HL Deb 09 March 1938 vol 108 cc18-25

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this is a short Bill which, judging by the amount of representations made from one direction and another, appears to be designed to meet a crying need. In 1927 the Home Office set up a Departmental Committee entitled Committee on the Supervision of Charities, and in the course of their Report the members of that Committee referred to the particular branch of collection covered by this Bill. On page 39 of the Report, paragraph 119, the Committee reported as follows: 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. Your Lordships will remember that street collections have been dealt with, and very satisfactorily dealt with, by the Police, Factories, etc. (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1916. That has provided a control over collections which take place on the thoroughfare, which has not only been beneficial to the collectors and the charities for which they collect, but has provided a very desirable and proper protection for the charitably minded who contribute to those charities.

But those methods only apply to collections made on the thoroughfare itself, and the Bill which I have the honour to submit to your Lordships deals with collections which are sought to be made from house to house. That was the kind of collection which the Committee to which I have referred reported upon as requiring control more than any other except street collections. The Report of the Committee goes on: The fraudulent enterprises which have been brought to our notice depend, for the most part, largely on these collections— that is the house to house 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. It appears that the decision to institute a control over street collections was arrived at for two reasons, first, in order to prevent fraud and peculation, and, secondly, to avoid annoyance and obstruction in the streets. The control of door-to-door collections can be justified on similar grounds, for it is certain that, apart from any question of fraud which may be bound up with them, the annoyance caused by personal canvassers is a very real one. The simplest method of supervising door-to-door collections appears to be by framing regulations similar to those for street collections; but in order to secure uniformity—the need for which is clearly much greater—we suggest that the regulations should be made not by the police authority, but by the Secretary of State, and should apply throughout the country. That is precisely what this Bill attempts to do.

I do not know whether it is necessary to detain your Lordships by any further quotations, but it may be of interest to know that on July 1, 1936, a deputation from the municipalities of Oldham, Exeter, Bristol, Coventry, Scarborough, Stoke-on-Trent—the Lord Mayor of Stoke-on-Trent was their representative—Manchester, and Bedford, represented by the Mayor of that Borough, and accompanied by the Secretary of the Association of Municipal Corporations, waited on the Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office to urge on him the need for legislation to deal with these abuses. Then there was the interesting speech made by my noble friend Lord Luke, who presided at the annual winter conference of charity oganisations at the beginning of last year. My noble friend is reported as having said that fraud practised in the name of charity by playing on the sympathies of kind-hearted people was amongst the basest of all mean deceptions. When money had once been given in response to bogus solicitation the same money could not be given again, and, while rogues might flourish, real distress might go unhelped. Every exposure—indeed every hint of fraud—made more difficult the task of securing help for genuine objects. The old saying, 'Once bitten, twice shy,' applied with unfortunate effect in appeal work. With the authority with which my noble friend speaks, these remarks deserve your Lordships' attention. He was supported by the general secretary of the Charity Organisation Society, Mr. B. E. Astbury, who said this: The cupboards of the Charity Organisation Society were bursting with dossiers of charities, and particularly of fraudulent and bogus concerns. Their telephones were ringing from morning to night with inquiries from harassed housewives who had collectors on their doorsteps. It is with the object of meeting what is a bit of a scandal that I submit this Bill to your Lordships. It has been drawn up by the Association of Municipal Corporations. I believe it has the general support of the Home Office, and all that remains to be done is to explain very briefly its provisions to you. It is a very short Bill, as your Lordships can see. Clause 1 says: (1) It shall not be lawful on behalf of any charity to promote or make any collection to which this Act applies unless the charity is exempted under the next following subsection or the promoter holds a licence from the police authority of the area in which the collection is made. (2) The Secretary of State may by order exempt any national charity from the foregoing subsection and from any regulations made under Section two hereof. As examples of national charities, all of which support the Bill, I may mention the British Legion, Dr. Barnardo's Homes, 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 Institutions, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, St. Dunstan's, and the Salvation Army. All these societies support the Bill, and they naturally hope that the Secretary of State, in whose hands this matter rests, will certify them to be national societies and will exempt them from the operation of the Bill.

Then the important thing is the grounds on which a licence may be refused, and those are set forth in Clause 3 of the Bill. Clause 3 lays it down that a licence may only be withheld for one of four reasons—namely, that an excessive remuneration has been paid or is likely to be paid by the promoter to collectors; that proper accounts have not been kept or that the affairs of the charity have been or are improperly administered; that a reasonably sufficient proportion of the proceeds does not reach the charity; or that the information furnished by the promoter is insufficient to enable the police authorities to form an opinion upon the propriety of its issue. Even if the police authority withhold a licence—and this is important—the matter is not at an end, because the promoter can then appeal to a court of summary jurisdiction. It is a delicate matter to interfere in any way with the collection of money for charitable purposes, and the Bill has been drawn so as to avoid, as far as can be seen, doing any injustice whatever to the different charities. Indeed it is hoped that just as the Police, Factories, etc. (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act of 1916 has proved not merely a great success in preventing fraud but also a great success in assisting charities, so this Bill will have a similar effect.

But the matter is a delicate one, and I would venture to suggest to your Lordships that it would be appropriate, the Home Office and the other authorities agreeing, that the Bill should be referred to a Committee of both Houses. I do not know whether arrangements can be made for that purpose, and I do not propose now to do more than mention the matter. To-day, I am merely asking your Lordships to give the Bill a Second Reading. In suggesting that it should be referred to a Committee of both Houses I would just mention two points. My noble friend Lord Luke, acting on behalf of the British Hospitals Association, has suggested that all the hospitals members of the British Hospitals Association should be included as national charities and exempted from the provisions of the Bill. There is a great deal to be said for that, and I suggest that it is a suitable point to be considered in detail by the members not merely of your Lordships' House but of both Houses of Parliament. Then I have received from Scotland expressions of regret that the Bill does not apply to Scotland. That, again, it seems to me, is a matter which can be gone into more properly and more thoroughly by a Committee of both Houses than by any other Committee that we could set up. I beg, therefore, to invite your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading and, on a future occasion, I shall have the honour to deal with its further stages.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Stonehaven.)


My Lords, unfortunately I am obliged to leave the House for another important engagement, and, awaiting much more full criticism of or support to the Bill which others of your Lordships may make, I may perhaps say in one sentence that I do most cordially commend this Bill to your Lordships' House and trust that it will obtain a Second Reading. I have had, as your Lordships will suppose, a fairly long experience of charitable fields of every sort and kind, and I constantly wonder both at the ingenuity of the bogus charity scheme promoter and at the gullibility of the public. The time has come, indeed has long passed, when something should be done of a more drastic kind than is possible at present to prevent the ingenuity of the bogus promoter and to protect the gullibility of the public. I am sure that what the noble Lord has just said is true; and indeed I have abundant evidence that the ease with which these bogus charities are able to impose upon the charitable public has a very bad effect upon other charities of a much more deserving character.

I think your Lordships must have been impressed by the list of the charitable agencies which are ranged in support of this Bill. In my judgment—and I have had an opportunity of knowing something about these matters—it is a most remarkable list, and one that will command the confidence of your Lordships. I would particularly mention the Charity Organisation Society. For long years that admirable society has done more than any other agency in this country to protect the public from sham charities. I should like to testify to the admirable work which, through all these long years, it has been able to do. I know—I have a letter in my hand—that the Charity Organisation Society whole-heartedly supports this Bill. There may be points such as those the noble Lord has indicated that may be considered by a Joint Committee of the two Houses, and there may be other matters of procedure about which the Home Office may desire to have something to say, but, on the ground of the general principle and the general need, I have no hesitation in commending this Bill to your Lordships' House.


My Lords, the voluntary hospitals are interested in this Bill, and its provisions have been carefully considered by King Edward's Hospital Fund and by the British Hospitals Association. Some of the hospitals have themselves suffered from the abuses against which the Bill is directed. We know from experience the effect which these abuses have on the minds of the public, and the way in which dubious methods of collection may rub up the wrong way those who would otherwise have become subscribers to charities which are themselves worthy of support. The hospitals are, therefore, disposed to approve the general principles of the Bill. At the same time, we fear that some of its detailed provisions may hamper the hospitals' legitimate activities. The noble Lord, Lord Stonehaven, alluded to this matter.

For example, a friend of a hospital who wished to get up on its behalf a collection or to sell tickets for an entertainment by a method which came under the Bill would have to apply personally for the police licence. And a hospital itself, however well-known and however well conducted, if it organised a big appeal which came under the Bill, would have to apply for a licence from the police of every local area covered by the collection. The Bill already provides in Clause 1 that national charities collecting over a substantial part of England and Wales may be exempted by the Secretary of State because of the large number of separate police licences which they would have otherwise to obtain. A single voluntary hospital may not be a national charity in this sense, but we suggest that the voluntary hospitals affiliated to the British Hospitals Association might well be placed on the same footing as those national charities which the noble Viscount mentioned in his list, since that Association covers the whole country and is a responsible body which can vouch for its constituent hospitals. Any risk of abuse might be prevented if persons promoting a collection for an exempted charity were required to have a written authority from the charity.

One other point I should like to mention. The detailed working of the Bill will depend largely on the regulations made under Clause 2. It would be only fair that reputable charities should have the opportunity of considering the regulations before they come into force. I do not object to appeals for charity; it does us good to know that there are others worse off than ourselves; but it is the dishonest appeal we all object to—the appeal where little or even none of the gift reaches the person deserving of charity. As I have said, the hospitals welcome the principle of the Bill, but we hope that, during the consideration of its details some way will be found of meeting their views so that they may be able to give it unreserved support.


My Lords, I rise only because I have been asked by those who support this Bill to say that the point raised by my noble friend Lord Luke will no doubt be most carefully considered in any further stages of the Bill to which your Lordships consent. I would like to add that from the point of view of the rather blackmailing tendency of some of the collectors, the phrase "door to door" seems to convey a picture of some big town. In my experience there is far more alarm caused and more truly blackmailing action taken in the countryside, where a woman left alone in a remote cottage hesitates much more to send an angry man away with nothing than would be the case in London or any big town. I therefore recommend the Bill to your Lordships as a protection to the countryside as well as to the dwellers in town.


My Lords I rise only to recall to your Lordships' House that a Bill similar to this was introduced in another place in 1929. That Bill was based on the Report of a Departmental Committee of inquiry which reported in 1927. The measure was subjected to a great deal of strong criticism and it did not make any further progress after Second Reading. In the light of that experience I think it would be true to say that this matter is one which does require very careful examination before any further legislation is passed. The Government are perfectly aware that at times abuses do take place which cannot be dealt with under the existing law, and they are therefore prepared to support the Second Reading of the Bill and to ask your Lordships to support it, provided that the Bill is sent to some Committee. Whether it should go to a Joint Committee of the two Houses or to a Select Committee of your Lordships' House is a matter on which perhaps my noble friend will allow me to consult the right honourable gentleman the Secretary of State, and I will let him know the result in a few days.

On Question, Bill read 2a.