HC Deb 26 June 1940 vol 362 cc509-13

6.37 p.m.

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

I beg to move, in page 2, line 34, after "application," to insert: and of the time within which, and the place at which, objections to the application may be made. This Amendment and the next Amendment are to make clear the purpose of the advertisements in the newspapers, which are provided for in Clause 2.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 2, line 36, after "shall," insert "after considering any such objections."—[Mr. Peake.]

Mr. Peake

I beg to move, in page 4, line 25, at the end, to insert: Provided that if at the time of the transfer the registration authority from whose area the administrative centre of the war charity is transferred is engaged in an investigation of the affairs of the charity, the authority may postpone the transmission of the particulars of registration of the charity until the completion of the investigation. The object of this Amendment is to prevent a charity from evading the completion of an investigation by transferring its administrative centre from one area to another.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

6.39 p.m.

Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)

I should like to raise two points. The first is a small one. Sub-section (2) sets out that: No charity shall be registered under this Act unless the registration authority are satisfied that a responsible committee or other body … consisting of not less than three persons, has been appointed to administer the charity. I did not put down an Amendment, because I do not want to delay the Committee; but I would like my hon. Friend to consider whether it is quite safe to fix so low a number as three. I suppose that we all have in mind instances of a charity, administered by a man, his wife and a brother-in-law or sister-in-law, which is really a bogus concern. It is easy to form a committee of three. I do not know what would be an appropriate number—say, five or, perhaps, seven—but I have considerable uneasiness about three. The other point is a more general one. It will be observed that under Sub-section (3) An appeal from a refusal by a registration authority to register any charity, or from the decision of a registration authority to remove any charity from the register, shall lie to the Charity Commissioners. That means that if representations are made to an authority that any particular charity has become redundant and ought to be abolished—and, again, I have no doubt that hon. Members have cases in mind where a charity goes on and on, not because the object for which it was formed still exists, but because a group of officers have a vested interest in it, and, therefore, retain the organisation long after the reason and purpose for its existtence have passed—it is left to the Charity Commissioners to say whether such de-registration can take place. Who are the Charity Commissioners, who are going to decide a matter of this kind? They are, in flavour, very legalistic. I am told that when an appeal is brought before them now, it is decided by two lawyers. We all have a great respect for lawyers in their proper place, but charities—that is to say, voluntary social services—are now so inextricably bound up with public social services, and the public social services are so greatly expanding year by year, and taking over what were once voluntary social services, that I contend that someone other than two legal experts is needed to decide properly whether, in the national interest, any charity ought to continue or not. I can conceive many cases where, from the legal point of view, the decision might properly be taken that a charity might continue, but where, from a national, social point of view, there might be an unanswerable case for saying that that particular charitable effort ought to be embodied in the national social services scheme.

I would suggest that the constitution of the Charity Commissioners ought to be examined. There ought to be somebody among the Charity Commissioners who is there, not because he is a lawyer, but because he has a thorough understanding of the whole business of social services in this country, so that he knows of this inter-connection of which I have spoken and is aware of the trend of Government policy. Such a person would be able to judge of the national interest, apart from the narrow, individual interest of one organisation. I know that my hon. Friend cannot alter the constitution of the Charity Commissioners now; but he has put on the Charity Commissioners a new responsibility, and my contention is that they are not very competent to discharge that responsibility.

6.45 p.m.

Mr. Peake

My hon. Friend has made these points on the Question of the Clause standing part, but I have not had any opportunity of giving them the consideration which they deserve. With regard to the point that the committee of management should or may consist of more than three persons, I do not know that any particular number of persons is regarded as sacrosanct, but if the object of the Bill is to provide against doubtful or fraudulent charities, you are probably as likely to get five people joined together in such a business as you are three. Whatever number you prescribe, the number of the executive will not have very much effect in guarding against fraud. The provisions of the Bill which are intended to guard against those doubtful practices are the provisions for registration and the wider powers given by this Bill to the Charity Commissioners as compared with the powers which they exercise under the War Charities Act, 1916. However, his points certainly shall be considered, because this Bill will now have to go back to another place for these Amendments to be considered there. I think that the point with regard to the question of the constitution of the Charity Commissioners goes a fairly long way beyond the scope of this Clause. In considering what body should be a sort of court of appeal and be given powers of administration over charities, we cannot think of anybody better qualified for that purpose than the Charity Commissioners, and that is the reason that we inserted the powers of the Charity Commissioners in the Bill.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

I had hoped that my hon. Friend would at least have given the assurance that he would see, since this Bill imposes an additional responsibility on the Charity Commissioners, that that body is constituted in such a way as to perform the function which he invites it to perform.

6.48 p.m.

Mr. Magnay (Gateshead)

I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) in his contention. This Bill ought to be passed at the earliest possible moment. It is not a new function on the part of the Charity Commissioners to do this sort of thing. It will be found that when a charity ceases to function any like society can take over the funds. I made use of this right 20 years ago in order to take over the funds of a society which had become defunct because the personal directors, who were very old men, died. The money that I was able to secure was transferred to a like society of which I happened to be, by good fortune, the honorary secretary. That fund is now considerable because the court of appeal was the Charity Commissioners. The Charity Commissioners are not unused to this sort of thing, and I cannot imagine any better body to do the very thing that this Bill suggests. As it is necessary that this Bill should be brought into effect at the earliest possible moment, I suggest that the contention of my hon. Friend, for whose opinion I have the greatest respect, should not be heeded.

6.49 p.m.

Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)

I wish to support the suggestion of the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) with regard to the number of persons comprising the committee of management, but apparently the Under-Secretary does not attach much importance to it. A committee can be set up consisting of a president, secretary and treasurer, and they can all belong to the same family. This question really needs further consideration. I would be prepared to make the number, five. The Under-Secretary said that in a certain way numbers do not matter, but if there are only three members of a committee, you are more liable to have a clique than you would if there were seven members. If the Minister could see his way to recommend that there should be not less than seven persons, there would be less likelihood of fraud than there will be if there are only three members. I suggest that he should give this matter serious consideration.

Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.