HC Deb 12 December 1939 vol 355 cc1078-98

4.46 p.m.

Major Milner

I beg to move, in page 4, to leave out lines 17 and 18.

Those of us in particular who served on the Committee which discussed this question of house-to-house collection formed a very strong view that legislation was urgently desirable, and this House, in response to our report, passed legislation on 28th July, and it is only now, in the second week of December, that the Government tell us that they are unable to permit the Bill to operate as from 1st January, 1940, as was intended by the House when the Bill was passed in July. My view and the view of those associated with me in the Amendment is that, notwithstanding the difficulties which have admittedly occurred, it should not have been too difficult for the Home Office and the local authorities to take the necessary steps to enable the Act to come into operation on 1st January. Such an Act is far more necessary now than would have been the case in normal times. We have instances to quote indicating that since the outbreak of hostilities this question of house-to-house collection and the formation of societies or one-man institutions for the profit of the individuals concerned has assumed a much greater proportion than was the case previously. I saw in the "Evening Standard" last week this note: Police are searching for a man who has defrauded several people by obtaining from them donations on behalf of Crystal Palace Football Club. Mr. George Irwin, manager of the club, said to-day, 'We have not authorised anyone to collect money on our behalf, and we have never had need to appeal for donations. We were not aware of the activities of this man until we received a cheque from a Beckenham doctor, who declined to hand over cash to the man when asked, but said he would send his cheque direct to the club. We have returned the cheque.' I think the whole Committee will agree that nowadays there are a great number of these societies of all kinds, shapes and sizes set up for one purpose or another. They are not all having house-to-house collections, and the Act only deals with house-to-house collections, but a number of them are having house-to-house collections, and it is extremely desirable that there should be control over these collections in order that philanthropically-disposed persons should know that the gifts they make go to a proper and deserving quarter. It is for that purpose that the Amendment has been put down.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department has been good enough to hand to us a copy of Draft Provisional Regulations, dated 9th December, 1939, and we are glad to know that the Home Office have found it possible to draw up these regulations and to bring them promptly into force. That is a still greater reason for bringing the Act out of the Schedule of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill and insisting that it should come into force on 1st January. I am surprised at the complexity of the regulations, and no doubt that complexity may be some excuse for the action of the hon. Member's Department. I do not know whether the regulations are precisely what the Committee required or recommended, but in substance I have no doubt that they will fit the bill. The Under-Secretary gave us to understand that the Home Office will lay an Order-in-Council before His Majesty, to operate on 1st April. Would it not be possible to make that Order-in-Council operate at an earlier date, having regard to the fact that the regulations have now been drawn up, and that the delay should be for not more than a month? It ought to be possible to bring the Act into force on 1st February. If so, some of my hon. Friends might take a different view, but, in the meantime, until we know what the Under-Secretary has to say, I submit the Amendment.

4.51 p.m.

Mr. R. C. Morrison

I beg to support the Amendment, and I should like to indicate some of our fears and the reason for pressing what the Under-Secretary may think is a small point, namely, the difference between 1st January and 1st April for the coming into operation of the Act. I am reminded of the old dictum of Dr. Johnson, that patriotism is the last resort of scoundrels. There are already indications since the war started that a type of scoundrel who commits the meanest of crimes, that of preying upon the public, is active, and such activities are being extended. In discussing this question we have to bear in mind the mood of the public at the present time, and how easily they fall a prey to anybody who makes a call upon their patriotism. I have here particulars of various societies. There is one called "The Cigarettes for the Tommies Fund." It was started a month ago. This is a purely personal venture on the part of two young men in their early twenties. They have not a committee of any kind. They formerly ran a stamp-collecting business, which failed as a result of the war. They employ collectors at £1 a week and pay 331/3, per cent. commission. A collection for an institution called "The Cigarettes for the Tommies Fund" is one that ought to be put down immediately, and without any waiting.

Take another class of swindle. If there is one class of people in the community to whom everybody would like to pay their tribute, it is the men who go to sea. Consequently, bogus organisations which are founded upon appeals on behalf of the men who go to sea are able to collect large sums of money from the public. The joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament, of which my hon. and gallant Friend and I were members, had a great deal of evidence from chief constables, representatives of municipal corporations, and representatives of the Charity Organisation Society, and we were unanimous in our report, after hearing the evidence, and framed our Bill. There was not a voice raised against the Bill in this House or the other place, and now we submit that, so far from the war being made an excuse for delaying the operation of the Act, it should be a reason for putting it into force even before the original date.

I Should like to give some of the cases that were brought before the Joint Select Committee, which were scandals, and I only wish that all the newspapers had published the particulars. I will give four cases out of 200 connected with organisations which are operating. The first one is the Incorporated Seamen's and Boatmen's Mission. The professed object is to help seamen. Is there anything that would appeal more to the public than an organisation of that sort? It has a committee and accounts are published. Remuneration is paid to the collectors in the form of salaries and commission. The amount received by this organisation, as reported to this Joint Select. Committee, was £7,924, and the amount they expended on the seamen was £500.

The next case is that of an organisation called the "East London Seamen's Mission," another body with the professed object of helping the seamen. It has no committee and no accounts are published. The commission paid to collectors is 50 per cent., and there is no evidence of any amount having been received by the seamen. Another organisation is the "Royal Sailors Incorporated, London and Liverpool Docks." This is also for the assistance of seamen. It has no committee and no accounts are published. All the collections go to the collectors. The final view of the committee was that the society did not exist, but was just run by a private individual. I would draw attention to the kind of titles that are allowed to be used with impunity just now by these organisations. For instance, there is "The National Sailors' Society." People are likely to think that an organisation with the title of "The National Sailors' Society" is genuine.

My constituents are not more generously disposed than any others, but I am certain that anyone who went round my constituency to collect on behalf of the National Sailors' Society would get money even in the poorest districts, at almost every house, because of the feeling that the public have towards the sailors, particularly when the appeal is linked up, as some are, with the seamen. We have great admiration for all the men who go to sea, and especially at the present time for the fishermen who are doing the minesweeping. In every humble home there is admiration for these men. When collectors go round the people have not the means of cross-examining them—saying: "By what right do you call your organisation the National Sailors Society?" They think the object is to help the seamen. That society collected in 1936, £3,042, but it was impossible to discover from the complicated form of the accounts whether any money went to help any sailors or any seamen.

These are examples that I have taken from over 200 and they are what one might call national organisations working on a considerable scale. Included in the 200 are a multitude of small organisations without any books, without any registration, without any real organisation at all. The last time I spoke on this subject I gave an example of how a tragedy like that of an aeroplane hitting a house in North London one Sunday, killing a number of people, was made the subject of bogus collections on behalf of the stricken people, who never got any of the money.

I could quote many more cases which were submitted to the Joint Select Committee. There was one extreme case of an organisation formed for the purpose of supplying Christmas toys to the children of the unemployed. That organisation raised over £1,000 for Christmas toys and spent in buying Christmas toys exactly 8s. It is a dreadful scandal. The reason I mention this case is because the police in that case reported that they were unable to take any action in the present state of the law because something had gone to buy toys for the children of the unemployed. That was the difficulty the police were in, and why they ask for these additional powers so that they can come down upon these swindles. Whether it is a small swindle for a few shillings or a few pounds, or a big swindle for thousands of pounds, I think that this Committee in this dangerous period should make a special effort to see that the powers contained in the Act are put into operation, because they will put a stop to 90 per cent. of the swindling which is going on at the present time.

5.2 p.m.

Mr. Keeling

I should like to support the Amendment. It is quite clear that a postponement of the operation of the House-to-House Charities Collection Act will enable bogus or questionable charities to reap a rich harvest. The hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison) has given examples of some questionable charities which were in full bloom before the war, I shall mention several to which the war has actually given birth, or which, alternatively, have changed their objects and taken on a new lease of life owing to the war. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) mentioned the other day the Cigarettes for the Tommies Fund and the War Relief Fund and Royal Charities Appeal. I should like to name two or three others.

There is the National Distress Relief Association, a private venture run by two ladies—I see no reason why I should not mention their names—Mrs. Harrison-Wright and Mrs. Thomson. These ladies employ house-to-house collectors who receive one-third of the amount collected as commission. Out of the balance both ladies draw salaries. In the printed statement of accounts there is only one item on the receipts side, namely, "Net collections and receipts, £1,096." There is no mention of the commission and expenses paid to the collectors; they are not accounted for. Before the war the relief work was the giving of free meals and the running of a holiday home during the summer. At the outbreak of the war they immediately changed their tactics and their collectors are now appealing for blankets and clothing for evacuated children. It seems to me that on the evidence of their own accounts the National Distress Relief Association lacks every essential of a bona fide charity, and under the present proposal we are going to give it an extra three months of life.

I also have here particulars of the Youth Peace Assembly and Refugee Council. It is an organisation started by two young men. It has no patron or president, a committee with few responsible names upon it, and it publishes no audited accounts. These men claim that their intention is to assist refugees. Such work is already done by really well-founded organisations.

Mr. David Grenfell

Have you the names?

Mr. Keeling

I have no names in this instance. Then there is the Good Health League, which is purely a one-man concern. It has no committee, no constitution of any kind, and the scheme is to raise money for the medical care of evacuated children. There is also the Ex-Service Men's Publicity Scheme, which is also a one-man venture, run by Major Ripon Seymour, who has already been convicted on a charge of falsely representing that he has won the D.S.O. and has also been convicted under the Business Names Act. He has been extremely active in the City recently and has raised considerable sums for what he describes as an employment scheme for ex-servicemen. Here, again, there is no committee, and no accounts published, and I hear that he is working on a widespread basis.

The Lion Hospital Aid Society is a very good example of how these societies are adapting themselves to the war. It is a small concern run by a man named Silver. He has recently launched an appeal throughout the country, and prints on his notepaper that he is working in co-operation with the Women's Voluntary Services. That statement is quite unauthorised, and he has been requested by the Women's Voluntary Services to remove their name. He also has the audacity to print on his notepaper that he is registered with the Charity Commissioners. That statement, too, is untrue.

Finally, I quote the case of the Group Hospitals Waste Collection Scheme. It is Ore of many concerns which are run under the guise of charity and which would normally have gone out of existence on 1st January next. It is a purely business venture on the part of a Mr. Huxtable, who collects clothes and waste material in the name of hospitals and keeps within the law by giving an occasional donation to a hospital. The British Hospitals Association have already warned hospitals not to accept these occasional donations. Four days ago Mr. Huxtable was evidently ignorant of this communication, for he approached Queen Charlotte's Hospital and suggested that they should allow their name to be used in connection with his waste collection scheme. He told the secretary of the hospital that he was collecting £80 a week, and he also made the statement that the House-to-House Charities Collection Act would not become law for an indefinite period and that he expected to reap a rich harvest in consequence. I hope that his hopes will be disappointed.

5.8 p.m.

Sir Joseph Lamb

The Committee will note that the last three hon. Members who have spoken were members of the committee which considered this question. They heard evidence from all over the country; consequently this is a widespread evil, not a local one. It is one which in its magnitude it is difficult for the ordinary hon. Member to realise. I had not the honour of being a member of that committee, but I appeared before it on behalf of the County Councils' Association which has to do with the administration of the Act. I realise the great necessity there is for this Act, which was passed without any opposition in this House. The only question we have to consider is when the Act shall come into operation. The whole of the evidence given to the committee was of cases which were pre-war, but to-day the conditions are aggravated owing to the war, and I am afraid are very much worse now than they were then. There is a greater opportunity for the misuse of so-called charity. There is no word which has been so much abused as the word "charity." It really means love. The charity of the British public is being abused; the love which people have shown by the money they give to charitable purposes is being diverted from just objects to others which do not really merit their charity at all if they know the facts.

Let me cite one case only. I came out of the terminus of a great railway the other day and stood waiting for a bus. Two young men were there dressed as though they were out of work and ex-servicemen. They had cards and were going about among the people, and I myself saw considerable sums of money handed to them. They came to me. The man was perfectly civil and showed me a card which said that he was an ex-serviceman unemployed, and that the man who presented the card would do so in a respectful manner and would not be abusive if no gift was received. There was no name on the card and no name of any society. I asked him whom he represented. He looked at me: it was not my appearance, it was what I had said that caused him to vanish. I have little doubt that these men were acting in a nefarious manner and were obtaining something out of the sympathy of the public to which they were not entitled. The position to-day is that regulations have been issued, and consequently I do not think there is anything to prevent the Home Office agreeing to the Amendment. The question is whether the administration is in a position to administer the regulations, and that is a question which, I think, we should leave to the administration itself. Let us bring this Act in at the earliest possible moment, that is, 1st January, and I guarantee that nearly all local authorities will bring it into operation immediately, or will do so at the earliest moment possible.

5.13 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office (Mr. Peake)

I do not at all regret that the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) should have put down this Amendment, because it has given hon. Members in all parts of the House an opportunity of drawing attention to some of the less desirable charitable objects which are appealing for funds at the present time. Anyone listening to the discussion might imagine that the Home Office was in favour of the continuance of these nefarious appeals, whereas, in point of fact, the real issue before the Committee is whether the Act shall be brought into operation on 1st January next, or delayed for a short period. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced on 23rd November that the coming into operation of the Act would be delayed for administrative reasons until 1st April. I can well understand the feelings of backbench Members, rightly jealous of their legislative rights, when the Government come forward and announce that a valuable piece of private Members' legislation is to be deferred from coming into operation until a date which is not even, for drafting reasons, fixed in the Bill which proposes to postpone it. At the same time, I can assure hon. Members that the Home Office think that this House to House Collections Act is a valuable Measure, and that we are anxious to bring it into operation at the earliest possible moment which is compatible with good administration.

It was always recognised by the promoters of the Bill and those who took part in the discussions on the Committee stage, that a considerable time would have to elapse between passing the Bill into law and putting it into operation. The Bill passed through its Committee stage in the House towards the end of last March, and the date then fixed for its coming into operation was 1st January, 1940. For reasons into which I need not go, it was not until 28th July that the Bill took its place on the Statute Book, and it might well have been wise for the Government, when the Bill was being discussed in another place, to have brought forward an Amendment bringing the Act into operation at a date later than 1st January next, because by the time the calendar had got round to 28th July the time available for the arrangements necessary before the Bill could become operative was getting exceedingly short. To have brought the Act into operation before the necessary steps, such as the drafting of the regulations, the consideration of applications by police authorities and the granting of licences, and so forth, had been concluded, would have caused very serious inconvenience to existing bona fide charities, because there would have been a period during which it would have been illegal for anyone, however respectable, to conduct a house-to-house collection. During the progress of making our administrative arrangements, we have received great assistance from these charitable bodies, and in my opinion, it would not be treating them fairly to bring the Act into operation before they had had time to complete the necessary formalities.

Let me briefly explain to the Committee what are the various stages which are a prerequisite of this House to House Collections Act coming into operation. First, the regulations, which, as anybody who obtained a copy of them from the Vote Office this afternoon will have seen, are somewhat complicated, had to be drafted. After the first draft had been made, they had to be submitted, in accordance with an undertaking given during the passage of the Bill, to representatives of the charitable organisations, and after their discussion with those bodies, the regulations had to be amended to bring them into line with the views expressed. The next stage would ordinarily have been the publication in the London Gazette, under Section 1 of the Rules Publication Act, 1893, of the intention of the Home Secretary to make these regulations, and in the ordinary course of events not until 40 days had elapsed after the notice of intention to make the regulations had appeared in the London Gazette, could the Home Secretary have made the regulations in their final form. After the regulations had been completed, there would then follow the applications by charitable bodies to the police authorities on the one hand or the Secretary of State on the other. Those applications would have to be examined by the police authorities and the police authorities would have to decide, through their sub-committees established under the Act, whether to grant licences or to withhold them. After the issue of the licences, the charitable bodies would then have to obtain the necessary badges, certificates, and so forth, before they could proceed with their house-to-house collections.

Therefore, the Committee will see that there really was a great deal of work to be done before the Act could be brought in force, unless we were going to cause great inconvenience to existing bona fide charities and charities which had helped us very materially in the drafting of the regulations. What in fact took place was this. We had hoped to have ready at the end of August the first draft of the regulations. In point of fact, owing to the outbreak of war, it was not ready until 14th October. For about six weeks from the middle of August, when the crisis developed, everybody in the Home Office, and I imagine everybody in almost every other Government Department, was concentrating his mind entirely upon the consequences of the outbreak of war. Therefore, it was not until 14th October that we produced the first draft of these regulations. There were discussions during November with the charitable organisations. Those discussions resulted in the amendment of our draft and the improvement of the regulations, and I have been able to lay the draft regulations in respect of England on the Table of the House this afternoon. The Scottish regulations will be ready in a very few days. I have been able to take that course only by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary making use of the special provisions of Section 2 of the Rules Publication Act, 1893, which says that: Where a rule-making authority certifies that, on account of urgency or any special reason, any rule should come into immediate operation, it shall be lawful for such authority to make any such rules to come into operation forthwith as porvisional rules, but such provisional rules shall only continue in force until rules have been made in accordance with the foregoing provisions of the Act. If hon. Members will look at the regulations which are now available in the Vote Office, they will see that those regulations are headed "Draft and Provisional Regulations, 1939," and that at the end of the regulations there is a certificate by the Home Secretary to the effect that they are made under Section 2 of the Rules Publication Act, on account of urgency. In that way, we have been able to save a considerable amount of time in bringing the Act into operation, and that will enable us to make some concession on the date which we originally proposed. We have examined very carefully the possibilities of an earlier date. We recognise the desirability, which is even greater, as hon. Members have pointed out, since the outbreak of war, of bringing this Act into operation at the earliest possible time. But we are, in fact, laying these regulations something like 10 or 11 weeks later than we had hoped to do in the ordinary way By adopting this urgency pro- cedure under the Rules Publication Act, we shall recover somewhere between five and six weeks, and therefore, it will be possible to advance somewhat the date of 1st April which we originally proposed.

I recognise that 1st April is not altogether a happy day to suggest for bringing into operation a valuable piece of Private Members' legislation. Certainly, it is not a date which any of us would voluntarily select as being appropriate for a Measure upon which we spent a good deal of time, thought, and trouble; but I can assure hon. Members that the date of 1st April was not chosen as an insult to the promoters of the Bill and was not intended to express any hidden view on the part of Government Departments, which they may be thought to take, of Private Member's legislation as such. At the same time, all the applications still remain to be made. Those applications still have to be considered by the police authorities, licences have to be issued, and after they are issued, the badges, certificates, and so forth, have to be prepared. We want to give all bona fide charities an equal chance at the start. We do not want some to get the advantage of having had their applications considered at the top of the list and others to be deferred and have to postpone their house-to-house collections until a later date. There is, in fact, a good deal of competition between these various bona fide bodies engaged in house-to-house collections. We are definitely of the opinion that the earliest date at which we can bring the Act into operation and give everybody a fair and flying start is 1st March next. If the hon. Member who moved the Amendment is satisfied with the explanation I have given, and if I assure him that we are doing all we can, and have done all we could, to accelerate the coming into force of the Act, I hope that, with that assurance, he will be able to withdraw the Amendment.

5.29 p.m.

Mr. Rhys Davies

I have listened very attentively to the hon. Gentleman trying to justify the inaction of the Home Office in connection with this Act of Parliament, but frankly, I think his speech was full of lame excuses. What really happened is that the Home Office had completely forgotten that this Act was passed at all. To come to the House to-day and tell hon. Members that it was impossible to put the Act into operation on 1st January next is not good enough. Yet the Minister of Labour, in the twinkling of an eye almost, has called 1,250,000 men to the Forces and the hon. Gentleman's own chief at the Home Office has in a very short time enrolled about 1,000,000 men for Civil Defence. The hon. Gentleman cannot therefore argue that this small Act of Parliament could not be brought into operation without all the vast and complicated arrangements which he detailed. To hear him speak one would imagine that he was engaged in the building of an Empire. It seemed to me that he was using a steam hammer to crack a nut.

Nevertheless, as the Home Office seems to have forgotten completely that this Act was passed I do not see what we can do now but accept the hon. Gentleman's assurance that it will be put into operation on 1st March. The hon. Gentleman denied that there was any insult intended to the promoters of the Act by the proposal to put it into operation on 1st April, but that would have been typical of this Government itself. As far as the Government are concerned it would have been quite appropriate if they had brought the Measure into operation on All Fools Day. But I realise the difficulty which now exists of doing anything other than what the hon. Gentleman has suggested. As has been pointed out by hon. Members who served on the Select Committee, these bogus charities will do very well in the meantime. Up till March next they will be able to rake in their ill-gotten gains. Apart from any controversy, however, I hope that the Home Office will not be satisfied with merely asking the police authorities to do their duty under this Act when schemes have been lodged. I hope that the Home Secretary will call for periodical reports from the police authorities to see how the Act is working. Unless the Home Office call for such reports from all over the country annually or, at any rate, triennially or quinquennially, I am not sure that the provisions of the Act will be as effective as Parliament wants them to be. I notice that under Regulation 4 just issued no person in the Metropolitan Police district or the City of London under the age of 18, or elsewhere under the age of 16, can act as a collector. I do not know where on earth the Home Office got hold of that idea.

The Chairman

We must not extend this Debate to the provisions of the Act.

Mr. Davies

I was only using that as an illustration. Whatever regulations apply to London, should apply equally to the provinces. I hope also that when the accounts of organisations are submitted it will not be considered sufficient to accept them as having been audited by a chartered accountant or incorporated accountant. Where accounts are presented to the police which have not been audited by members of those professional associations I trust the police will themselves secure the services of export auditors.

The Chairman

I cannot allow the hon. Gentleman to discuss the merits of the administration of this Act in the future. We are dealing now with legislation which has been passed, and the only question is the date on which it is to come into force.

Mr. Davies

I was about to conclude by saying that after the promise made by the Under-Secretary it seems to me we have now reached a stage at which, owing to the stupidity of this Government, we can do nothing else but agree to the suggested date, 1st March, 1940, and withdraw the Amendment, on the understanding that when the Act is in operation, we shall question the Home Office as to how its administration is proceeding.

5.35 p.m.

Mr. Goldie

I had not the honour of serving on the Committee which dealt with the subject-matter of this Act, nor had I the advantage of hearing the speech of the hon. and gallant Member who moved this Amendment, but the Under-Secretary will not think me guilty of any personal disrespect to him, if I say that I am profoundly dissatisfied with his reply. I sincerely trust that those who have introduced and supported this Amendment will not consent to take the friendly course suggested by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Davies). The hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison) said that he was not a lawyer. Well I am a lawyer, and part of my duty is to administer criminal justice in one of the largest cities in this country. I ask myself. "Is the postponement of this essential Measure, even for 24 hours, going to assist, not the Home Office but the police in that city where there is much of the sort of thing against which the Act is directed?" With the greatest respect, I differ from what the hon. Gentleman said about the difficulties of bringing the Act into operation at once.

Obviously, if two or three people are gathered together for the purpose of collecting subscriptions by false pretences they do not, by the mere fact that one penny out of every pound is given to charity, exempt themselves from the law of conspiracy. All that we are proposing to do here in this Act is to make an extension of the law in order to rectify a loophole. Is that to be done merely by elaborate and unnecessary regulations by the Home Office? What on earth is the necessity for all this Home Office interference in a perfectly simple matter? What is wrong with going to the local police in each district and asking them whether they have had any trouble of this kind? If the answer is, "Yes, we have a society going round and obtaining money practically under false pretences" then surely when the chief constable of a big city is prepared to inform the Home Office to that effect, it is not necessary for administrative reasons to hold up the whole thing for a period of six months. All you need to do is to say, "Here are the powers for which you ask; we give them to you immediately." Is it to be a matter of special reference to the Home Office every time a flag day is held in one of the industrial towns in the North? Is it not a matter in which the police can exercise their discretion, or, failing that, a matter which can be dealt with by the borough council?

I grant that the Home Office, in difficult circumstances, have brought forward these regulations as quickly as they could, but surely the thing that matters to the public is the power to allow these collections. Let us brush on one side all these formalities and give these powers to the people who need them, namely, the police. I regret the postponement of this very necessary measure. If the hon. Member's Amendment is not accepted, it simply means that the public can be robbed for a few months longer and I make a strong personal appeal to the Under-Secretary, therefore, to accept the Amendment.

5.39 p.m.

Mr. Radford

I well remember when this Measure became law in July and my comment to myself then was that I had not seen any legislation passed for a long time which was more acceptable. I had personal experience of the bare-faced swindles which were being carried on under the disguise of collections, and, moreover, I knew that the people who were being swindled were those who were disposed to give money to charitable objects. The hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison) and my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) gave a number of cases, and I was glad they did so, because the Under-Secretary was not in his present office when the Act was passed, and I doubt whether he was aware of all that was included under the harmless title of "house-to-house collections" and what this Act sought to prevent. I had experience myself of the case of a former night club waiter who was making an income of at least £4,000 a year out of his particular organisation.

I was dissatisfied at the time with the proposal that the Measure should not come into operation until 1st January next. Even after it was passed, I remember noticing one or two of these bogus charities continuing their activities and taking advantage of the impunity which they were being allowed until 1st January. It is difficult to understand why a period of five months should be necessary to bring the Act into operation, and it is still more difficult to understand why this further extension of the period should be necessary. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary spoke of the necessity for having regulations drafted and giving ample time so that bona fide charities should not be debarred from making legitimate collections. As far as my experience goes, I venture to say that the majority of genuine charities rely only to a minor extent on house-to-house collections, and if the Under-Secretary asked some of those charities with whom the Home Office has been in consultation whether they would prefer the postponement of this Act to give time for them to obtain the necessary licences, or to have the Act brought into operation three months sooner, even if their own activities were somewhat cramped, so that the activities of the swindlers should be terminated, I have little doubt of the reply. They would rather have the Act brought into operation at once, even if it meant that they themselves were debarred from making collections.

Mr. Peake

This postponement was discussed with representative charities towards the end of November and not one of them made any protest at the delay of three months, while one of the most important charities in the country asked for a postponement of six months.

Mr. Keeling

Was the postponement discussed with the Charity Organisation Society, and if so, what was their reply?

Mr. Peake

I think it is recognised that the peculiar interest of the Charity Organisation Society is in the prevention of mala fide charities, but we have also to consider the consequences to the bona fide charities.

Mr. Radford

I repeat that I think it would have been better if the Act had been brought into operation on 1st January rather than 1st March. As it is, this means that during January and February these swindling activities will enjoy a further immunity which is unjustified even if some bona fide charities, who rely to a certain extent on house-to-house collections are prevented from carrying out that part of their activities during those two months.

5.44 P.m.

Mr. Muff

I should not have intervened in this Debate if I did not feel called upon to thank the Under-Secretary for his all too kindly references to the back benchers and the certificates of character which he gave them. Now that the hon. Gentleman has risen to Olympian heights we back benchers appreciate all the more the testimonial which he has given us, and we accept in the proper spirit his references to All Fools Day. I would remind hon. Members, however, that many Acts of Parliament, even those passed under the auspices of the Home Office, come into operation on 1st April. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman sends Christmas cards to his constituents, but I would remind him that in his constituency there will be great rejoicing when his speech is reported in the "Yorkshire Post" to-morrow morning, because he has given a respite to very bogus organisations which have their home in his constituency. The hon. Gentleman need not go to any expense to wish those people a merry Christmas, because he will be giving them a very merry Christmas and a very prosperous two or three months, at any rate, of the new year.

The hon. Gentleman has made a long speech which I have tried to analyse, and I could not be sufficiently grateful, as a back bencher, for his praise of our diligence and so on, but the many excuses which he piled up, as generous and as lengthy as his praises, were equally thin. I close, having made this gentle and equally benevolent protest, by stating that we folk who have been pestered by the house-to-house bogus people and also by the lack of regulation of even the genuine collectors, who have come far too often to our doors, at any rate hope that the citizens of Leeds will have taken due note of the hon. Gentleman's speech, and I am certain that the bogus societies also dwelling in the West Riding will have taken equal note of the generous respite and reprieve that he has given to them in order that they may prey upon the public for an additional five months.

5.47 p.m.

Mr. Edmund Harvey

I think the whole Committee will have recognised the conciliatory spirit that the Under-Secretary of State has endeavoured to bring to bear upon the problem which is before us, but I feel that he himself must recognise the disappointment that is felt on all sides of the Committee in that he has not been able to go further to meet the Amendment moved by the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner). He has explained that six weeks were lost at the beginning of the war, and we can quite understand the reasons for that, but the time that he has suggested for the operation of the Act would involve, not six weeks, but two months postponement, and surely, if he will follow the reasoning which he himself has put before the Committee and bear in mind the great urgency of the problem which he himself admits, and which has been emphasised on all sides, and the very great importance of stopping these bogus collections, he could meet the manifest desire on all sides of the Committee for the earliest application of this Act by making the date 14th February, which would be exactly six weeks and would also have the happy coincidence of falling upon St. Valentine's Day, which I am sure he would agree, would be a very much more appropriate date than 1st April for the coming into force of this Measure.

5.49 p.m.

Major Milner

I am bound to say that I, with, I think, everyone who has spoken in this Debate, was extremely dissatisfied with the answer given by the Under-Secretary of State. There is a French motto which says that he who excuses himself accuses himself. I do not refer to the hon. Gentleman himself, but I feel in this matter that the Home Office have been somewhat remiss. I understand that, to all intents and purposes, it is not possible to bring this Act into force by 1st January, and that is the difficulty with which we are faced. Therefore, it would not seem unreasonable to postpone the Act, if that be the case, until some later date, when it could be reasonably and properly complied with. It brings the law into disrepute if an Act is made to come into operation on a particular date and it is not possible by then for those who are affected by it in fact to comply with its terms. At the same time, I hope the hon. Gentleman and the Home Office, and the Government, will recognise the very strong feeling that has been shown by all the speakers in this Debate that, in their view, this Act deals with an evil which at the present time is undoubtedly growing, and is likely to grow weak by week until the Act is brought into force. It is much against my own will, but, having regard to the fact that it is not possible to do otherwise in the present circumstances, I shall in a moment or two ask leave to withdraw the Amendment. I hope, however, as was said by the hon. Member for the English Universities (Mr. Harvey), that it may be possible even now for the hon. Gentleman's Department to bring the Act into operation at an earlier date.

I would remind the hon. and learned Member for Warrington (Mr. Goldie) in particular that the facts were not quite as he stated them. While there is an Act dealing with street collections, house-to-house collections are under a rather different category, and we were faced with certain difficulties which I am sure, on consideration, he will appreciate; hence the necessity of the Act of Parliament. I understand, however, that the Home Office will bring the Act into operation at the latest by 1st March. I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison) was in error or probably overlooked something I had said on a previous occasion, when he mentioned, among other societies, the Incorporated Seamen's and Boatmen's Mission. I took the trouble to inquire on a previous occasion into that society, which has a branch in my own constituency in Leeds, and I found it to be perfectly reputable in every way. I do not remember the exact figures, but not a great proportion of the proceeds of its collections goes to gifts and so forth to seamen; yet I do not think that that is unusual in the case of such missions. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour, who is on the Treasury Bench, will, I think, agree that in the case of churches and so forth a very small proportion of their income goes to things of that sort, and that the greater proportion of their income goes to the upkeep of the mission or church and the payment of the stipend of the missioner. Having said that, and relying on the Home Office bringing this Act into operation at the earliest possible moment, even before 1st March if that be possible, and in order that we may have a fair start for the bonâ fide charities at the earliest possible moment, I beg to ask leave, much against my own will, to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn. Schedule agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment; read the Third time, and passed.