HL Deb 13 June 1939 vol 113 cc448-54

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.

4.50 p.m.


My Lords, the Bill which I now have the honour of asking your Lordships to read a second time is the Charitable Collections (Regulation) Bill. It is a Bill which need not take up a very great deal of your Lordships' time, as it may be considered practically an agreed Bill. It is founded upon the Report of the Joint Committee of the two Houses of Parliament, and it was sponsored by the Association of Municipal Corporations, on whose behalf I am speaking, and had the help of the Home Office, to whom I should like to express thanks for the assistance they have given. A charitable collection to come within the scope of this Bill must fulfil two conditions. The first is that it must be an appeal to the public and the second is that it must be an appeal made by way of house-to-house visits. The Government were unable to take up this Bill, so it was introduced by a private Member in another place where it was thoroughly examined in Committee and amended. Now it has been passed to your Lordships' House.

May I remind your Lordships shortly of the history of this matter? In 1916 the Police Factories (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act was passed. A part of this dealt with street collections and the experience gained led to a general desire to extend that experience to house-to-house collections. The abuses connected with collections of this kind have increased very considerably during recent years and the police themselves, I believe, pressed the Home Office very strongly to take some action in this matter. The result was that in 1927 a Departmental Committee was appointed. It duly reported and in 1929 the Government of the day introduced a Bill to deal with this matter, but it contained other matters which caused a considerable amount of alarm and so the Bill was dropped. The abuse, however, continued and it became more and more necessary that something should be done. It is not necessary for me to go all through the many abuses which have arisen in connection with this matter. Many were referred to when the Bill was before another place and your Lordships no doubt also have had experience of many of them.

In 1936 the Association of Municipal Corporations took a deputation to the Home Office. That deputation was corn-posed of representatives of the more important corporations, and its views were put before the Under-Secretary of State, who gave the deputation's appeal his sympathy. He regretted that the Government could not introduce legislation on account of the urgency of other business, but said that every facility would be given if a Bill was introduced privately. Lord Stonehaven, therefore, introduced a Bill in your Lordships' House in March of last year. It was given a Second Reading without a Division and was referred to a joint Committee of both Houses. That Committee made very definite recommendations and it is upon the Report of that Committee, which approved the Bill in principle, that this one was drafted.

As was mentioned in the debate last year, this Bill has the support of the great national charities who had a conference before deciding to support it. These national charities include the British Legion, Dr. Barnardo's Homes, the British Empire Cancer Campaign, the National Institute for the Blind, the Waifs and Strays Society, the Church Army and the Salvation Army. Your Lordships will see, therefore, that there is ample ground on which legislation of this kind can be based. Those particular charities, which I have called national charities, do not come immediately under the Bill in that each has to have a licence for collection and they will apply to the Secretary of State for exemption under the Bill. I believe it is intended to set up an Advisory Committee at the Home Office to advise the Secretary of State. An assurance has been given for the Government that the Home Secretary would consult these charities before the regulations that are to come before Parliament are drafted. In granting licences by the police no question of a political character concerning the promoters will arise as it is purely a question whether the charity is a bona-fide one.

There were only about two matters that gave concern in the other House, one of which was in regard to Clause 1, which deals with personal collections. In industrial areas and in other places, especially in mining areas where accidents unfortunately so often occur, frequently friends of the injured or the deceased will have a whip round very quickly in order to raise money for a person injured or for a widow left behind. There is no objection to these collections and they are specially provided for in Clause 1. Many of them will not come under the provisions of this Bill at all because the collections will be made from among friends of the deceased or the injured. In this Bill a charitable collection is strictly laid down as something that is an appeal to the public. In many cases these collections to which I have just referred are purely temporary in character and will not even come to the knowledge of the police; they will probably be pushed through in a very short time and disposed of. When, however, they do come within the knowledge of the police, and the police think it necessary to take action, it is quite possible that the promoters can go to the police and get a licence for the collection. It is not necessary to get that licence beforehand because it is laid down in the Bill that a licence can be obtained while the collection is being taken.

I do not really think that the Amendment which was proposed in regard to that and was thoroughly discussed in the other House would be of any help at all; in fact it would complicate matters very considerably and make it much more difficult where, under the Bill, the procedure is perfectly simple. Another matter which was brought forward was the proposal to bring the voluntary hospitals under Clause 3. That again would complicate matters because, if exemption had to be obtained from the Secretary of State, the Secretary of State would naturally have to make many inquiries in different places. If this was done, the voluntary hospitals would be passing over their troubles to the Secretary of State instead of looking after them themselves. I do not think they will suffer at all if they come under the provisions of this Bill and get a licence in the ordinary way.

Clause 1 deals with the licence and subsection (4) deals with purely local charitable collections made on the spur of the moment. Clause 2 deals with the form of the licence. Clause 3 relates to the big national charities and empowers the Secretary of State to issue an order exempting a charity from taking out a licence in each district in which it is carrying out a collection; but of course that does not exempt the collector in the particular area from being properly licensed and having a badge, which he may be called upon to show. Clause 5 deals with badges and Clause 6 with the powers of the police to compel a person to declare himself. Clause 7 deals with delegation of functions and Clause 8 with penalties. In this Bill penalties as recommended by the Committee have been made rather heavier than in the Bill which was introduced previously. Clause 9 applies the Bill to Scotland. I understand that a considerable request has been made that the same provisions should operate in Scotland and Clause 9 makes the necessary alterations to bring the Bill into conformity with the law in that country. Clause 10 is an interpretation clause and defines "charitable purpose," "collection," and other expressions. It will be seen that the word "collection" not only means an appeal for money but for other property. Things are collected from houses and are sold for charitable purposes, and there are a great many abuses connected with that.

I ask your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading because collecting in the name of charity, which is done by some of the racketeers who go about the country—and I am afraid there are a great many of them—has resulted in people being imposed upon, women especially, and a very large profit has been made by those who have organised these collections. It is high time to stop what I think can be called a national scandal. Not only does it injure those who are persuaded to give their money, but by bringing charities into disrepute, it tends to injure genuine charities. If only householders approached by people who go round in the name of charity would demand to see the authority under which they are acting, then, although perhaps it cannot be hoped that the scandal will be ended, at any rate the efforts of these people will be curtailed.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Courtown.)


My Lords, as I said on the Second Reading of the original Bill in your Lordships' House, the voluntary hospitals are in favour of the general principle of the Bill. King Edward's Hospital Fund and the British Hospitals Association gave evidence to this effect before the Joint Committee, and also drew attention to certain questions of detail. They have now considered the new Bill and are agreed that in many ways it has been improved, both in the precautions against bogus collectors and in the safeguards for reputable charities. We are, however, still concerned about one or two matters in which it seems to us that the legitimate activities of voluntary hospitals may be hampered. The local hospital is of all local charities the one most essential to its area. Surely therefore it should not be placed in an inferior position to any non-local charity. Yet it would seem that under the Bill a hospital's power of collecting in its own area may be restricted, whereas what the old Bill and the mover of the Second Reading to-day called a "national charity" may be able to come in and collect in the hospital's area without being limited by the same restrictions, because it may be exempted by the Home Secretary from having to get a local police licence anywhere. I refer to Clause 3.

A hospital may serve several police areas but all police authorities may not hold the same views about the grant of a licence; and in the new Bill there is no right of appeal as there was in the old. I hope the Bill will be amended to permit the exemption of hospitals so that they may be put in the same position as the favoured charities in this Bill. Also I hope it will be amended to permit an appeal to the Home Secretary. I feel that no fraudulent promoter would risk going to appeal. Exactly what the effect of the restrictions will be it is difficult to discover from the Bill itself, without seeing the regulations which the Secretary of State may make under Clause 4. To take just two examples: Would a hospital require a special police licence in order to put out boxes as so many do and collect the contents periodically? And would it require a special licence to send a collector to call on its own subscribers, or would this only be necessary if the collectors called at every house down the streets?

I am glad to see that the new Bill provides that the regulations are to be laid before both Houses of Parliament. But the Joint Committee recommended that, in addition to this, they should be drawn up in consultation with charitable organisations. On Second Reading in another place an assurance was given that the Home Secretary would consult the national charities before making draft regulations. Here again, I would submit that hospitals, which are not known as national charities, should not be placed in an inferior position to charities with much smaller needs, but might be consulted through central bodies, such as the British Hospitals Association and King Edward's Hospital Fund for London. You cannot have a list of favoured charities without in some way including the hospitals. The voluntary hospitals of the country expend annually £15,000,000 on maintenance alone and require to find the money more than ever at this moment when they must be prepared for an emergency. No properly conducted hospital should be deprived of its means of financing itself. If you are going to have a favoured list, there probably is no charity on it which has such a claim on the charitable, and if those in charge of the Bill do not produce an Amendment it will have to come from those who sympathise with the hospitals.

If the list of special charities is to be set up under the Bill, I would suggest that to avoid centralisation it should be dealt with on a county basis and hospitals included in it, but if there is only to be one list for the whole country the hospitals might be included through the British Hospitals Association and the King's Fund. Having referred to these points, I should like to say again I welcome the general principle of the Bill and I hope it will succeed in putting a stop to the bogus house-to-house collections from which the public and the cause of charity have both suffered in the past.


My Lords, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, I have nothing to add to what the two noble Lords have said, except to give the Bill a general blessing. His Majesty's Government consider it a very good and deserving measure.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.