quote on the Committee stage indicating that these practices are to-day more rife than they have ever been before. In the "Evening Standard" in the last three days a case has been quoted, and although I will not go into details, it is essential that this action should be taken to-day, more essential indeed than at any previous time. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider an earlier date than 1st April, and unless he is willing to do that I hope my hon. Friends and those who think with us will divide on the Committee stage with regard to this matter.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Mr. R. C. Morrison
I hope the Government will reconsider their attitude in this matter. Charitable organisations have been springing up like mushrooms since the war started, big ones operating on a national scale, small ones locally and in addition unofficial ones collecting from door-to-door to provide Christmas presents for evacuated children, and that sort of thing. The Government are proposing postponing a Bill which chief constables in this country have urged should be put into force as soon as possible. There has been mention of postponement for three months, and there is no mention of three months in the Bill. I hope that between now and the next stage the Government will give consideration to the question as to whether that three months should not be substantially reduced.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Major Sir James Edmondson.]