§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.7 a.m.
§ Mr. Craven-Ellis
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
In case hon. Members are not aware of it, I would point out that this Bill is based on the report of a Joint Committee of the House of Lords and the House of Commons. I think the House will feel that the time has come, if it is not past, when such a Bill as this is necessary. The abuse of charity collections became very acute immediately following the War, when street collections were constantly going on in every town and city. As a result of the abuse that had occurred in connection with street collections, it was deemed advisable to bring these under some form of regulation and control, and that was done by the passing of the Police, Factories, etc. (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act in 1916. Under that Measure, the number of collections that there should be in a town was laid down, and the manner in which those collections were to be undertaken. As a result of that Act, the British public, who are always a very generous public, were satisfied that a much greater proportion of the money which they gave through street collections would go to the charities for which it was intended.
In view of the experience which has been gained under that Act, and the orderly way in which street collections are now conducted, it is desired that the collections which are now carried on from house to house should come under similar control and regulation. I may point out that, when the tightening up of the control of street collections became really effective, many of those people who had been abusing the method of street collection turned to house-to-house collection, and it is a remarkable fact that during the last few years the number of collections from house to house has increased by from 400 to 500 per cent., the last three years having seen the greatest increase in the percentage. Therefore, I feel that this Bill is really necessary, as its main purpose is to extend to house-to- 530 house collection the method of control and regulation which now governs street collections.
The report, issued in 1938, of the Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament to which I have referred, made very definite recommendations, and strongly advocated the control of house-to-house collections; but that was not the first occasion on which this matter was brought to the notice of Parliament. In 1927 the Home Office, appreciating the seriousness of the abuse, appointed a Departmental Committee, and that Committee made its recommendations in 1927. The report indicated that even at that time, now 12 years ago, the importance of bringing house-to-house collections under control was fully appreciated. Under the heading of "Door-to-Door Collections," it says:There was an almost unanimous opinion on the part of the witnesses who appeared before us that the one method of collection which demands control more than any other (except street collections) is that of door-to-door collections. The fraudulent enterprises which have been brought to our notice depend for the most part on these collections; it is clear that people often give the canvassers money merely to get rid of them, and in the view of the police witnesses their control would quickly cause these fraudulent charities' to die of starvation. It may be noted that street collections and door-to-door collections resemble each other in differing from appeals by post or advertisement in that the person appealed to cannot escape or ignore the request, but must give or refuse money on the spot.I think that that in itself is a very strong recommendation in favour of the Bill. Other references have been made in this House to the necessity for doing something in the matter, and in 1929 the Government of the day introduced a Bill, but that Bill contained certain Clauses which gave rise to alarm, and as a result the Bill was not proceeded with. The abuse continued, and, in fact, became intensified, and the Association of Municipal Corporations deemed it desirable to take a deputation to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. That was on 1st July, 1936, and the deputation pointed out to the Under-Secretary the abuses that were taking place and the fact that the police authorities were pressing for something to be done. The Under-Secretary gave the deputation's appeal his sympathy, but said that the Government themselves could not introduce legislation. The Association were 531 not in any way deterred by that result; in fact, they were encouraged; and they arranged that a Bill should be introduced into the other House. That was undertaken by Lord Stonehaven in February, 1938, and, after the Bill had received a Second Reading, which was given without a Division, it was referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament. It is upon the report of that Joint Committee that the present Bill is framed.
When the Bill of 1929 was introduced, there were, as I have said, certain Clauses in it which gave rise to some alarm, and the parties who were alarmed were our great national charities. The Bill which I am introducing to-day has been carefully considered by the national charities, who have held a conference and have decided that they will give the Bill their support. In order that the House may appreciate the weight of evidence in favour of the Bill, I will read the names of a number of national charities who attended that conference. They included Dr. Barnardo's Homes, the British Empire Cancer Campaign, the British Hospitals Association, the British Legion, the Church Army, the Church of England Waifs and Strays Society, the National Children's Home and Orphanage, the National Institute for the Blind, the National 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 for Blinded Soldiers and Airmen; and the Salvation Army.
Those are the various important national charities who are supporting this Bill. It will be appreciated that in respect of a Bill of this description, which has an effect on every home in the country, I should have communications from many other sources. I have received a very large number of letters from all classes of people, expressing the hope that this Bill will reach the Statute Book. In not one of these communications has any opposition been expressed, so I think we may take it that it is the whole-hearted wish of the people of this country that the Bill shall reach the Statute Book. Before I explain the various Clauses of the Bill, I would like to read one or two extracts from the report of the Joint Committee of the two Houses, to show that the abuse is very extensive and has been going on for a very long time. Mr. 532 Astbury, the Secretary of the Charity Organisation Society, gave evidence thatAn outstanding feature of the bogus or fraudulent charity promoter is that he has little, if any, experience of the charitable or social work for which he institutes his collection. Another feature is his contempt for the law or for exposure in the public Press. The following example illustrates these two points. In 1932 a man named Frederick Booth with his wife started a society with the title 'The Destitute and Homeless Help Society.' Neither had any previous experience of charitable work. Booth had previously been employed as a waiter in a night club. The couple began by taking a derelict building, converting it into a hostel with about 12 wire bunks. They allowed homeless or destitute men to occupy these bunks for one night, afterwards extending their activities to the giving of a free breakfast to the men in the hostel. Collectors were appointed on a commission basis of 50 per cent. During the w hole period of its existence ii has published two statements of account. The first, in 1935, showed the net amount received as £1,722. This item did not include the 50 per cent. paid to collectors, so that the total amount received should have been recorded as £3,444.You have two kinds of evidence there, which fully indicate the kind of fraud that we are endeavouring to prevent by this Bill. The first is that the party who is organising the charity is of such a kind that if we had to decide whether he ought to be allowed to conduct a charity or not I think this House would decide that he should not. The second goes on to show how the money which is obtained from the public goes towards alleged expenses. I think we should all agree that 50 per cent, is a very extravagant proportion for expenses.
§ Mr. Craven-Ellis
There is no comparison between industrial assurance companies and organisations of this sort. In addition to the 50 per cent, that is retained by the party carrying on the collections, there are still further deductions before anything is given to charity. I said earlier in my remarks that the police themselves were pressing the Home Office to take some action, and a result of that was the Home Office committee which reported in 1927. I propose to quote a short part of the evidence which was given to the Joint Committee of both Houses, by the president of the Chief Constables' Association, Mr. J. Maxwell, who is chief constable of the City of Manchester. He said: 533We represent 121 chief constables of cities and boroughs in England and Wales, from whom inquiries have been made regarding the prevalence in their districts of house-to-house collections.… We strongly submit that legislation is necessary to deal with the present positionI hope that on such evidence as I have produced this House will decide that I have made out a good case for the Second Reading of this Bill. What does the Bill provide? The more important point is in Clause 1, which provides that there must be a licence, for which the party promoting a charitable collection must apply to the police. That puts the first check on the kind of fraud about which we are complaining. Anybody holding that licence may be accepted as being a party worthy of such trust. The licence itself is regulated, in so far as it will be in existence only for the period of that particular collection. Not only have we to consider the position of the promoter, but we have to endeavour to safeguard the public from abuses by collectors. Subsection (3) of Clause 1 prohibits a person who acts as a collector from working for a promoter who does not hold a licence, so it will be necessary under this Bill for the collector to satisfy himself that the promoter does in fact hold a licence.
Sub-section (4) is, in effect, an exemption Clause. It permits of applicants having the authority from the police to carry out purely local charitable collections, and any party holding such a certificate is not required to hold the licence. Nevertheless, he is affected by the provisions of Clauses 5 and 6, so we may be satisfied that the man who has a certificate is, in fact, under some control. The police in granting these certificates arc only called upon to satisfy themselves that the collection is local, and that it shall be a collection that can be carried through within a very short period.
Clause 2 gives the police authority permission to issue a licence and states the form in which the licence shall be granted. An applicant must specify the purpose of the collection which, I think, is very necessary. He must also define the area within which the collection shall take place, and the police authority responsible for issuing the licence shall grant a licence for a period which must not exceed 12 months. Sub-section (3) is very important because it gives the police the right either to grant a licence or to revoke a licence already granted. The terms 534 upon which a licence may be revoked or refused are very clearly set out in the Sub-section, and I do not think it is necessary for me to go through the details of the requirements.
Clause 3 is important because it refers to those national charities which I have mentioned, and which will not be called upon to apply for a licence The Secretary of State himself can give what is, in effect, an exemption in respect of a licence to such charitable organisations as I have referred to so as to cover the whole or the major part of the country. Nevertheless, these charities are in effect subject to the other conditions of the Bill. Clause 4 gives the Secretary of State the authority to draft regulations and I would point out that it is the drafting of these regulations which gives the Bill its real control. The regulations which were approved under the Act of 1916 have been extremely beneficial, and the City of Manchester adopted some additional conditions which have made the control of street collections in Manchester even more effective than in most other parts of the country. I emphasise the importance of these regulations because they are the means of doing what we in this House desire; and they will not be put into force until they have been laid before Parliament.
Clause 5 deals with badges. Every collector must have a badge and a certificate, and if he is without these he will not be collecting from house to house in accordance with the terms of this Bill. Provision is made in the Bill that if a collector uses a badge or a certificate which appears to resemble what is termed the prescribed badge and certificate, such a person will be subject to certain penalties. I have been very insistent that the penalties for an abuse of the provisions of this Bill should be made heavier than those which appeared in the previous Bill which this House had presented to it. I feel that if we are to stop fraud it is far better to do it by a heavy penalty than by endeavouring to prevent it by regulation and control. If the penalty is of a sufficiently large amount, it will be a bigger resistance to an attempt to carry on fraud than it will be to comply with some regulation which may be adopted in the Secretary of State's code. Therefore, if a promoter carries out a collection without a licence the fine may be £100, or a 535 term of imprisonment not exceeding six months, or both. The penalties all through the Bill are based on that level, which I do not consider to be too high.
Collecting in the name of charity has been the playground for a certain type of racketeer for too long, and now it has become a scandal. The generosity of the British public, particularly that of the working classes, has been abused to an alarming extent, and crooks of both sexes have for too long capitalised that generosity. I am informed by a reliable authority that the amount cannot be less than £2,000,000 that these racketeers are taking out of the pockets of the British public. I want this House to help me to put a stop to that kind of fraud.
§ 11.34 a.m.
§ Major Milner
I beg to second the Motion.
I am sure that the House is indebted to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Southampton (Mr. Craven-Ellis) for adopting this Bill, which was originally promoted by the Association of Municipal Corporations, and bringing it before the House. It is a logical consequence of the legislation, which so successfully in the last 20 years has dealt with the subject of flag days. As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, there was difficulty in regard to multifarious street collections, and so on, made in the War days as a result of which the provisions of the Act of 1916 were passed regulating the subject of flag days, with, I believe, considerable satisfaction to all concerned, and certainly with some relief to those who otherwise would be subject to the repeated and quite unregulated attentions in the street of all sorts of so-called charities and other institutions, and would have a very difficult task in making their choice.
The hon. Member has given particulars of cases indicating the necessity for the Bill. It ought to be made clear that the object is not in any way to prevent collections being made from house to house on behalf of bona-fide charities. It is indeed the hope of the promoters that the Bill will facilitate and encourage such collections. It is, however, desired to put a stop to those collections from house to house which are either fraudulent, or where their character is such that only a very small proportion of the moneys collected reaches the charities for which 536 the collection is professed to be made. I hope the House will agree that this Bill fulfils those requirements.
I do not propose to give a great number of instances showing the necessity for the Bill. The Committee on which I had the honour to sit with other hon. Members considered this matter at very great length and took a great deal of evidence, all of which is available in the report obtainable at the Vote Office. That evidence indicates beyond any question the very serious nature of the complaints, to which the Bill is directed. The hon. Member dealt with the notorious case of the Booth family. There is also the equally notorious case of the Bird family, which is set out on page 7 of the evidence. That was a case where in Bristol in 1935 a man named Bird formed the Poor Children's Free Clothing League. He took an office and became general secretary at a salary of £3 per week, he employed a typist. Later on the organisation was expanded and six collectors were employed on salary. Subsequently a treasurer was appointed, a Mr. Estwick Tabor John Bird, brother of the original Bird. The Bird family next opened branches at Manchester and Cardiff. The collectors then took 50 per cent. of the collections.
In March, 1937, the organisation grew and opened branches in Bradford, Nottingham and Liverpool. Mr. Estwick Bird, in addition to being treasurer, then became supervising manager of branches at £5 per week. Later, he borrowed £50 from the League fund without the consent of the committee, which consent he obtained subsequently. His salary was increased from £5 to £10 per week in order, it was said, that he might repay the £50 that he had borrowed. In 1937 he formed a fund called the Bird Relief Fund. The real object of that fund was, of course, to relieve the Bird family. York Richard Bird was called the founder and principal. His wife then came on the scene and she became the secretary. Later, in October, 1937, the mother started a fund called the Free Coal Fund for Poor People. Finally, the originator of the conspiracy, for that was what it amounted to, was arrested and charged with false pretences. So one might go on.
There can be no question as to the necessity for a Bill of this sort. We all know in our own experience that almost daily men or women come to the front or 537 the back door of our houses, and very frequently either we ourselves or our wives or Members of our families give 3d., 6d. or 1s., or some other sum, without really making inquiries from the individual who comes to the door. There are, however, many people who adopt a different course. They simply slam the door in the face of the collector and say: "I do not give anything to collectors at the door." In the first of these two cases one might give money to quite a number of undeserving institutions, some of which are undoubtedly of the nature of those indicated by the hon. Member, and the case that I have just mentioned. If the other course is adopted and we slam the door in the face of the collector, we probably turn down some institution which, if one took the trouble to ascertain its character, one might discover to be quite deserving.
The Bill will make it perfectly clear that only those institutions that have obtained the certificates or licences set out in the Bill will be entitled to collect from house to house. That will be a sort of guarantee of the bona-fides of the institution to the householder or the wife of a householder, and that a proper proportion of the proceeds of the collection will go to the objects of the institution. They will thereby have an assurance that if they give freely, what they give will he properly used. Therefore, the worst class of case will be discouraged and I hope done away with altogether, while the bona-fide institutions will undoubtedly benefit in the long run.
The Bill is of a simple nature and quite moderate in its application. The committee which considered it had before them a number of alternatives and possible extensions of the principle of the Bill but, as drawn, it is not a Bill, for example, that applies to places of entertainment or arcades or private forecourts. At some later time it may be desirable to extend it, but the committee were of opinion that it would be sufficient to deal with the more usual case, and not to complicate the matter by extending the Bill too far. There are three classes of certificate or licence. Clause 1 (4), which enables the chief officer of police for the police area to give a certificate authorising a collection to be made in the locality for charitable purposes is intended to deal with the small case of, say, a workman who has been injured, and for 538 whom it is desired to make a local and transitory collection, which would be acceptable to everybody, and the circumstances of which would be well known to the police. There is also the case of, perhaps, the vicar who desires to make a house-to-house collection for repairs to the church organ, or small matters of that sort which are well known in the locality and on which no question of fraud could arise.
If such an application were made and the chief officer of police for that locality refused it it would be competent for the promoters to apply under Clause 2 to the police authority for the area. For example, if in a small village such an application to the police were refused, it would be competent for the promoters to go to the police authority, probably the standing joint committee of the county council, and they would have the power to give the permission which the local police had not given or which they thought they ought not to give without some higher authorisation. These are cases of the small local, transitory collections from house to house which would probably take place only once. There is a second class referred to in Clause 2 where application has to be made to the police authority of the area, and where the police authority can delegate its authority. That is the case, for example, of a general hospital in a county borough area or a county hospital probably in a county area. Application would there be made to the police authority and would presumably be granted year by year as a matter of course.
The only grounds on which the police authorities may refuse to grant a licence are on grounds of fraud, or something approaching fraud, where the amount applied to charitable purposes is quite inadequate in proportion to the amount collected, or where the rate of remuneration paid to the collectors is excessive, or where an offence would be committed under the Vagracy Act, which is really a case of fraud, or where the applicant is an unfit person or one who has been convicted of an offence. No consideration can be given by a local authority to the purposes of the charity, or to the political character of the promoters. It is purely a question whether the application is bona fide, and what proportion of the proceeds go to the charity in question. There is the third case of a national 539 charity to which the hon. Member has referred. It is obviously desirable that an institution like the National Lifeboat Institution should not be under the obligation of applying to scores of local authorities throughout the country for the right to make a house-to-house collection. Authority is therefore given to the Home Office to draft regulations, and the Committee were insistent upon laying down those matters upon which the Home Office could make regulations. These regulations will have to be laid before the House, and unless a Resolution is passed annulling them, they will come into force. I submit that this is a simple and practical method of dealing with this objectionable and growing practice.
I was a member of the Joint Select Committee which considered this particular matter, and a good deal of evidence was put before us. I have had my attention drawn to the evidence put before us in regard to one particular society, and from the inquiries I have made I think it is due to that society that I should correct a quite erroneous impression which was given by the evidence put before the Joint Select Committee. I am led to deal with this matter because in my view it cannot be made too clear that the most impartial and unprejudiced consideration must be given by the police and the Home Office to any application before they refuse a licence to a perfectly reputable organisation. It must not be a question of mere hearsay evidence. They must be satisfied beyond doubt that there is some element of fraud or of the nature I have indicated before a licence can be refused. I am led to make these observations by a reference to the Incorporated Seamen and Boatmen's Friend Society on page 53 of the evidence. Particulars were there put forward by the General Secretary of the Charity Organisation Society in a precis of evidence in various bogus or semi-bogus organisations, and the obvious implication to members of the Committee was that this particular organisation was also a bogus and fraudulent organisation in some sense.
I confess that when sitting on the Committee I read the precis of evidence I did not appreciate that the organisation was one of which I had some knowledge in my own city, and when my attention was drawn to the matter I made inquiries. I have taken some trouble to inquire into 540 the alleged bogus nature of the organisation and to satisfy myself on the particular allegations which were made against it, and from my inquiries I am perfectly satisfied that this Society ought never to have been included in the precis submitted to the Committee as being fraudulent or bogus in any sense of the word. The precis referred to:The Incorporated Seamen and Boatmen's Friend Society and so-called branches.I have inquired into that matter. There is a branch in the City of Leeds and there are branches in the seaports around the coasts. There are also a number of centres in inland towns like Birmingham, and it is a misuse of language to speak of "so-called" branches. Similarly in regard to other statements in the precis of evidence. It is true that the superintendents call themselves reverend, but under the constitution of this particular society they are quite entitled to assume that title. There is also a statement alleged to have been made by the Lord Mayor of Hull to the effect that out of £200 collected only £12 was devoted to the benefit of sailors. I have inquired into that matter, and I find that the £12 in question only related to a portion of the benefits. I have had letters from responsible people in Hull and from the Aire and Calder Navigation which controls the waterways between Leeds and Hull which prove beyond doubt the bona fides of this organisation which has existed for over 90 years, and which, I submit, ought never to have been included in the precis under any heading.
§ Mr. Petherick
Is the hon. and gallant Member dealing with the evidence or with the report of the Committee?
§ Major Milner
I am dealing with the evidence submitted to the joint Select Committee in the precis regarding this particular Society. I may say that I have ascertained why this particular Society was put forward in this way. The St. George's Fund for Sailors and the Seamen's Council desired this particular Society to join up with them, but the Society found it quite impossible to do that, particularly as they were given no representation on the committee and they were of course quite entitled to refuse to do so. It is significant that for over 40 years this Society appeared in the Register of Charities published by the Charity Organisation Society, and that it is only 541 since it has refused to submit itself to these other organisations that efforts have been made quite improperly to cast aspersions on its bona fides.
§ Mr. R. C. Morrison
Evidence was given before the Joint Select Committee that the amount received by the Incorporated Seamen and Boatmen's Friend Society was £7,924 and that the amount expended in charity was £500.
§ Major Milner
I do not know from what my hon. Friend is quoting, but I shall he happy to deal with it if he can refer me to it in the Minutes of Evidence. This particular society, however, is not a relief or benevolent society: it is a religious society. I have its constitution here, and it is quite incidental to its work that it gives relief to seamen. I do not wish to pursue the matter further, except to say that in my opinion quite unjust reflections were cast upon this society in the evidence, and I know of no reason why it should be classed as other than a perfectly bona fide and reputable organisation. There is another matter to which I want to refer. Hon. Members on this side of the House, and perhaps hon. Members opposite, have made inquiries as to what would be the position with regard to collections made from house to house by the Conservative, Liberal or Labour party from members of the respective parties. From the definition in Clause 9, it is clear that a collection, within the meaning of this Bill, must be an appeal to the public generally, and does not relate to collections from a restricted body of persons, such as the members of a particular society.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Would the Bill interfere in the following case? It has been the custom for generations for the Labour party to hold a May Day procession and for people with collecting boxes to walk along the street making a collection for the procession. At the present time, permission has to be obtained for that, but would this Bill stop the permission being given?
§ Major Milner
I think that what the hon. Member has referred to is something in the nature of a flag day. Permission has to be obtained from the police authorities at present, and would have to be obtained similarly in future. There is nothing in the Bill that would make any difference in that respect.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Would it be a charitable purpose? A charitable purpose is defined in the Bill as a charitable, benevolent or philanthropic purpose.
§ Major Milner
It may be that the Labour party or the Independent Labour party have charitable, benevolent or philanthopic purposes, but probably they are not charitable purposes within the meaning of the Bill, and hence the collections to which the hon. Member referred would not come under the Bill. However, if they did, they would be under no greater obligation than at present to obtain permission.
§ Mr. Craven-Ellis
May I make this point clear? The point raised by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) has no relation to the Bill. Such collections are now controlled under the 1916 Act, and would continue to be so controlled. This Bill relates only to house-to-house collections.
§ Major Milner
I do not want my hon. Friends to have any wrong impression. Collections such as those which have recently been made from house to house generally, for example, for the sending of foodships to Spain, would come under the Bill. I think it is right that it should be so. There should be no difficulty under the Bill in bona fide organisations, having charitable, benevolent or philanthropic purposes applying to the police, satisfying the police of the bona fides of the organisations, and obtaining the necessary permission. It is desirable that a tight hand should be kept on collections of this character so that those who contribute may give freely and with the knowledge that the money they give will be properly used. Therefore, I commend the Bill to the House as being an extremely useful piece of legislation which will be of great advantage in the future.
§ 12.1 p.m.
§ Sir Adam Maitland
I wish, in the first place, to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton (Mr. Craven-Ellis) on having chosen this matter of House-to-House Collections as the subject for a Bill, and also upon the excellent 543 speech with which he explained to the House the objects and provisions of the Bill. Like the hon. and gallant Member for South East Leeds (Major Milner), I had the privilege last Session of serving on the Joint Committee of both Houses which considered a Bill having similar purposes which had been introduced. That Bill was referred to the Joint Committee in order that evidence might be taken on the subject. The House is always influenced, as it ought to be, by the recommendations of a Committee of its Members or of the two Houses. Such Committees are composed of Members who are charged with ascertaining the facts of the matter concerned, which they investigate most carefully and impartially for the specific purpose of ascertaining the facts and recommending such legislative action as they deem to be of advantage to the country.
We have so many Parliamentary Papers that it is impossible for us to read all of them. Therefore, perhaps the House will permit me to give some of the impressions which I formed in listening to the evidence tendered to the Committee and from the deliberations of the Committee. There is no doubt that the nuisance of quasi-charitable house-to-house collections has consistently and persistently increased during recent years. The Joint Committee came to certain conclusions, the first of which was that legislation was definitely needed. Taking the Bill which had been submitted in another place, the Committee came to the conclusion, after hearing the evidence, that it was better not to attempt to amend that Bill in Parliamentary form, but to suggest to the promoters, in the first place, certain modifications, then that they should consult with the Home Office regarding certain matters which have aroused doubts, and finally, that they should be recommended to re-introduce a Bill this Session on the general lines indicated in the report.
I think other hon. Members who served on the Committee will agree that substantially this Bill is based upon and carries out the recommendations of the Joint Committee. I am sure there were four points which were constantly before the members of the Committee: first, the question whether a Bill was necessary; secondly, that any scheme of control 544 should be administratively practicable and effective; thirdly, that the scheme should not place too onerous a burden upon the police who would have to administer it; and fourthly, that the scheme of control should not injure bona tide charities. Perhaps I may be permitted here to remind hon. Members that Parliamentary opposition to Bills is based on different reasons. For example, first because a Bill is too wide, and then on the contrary, because it is not wide enough. Therefore, I would draw the attention of the House to the fact that the Bill is strictly limited to house-to-house collections. I mention that because the point has already been raised in this Debate. The first Bill included places of entertainment and refreshment and during the Committee stage it was suggested that arcades and forecourts, railway stations and sports grounds, should also be included in the provisions. But the Committee came to the conclusion that the most serious evils arose from house-to-house collections, and they recommended that the Bill should be restricted to dealing with that aspect of the case. It was considered that if, later on, it was found that the activities of people of a certain type made any further legislation desirable it would be an easy matter to extend any existing Measure.
Reference has already been made to the detailed evidence which was given before the Committee, and I do not intend to trouble hon. Members with any further extracts, but there are one or two points brought out in the evidence to which I would like to direct attention. Generally, I would say that, in my judgment, we had ample evidence of the extent to which this evil has been growing in recent years. We have detailed evidence based upon information from 27 towns and cities which are representative of the whole country including Manchester, Birmingham, Bradford, Carlisle, Dover, Huddersfield, Newcastle-on-Tyne, Maidstone, Middlesbrough, Peterborough, Scarborough and Wolverhampton. One of the witnesses was the chairman of the Police Committee of the Association of Municipal Corporations and he gave us, not only cases which had come to his notice as chairman of that committee, but also cases which had been brought before him in his capacity as a practising solicitor in Exeter. He said that hundreds of cases had been reported 545 from time to time to the Police Committee of the Municipal Corporations Association.
Another witness who was questioned by the Committee upon the extent of this evil was the Secretary of the Charity Organisation Society whose evidence will be found on page 47. He said that the number of house-to-house collections during the last four years had increased by as much as 400 or 500 per cent. Reference has already been made in this Debate to the fact that this increase may have resulted from the transfer of the activities of certain people from street collections after those were controlled in 1916 to house-to-house collections. I ought to observe that the pseudo or bogus charitable organisation with which this Bill is seeking to deal does not profess to keep and publish proper accounts. The collectors are paid on a commission basis varying from 33⅓ to 50 per cent. in the amounts collected and there is no evidence at all that anything but a small proportion of the amount collected from house to house finds its way to those charities on whose behalf the collection is alleged to be made.
As regards the provisions of the Bill itself, I am satisfied that it is administratively workable and likely to be effective in achieving its purpose. From the evidence which we took, I have formed the opinion that the administration of a Measure on these lines will not prove unduly onerous on those who have to carry it out. There are two points which I particularly desire to emphasise. The object of the Bill is not to place any difficulties in the way of bona fide charities. It is recognised that many excellent and worthy charities depend on house-to-house collections for a large amount of their income, but if this method of collection is brought further into disrepute by those who abuse the method then it is clear that the bona fide charities will inevitably suffer. I am glad to think that the national charities are supporting the Bill, and I believe that their support is based upon a recognition of the fact that unless this method of collection is made more healthy it will have a detrimental effect upon their own receipts.
It may be said that we are proposing to hand over too much authority to the police, but I would point out that the police are not being given an unlimited 546 discretion to grant or withhold licences. All that is necessary is to satisfy the police that the proposed collection is a bona fide collection, and that the money realised by it will be accounted for properly, and a licence cannot be refused, for instance, merely on the ground that the collection is to be made on behalf of some particular religious denomination of which they do not approve. This House is always jealous about handing over powers of this kind and always insists on providing safeguards, and I believe that in this case adequate safeguards are provided for in the terms of the Bill.
There are two questions which I would like to put to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. The first is with regard to the regulations. I know that this is a matter which will be dealt with in more detail during the Committee stage of the Bill, but when we are handing over powers of this kind I think it is only right, if we have any doubts about those powers, or about the manner in which they will be administered, that we should voice those doubts during the early stages of the Bill. Moreover, it is from the special regulations that the executive authority of the Bill will be derived and I should like a definite assurance that, in drawing up the regulations the Minister will consult the representatives of the national charities. It is just as important that we should preserve the interests of the national charities and those charities which we all desire to see prosper as that we should deal effectively with those pseudo-charitable and quasi-charitable organisations which we desire to bring under control.
There is another point. During the sittings of the Committee I was rather concerned about the position of the hospitals in this country. I took the view that our recognised voluntary hospitals should have the same right of exemption as the national charities but I could not carry the Committee with me. I am not fully persuaded yet that the proposal is right. I would like the Under-Secretary to consider whether bona fide hospitals, for instance those which are members of the British Hospitals Association, should not be given the same kind of exemption as the national charities. As I have said I am not sure that the proposal is right, because you may find collectors on behalf of one hospital going into an area which some other hospital would like to reserve for itself. Perhaps my hon. Friend will 547 consider consulting the British Hospitals Association and, arising from such consultation, greater co-operation may be secured in regard to collections which are taken in adjoining hospital areas. I do not press that point, but I ask the Minister to consider it. But I do press for a specific assurance that before the regulations are finally settled he will consult with representatives of the national charities, and that I may add, was a recommendation of the Committee.
One other point deals with the question of penalties. I agree that penalties should be severe, but I am thinking of the bona fide charity, and it may very well be that a bone fide charity organisation may find itself employing a dishonest collector, employing people who will not be obeying the law as it will be if this Bill is passed. Clause 8 (7) provides:Where an offence under this Act committed by a corporation is proved to have been committed with the consent or connivance of, or to be attributable to any neglect on the part of, any director, manager, secretary, or other officer of the corporation, he, as well as the corporation, shall be deemed to be guilty of that offence and shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly.I do not mind anyone connected with a bogus charity having to face that penalty, but we should be careful that we do not place those connected with bona fide charities in a position in which through no fault of their own they are liable to imprisonment and fine. The words "or to be attributable to any neglect" may be a legal interpretation, but they seem to me to be rather wide. It is perhaps more a Committee point, but I should be glad if it could be examined. Having listened with the utmost care to the evidence that was submitted to the Joint Committee and considered the whole question I think that this is a Measure which we can whole-heartedly support. I hope it will do something to remedy the evils that we all desire to remove.
§ 12.20 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Smith
Everyone will agree that there is a good case for a Bill of this kind. Everyone with any experience of house to house collections in large or small towns realises that such collections should be more or less controlled. The object of the Bill is to prevent the swindling of people by bogus collections. I am not sure that the Bill as worded will do all 548 that it sets out to do. The people at the head of these bogus associations have certainly got brains and when you try to close one door against them they open another. The Bill deals with collections not merely of money, but of goods. Suppose that a bogus charity collector, instead of calling from house to house for money, sends a circular setting out the charity and enclosing an envelope, the circular stating "If you want to contribute you can put your coin inside the envelope and someone will call for it a day or two later." Would that be regarded as a collection within the meaning of the Bill?
§ Mr. Smith
But suppose that the circular is not left at all the houses in one street; suppose that the collector calls at a couple of houses in one street and then at a couple of houses in another street. The organisation may get out of the difficulty in that way. I agree that there is a good case for the Bill, but I wish sometimes that it would go even further than it does go. I wish also that we could remove in many cases the need for these house-to-house collections by bona fide charity organisations. Reference has been made to the National Lifeboat Institution, to which we all contribute. We find national money for the lighthouses, but rely upon charity to keep the lifeboats, and in case of shipwrecks we never even ask to whom the lifeboat belongs.
In my 10 years' experience as a member of a board of guardians, I came across scores of charitable organisations which were regarded as bona fide but which I thought were not doing the right thing. I realised that sooner or later the State would have to take up the question. As I have said, I wish the Bill would go further than it does. Have hon. Members ever thought of all the circulars they receive in the months of November and December. I have been astonished to find the number of friends I have in different parts of the country, friends who are hoping that I shall subscribe to their particular activities. There are scores of them. We know that they are not all genuine appeals. If the senders knew how quickly their circulars went into the waste-paper basket they would not post them.
549 Looking through a letter file the other day I came across three interesting letters. One indicated that some shrewd person in London was trying to collect from my constituency, which happens to be a Yorkshire constituency. The first letter was from a firm of racing tipsters. They sent a letter to my constituent saying:Some time ago your name was sent to us as one who was willing for us to work our racing system in your favour at 5s. stakes. We are very pleased to inform you that up to date "—This was just before the November Handicap—you are £3 15s. in credit, but as we cannot trace the 15s. registration fee from you, will you kindly send it on, and the cheque will be forwarded in due course.This constituent happens to be one of those shrewd fellows who take an interest in sport, and he came to me and said, "What would you do?" I replied, "Write and say you are pleased to note that you are £3 15s. in credit, and advise them to deduct the 15s. from the £3 15s. and send you the £3 balance." He has not heard another word since. Then there is what may be termed the tragic side of trying to touch poor people. I had a constituent who wrote a song, and he saw an advertisement, "Song writers wanted." He sent his song up and got a most sympathetic letter back, telling him that he showed great promise and that for a guinea they would do all that was necessary. He sent them the guinea. He was unemployed, but he had visions, of course, of becoming employed at song writing, and he then got another letter saying that it seemed such a pity that such a song as his should have to win its way on its own merits, and that for five guineas they would copyright it, publish it, boost it, and pay him a royalty on each copy sold. He borrowed the five guineas and sent the money, and then waited for a reply, which did not come. He lost six guineas. He sent me the correspondence, which I took to the authorities, and they told me that he was one of hundreds who had been swindled in that way. He was an unemployed man and some swindler got away with it in his case.
There is another way of doing it. You see an advertisement in a certain paper:Any reader who happens to have a copy of a certain novelist's book and will turn to page 3 and find the following words, kindly communicate with the undersigned.550 A girl 14 years of age saw this and said, "Daddy, I have got it. Shall I send up?" He said, "Be very careful, this may be a swindle." She sent up and got back a most charming letter, saying how shrewd she was and what powers of observation she showed, and they offered her a job at a few pounds a week, if she sent up £2. To cut the story short, the last they heard of it was that the man was doing 12 months in prison. There are scores of ways in which this swindling is done. A chap even tried to touch me, and he wrote:Dear Sir, On going through my books I find that in September, 1934, you took from my shop, on approval, a pair of gold inlaid scissors, a present from Queen Victoria to a bridesmaid in 1837, price £8 10s. Kindly forward the money or the scissors by return of post.Just imagine trying to get £8 10s. for a pair of scissors from a Yorkshireman. I told them I knew nothing about either the scissors, or the shop, or Queen Victoria's bridesmaid, and that unless they apologised I would have to hand the matter over to somebody else. I never heard another word about it, of course. There are to-day lots of people who think there is a mug born every minute and two to look after him, and these people who are doing this so-called charitable work get away with a tremendous amount of money. They are good psychologists, and often it is women who contribute, out of sheer sympathy. Someone comes to the door and tells a pitiable story, and the wife says she cannot resist it, and 2s. goes in the box, but you never hear anything else from these people. I would like to see it all stopped, though I know you cannot stop it altogether by a mere Bill in this House. You will have to stop it by a stricter control in the giving. I said to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner), "I wonder whether this Bill will stop certain people trying to touch Members." He said, "I am afraid not."
I say sincerely that there has been in this House in the last two or three years quite a determined attempt to do as much as possible to stop people being deliberately swindled. We have tried to control share pushers and the like, but it is very difficult to do. If anyone were to write a book about the methods of some of these people, it would make a best seller, I am sure, especially if it told the extent to which these people will go, the 551 charm they employ, the knowledge they have of human nature, and the way in which they may almost mesmerise or hypnotise people. Some poor women see visions of owning orange groves in New Zealand, and such things. We are doing our best by this Bill to stop some of these forms of swindling. I hope the Bill will go through unanimously, and that it will do something to prevent these frauds and, perhaps, to make it easier for people to contribute to genuine charitable organisations.
§ 12.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I do not agree with the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) about this Bill, and I would say that most of his statements about the Bill had no relationship whatever to the Bill. The question of people sending out circulars has no relationship to door-to-door collections. Frankly, I do not like the Bill. As far as I can see, the Bill would apply to Scotland, and it is the Scottish position that I want to say a word or two about. I may not know other districts, but I think I know my own district, and there for a large number of years we have had a system, when a chap has died, of running round from door to door collecting pennies and halfpennies and sixpences with which to bury him. Under this Bill, that sort of thing would be stopped. I am told that they could go to the police authorities for permission, but these poor folk will not go to the police to ask permission. They do not do this collecting as a wrong, and it is not looked upon as a wrong. Somebody says, "John Thomas so and so has died, and we are making a collection to bury him." Or a man is to be put out of his house, threatened with eviction, for arrears of rent. There is no time to go to the police authorities, so they go scampering about to neighbours and collect a few pounds to clear the rent, and they clear it. This Bill would stop them doing that. It is a charitable purpose, and these folk have no time to go to the police authorities.
Further, as I know the police authorities, although it does not say so in this Bill, it would be the police committee of the magistrates in Glasgow, not merely the chief constable, and even if it were just the chief constable, that would make the Bill worse, because then it would not be a democratic body that would decide 552 the matter, but merely an official, and whatever may be said about the matter, there ought to be some democratic body to decide it. We have heard a lot of talk this morning about swindlers, but I must confess that the real swindlers do not go collecting pennies round a working-class district. If they were to go to working-class doors, they know they would not become very rich men. Anybody who knows about collecting, particularly in a city like my own, knows that collecting, and particularly begging round from door to door, has very nearly finished. I remember that when I first got married the ordinary beggars were perpetually at our door begging for pennies, but that sort of thing is almost eliminated now. After all, working people are not stupid. This Bill assumes that they are foolish and stupid, but they are not.
Working people know that the average beggar who goes to the door can get public assistance of some kind or another. Consequently they do not contribute foolishly. When a woman with children knocks at the door and asks for a penny, the woman of the house knows that she should not be doing it, and consequently she does not subscribe. In densely populated localities when there is a collection for a neighbour whom the people know, they subscribe to door-to-door collections and do it every day, and they do it for a purpose which they know all about. It may be to supply a wreath for the funeral of a neighbour costing £1 or 30s. Some people may say that a wreath is foolish, but these people feel a certain kindness in subscribing for it, and I do not se why Parliament should interfere. This Bill does not stop the abuses mentioned by the hon. Member for Normanton, because people who are out to make fortunes do not go in for collections in these localities.
I hope that the Bill will not apply to Scotland, because it will stop working people making collections which form part of their everyday affairs. It may be said that they may go to the police authority for permission, but our people simply will not go to the police. They have never done it and they do not see why they should. They only go to the police when they are in trouble or want to report something that is wrong. They do not conceive of going to the police to get permission to collect so that they can bury a neighbour or raise funds to pay 553 their neighbour's rent. It is not their way of doing things. Members of the House of Commons may think it easy for working people to walk to the police station to ask for permission, but it is not easy for them. I cannot see anything very wrong in a number of boys in a working-class district deciding to form a football club and going round to collect for it. I know that in some cases they waste the money, but the neighbours know the boys well enough and they will not subscribe to boys they do not know. In fact, they will not subscribe to foolish things.
This Bill assumes that working people are foolish and stupid. They are not, and they will not give to door-to-door collections unless they know well what the collection is for, and share the belief of the collectors. Take the case of people who are collecting now for Spain. They get money from people who believe in the cause, but from those who do not believe in it they get nothing. I cannot see that such collectors are doing any harm or that there is need to run to the police for permission. The tenants' Associations which are formed on new housing schemes to help the tenants have door-to-door collections for various purposes in connection with their work. Why should they not go round to collect? People will not give unless they think they are a decent lot of folk. Under the Bill collectors will have to go to the police to ask permission to raise subscriptions to bury John Smith. By the time the police have made inquiries the need for the collection will have gone.
Working people in these days ought to have some kind of liberty in these matters. After all, the liberty to do wrong is something of a right, and I cannot see the need of constantly making regulations to prevent working people from exercising their rights. Although the share-pusher is wrong, I think that many of the people to whom he peddles shares are no better. While we may condemn the share-pusher, I have little feeling for many of those who buy his shares, because they were looking for an easy way of making a fortune. I cannot agree with this philosophy of constant interference with the liberty of working people. I do not see the need for it. I do not like the Bill. In the hands of a reactionary police official it might quite well be used against ordinary people, especially in the Labour movement. I 554 have read the minutes of evidence of the Committee, and I can see nothing criminal in what is going on. I hope, therefore, that the Bill will not be proceeded with.
§ 12.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Lewis
This Bill raises an issue which is of great interest and importance for us all. That is the extent to which a man is entitled to expect privacy in his own home. I often think that this country would be a much pleasanter place to live in for all of us if no one was allowed to go to a private dwelling-house except at the request, expressed or implied, of someone who lives in the house, or in pursuit of some lawful duty. At the present time householders are plagued by an immense number of callers, and I fear an increasing number, who go to sell something or to take an order for something or to take a collection for some purpose. The nuisance is a very real one in the case of those people who can afford to pay someone else to answer the door, but it is a much greater nuisance in the case of those who have no one of that kind to help them. A woman, for example, who is engaged in doing all the work of her home and possibly looking after young children as well, is constantly interrupted in her work by people coming to the door, who are not asked to come, and whom in many cases she has the greatest difficulty in getting rid of.
This Bill, it is true, touches only on one part of this question, the part which is concerned with collections for charitable purposes. Even there the Bill is not very drastic. I rather sympathise with the promoters in that regard because those of us who have had any experience of trying to get a Private Member's Bill through know that if there is to be any hope of the ship reaching harbour the cargo must be a light one. For that reason the promoters have not gone as far as they would have wished. I would have liked to see house-to-house collections for charitable purposes entirely prohibited. If for the reasons put forward by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) that was held to operate harshly in certain cases, I should like to see the employment of paid canvassers for the purpose prohibited. If we only went as far as that it would knock the bottom out of nearly all the bogus collections for a start, and would gradually minimise the nuisance to the householder. It would 555 also get over the objection of the hon. Member for Gorbals, because in the cases he mentioned the collections would be done by voluntary canvassers.
In connection with the larger national charities I felt a good deal of sympathy with some of the observations of the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith). He instanced the case of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, and said he thought it was absurd that what is, in fact, a national service should have to depend on voluntary contributions. The same argument could, of course, be applied to the case of our voluntary hospitals. I am not at all sure that the hon. Member was not right in his contention. The amount of effort, time and money which has to be devoted to getting subscriptions for these big institutions might be better employed in other ways if those institutions were nationally supported. If anything were done on those lines they would, of course, be taken out of the field of house-to-house collections.
It was pointed out by the mover of the Bill that there is nothing in it which interferes with requests by post or with advertisements, which, of course, are not the nuisance to the householder which personal calls are. I have endeavoured to indicate that in my view, if the Bill can seriously be criticised, it is because it does not go nearly as far as it might. On the other hand I sympathise with the reasons which may have actuated the promoters of the Bill in that regard. At any rate it would seem that the Bill offers a very reasonable prospect of curtailing this nuisance of house-to-house canvassing for charitable purposes and incidentally of curtailing the activities of fraudulent persons who desire to get money for themselves under the cover of charitable work. As the Bill goes a considerable way in the direction of minimising this nuisance I should hope that it will receive the general support of the House and be sent to a Committee where the minor details can be worked out.
§ 12.47 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Tufnell
In supporting the Bill which my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton (Mr. Craven-Ellis) has brought forward, I should like to say that I think we ought to be very grateful to him for introducing it. It is a 556 Bill which is very badly wanted to deal with evils and abuses which have been springing up all over the country, and I hope that it will have the unanimous support of everyone in the House, and will be given the help of the Government. We all of us know of these door-to-door collectors, and some really bad cases have been instanced this morning of collectors extracting money for so-called charitable purposes. To the deserving charity, which is properly organised and under which the greater proportion of the money collected really benefits the charity, no one grudges a penny, and such charities will be helped by the Bill, I believe, because they will be relieved of unworthy competitors. But the difficulty to-day is that the householder who receives calls from these collectors cannot readily ascertain whether the charity is a genuine one or not. It may be that it is a charity to serve a very good purpose but is nevertheless run on hopelessly inefficient lines, with an incompetent organisation, and the majority of the money collected may be absorbed by expenses instead of going towards the actual charity.
Surely such a state of affairs is a fraud on the public, who, of course, subscribe to the charity under the impression that their money will be spent on a deserving cause. It is essential, therefore, to ensure that the charities for which collectors are seeking subscriptions should he run on sound lines and that the householder should be able to distinguish between a man collecting for a charity which is soundly run and a man who is collecting for an unsound charity. At the moment it is extremely difficult for him to distinguish between the goats and the sheep. No one, of course, has any sympathy with bogus charities, and any Bill which would help to suppress them and save the public from these nuisances and pests would be a benefit to the community; but, as I have said, it is difficult for the public to trace whether charities are genuine or not without going to a tremendous amount of trouble and expense. Under this system of licences, however, it would be a simple matter for a householder to ascertain at once whether a collector has a certificate and whether the charity for which he is collecting has been registered and licensed. It will also help the police authorities, who are in the difficuty that they are unable to deal with gross abuses in this con 557 nection because they cannot get the assistance of the public, who can be so easily defrauded by bogus collectors. In short, I think the Bill will go a long way towards removing, abuses which have cropped up all over the country, and will help genuine charities by removing the suspicion which is naturally created in the minds of the public by these bogus charities, and which discourages them from contributing their mite to the really sound ones. For these reasons I have great pleasure in supporting the Bill and I hope that it will receive a unanimous Second Reading.
§ 12.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Before making one or two criticisms of the Bill I would like to make a general observation. Very often we discuss in this House questions which bring out very clearly the nature of the unjust and undesirable system of society under which we live. Nothing could more emphasise that nature than the discussion which is now taking place. Masses of people are forced into a position in which they have to depend upon charity. That should he utterly impossible in any sane or just system of society. Not only are they left to the tender mercies of charity, but a whole gang of harpies—according to evidence from hon. Members on the other side, supporters of the system—take advantage of their helplessness and poverty in order to make money for themselves. What sort of system is it that makes such things possible? Nobody could justify it. Is it not significant—and I am prepared to challenge anyone on this matter—that the only country in the world where there is no need for collections for charity is that in which the means of life are common property and not private property, that is, in the Soviet Union. There is no such thing there as a collection for charity or anybody dependent upon charity. I challenge any representative of this system upon that point. As soon as the means of life are transformed from private to common property, there can be no possibility of or need for charity. Reference has been made to the fact that lifeboats and voluntary hospitals have to depend for maintenance upon charity. Is that not a ghastly commentary upon the system in existence in this country, and should we not recognise those services as national responsibilities and play our part in maintaining them?
558 To come to the particulars of the Bill, I cannot understand why hon. Members on this side should give any support to Bills that put more power into the hands of the police. It may be true that the police are subject to the decisions of benches of magistrates, but nevertheless the chief of police is the dominating influence in determining matters of this kind. More and more Bills are brought before us to put power into the hands of the police and to take away the various freedoms that have been so much a part of our life in this country in the past. Soon it will be impossible to do anything or to move in any direction without first getting the sanction of the police authorities. An hon. Member opposite replied to the question of political demonstrations and their relationship to door-to-door collections, but I suggest that his was an entirely wrong answer, because very few charitable institutions make door-to-door collections alone.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Just be kind enough to wait a moment. I said that that was the wrong answer. Very few door-to-door collections do not carry with them a street collection and very few street collections do not carry along with them a door-to-door collection. Street collectors collect also at the doors as they go along the streets. The difference is that the Bill refers to collections for charitable purposes. The street collections to which we are referring are generally conducted for political purposes, and there is a regulation in connection with them. The Bill relates to charitable collections. It is quite possible that new powers given to the police authorities as proposed in the Bill would be used to limit, handicap or even prevent altogether collections for quite legitimate political purposes.
Not only are there charitable collections and political collections, but there is the collection which has been mentioned here to-day and which combines both those features—the collection in aid of the Spanish people, surely one of the most desirable and deserving collections possible that any organised body could take up. It is impossible to escape the political feature associated with this collection, just as it is often impossible to avoid the religious feature in certain charitable collec- 559 tions. When we come to the question of charitable collections with a political feature we have to face the possibility that, despite anything that might be stated in the Bill, the chief constable or the police authority of an area, if of reactionary character, will prevent such a collection from taking place, and prevent a licence being issued to authorise it. We have already been informed of areas where it has been found impossible to obtain permission to conduct a collection of food for the Spanish people, such as milk and tinned food. The Bill would strengthen the police authorities who desire to prevent collections of such a kind taking place.
Hon. Members on this side of the House should be very critical of a Bill of this kind which strengthens the power of the police in every area, under the guise of doing away with the harpies who prey upon the mass of the people. It puts into the hands of the police greater power which can easily be used not only against the harpies but against democratic institutions and activities directed towards collections for genuine and desirable purposes of a certain political direction. Hon. Members do not require to be told that there are many areas in the country, just as there are sections in this House of Commons, where the utmost opposition and blocking are encountered against anything such as I have mentioned. If some hon. Members of this House were sitting as a police authority, and I or some other Members had to make an application to them for a licence to collect on behalf of the Spanish people, I can imagine their attitude.
Throughout the country, in the persons of police authorities and police officials, we have the same type of mind. Therefore I suggest that this Bill should not be supported unless we can get a Clause in it that makes it absolutely clear that the Measure does not apply to any collections, whether in the streets or from house-to-house, that are for a political purpose or that are of a charitable character that has political associations. In no circumstances should we give any power to the police to interfere with matters of that kind. If the Bill deals simply with preventing the activities of harpies trading at the expense of what are called bona fide charities, let that be made clear by taking out of the ambit 560 of the Bill, and leaving to the democratic guidance of local authorities, political collections or collections for charitable purposes that have a political character. We cannot leave it to any police officials, or even to the police authority under the influence of police officials, to decide when collections on behalf of a particular charity that has a political complexion shall take place, because we know only too well that the political prejudices of the police officials continually operate against the interest of those concerned with such purposes.
§ 1.8 p.m.
§ Mr. G. A. Morrison
Like some of those who have already spoken, I had the honour to serve on the Joint. Committee, and I was astounded by some of the evidence that came before us. We had abundant evidence to show that this evil has been increasing, and increasing rapidly, especially since the passing of the Act relating to street collections. Several actual instances have been mentioned. I can think of one where an individual, running what one can only call a fraudulent charity, is known to be making between £3,000 and £4,000 a year. We are told that he has been repeatedly exposed in the newspapers, but he snaps his fingers at thorn, because there are no legal measures that can be taken against him. It is almost literally true to say that, in sonic of the cases which were brought before us in evidence, where £1 was collected, 4½d. found its way to the charity. It is bad enough that clever rogues should be able to exploit the weaknesses of human nature; instances of that will occur to anyone; but it is much more detestable, to my mind, that these same rogues should be able to exploit for their own gain one of the most honourable feelings of our nature, the feeling of sympathy for wretched or suffering humanity.
The fear was expressed, during the deliberations of the Committee, that the activities of genuine charities might be hampered or discouraged, but I cannot think there is very much in that. Indeed, we had evidence from some of the genuine charities that they think very lightly of any little trouble that the Bill, if it becomes an Act, will entail upon them. I am glad to see that in the Bill the penalties have been considerably increased as compared with those proposed in the original Bill. If a man can make 561 between £3,000 and £4,000 a year, a £5 fine is not likely to have much of a deterrent effect upon him. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his Bill and on his presentation of it, and I hope that he may speedily see it on the Statute Book.
§ 1.11 p.m.
§ Mr. R. C. Morrison
I am sorry that the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) appears about to leave the Chamber, for I was going to tell him in a friendly way that with much eloquence he blew up an enormous bubble which unfortunately I have to prick in a sentence or two. By the time he had finished his speech, I was at a loss to understand whether he was in favour of the Bill or against it, but finally I came to the conclusion that he was partly in favour of it and partly against it. Probably he does not know that, so far from this being a deep-laid scheme on the part of the police to try to get further power, exactly the opposite is the case. I also had the honour of serving as a Member of the Joint Select Committee. Among the witnesses we heard were chief constables and police officials from all over the country, and the principal difficulty we had was that the police officials did not want any additional power.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I know of case after case in which the police do not want additional power, but, where they get additional power, they use it. The -Important thing about which I am concerned is not whether particular police officers want more power or not, but the fact that, if they get the power, they use it.
§ Mr. Morrison
I am afraid my hon. Friend allows his zeal to outrun his discretion. I am not making this point in any spirit of hostility to him. Surely we are all open to be corrected, and, if he has gone off on a wrong line, he ought to be thankful to me for pointing it out to him. This Bill has been drafted by the Association of Municipal Corporations, and the principal members of the Association of Municipal Corporations are Labour-controlled councils. They have been very fortunate in getting the hon. Member for Southampton (Mr. Craven-Ellis) to introduce their Bill for them. It was a question of the luck of the Ballot. If I had been fortunate in the Ballot, I should have introduced the Bill, because my local authority is a member of the 562 Association of Municipal Corporations. We have protested again and again that some legislation of this kind was required, because poor people in our district are being defrauded week by week by people who go from door to door making these collections. Therefore, it is really some of the Labour-controlled councils throughout the country that have been instrumental in getting the Bill as far as we have got it to-day. The hon. Member for West Fife ought for his own good to know that he is barking up the wrong tree when he suggests that this is a deep-laid plot on the part of some capitalist organisation to get more power for the police. I am with him in most cases, but this time I am sorry to say his facts do not agree with the case he has built up.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Will the hon. Member answer this question: Does this Bill give more power to the police?
§ Mr. Morrison
If the hon. Member lived in my part of London, he would know that, when a question is asked, it is usually considered courteous to wait for the answer. The answer to his question is as follows. I have here a list of organisations, which includes one that collected for Christmas toys for the unemployed. It collected over £1,000, and spent 6s. 8d. in Christmas toys for the unemployed; and the police authorities reported that they were unable to take any proceedings against anybody in connection with it, because they had actually given toys to the unemployed, even though they spent only 6s. 8d. on those toys out of the hundreds of pounds they collected. If my hon. Friend would like me to make him a present of the point as to whether the Bill will enable the police to arrest and take proceedings against these people, I would say that it will, and I am very glad that it will. I have here a list of over 100 organisations, some of them run by dressing up their collectors as clergymen, some collecting enormous amounts of money, and not only money, but waste material, by going from door to door, leaving bags, and having them filled.
I have information that out of £26,000 collected by one organisation something like 3½d. in the £ went to charity I am astonished that the hon. Member and 563 others like him should make out that this is a deep-laid plot to give more power to the police. We do want to give more power to the police to stop the swindling which goes on, principally in the poorer districts. As one who spent a good many hours on the Select Committee examining witnesses, I can say that I have never been on another committee on which a case was so conclusively made out for immediate legislation—and I have been on a number of committees. The committee were absolutely unanimous on this, and I hope the Bill will get a Second Reading unanimously, in order that it may speedily reach the Statute Book. It will stop a good deal of swindling and rascality.
§ 1.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Radford
I rise to express my wholehearted agreement with this Bill that has been introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton (Mr. Craven-Ellis). This is a subject in which I have taken great interest; indeed,- I saw a former Home Secretary about it some years ago, and told him a few of the abuses that were within my own knowledge. Let me mention a few cases to the House. My first experience of this sort of thing was at my home in Cheshire, where I was told that there were three clergymen to see me. One of them clearly purported to be a clergyman of the Church of England, and the other two wore what I might call semi-clerical garb; you could imagine their being lay preachers or something of the sort. They greeted me effusively, and handed me a book about the organisation for which they were collecting. It was an organisation with offices in Birmingham, and it was called "The Birmingham District Social Service League." In my bones, I felt suspicious of them from the outset. I said, "You come rather far afield from Birmingham." "Oh," said the first of the men, "the whole country is our field, Mr. Radford." I said, "I am connected with two charities in Manchester, and I will just make a few inquiries with regard to your organisation. If, when I have done so, I feel that it is a deserving one, I will take proper action." He took a quick glance at his colleagues, and said, "Thank you; we will not trouble you further." They went out, and I heard a car starting. I went to the gate, and 564 saw them disappearing in a cloud of dust in the direction of Macclesfield. There was no power to take any action against them, but no doubt they thought that if inquiries were made it would be uncomfortable for them.
The next case was that of a woman collector. My wife, who has heard my views on this matter so often, said, "There is a woman collector at the door; you had better go and see her." The woman had something looking like a thermos flask, which was her collecting box, and around it was a label with the name of the organisation for which she was collecting. It was called "The Dental and General Hospitals Association for Manchester and District," or approximately that title. I said, "I am one of the trustees of the Manchester Dental Hospital, and I do not know any organisation of your name." She said that Mr. so-and-so employed her, and gave me his card. I took the name and address, and I then telephoned to the dental hospital, saying that I was not aware of this organisation. Their reply was, "We have had several inquiries from subscribers as to whether this organisation is collecting for our hospital. The answer is, absolutely no."
I think Mr. Booth has been referred to as being one of the biggest men in the trade. His organisation, or a branch of it, was the next I came across. I went into the hall of a hotel in Manchester of which I am a director, a year ago last Christmas. There was a woman collecting there. One of my friends asked me to change a pound as he wanted to give her something. She had a box marked "The Destitute and Homeless Help Society"—enough to melt anybody's heart. She also had literature showing that this organisation had branches in London, Bristol and other places up and down the country, and it had been rubber stamped "Manchester hostel," such and such an address. I got straight on the telephone to the proper quarters for advice about this organisation. They had to be careful what they told me, owing to the state of the law. All they said was, "We do not recommend you to give anything to them." So I ordered the woman out. She could not collect in the streets, because of the Act relating to street collections, but, so long as she got permission from the manager, she could collect in the hotel, and she 565 would get a fair amount of money, particularly at Christmas time.
The next day I went to the address which had been given. I found it was in an area which had been at one time occupied by black-coated workers, but where the houses had been converted into shirt factories and the like. There was one house which appeared to be empty. The windows were broken and grimy. I went up to the door, and found pinned upon it just a card with that heart-melting title, "Destitute and Homeless Help Society." If I had done my duty completely, I should have gone round to the back of the property to find out from there as well whether it was occupied or not. However, I had seen enough, and I went to the police. A detective came to me and said, "We know this organisation well, but we cannot do anything, because they can prove that some money is devoted to their ostensible purpose. The report of the Joint Committee showed that there was enough margin to ensure that the man running the organisation was making a few thousands a year." That was according to the man's own figures, and if anyone has sunk so low as to run such an organisation his figures could hardly be relied upon.
I was uneasy when I heard the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) specifically mention that arcades are not included. Years ago streets were dealt with, and now, under this Bill, we are going to deal with house-to-house collections, which include office and business premises, but, as one hon. Member said early in the Debate, the men who organise these shows are men with brains, and if we leave even such a loop-hope as arcades—there is not a town in this country but where there are arcades—these places will be fixed upon as most suitable in which to do collecting. I urge my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, the promoter of the Bill, and others connected with it, seriously to consider, in the course of the Committee stage, whether, although they cannot include sports grounds because of certain difficulties, they cannot include arcades and possibly railway stations. These racketeers will use these loopholes. There is the further point that if they are prevented absolutely in this collecting business from making personal calls they may, by such titles as the "Destitute and Home 566 less Help Society" and the "Dental and Hospital Aid Society" send round circulars. They will not get so much money, but they will not have to take out 50 per cent. to pay the collectors; on only half the amount of collections they will be better off. I hope that the Bill will soon be placed upon the Statute Book, with additions in the direction I have ventured to suggest to my hon. Friend.
§ 1.27 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Edwards
I will not weary the House with further examples because I have been in touch with similar organisations to those mentioned by the hon. Member for Rushholme (Mr. Radford). I rise merely to protest against the attack made by the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) on the police. I do not want it to be thought that Members on this side of the House do not desire the police to have adequate powers. We do not want to fall foul of the police. I had occasion, as had the hon. Member for Rushholme in his case, to interview our Chief Constable to see what could be done to destroy the pests referred to. There was an office exactly as he described it. The collectors took 50 per cent. of all that they collected in our district. I took the trouble to try and track them down to their London headquarters. I do not know whether the hon. Member did that or not. However, I could not find anybody, but I had a conversation on the telephone and inquired about their president, a titled gentleman.
It appears that that gentleman had not attached much importance to the organisation in recent months, and I could not find him in the telephone directory, and, in fact, I doubt whether such a gentleman ever existed. I discovered in my constituency that they have collected for the last two or three years an average of 10 guineas a week, and the most I could get these people to admit as having been distributed in my constituency was 30s. a week, and I doubt very much if that was an accurate figure. I want the police to have adequate powers to deal with people like that. Our chief constable told me that he was powerless. He knew that this was a deliberate fraud on the public but he had no power to interfere at all. I congratulate the hon. Member who has introduced this Bill, and I hope that it will receive a unanimous Second Reading.
§ 1.30 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd)
I would like to congratulate the Mover and Seconder on bringing forward this Bill to-day, and to draw attention to the very great care and industry with which the Joint Select Committee of both Houses went into this subject, because their investigations have really been essential to the production of the Bill. Before I come to the actual details of the Bill, I should like to make one general observation. While we have been having a very useful discussion to-day, leading, as I hope, to a practical outcome, there is a danger that our attention may necessarily be too much concentrated to-day upon the abuses of the charitable system. It would be a very great pity if, as might be possible if some corrective were not applied, people outside quite wrongly got the impression that British charity was a mediocre system which was riddled with abuses, whereas, of course, quite the contrary is the case.
Our system of charity has a very long and a very honourable history. It is immensely diverse in its manifestations. It ranges from princely donations by a Lord Nuffield, for example, to the little but essentially vital and healthy collections and whip-rounds that are made, as mentioned by the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison) and others, and which the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) was so eager to preserve, although, I think, his fears were greatly exaggerated. Of course, there are within that wide range great organs of charity in this country. I would refer to the great series of funds that have from time to time been organised by the "Times"—the great fund for St. Paul's Cathedral of £253,000 in 1925, the thank-offering for King George's recovery and the King Edward Hospital Fund, the total result of both appeals being £689,000; and the Lord Baldwin Fund for Refugees, which has already reached £400,000. There is also the City of London, in connection with the great Mansion House appeals, which have a very fine record. There was the Gresford Colliery Fund of £550,000, and the International Fund in connection with the Yokohama earthquake of £260,000 in 1923, the contribution of £219,000 to the jubilee Trust, and various funds in connection with earthquakes.
568 I would like to say a word about the new form of charitable appeal on a large scale which has resulted from the great interest of the B.B.C. in charitable work. That is particularly interesting because those who are connected with charitable work know that within recent years the distribution of money in the country has been changing to a considerable extent. There is appreciably less money in very large blocks and it has become rather more widely distributed through the country, and the B.B.C. provides a means for making charitable appeals for immensely wide areas. The B.B.C. charitable appeals bring in regularly year by year an amount which varies from £150,000 to £200,000. One appeal made on Christmas night by an unknown blind man brought in over £9,000. The record for one appeal is £27,000. An interesting thing about the B.B.C. appeals is that as a general rule the response is not in large sums; a very great proportion comes in very small sums, in the form even of postage stamps.
In the 35 groups into which charity is divided by the Charity Organisation Society, the society estimate that there is an annual sum of £40,000,000 raised by voluntary subscriptions in this country and that another £10,000,000 comes from investments, so that there is in this country an annual charitable income of £50,000,000. That is a figure the size of which will surprise a good many people. But the merit of the British system of charity does not merely lie in the largeness of the financial provision, but it lies very much in the quality of the system itself. I agree with those who take the view, particularly in face of the strident affirmations made on behalf of various foreign systems, that there is too much self-depreciation in this country. It is true to say, and I should like to proclaim it, that no other country has anything to compare with the charitable system of this country. There has been much advertisement of certain charities in various countries, and I do not want to go into details, because I do not think it is wise to raise controversy, but in respect of one much advertised charity in one country it is a thing which has existed in this country for 70 years, and in the case of another much advertised system, it is one which was rejected in this country 40 years ago for very good reasons. In my opinion it is true to say that we have in 569 this country the finest charitable system in the world. Observers come from all over the world to study our system. On an average 400 foreign students of our charitable system come to this country every year.
One of the great qualities of our system is the absolute freedom for the charitable spirit which is continually welling up to find its own expression. That is greatly conducive to the vitality and elasticity of the system, which leads to another of its very important qualities, and that is the very valuable pioneering work that is done by British charity—pioneering in various ways which very often are subsequently taken over by the public authorities. An example of that is the early maternity and child welfare systems, and the provision of insulin and radium. Another great quality of our system is the tradition of giving not only money but personal service which is to be found in every walk of life. We often pay great tributes to the medical profession, and we must take into account, which is not usually done, the very great amount of time that is given voluntarily by doctors to charitable institutions. We often hear hard things said about lawyers, but an immense amount of free advice is given by lawyers week by week in this country. I heard that last week at the Cambridge University Settlement in South London on one day there were 22 solicitors and barristers giving free advice to the people who came to see them.
A possible weakness of our system may be what one might call its haphazard character and the danger of overlapping, but I am informed that there is continual effort by the great charities all the time to co-ordinate their efforts, under the leadership of the Charity Organisation Society. Therefore, we have in our British charitable system a very great national, material and moral asset, and we ought to do as much as we can to maintain and develop it.
§ Mr. Edwards
Does the Under-Secretary tell us that no other country compares with our charitable system, and that we raise considerably more than any other country?
§ Mr. Lloyd
No. That was not what I wished to convey. What I wished to convey was that, taking into account the amount raised and the actual system, we have, in my view, the finest charitable 570 system in the world. Obviously, as regards the United States, from the view of the amounts raised, we cannot compete with them; but that must be so as regards a country with three times our population.
House-to-house collections play a very important part in the contributions to charitable funds. There is no actual estimate of the amount that is derived, but it is fairly clear that the amount raised by house-to-house collections for proper and bona-fide charities does represent several million pounds a year. That is thoroughly helpful.
There is growing alarm among the reputable charities as to the abuses that have been creeping into this system. Indeed, "creeping in" is not quite the proper term, as many hon. Members have shown to-day. It is much more a question of snowball growth of these particular abuses which might really be called, in commonsense language, fraudulent house-to-house collection, although it is not possible under the present law of false pretences to cut out this wrongful practice. It grows in this way. The collectors who are employed by the promoters, when they come to realise the profitable nature of the so-called charitable enterprise from the point of view of the promoter, say to themselves: "I am only a collector. Why should I not become a promoter?" The collectors, therefore, become promoters. They employ more collectors, and these collectors in turn begin to set up as promoters. Therefore, it can readily be seen with what rapidity the system can grow, and I fear that the amount of money involved in these fraudulent house-to-house collections must run into some millions a year.
It is unnecessary for me to give a large number of examples of the abuses, but I will mention one, because it only came to light the day before yesterday. The Charitable Organisation Society, two days ago, had before them a case in which two men had formed themselves into a body calling itself "The Northern Counties Wireless Association." They employed house-to-house collectors and paid them salary and commission. The ostensible object of the association was to provide wireless sets for hospitals. An examination of the books showed that some £250 had been collected, that £20 had been paid out for wireless sets, and the association had a balance of £16 in 571 hand. The remaining sum of £214 had been swallowed up in office and incidental expenses.
It was this kind of abuse which led to the Association of Municipal Corporations coming in a deputation to see me at the Home Office three years ago, when they made representations in favour of proposals made by the Departmental Committee of 1927 in regard to house-to-house collections, but with the important qualification that the collections and not the collectors should be licensed, and that the promoter should be made responsible for his collectors, as under the Street Collection Regulations. I suggested to the deputation that the proposal should be embodied in a Bill and that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee The reason for that was the difficulties that had attended the efforts made in 1929 to get a solution of this problem The promoters adopted the suggestion, and after consultation with the Home Office they made also provision for national charities to be exempted from the requirement of obtaining licences from the police authorities. These proposals, with some modifications, found favour with the Joint Select Committee and with the Home Office in regard to the framing of a Bill. The present Bill has been framed by Parliamentary counsel on the instructions of the Home Office with the approval of the promoters.
I think I can best help the House in this matter by considering how the Bill will actually affect the chief forms of charity when it is passed into law. Under Clause 3 big national charities will apply to the Home Secretary for exemption, and it is the intention of my right hon. Friend to set up an Advisory Committee to advise him in the matter. If exemption is granted, as obviously it will be, all police authorities will be notified. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Sir A. Maitland) asked me for an assurance that the Home Secretary would consult the National Charities before making draft regulations. I can certainly give him that assurance.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I think it includes hospitals. Of course, the sole object of the provisions is to secure a watertight arrangement which will cause the minimum of incon- 572 venience, and I doubt very much whether they will need much amendment in Committee.
Now I come to the major form of local collections. These charities will apply to the police authority under Clause 2. The police cannot limit the area or the period to less than is wanted, except that the licence will run for a year or to an annual renewal date. Licences can be refused only on the grounds which are actually set out in Clause 2 (3). To provide against delay there is provision for delegation of the powers of police authorities. My right hon. Friend will delegate the Commissioner of Police in the London area, and the Commissioner will have an Advisory Committee as he does in the case of street collections. Some charities, although not extending so widely as those dealt with in Clause 3, may nevertheless operate in several police areas and will need to apply to several police authorities. These authorities will, in fact, collaborate to avoid inconvenience.
Now I come to the question of minor local collections. By the words "minor local collections" I mean that the size of the collection is relatively small, but I do not want to convey the impression for a moment that I think the importance of this kind of collection is small. On the contrary, I regard it as very great indeed, because it is a type of vital, elementary charity which springs up in the hearts of people to which they can give immediate effect in their own areas. We must, obviously, take care to safeguard this essential and healthy kind of activity. There have been many examples of the bad type of small collections. May I give an example of the good type of small collections? A young lad 30 years ago met with an accident which left him a permanent invalid. For three years he was confined to the house. The neighbours made a house to house collection and bought him a spinal carriage in which he was able to get about. With the money left over he was taught a simple craft, and ultimately became self-supporting.
§ Mr. T. Smith
It is true that there are thousands of collections of the type the Under-Secretary has mentioned, but is it not largely due to the fact that in this country we have never had proper workmen's compensation? In some of our Dominions a collection for such things is not necessary.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I do not want to be drawn into that controversy, and I will only say that one of the healthy features of the British charitable system is that it is often the pioneer of certain forms of charity and social work which are afterwards taken up by the authorities. I think the hon. Member will also agree that whatever may be the development and improvement in our social provisions, there will never be a time when there will not be room for the true spirit of charity. The provisions of the Bill are designed to deal with a problem which we all want to solve, and I must tell the House that it is a difficult problem, because you cannot deal with it by the ordinary statutory method of a definition. It is almost impossible to find a definition sufficiently sensitive to deal with all the variations which you want to allow and which will prevent the abuses you want to prevent.
A great deal of time has been given to the consideration of this problem, with the result that a rather unusual provision is inserted in the Bill. I will tell the House exactly and frankly how it is unusual and how it has been arrived at. We do not want to interfere with legitimate collections; the object of the Bill is not to have anything to do with good collections of this type. The only solution which could be thought of, and which was eventually arrived at, was that there should be a simple application made to the police. The hon. Member for Gorbals said that by the time application had been made to the police the need for the collection would have passed away, but I would point out that as the provision is drawn it is perfectly possible for the police to give a certificate after the collection has been made. It is an extremely elastic provision. I doubt whether there has ever been such an elastic provision in any Act of Parliament. While it depends on the good sense and co-operation of the police, upon which I know we can rely, yet, nevertheless, it will give power to the police to get at the really fraudulent promoter.
§ Mr. R. C. Morrison
Is it not a fact that the consideration of the police would not be given to the object of the collection and the nature of the charity but to the character of the person carrying out the collection?
§ Mr. Gallacher
May I give the hon. Gentleman a case as things are now, without these further powers? The magistrates agree to a door-to-door collection on behalf of Spain, and then, in the middle of the collection, the police, having discovered some regulation—I do not know what it is—send out police officers to stop the collection. Is that what the hon. Gentleman calls taking a nice, fair and sensible view of the question? If these further powers are given, what will happen?
§ Mr. Silverman
The hon. Gentleman said that the police would be concerned, in deciding whether or not to give a licence not with the object for which the money was being collected, but with the good faith of the persons organising and carrying out the collection. Is there anything in the Bill to limit the police powers in that direction, and if not, would it be possible to introduce such a limitation?
§ Mr. Lloyd
With regard to the remarks of the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), I take it he is describing something that has happened. I do not know anything about the facts or the details of the case he has mentioned, and I cannot understand under what powers action was taken, because at present there are no powers to deal with house-to-house collections. It is precisely because it was thought necessary that there should be such powers, that this Bill is before us to-day. If the hon. Member for West Fife has any complaint with regard to the action of the police, perhaps he will let me have the details, and I will go into the case and send him a reply. With regard to the point raised by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) I quite appreciate the object he has in mind. The relevance of his observation is—as I was about to say when he interrupted me—that this Bill has been, even for Parliamentary counsel, very difficult to draft, largely for the reason mentioned by the hon. Member for Nor- 575 manton (Mr. T. Smith), that the people with whom we are dealing are clever people. Therefore, I would not like to trust myself to give any detailed answer on the point which the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne has made, but I give him the assurance that we are very willing to look into the point between now and the Committee stage, and if he or any other Member takes an interest in the matter in the Committee, it can be gone into further. In this matter, nobody wants the police to have more powers than are necessary for the discharge of an essential duty.
In spite of the fact that two hon. Members have taken an attitude against the Bill—I think largely because they misunderstood some of its implications—it is true to say that it has had a favourable reception. It is true, also, to say of its objects that it seeks to do something which we would all like to see done, if possible. I wish to make one appeal to hon. Members. In the event of the Bill being given a Second Reading, hon. Members may wish to try to assist us in improving the Bill; will they be so kind as to give as long notice as possible of any Amendments they may put down, because difficulties of drafting will make it necessary for us to give careful consideration to the effect of Amendments?
In ordinary days I should have concluded simply by leaving the Bill to the free vote of the House, but these are not ordinary days, and I think it is as well to take every opportunity of proclaiming the principles for which we stand. This is a very important subject. The system of British charity is intimately concerned with the soundness and health of a free community, both morally and physically, and it is also intimately connected with the whole of the British system of self-government. Particular charitable enterprises in the past and particular social and political movements have often sprung from a common source. Therefore, I think it is as well for us to remember that fact, and just as I was very glad to hear my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, at an appropriate moment the other day, say what we all know to be true although some people may doubt it, we intend to remain a virile country, so I think it is as well on this occasion to let everybody know that we intend to 576 remain a country in which the Christian virtue of charity is honoured and maintained by all.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.