§ 3.4 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the House to be again in Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committeee.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The LORD MERTHYR in the Chair.]
§ Clause 5:
§ Effect of and claims and objections to, registration
§ (2) Any person who is or may be affected by the registration of an institution as a charity may, on the ground that it is not a charity, object to its being entered by the Commissioners in the register, or apply to them for it to be removed from the register; and provision may be made by regulations as to the manner in which any such objection or application is to be made, prosecuted or dealt with.
LORD SILKIN moved, in subsection (2), after the second "or" to insert:
may within 3 years from the date when the charity was entered on the register of charities".
The noble Lord said: I beg to move the Amendment standing in my name: it is really a probing Amendment to enable the Government to explain what this clause is designed to do. It provides in subsection (2) that any person who is or may be affected by the registration of an institution as a charity may apply to the Commissioners for the removal of the charity from registration. Does that mean that any person who has an interest—maybe a person who has at some time subscribed sixpence to that charity—thereby acquires an interest to secure that his donation has been properly expended? He need not have any special grounds for requiring that the registration should be removed. He can do it at any time—I repeat, at any time; there is no fixed period within which he may do it. My Amendment is designed to see that, if we insist on giving people this right at large, at least we should circumscribe it in point of time. Otherwise a charity will never know from day to day whether it is liable to have an application made against it for its removal from the register.
Subsection (3) provides that a person who has made such an application, however frivolous it may be, and has had it refused has a right of appeal to the High Court; and consequently can put the charity (and he may be a man of straw) to tremendous expense. I suppose that most noble Lords must have had some correspondence in the last few days from strange people who have bees in their bonnets about particular charities and who would be the first to take advantage of a provision of this kind whenever the spirit moved them, so giving the charity concerned an immense amount of trouble. Then they can go to the High Court. Pending all this, pending these applications, the charity remains in suspense, for subsection (4) says:
… for the purposes of subsection (1) above an institution shall be deemed not to be on the register during any period when the entry relating to it is in suspense under this subsection.
§ I think I have said enough to indicate that a perfectly frivolous request may be made at any time under this clause, without any restriction, either as to time or as to conditions, and may put a charity to an immense amount of trouble and expense, and possibly help to bring this charity into some undesirable publicity. So, while I am not going to press for the particular wording of my Amendment, I hope that whoever is going to reply for the Government will be able to elucidate what is behind all this, and also give some assurance that the provision enabling any person having an interest in the charity to make this sort of application will be suitably restricted.
Page 6, line 14, after ("or") insert ("may within 3 years from the date when the charity was entered on the register of charities").—(Lord Silkin.)
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
I think that almost any person or institution in this country might in some circumstances be the object of vexatious, spiteful or frivolous litigation by some man of straw who was not in a position to pay the expenses of such litigation if it were unsuccessful. I think that is a danger which applies to any body or any institution of that kind. The reason for providing that people may apply for the removal of a charity from the register is not intended for the benefit of people, as the noble Lord, I 80 think, suggested, who at one time paid a subscription of sixpence and have since decided that they do not like the charity. It is intended for the protection of people whose own interests may be affected by the question of whether or not the charity in question ought to be classified as a charity.
For instance, if the relation of some interested person were to die leaving his money to a charity, and if his next of kin thought there was strong reason for claiming that this was no longer entitled to be regarded as a charity, no longer entitled to be registered as one, then it would obviously be wrong to deny him the opportunity of making an application to the Charity Commissioners—and, of course, such applications are always subject to an appeal by one side or the other to the High Court. With regard to the time limit, I think the noble Lord will see that it would obviously not be possible to insert a time limit, which would defeat our purpose. A man might leave his money to a charity which was on the register, and then live a further twenty years before he died, but his next of kin would not be affected and would not know of his interest until his relative had died; and if he were precluded from making the application after a charity had been on the register for three years then it would of course be too late. Therefore, I do not think it would be consistent with the purpose of this provision to insert any time limit of this kind.
§ LORD SILKIN
The noble Earl has given the type of case where some provision of this kind is necessary. I have given the type of case where I think it might be the subject of a great deal of abuse. Is it not possible—I am not going to press the noble Earl—for the Government to consider whether they are not using this means both for the kind of case where it is desirable and for the kind of case where it would be frivolous, and for them to try to distinguish between the two? Everything the noble Earl has said in answer to this Amendment seems to me to be purely a matter of drafting—even the three-year period. A charity ought not to be at risk for ever. The three years might date, for instance, from the time when the provisions of the trust became public knowledge, or from the date when a person was affected. Give him three 81 years in which to make representations, but do not let it go on for ever, with the charity always at the risk of somebody coining along and claiming for its removal. I hope I have made some kind of case, and I hope that the Government will consider this point and will try to separate the various types of cases which may arise. In that hope and expectation, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 3.13 p.m.
§ LORD CHORLEY
had given Notice of an Amendment, in subsection (2), to leave out: all words after "register" and to insert instead:Provided that no such objections or application shall be entertained by the Commissioners until the person desiring to make the same has satisfied the Commissioners by an application made ex parte to the Commissioners in such manner as shall be directed that:
and provision may be made by regulation as to the manner in which any such objection or application (including such ex parte application as aforesaid) is to be made prosecuted or dealt
- (a) he has a financial interest other than as a member of the public which will be affected by the registration of the institution as a charity;
- (b) he can show cause why it is reasonable in all the circumstances of the case that the objection or application should be entertained;
§ LORD GRANVILLE-WEST
My noble friend Lord Chorley asked me last evening if I would move this Amendment on his behalf, because unfortunately he has been called away on urgent business. The point my noble friend had in mind was the point that my noble friend Lord Silkin also dealt with, and in formally moving this Amendment on Lord Chorley's behalf I would adopt the arguments which my noble friend has used. Your Lordships will see that the approach of Lord Chorley to this problem, which is undoubtedly a real problem, is to throw upon the person who is affected and desires to appeal against the registration of the charity the duty that he should first of all make an ex parte application to the Commissioners and satisfy them that he has a reasonable cause and a reasonable ground for making his application. If, on his ex parte application, the Commissioners decide that he is acting frivolously or vexatiously, and 82 that he is not able to put forward a reasonable case for his action, then the Commissioners have power to resist it. In anticipation of what the noble Viscount will say after further consideration of the point that my noble friend, Lord Silkin, has raised, I feel that this may be one approach to the problem. I beg formally to move the Amendment.
Page 6, line 15, leave out from ("register") to end of line 17, and insert the said proviso.—(Lord Granville-West.)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT KILMUIR)
I am grateful to the noble Lord for the manner in which he has moved this Amendment, because he has made it a valuable adjunct, if I may say so, to what the noble Lord, Lord Silk in, said on the last Amendment. I should have thought that, rather than have an elaborate procedure as to establishing locus, we should be able to deal with it by the words at the end of subsection (2) of the clause. There the noble Lord will see the words:and provision may be made by regulations as to the manner in which any such objection or application is to be made, prosecuted or dealt with".I have not, of course, drafted the regulation, but what I had in mind was that it should not be beyond the bounds of possibility for the Commissioners, where an application is obviously frivolous, to be able to deal with it simply on the preliminary letter. I should like to consider that, because, as nobody knows better than the noble Lord, Lord Granville-West, these cases shade off into one another, and one wants to be careful to do justice.
On the general point, my noble friend Lord Dundee has put one case, and both noble Lords on the other side of the House who have spoken will appreciate that it is an important one: that is, that a large sum may suddenly be found to have been left to an object in the charitable nature of which there has not up to that point been much interest. But I should like to say one other word, out of respect for what my noble and learned friend Lord Simonds said yesterday, as to when something that had been a charity could change its character. As your Lordships may remember, my noble and learned friend was in some doubt. I had in mind at least three 83 possibilities. One was the case where the charity is a company. As those of your Lordships who are bred to the law know, the position there is that the company can change its objects; and, if it does so, funds accumulated up to that point which have been subscribed for the charitable purpose, or which have come into existence for the charitable purpose, are still fixed with the charity, though after that point they are not. Of course, it might be that the company had spent all the funds that had been obtained for the charitable purpose and then had nothing in the nature of charity in it.
The second possibility that occurred to me was when there was a revocable trust in which there might be some revocation. The third, of course, is the one which the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, will remember very clearly, and that is where there has been an unexpected change in the law. That is why we put in the provision, which I think worried my noble and learned friend Lord Spens slightly, in subsection (5) of this clause,that the decision is inconsistent with a later judicial decision;As nobody knows better than he, there are certain cases where the decision of the Chancery Judge who deals with the appeal must be one way, yet within a short time the House of Lords has overruled the decision of the Court of Appeal which bound the first Judge. In such a case, of course, the Commissioners would have to take action accordingly. That is the third point, where, as in the Baddeley case, one might suddenly discover that something which everyone had thought was a charity was not. In that case it might be perfectly proper to apply for it to be taken off the register. Although there is always the possibility of the frivolous application—and I think that matter can be dealt with by regulations—I will consider the point again, and if there is any doubt I will have another look to see whether further statutory power is needed. I should like both noble Lords to appreciate that we have their point well in mind, and that we shall certainly be concerned to see that the machinery operates as it should.
I should like to express great sympathy with this Amendment, for a reason which came up in our discussions yesterday. When we were 84 considering Clause 4 the question arose as to what discussions might take place between this and the next stage of the Bill, and I asked whether the Government would be in a position to say before the Report stage came on what the nature of their regulations would be. The noble Earl who was answering at that moment for the Government said that it was clearly impossible for them to do that; that the Government had not thought of their regulations or framed them. Here is another case. The people who are speaking through me to-day all express a preference for having as much as possible put into the Bill and as little as possible left to regulation. Clause 4 and its effect, which I think will have to be looked at again carefully, depend very much upon regulations. I feel that if the Government are asking your Lordships to pass a Bill the whole effect of which will depend largely on regulations, and they have not framed the regulations and cannot give us any idea of what they are likely to be, then they are asking your Lordships to give them a blank cheque. Because I think that that is a wrong principle I join with the noble Lord opposite in hoping that this matter will be put into the Bill and not left merely to regulation.
§ LORD SILKIN
I was just going to make this point on the regulations—and I associate myself entirely with what the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, has just said. I should be grateful if the noble and learned Viscount would direct his mind to subsection (2), because it seems to me that the regulations which can be made are to be confined solely to the way in which objection is to be made, prosecuted or dealt with; that is, to the machinery once the objection has been made. It does not go to the real point that I tried to put before the Committee—namely, that there ought to be some restriction on the people who will be able to make this objection and some limitation as to the period. Admittedly, once the objection has been made it is desirable to have regulations as to the procedure then to be followed; but even if the procedure is the most satisfactory in the world, as I have no doubt it will be, it does not really go to the point that I respectfully put before the Committee. I hope that the noble and learned Viscount will agree that that is so.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am quite prepared to consider that point. I did not mean in any way to derogate from what my noble friend Lord Dundee said about preserving the position in the case he quoted; and I did not think the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, disagreed as to the force of that situation. What I had in mind was the earliest part of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin's speech when he was dealing with frivolous applications. I thought that they could be dealt with, and it seemed to me that it was within the powers given by the clause that they could be dealt with by regulations; and that in the case of an application which the Commissioners deemed to be frivolous they could reject it by a letter without further consideration. As I say, I am not drafting on my feet, but I thought I was admitting that part.
With regard to what my noble friend Lord Saltoun said, with great respect and friendliness, I dispute his two major premises. In the first place, this Bill does not depend on regulations. It uses regulations for the perfectly proper purpose which has been commended by the Donoughmore Committee, in 1932, and by every other body that has seriously considered modern legislation; that is to say, for procedural and transitional purposes, where it is essential, if the legislation is going to be successful, that it should fit a variety of conditions and that it should be possible to change it in order to fit new conditions. So long as regulations are limited to that purpose, then not only is there no objection to them, but they are for the public benefit.
The second point which I think my noble friend Lord Saltoun has forgotten is that modern legislative practice depends on consulting the persons likely to be affected before you make regulations May I take an example with which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Citrine, is familiar? If you were making regulations affecting the safety of workmen under the Factories Act you would consult the trade union and, of course, the employers who would have to implement them. There it would be foolish of Parliament to lay down a code in a Statute which would require to be changed by Statute, because new machinery is being introduced every day and you want to make your regulations apply. It is the same here: that before 86 we make regulations, we should like to consult those who can speak for charity and those who can speak for other great bodies that are interested in this Bill and really make the regulations helpful to them.
I put this with great earnestness to my noble friend Lord Saltoun. As many noble Lords know, a great deal of my own political life has been concerned with the problem of subsidiary legislation, and I am just as opposed as anyone, and have declared myself so on innumerable occasions, to dealing by subsidiary legislation with problems that ought to be discussed in this House and go through the stages in each House of Parliament. I assure your Lordships that if you drive that principle to death—and fortunately in this country one of our great safeguards has been that we do not drive principles to death—and prevent the making of regulations for dealing with transitional and procedural matters, you will cause unexampled delay, misery and hardship to the people whom we ought to have in mind when we are legislating; that is to say, not ourselves, but the people affected by our laws. I say that with the greatest strength, and I say that in this Bill we have tried to restrain the regulations to that purpose; and for that purpose I assure your Lordships I will always strive.
May I say a word on that matter? I quite appreciate all that the noble and learned Viscount has said. What would be of the greatest advantage, if any fruitful conversations are to take place between this and the next stage of the Bill, is that we should know the nature of the regulations. I am not asking, and would not ask, for a draft of the regulations, but about the kind of questions the regulations would cover and their nature. That would be essential for any fruitful discussion. Surely it should be within the power of Her Majesty's Government to tell us that before the next stage of the Bill.
§ LORD GRANVILLE-WEST
I understood from the noble and learned Viscount when he replied to this Amendment that he had in mind to consider with sympathy the point raised by my noble friend Lord Silkin, and the point which was referred to in this Amendment. I believe my noble friend Lord Chorley would have been happy to hear 87 that assurance, because he, too, is very apprehensive as to the effect of the clause as it stands at the moment. Having regard to the full explanation which the noble and learned Viscount has given, and also the assurance he has given that he himself will look at this point again, I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 5 agreed to.
§ Clause 6:
§ General power to institute inquiries
6.—(1) The Commissioners may from time to time, and if so directed by the Secretary of State shall, institute inquiries with regard to charities or a particular charity or class of charities, either generally or for particular purposes:
Provided that no such inquiry shall extend to any exempt charity.
§ 3.32 p.m.
LORD SILKIN moved in subsection (1), after the second "time" to insert:
or at the request of the council of a county or a borough in respect of any local charity in the council's area,".
§ The noble Lord said: This is a very simple Amendment and I hope will be found to be quite unexceptionable. Under Clause 6, the Commissioners, as well as the Minister, have power to obtain any information or to institute inquiries with regard to charities in general, or a particular charity or class of charities. The purpose of my Amendment is to give the county councils and the county boroughs the right to request the Commissioners to institute such inquiries, or to request the Minister that an inquiry be held. It is entirely within their discretion whether they comply with the regulations.
§ This Bill gives the local authorities a locus in connection with charities. It enables them, if they so desire, to create their own list of charities, and it gives them the privilege under subsection (8) of this clause of making a contribution towards the cost of inquiries. Therefore, it seems quite reasonable and fair that they should have at any rate the right to ask that an inquiry should be instituted in any particular case that comes within their notice in respect of a charity in their area. It may be said that the local authorities can always make a request but, as nobody knows better than the 88 noble and learned Viscount, that is not so. If it is not within their competence to make a request it would be ultra vires. I am asking that, as one of their duties where they think it desirable that an inquiry should be made, they should be specifically empowered to ask that an inquiry should take place, reserving it always, of course, for the Commissioners to decide whether a case is made out for the inquiry. I beg to move.
Page 6, line 44, after the second ("time") insert the said words.—(Lord Silkin.)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I confess that I approached this Amendment under a different idea from that given by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and if I am wrong I will reconsider it. If your Lordships will be good enough to look at the beginning of Clause 6, you will see that it says:The Commissioners may from time to time"—then comes Lord Silkin's words—or at the request of the council of a county or a borough in respect of any local charity in the council's area".I had assumed that the purpose of the Amendment was to make it mandatory on the Commissioners to make inquiries if requested to do so by a local authority. That, as the noble Lord would understand, I was not prepared to accept. I should have advised the Committee against that, because the Commissioners have always had a complete discretion, and this should continue. If what is in the noble Lord's mind is simply that local authorities should be empowered, and that it should not be beyond their statutory powers to make the request, then I will gladly have another look at it. I hope the noble Lord will forgive me for the view I have formed on this, and perhaps he will give me a chance between now and the Report stage to look into the different problem which he has adumbrated in his speech.
§ LORD SILKIN
I have no doubt that it is my bad drafting, but I am grateful for the assurance that the noble and learned Viscount will look at it in the spirit in which I moved the Amendment, and not in the spirit in which it is on the Paper. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.89
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
This is one of the series of Amendments on which I addressed your Lordships yesterday.. I beg to move.
Page 6, line 44, leave out from second ("time") to ("institute") in line 45.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ 3.38 p.m.
LORD SALTOUN moved to add to subsection (1):
or any charity excepted under paragraph (b) of subsection (4) of section four of this Act".
The noble Lord said: The Amendment just moved by the noble and learned Viscount has greatly lightened my mind with regard to this clause. There is, however, one point which causes me a little uneasiness. We, and I think all the charities for which I can claim to speak, have always been at the disposal of the Charity Commissioners. They have always made inquiries of us on any point about which they wished information; they have always received that information, and we have and always have had the most friendly relations with them. We value those relations very much. We have a very high opinion of the Charity Commissioners. But further on in the clause it says:
For the purposes of any such inquiry … to furnish accounts and statements in writing with respect to any matter …
That is a formidable full-scale inquiry. It would be unfortunate if the Charity Commissioners were to institute such inquiries frequently or easily, because they are extremely expensive.
§ I will take up that matter of expense now. When we left our debate last night the Government had refused to accept an Amendment in which a charity which is properly registered as a charity under Section 41 of the National Assistance Act, 1948, is not required to register again. The Government's reason for rejecting that Amendment was that by registration under this Bill that charity would receive the inestimable benefit of being regarded as a charity. The charity we were talking about was the Royal National Institute for the Blind, which has been a charity all its life; it was registered as a charity under the 1948 Act; and it would be compelled to reregister under this Act because by doing so it would get the inestimable benefit of being regarded as what it is. 90 It is not a logical position, and the point of our objection is that, as the noble Earl explained, a wholly new set of figures have to be furnished by this charity; it is put to considerable expense; it may have considerable difficulty in furnishing the information required.
§ That brings me to the point which will run through all this Bill. We who are members of organised charities are extremely careful of our expenses. We value the position which we hold of trust to the public very highly indeed. We have onerous and expensive duties to perform, and anything that adds to our expenses and to the complication of our work is a serious injury to us. That is why I have put down Amendments on all these clauses, because I feel strongly that the Government is light-heartedly saying, "You are the people who collect money from the public; you can easily collect a little more and do this for us". That is not our attitude at all. Our attitude is that we scrutinise every penny which we spend on the necessary expenses of administration and out of the pennies given to us by the public try to keep as many as possible for the actual purpose for which the charity has been formed. That is why all these Amendments are down.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
Perhaps my noble friend would look at subsection (2) and see how it reads. I am delighted to deal with this question if we are taking Amendments Nos. 19 and 20 together, but I think No. 19 is consequential on No. 5; otherwise I do not think it would make any difference.
We may be exempted yet. The fact that we are not excepted by name under Clause 4 (4) (b) does not mean we may not be excepted in the end.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
I am delighted to fall in with whatever my noble 91 friend wants to do, but I think it is only fair to your Lordships to point out that Clause 4 (4) (b) at present reads:any charity which is excepted by order or regulations".That is all—no others.
That is right. The Amendment reads:insert ('or any charity excepted under paragraph (b) of subsection (4) of section four of this Act')".
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
If it is excepted already by order or regulation, what is the point of excepting it again? If my noble friend's Amendment No. 5 had been accepted then a whole named list of charities would have been added to Clause 4 (4) (b), and this Amendment would have been consequential on that.
§ LORD DOUGLAS OF BARLOCH
Surely the noble Earl is not correct in the point which he is taking. Clause 4 of this Bill deals with the obligation to register charities, but Clause 6 is dealing with inquiries with regard to charities, as I understand it, whether they are registered or whether they are not registered.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
It would help if my noble friend would indicate whether he wants No. 20 dealt with at the same time.
No, I will move No. 20 separately. You have already provided that no such inquiry shall extend to any exempt charities. That is, I take it, exempt under the Second Schedule, or does "exempt charity" as so used mean those that are exempt under Clause 4 (4) (b)? That is the point at issue.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
Clause 4 (4) (b) says that a charity which is excepted by order or regulation is not required to be registered. That is all it does. My noble friend moved an Amendment yesterday adding to those excepted by order or regulation a number of specified ones which he mentioned by name, and I took it that this Amendment, No. 19, was intended to exempt those named charities from the necessity of furnishing accounts or answering inquiries by the Commission.
As I read the Bill as drafted by the Government, Clause 6 starts by referring to all charities, whatever they are, whether they are exempted or not. It then goes on to say that this inquiry shall not extend to any exempted charities. I am asking that this inquiry shall not extend to excepted charities. I am trying to find out whether "exempted" and "excepted" mean the same thing. I therefore beg to move.
Page 7, lines 2, after ("charity") insert ("or any charity excepted under paragraph (b) of subsection (4) of section four of this Act").—(Lord Saltoun.)
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
This Amendment, No. 19, would take out from the Commissioners' powers of inquiry the whole class of charities named in my noble friend's Amendment to Clause 4, which my noble friend withdrew; although I quite understand that if he could get a similar Amendment inserted at a later stage of the Bill some difference would then be made to Clause 4. These charities have always been subject to inquiry as regards their permanent endowment; they have been subject to inquiry ever since 1853, and I do not know that any objection has ever been made to it. The Nathan Committee recommended that the powers of inquiry should be exercisable in respect of any charity, and I do not think anyone can complain that the powers of the Charity Commissioners as regards inquiry have been exercised in an oppressive way. The White Paper stated that it is intended that they should be exercised in the future as they have been in the past.
We cannot agree that there is any justification for any distinction between a particular number of named charities and any others, except, as I explained yesterday, those in the Second Schedule which are exempted only because they are already subject to special control by Parliament. From the general character of my noble friend's argument thought that he was covering considerations raised in Amendment No. 20, which we are approaching. I am anxious to meet my noble friend and to deal with his Amendments in whatever manner or sequence is most convenient to him. I will therefore say nothing about the considerations raised in 93 Amendment No. 20 until my noble friend has had a further opportunity of stating them.
I am greatly flattered by what the noble Earl has said, because it seems to me that my argument yesterday has left a big impression upon his mind. As the Bill stands it saysThe following charities are not required to be registered …(b) any charity which is excepted by order or regulations …There is no list of charities in the Bill as it stands at the moment. The list which I proposed to put in is not put in, and all I am suggesting is that if certain charities are exempt the same reasons should govern those that are excepted. Perhaps the noble Earl will take out of his mind the six that I proposed to put in but did not put in, and will simply address his mind to the fact that what I am moving is that any charity that happens to become excepted under the regulations under Clause 4 (4) (b) may be excepted here. As for what he says about inquiries, may I say that it is absolutely right that we have had a happy relation with the Charity Commissioners. The only reason I am moving this Amendment is because I am a little frightened of the tremendous paraphernalia of such an expensive inquiry as is detailed later in the clause.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
I want there to be no misunderstanding. I now understand that in putting down this Amendment my noble friend was not necessarily thinking of the list of charities which he named, but that he only wanted to make sure that charities exempted from registration should also be exempted from inquiry. We do not yet know which ones will be exempted from registration. I do not think we can accept that. I am sorry, but I thought the noble Lord had put down a series of Amendments designed to exempt charities in which he was interested, both from registration and from inquiry. I understand now that he wants to exempt from the inquiry provisions under this clause an unknown list of charities which may be exempted from registration. I am afraid the considerations which I have given in regard to the charities which I thought he had particularly in mind would also apply to any which may in future be exempted from registration. 94 Therefore, I am afraid that we could not undertake to accept this Amendment.
§ LORD GRANVILLE-WEST
I think it would help the Committee if the noble Earl were to give some indication of the considerations that were to be given to charities which were to be excepted. What conditions are likely to be imposed or have to be complied with before a charity is excepted under the regulations? If we could have some indication as to what the Government have in mind with regard to that matter, then I think it would help us considerably in deciding whether or not this Amendment ought to be pursued.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
With great respect, that is what we were discussing at great length yesterday on Clause 4. We put forward the kind of considerations which might weigh in granting exemption from registration.
§ LORD GRANVILLE-WEST
I am sorry if I did not quite follow the arguments which took place yesterday, but I understood that the arguments which took place on the Amendment of the noble Lord who is moving this Amendment were really based upon the charities set out in his Amendment. Perhaps I was out of the Chamber at the time, but so far as general principles of charities are concerned I was not aware that any form had been given of the conditions that the charities had to fulfil before they were excepted from registration on the register. If I am wrong about that, I apologise to the noble Earl.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I do not think it would be right for us to make a closed list until the Bill has been fully discussed in both Houses. But perhaps I may respond to the noble Lord's request by giving examples—I hope he will not take it that they are exclusive: they are not intended to be; nor could they be. As he will appreciate, there are a large number of small charities for religious purposes (I know that he has this in mind, because I have considered Amendments which he will be moving in due time) which are of no general interest. I think he would agree with me on that. Perhaps I may remind 95 him of the general purposes of registration. It will provide an index, first for the purposes of potential beneficiaries; secondly, for social workers to consult; thirdly, for potential benefactors to see what openings for charity there are in particular directions, and fourthly, for charities and local authorities to see what the other is doing. As I say, there are a large number of small religious charities which I think would not come within any of these classes, and one would except, as opposed to exempt, them for that purpose. There are other charities of no general interest, and there may well be many where the information can be obtained elsewhere. I think the noble Lord would agree that it would be stupid, simply for the purpose of tidiness, to include charities of that sort.
I do not think it would be for me to follow the invitation of my noble friend Lord Saltoun to go into particular charities. The discussions are going on; we shall listen to what is said, and we shall try to find the most practical and flexible way of dealing with all the different points. But I should not like to be tied down to that at the moment. I wanted to respond to the noble Lord and give an example, in regard to which I hope I shall have his sympathy, by the classes that I mentioned a few moments ago.
§ LORD GRANVILLE-WEST
I am most grateful to the noble and learned Viscount for that statement. It is not one that I have heard before. If I should have heard it before I apologise to the Committee. At any rate, it is helpful in considering this Amendment, because of the exceptions which the noble and learned Viscount has just indicated are of such a trivial character, then there would be certainly no objection, so far as I can see, to their inclusion in the Amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, has moved.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
This is a most interesting and ingenious point of the noble Lord, Lord Granville-West, but, of course, he will realise that there are two considerations. There is the question of registration, which is for the purpose I have mentioned, so that other people will know about them. But there is also, the duty to see that the charitable moneys are properly used. I should not like to rule out the need 96 to do that in the case of charities which were not of general interest. I have considered that point because the two Amendments really hang together I may be able to give further information at the next stage, so I would ask my noble friend Lord Saltoun not to press the matter now, at least until we have been able to reflect upon it before the next stage of the Bill.
I am extremely grateful to the noble and learned Viscount, for I feel that his statement carries us a great deal further forward If I have heard it before and failed to appreciate it I must apologise, though I did not think I had. That is all we were pressing for yesterday. I am most grateful and beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 4.1 p.m.
LORD SILKIN moved, in subsection (7), to leave out the first "may" and substitute "shall". The noble Lord said: I beg to move this Amendment, and perhaps in doing so I may speak on Amendment No. 19B which stands with it. This is a very short point. The Charity Commissioners are empowered to hold inquiries and in certain circumstances they may desire to take action on those inquiries. Subsection (7) provides that where they intend to take action
they may publish the report of the person conducting the inquiry, or such other statement of the results of the inquiry as they think fit, in any manner calculated in their opinion to bring it to the attention of persons who may wish to make representations to them about the action to be taken.
This Amendment is designed to provide that where the Commissioners intend to take action on an inquiry they should, as a matter of course, publish the report of the person carrying out the inquiry, so that whoever is affected by it may know exactly what is in the report upon which the Commissioners are acting.
§ I do not think it is good enough that the Commissioners should have discretion to publish what in their opinion are the facts which ought to be brought to the attention of people who may want to make representations. I believe that the Commissioners should be obliged to publish and make available the actual report of the person conducting the inquiry. This is only in keeping with 97 what this House and another place have done recently as a result of the Franks Report. The House has decided, I believe unanimously, that reports of persons conducting an inquiry by which others are affected, and which may have serious consequences to them, should be made public so that those persons may know. In this case, where the Commissioners propose to take action as a result of an inquiry it is all the more essential that the report of the person carrying out the inquiry should be published as a matter of course. I beg to move.
Page 7, line 39, leave out ("may") and substitute ("shall").—(Lord Silkin.)
I hope Her Majesty's Government will not accept this Amendment. I sympathise very much with what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has said and with the way in which he moved the Amendment, but not all cases are necessarily as simple as that. The Charity Commissioners may, and do, institute inquiries into quite trivial matters which may bear upon the character of people who are making rather a nuisance of themselves; and in such cases it might do more harm than good to publish the report of the inquiry. I believe I can speak for every charity with which I have ever in my life had anything to do in saying that we all have the most complete confidence in the Charity Commissioners and look upon them as our friends; and we have certainly no mistrust or suspicion about any report they may make at any time.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am glad, after a slight divergence of view at an earlier time, to be in agreement with my noble friend Lord Saltoun on this point, and I hope that together we may convince the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. I quite see—and it was borne on my mind more clearly after hearing him speak—that he had in mind the compelling force of the words:Where the Commissioners propose to take any action …I should like him to consider two possibilities here before he considers whether this Amendment should be pressed. As he will understand, the inquiries may take many forms, from an exchange of letters to a full-dress public inquiry on oath. Secondly, I should like him to consider that the result of an inquiry, and the 98 resulting action which the Commissioners propose to take, may be quite a trivial matter, of domestic interest only to the charity. They may ask, for example (and my noble friend Lord Saltoun will remember the kind of thing I have in mind): "Are you dealing with certain local trust funds which are part of your general set-up?" The charity may reply, "We have not dealt with these matters separately in the past," and the Commissioners may then write and say, "Will you please do so." The charity will say. "Of course we will; it has been an oversight." So the whole thing is done in a completely amicable way without any had feeling on either side. That is one kind of action.
Suppose, on the other hand, that the action proposed was that the Attorney General should bring proceedings in the Chancery Division. I do not think it would be very suitable if, before the Attorney General took his proceedings, we had a public report on matters which were then private. The third point—this is where I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin; and I am sure that my noble friend Lord Saltoun would agree, too—is that if the position came to the state where a public general inquiry was held, then, while I cannot pledge Governments in perpetuity, so long as my influence has anything to do with it I should always be strongly in favour of seeing that the results of that public general inquiry were in accordance with the principles of the Franks Committee—
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
—principles which have been accepted by all Parties. Therefore it is in that sense, and with my personal undertaking that all the influence I possess will be towards publication when there has been a general public inquiry, that I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, not to press these Amendments which would limit the discretion so as to affect the other two types of case I have mentioned. I hope he will agree that I am not (to use a colloquialism) stalling at all on this Amendment. I do want to meet him; on the other hand, I want to maintain the flexible position for, first, minor actions and, second, matters that might appear to prejudice proceedings in the courts.
§ LORD SILKIN
I accept the explanation of the noble and learned Viscount that there might be cases where the question of publication of a report might be either unimportant or even considerably injurious. The position I am anxious to preserve is that it should be the normal thing for the report to be made available to any person who is affected and that other procedures should be exceptions. That may involve putting this subsection in a rather different form, but I should prefer to see the general rule laid down and exceptions included in the subsection. I hope that the noble and learned Viscount will be willing to consider that. I, on my part, will consider whether some other form of words would meet my case. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 6, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?
In this clause we are dealing with the protection of the donor and the beneficiaries; and although, as I have made abundantly clear to the Committee, I do not believe that the register is any protection whatsoever to any fund for any purpose, I do believe that in this clause the power of inquiry is the most important protection we have in this Bill. I hope that in any reconsideration before the next stage of the Bill Her Majesty's Government will stick to their guns to ensure that any charity which is not ruled by another great body, such as a religious body, can be the subject of an inquiry by the Commissioners. I regard this as very much the same as the provision in company law, which, after all, is the greatest protection that exists for the shareholders. I would again emphasise that I do not think that this power of inquiry should apply to what one might call the religious bodies underneath other religious bodies which have a perfectly adequate and proper system of control, inquiry and inspection built into them.
§ On Question, Clause 6, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 7 agreed to.100
§ Clause 8:
§ Receipt and audit of accounts of charities
§ 8.—(1) Statements of account giving the prescribed information about the affairs of a charity shall be transmitted to the Commissioners by the charity trustees on request; and, in the case of a charity having a permanent endowment, such a statement relating to the permanent endowment shall be transmitted yearly without any request, unless the charity is excepted by order or regulations.
LORD SALTOUN moved to add to subsection (1):
Provided that in the case of a charity which issues annual accounts audited by auditors qualified under subsection (3) of this section, these accounts shall suffice.
§ The noble Lord said: I have already said a good deal this afternoon about the anxiety with which the charities look over their administrative expenses, and I will not say anything more on that subject, but I will go into a little detail about the way in which great collecting charities more or less have to work. They get money in all shapes and forms from the general public, and it is not like money received in commerce. There is no way, really, except by their own internal check, of ascertaining that that money has been received and that nobody in the administration has put it in his pocket. In consequence of that, I think the Committee will find that most charities of that kind have a system of accounts which has been carefully agreed with their auditors and which the auditors would be sorry to see disturbed.
§ The system is very simple. It includes a strict and undeviating principle about the receipt and opening of letters. It is a simple, direct and well-checked system of banking money; and the whole form of the accounts is, so far as possible, a straightforward cash account. As soon as we insert complications into the books of a charity of this kind we open the door to misbehaviour. However great a confidence the directors may have in their staff—and I think there is no business in the world that has a staff which I more admire and have more complete confidence in than our own—our duty to the public means that we must maintain that system uninterfered with, and we should have difficulty with our auditors if we attempted to change it.
§ This Bill applies to England; it does not apply to Scotland, except in little 101 bits, and it does not apply to Eire. Our accounts in the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, just to give an example—and I am sure that the Salvation Army and the Boys' Brigade could give parallel examples—apply to the whole of that area. If we were to be asked to make up a special account on how we treated monies referring only to England we might find it extremely difficult to do. It might be necessary to have a double system of book-keeping—in fact, I think it would be—and it would be extremely onerous and quite expensive. We have had questions on particular trusts and other matters put to us by the Charity Commissioners. We have always answered those straight away and we have never had any difficulty. Questions of that sort can be easily resolved, but any complicated question that affects us is difficult. It would be difficult to make special returns to the Charity Commissioners referring only to England and the area of land dealt with by this Bill.
§ For that reason I have put down this Amendment. I do not want to disparage the Government's Bill, but I should like to say that, all through the Bill, it seems to me that the checks and controls that appear in it are largely devised by able men who have no practical experience of running concerns of this kind, and that a great many of the checks and controls are rather illusory. But this particular one is important to us; it is important, I think, to every organised charity. We want our normal accounts to be the accounts presented to the Charity Commissioners in any inquiry. I beg to move.
Page 8, line 43, at end insert the said proviso.—(Lord Saltoun.)
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My noble friend mentioned just now that he had already said a certain amount on a previous Amendment about the great care with which most charities keep their accounts and the anxieties which they have in that connection. The duty to submit accounts to the Commissioners has been in force for a very long time, since 1855, and it has always been the practice of the Commissioners to accept the accounts which are prepared by the charity for its own purposes without prescribing a special form. But I think the 102 difficulty here lies in the distinction between the general accounts of the charity and the particular accounts of special endowments which may be administered by that charity and which may simply be summarised in the main accounts of the charity that administers them, without showing any particulars. It may not be satisfactory for the purposes of the Commissioners to accept just the published, audited accounts in the general accounts of the charity administering the special endowments, whether or not they give the particulars required.
May I give your Lordships an example? Last year a complaint was made to the Charity Commissioners regarding one of the charities in which my noble friend is interested, and it was found that, over the years, this organisation had accumulated a large number of special endowments for particular purposes. Now when the law was brought to their notice they at once agreed that each of these funds was separately audited, and that without serious difficulty the particulars of each separate audit of each of these special endowments could be readily sent to the Commissioners. That was done, and the matter was amicably settled on that basis. I hope my noble friend will be glad to know that it did not involve any increase of staff or of premises.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
I think that published annual accounts of a large charity which did not show any separate accounts for these funds would not be acceptable to the Commissioners. I think they ought to be able to see the particular accounts of any subsidiary endowments.
Subsection (1) of Clause 8 gives the power to exempt by order or regulations. The duty to send in accounts annually is limited to the case of permanent endowments, but power is given to exempt them from that requirement. It might be sometimes unnecessary for the accounts of charities which are audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General to be sent to the Commissioners, and it is possible that in many cases it would be sufficient for accounts to be submitted perhaps once in seven years instead of annually; but I hope that my noble friend will not press me to try to give 103 examples of particular cases which might be dealt with under such regulations, because I do not see how it would be possible to do that at this stage. I hope he will appreciate that, so far as the Amendment is concerned, we must provide the Commissioners with power to see the detailed accounts of endowments annually, as is provided for in the clause as it now stands.
I am much obliged to the noble Earl, and it occurs to me that now is an opportunity of clearing up what I think is a misunderstanding. I have not read the paper myself, but I am told that the Daily Telegraph thought that the Government had last night given my noble friend Lord Bridgeman an assurance that under Clause 4 it was sufficient to register a charity as a whole, and that every little trust would not have to be registered. It is that immense labour—there are 10,000 tiny trusts in respect of the Boys' Brigade, and an even larger number for the Guides—that is the burden which all these charities are fearing. Perhaps the noble Earl can tell me if such an assurance was given, because that would clear up the whole matter. I remember very well the little incident that he has referrd to, and that difficulty was easily overcome. Everybody just "turned to" and did a little extra work, and we got over that difficulty without much trouble; but in some cases it might be very difficult. Will my noble friend perhaps reply to that question?
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
The assurance to which my noble friend refers is accurately reported in Hansard. I am sorry to say that I have not got a copy with me, but I should be grateful if your Lordships would allow me to rely On the OFFICIAL REPORT without further elaboration. I have not read the Daily Telegraph.
That seems to me to leave us where we were. I did not hear it last evening. However, I do not propose to press this Amendment, if your Lordships will allow me to withdraw it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 8 agreed to.104
§ Clause 9 [Exchange of information, etc.]:
§ 4.26 p.m.
LORD SILKIN moved, in subsection (2), to leave out "may, if they see fit" and insert "shall". The noble Lord said: This is a very simple Amendment which I hope will be found to be acceptable. Subsection (2) of Clause 9 provides for the supply of copies of documents to people who require them. It says:
The Commissioners may, if they see fit, supply any person, on payment of such fee as they think reasonable, with copies of or extracts from any document in their possession which is for the time being open to public inspection under this Act.
So that we are dealing with a limited class of document which anybody can go and see if he wants to, and for a copy of which he can ask, on payment of a reasonable fee. I see no reason why, on payment of a reasonable fee, a person should not be able to get a copy as of right. You can go to Somerset House and can get a copy of any document you want as of right: you can go to any other Department where the public have a right to see documents and can get copies of them by paying a reasonable fee. Why should there be any exception here? Why should the Commissioners have the right to say, No, you can come and look at the documents, but you must not have a copy", even though the person desiring the copy is prepared to pay a reasonable fee? I should be grateful if whoever is to reply would explain why they need this discretion, and in what sort of cases they would wish to refuse copies. I beg to move.
Page 10, line 12, leave out ("may, if they see fit") and insert ("shall").—(Lord Silkin.)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
We felt that this was pressing the Commissioners rather too hard, because, of course, the Amendment would make it mandatory on the Commissioners to supply copies of documents open to public inspection. I have no reason to suppose—and I do not think anyone else has—that copies would be unreasonably refused. This Amendment and the next, however, would make it possible for any person or organisation to make wholly impracticable demands—for example, for copies of the whole of the documents relating to the charities of London. I 105 followed the same line as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and I am informed that Somerset House will not, for example, give you copies of all the wills of persons named Smith, although you may go to Somerset House and look at them if you have that curiosity. It is really a question of on whom the burden should fall. As I say, I am told—and I have no reasons to doubt it—that no reasonable request will be refused by the Commissioners. I do not think it is possible to say that no unreasonable request will be made. I am afraid that one might get unreasonable requests. If I am wrong about Somerset House, and that you could ask Somerset House to give you copies of (to take my example) all the wills of anyone named Smith, I will consider it again; but I am told that you cannot.
Would the noble Lord consider whether we could not find a via media? Everything that my noble friend Lord Saltoun has been saying about not taking up too much detail applies in a secondary degree to the Commissioners. My noble friend Lord Howe asked me yesterday about the staff of the registry. I believe that it is very small number; and I am told that the Inland Revenue do all their work in this connection with a staff of about half a dozen. I should have thought that it would be a very small staff that would be required, and that the fears that have been expressed—about Parkinson's Law and the like—have been exaggerated. This is the sort of thing, however, that might put an additional burden on the Commissioners; and while I think they ought to meet any reasonable request, I do not think we ought to subject them to an unreasonable one. So perhaps, as I say, the noble Lord would reconsider it and see whether we cannot find a via media on the point.
§ LORD SILKIN
I would say to the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor that I do not know whether you can go to Somerset House and ask for the wills of all people named Smith, and I do not think it would be within the provisions of this clause. If, however, you sought out all the names of all the people named Smith who had made wills, you could go to Somerset House and get copies of the wills, though they would not undertake the task of selecting all 106 the Smiths. In the same way, if somebody wanted the particulars of a large number of charities and named them, and said he wanted copies of documents which were available to the public, I see no reason why he should not have them, if he paid for them. The governing factor is that he must pay a reasonable fee so as not to involve a loss to the Commissioners; and the Commissioners have the right to charge a fee and to fix the fee. I do not want to press this matter. I think this is a right which the public should have as a matter of course, and that it should not be discretionary. If the Lord Chancellor thinks that some other form of words might be suitable, of course I am perfectly willing to think about it again, and perhaps he will also. We want to preserve the right of the public. The whole purpose of this Bill is to give the public as much information as can possibly be given to them. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave withdrawn.
§ Clause 9 agreed to.
§ Clause 10:
§ Local authority's index of local charities
§ 10.—(1) The council of a county or of a borough may maintain an index of local charities or of any class of local charities in the council's area, and may publish information contained in the index, or summaries or extracts taken from it.
§ LORD CHORLEY moved, in subsection (1), to leave out the first "or", and to insert after "borough", "or of an urban district". The noble Lord said: We now come to a group of clauses concerned with the position under the Bill of the local authorities, and which, I think very sensibly, enlist their aid in relation to the administration of the new law and confer upon them a number of rights or obligations. In Clause 10 it is a question of bringing in the local authorities to make the index of local charities; and in Clause 11 it is a matter of conferring upon them a right, although a rather limited one, of reviewing local charities. Now, very properly, and I am sure your Lordships will think very sensibly, the county councils, the county borough councils and the non-county boroughs are entrusted with this task. But the urban district councils are left out.107
§ Since the urban district councils came into existence, generally speaking, they have been equated with the non-county boroughs, and, not unnaturally, they are a little touchy when some sort of distinction is made between them and the non-county boroughs, as is done in these two clauses of the Bill. I think it is right to say that there are only two Statutes on the Statute Book which have been placed there since urban district councils came into existence in which a distinction of this kind has been made. One of them is the Ancient Monuments (Consolidation and Amendment) Act, 1913, which I think was passed at a time before the urban district councils had any effective organisation to look after their interests, and which, in any event, I gather, the Minister of Works has undertaken to look into whenever a Bill comes up in which this problem could satisfactorily be dealt with. The other Statute in which this invidious distinction is made is the Road Traffic Act, 1956. This particular point came into that Bill at a late stage, and although I think the association which looks after the interests of the urban district councils entered a protest, it was rather too late in the day for anything to be done about it. This is a distinction which has rankled in the minds of those who do this valuable work of local government in the urban districts, and I suggest to your Lordships that unless there are overwhelming reasons in this case, as I submit there are not, it would be unfortunate if this invidious distinction were again given legislative sanction in this Bill.
§ There are, of course, no differences whatever between a non-county borough and an urban district, except that of social status. Many urban districts are anxious to get the cachet, if that is what one may call it, of a borough, and from time to time that occurs; but so far as the actual powers go, I think they are exactly the same, apart from the one or two small cases that I have already indicated. When this point was taken up with the Home Office by the urban districts, through their association, the Home Office contended that there is an overwhelming reason why this distinction should be made. I should like your Lordships and the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor to look at it, because I think it should be agreed that there is no overwhelming reason 108 why this individous distinction should be maintained here.
§ The reason given was that in the old days, before the Municipal Reform Act was passed in the early years of the last century, the borough, which is, of course, a great institution in English life and English local government, administered charities directly; and I imagine that in 1834 most of the ordinary non-county boroughs (they were just ordinary boroughs at that time, of course) did administer one or more charities. The Municipal Corporation Act changed the system, de-vested them of this charity property and vested it in trustees nominated by the corporations in question. The effect of this no doubt was technically to take away the charitable work of the non-county boroughs themselves; but they have continued to exercise a fairly close control, and I understand it is because of that that it is felt by the Department responsible for this Bill that they should be brought into these clauses and given these particular duties, and that rights should be conferred upon them. Since that time substantial numbers of other non-county boroughs have come into existence. Exactly how they compare numerically with the old ones I do not know, but I should think there cannot be much to choose in respect of one group or the other.
§ As I understand it, the Home Office indicated that these new non-county boroughs and the urban districts were really not concerned with the administration of charities, because there were very few of them which appointed trustees or which were in fact concerned with the administration of charities. As I understand it, those who were engaged in these discussions at the time indicated that, if they could be satisfied that there were a substantial number of urban districts which were practically interested in the work of charities, a new outlook on this problem might well be taken. As a result of that, a questionnaire was sent out by the Urban District Councils Association to all their constituent members, and to that questionnaire no fewer than 260 urban district councils have replied. Of this number no fewer than 65 have been found in which one or more charities exist and in regard to which the urban district council in question has a direct interest.109
§ The constitution of the governing body of these charities consists of the whole of the members of the council or, if that is not so, the council in question is empowered to appoint or nominate the whole of the members constituting the governing body. Furthermore, the functions of these charities are not, in the majority of instances, in the same field as the welfare or other functions carried out by the county councils of the counties in which these urban districts carry on their work. In other words, we have a situation in which roughly 25 per cent. of the urban districts in the country are directly concerned with charities of the kind which are envisaged by Clauses 10 and 11 of this Bill. I should have thought that, in those circumstances, the case for bringing the urban districts in on the same level as the non-county boroughs was fairly clearly made out.
§ That is the substantial point, but there are two other matters which I think are worth bearing in mind, and which I submit substantially strengthen the case which I am making. Clause 11 extends the provisions of this subsection to boroughs which are included in a rural district. This, I imagine, has been included in order to meet the circumstances which may arise and which, from time to time, I imagine, will arise as a result of the proposal which a county council can now put forward under the recent Local Government Act, 1958, where, upon a review, the county council may in effect, with the consent of the Minister and on the order of the Minister, reduce the status of a non-county borough and bring it into the organisation of the rural district, in which case it becomes a sort of ghost. Nevertheless, this ghost is still to retain its duties and responsibilities, while an urban district council which may easily contain 50,000, 60,000 or 70,000 people is not even to have the same powers as the clause confers upon this ghost.
The other point is one which, in a sense, stands by itself, and is under Clause 11. I think it would be convenient if I were to deal with it at this stage, because unless the urban district council can obtain the power to make the index and have the general powers of review, then the situation which may come into existence under subsection (3) of Clause 11 will not be effective. Subsection (3) of Clause 11 limits the reviews
of local charities by local authorities by providing that:
No review initiated under this section by the council of a borough shall extend to the working in any county of a local charity established for purposes similar or complementary to any services provided by county councils …
That is the general exception. Then there is the important proviso:
unless the review is initiated with the consent of the council of that county or the council initiating it provides those services in its area under delegated powers.
It is these last words that I particularly ask your Lordships to observe, because in certain circumstances under recent legislation a non-county borough or an urban district council can insist on the delegation of these services.
§ An urban district council or a non-county borough with 60,000 inhabitants can insist, as I understand it, on the delegation of these powers, and in addition a non-county borough or an urban district with a population of 50,000 can go to the Minister and ask him to make an order, and the Minister has a discretion to make the order conferring the right to carry on these services in the area in question—in other words, to delegate the powers to the non-county borough or the urban district as the case may be. Is it not rather absurd to draw this distinction? Because if an urban district with 60,000 inhabitants can obtain these delegated powers, or with 50,000 inhabitants can go to the Minister and ask him to make an order, surely it has a status which I should have thought entitled it to be brought into this situation, especially when we find, as I said at the beginning, that no less than one-quarter of these urban districts are directly interested in charities of this kind.
§ Therefore I think your Lordships will agree with me that it is reasonable that these powers and duties should be conferred, not only upon the county boroughs, as the Bill provides, but also on the urban district councils. The three Amendments which I have tabled are all calculated to bring about this situation. I hope your Lordships will agree with me that the urban district councils ought not to be treated in this way. I hope, too, that the noble and learned Viscount will agree that the local authorities' status should be extended in this way 111 and the urban district councils should be included. I beg to move.
Page 10, line 17, leave out ("or") and after ("borough") insert ("or of an urban district").—(Lord Chorley.)
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
I hope that this time I am not mistaken in thinking that the noble Lord wishes to discuss Amendments Nos. 23 and 31 together with this Amendment. This Amendment would place urban district councils in the same position as boroughs as regards maintaining indices of local charities. The noble Lord has dwelt a good deal on the distinction which the Bill makes between non-county boroughs and urban district councils, although in many cases, of course, a non-county borough may not be nearly so populous as the area under the control of an urban district council. The Bill goes further than the White Paper in this matter. The White Paper proposes only to confer this ability, this permission, to keep an index of charities on county councils and county boroughs, but the Bill goes further than that and includes non-county boroughs as well.
As the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, has informed your Lordships, these non-county borough councils were often for many centuries themselves trustees of the borough charities, and although the Municipal Corporations Act to which he referred removed the charities from the corporations and vested them in trustees nominated by the council, the connection between the council and the charity has remained very close. Then there are many unifying schemes which have been made by the Charity Commissioners on a borough basis. We therefore felt that non-county borough councils might be enabled to maintain indices and carry out reviews of borough charities in the same way as county boroughs, subject, as regards reviews of charities operating in the field of county services, to the county council's consent.
The noble Lord has moved this Amendment on the ground that the amour propre of the urban council is, or may be, offended. He said he thought they might be touchy on the subject; that they might be considered as not being as important as the non-county boroughs because the non-county boroughs are given this power while they are not. I hope they will not feel like 112 that, because that is not at all the reason for making the distinction in the Bill. The reason simply is that there are not enough local charities per urban district to justify an index or a review. There may be quite a small borough which has existed for centuries and which may have quite a lot of very old charities which were at one time under its control and in which it still takes an interest. There may be a much more populous urban district in which there are scarcely any charities at all which are confined to the area of that urban district; and the number of charities of all kinds in urban districts who have benefits confined to that area very rarely reaches double figures. In boroughs they are generally considerably thicker on the ground. I hope the noble Lord will agree that it is no reflection at all on urban district councils to exclude them from these sections. It is simply a recognition of the fact that the number of charities which exist as a rule within their areas do not warrant any such statutory provision. That is the only reason why the non-county boroughs have been included in this section while the urban districts have not.
§ LORD CHORLEY
Would the noble Earl not regard 25 per cent. as being a substantial number? If not less than 25 per cent. of these urban districts are in fact either administering or looking after these charities, surely the case is made out. The noble Earl is just putting forward the views of the officials which were put forward before this investigation was made, and it seems to me that no effect has been given to the fact that it has been discovered on investigation that no less than a quarter of these urban districts are administering or looking after these charities. I imagine that that is at least as good a proportion as in the case of the non-county boroughs which have come into existence since the Municipal Corporations Act. I should have thought that the noble Earl would have paid attention to the facts that have been discovered and therefore put the urban districts into the Bill. If the noble Earl refuses to be helpful, there is nothing more I can do about it but ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ LORD SILKIN
Before the noble Lord gets leave to withdraw, may I say that I think that the noble Earl has made a 113 case for the majority of instances; but are there not some cases where it would be of public advantage that the urban district should have a part to play? I wondered whether one could not follow the precedent of the Town and Country Planning Act, under which it is permissive to delegate functions to certain authorities where the occasion arises. The noble Earl gave instances where in some areas it might be desirable to give the urban district these powers. It may be very inconvenient for persons who want to know about charities to go to the administrative centre of a county; they may have long journeys to make. In those cases it might be desirable to have the urban district playing some part. I wonder whether he would be prepared to consider something along those lines.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
I should just like to point out that the figures which in our view would make it rather unnecessary to include urban district councils in this clause on the ground that there are not enough local charities per urban district to justify an index or review were figures very honestly provided by the Urban District Councils' Association in discussion with the Home Office. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has asked us if we will consider again whether in some exceptional cases it might not be an advantage to provide facilities of that kind, and of course there is no reason why we should not very readily agree to consider that in the light of what the noble Lord has said. But the facts on which the non-inclusion of the urban district councils was based were derived from information furnished by the Urban District Councils' Association. We will certainly look into what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has suggested.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 10 agreed to.
§ Clause 11:
§ Reviews of local charities by local authority
§ 11.—(1) The council of a county or of a borough may initiate, with the consent of the charity trustees of any local charities in the council's area (other than ecclesiastical charities), and may carry out in co-operation with the trustees a review of the working of those local charities, and may make to the Commissioners such report on the review and 114 such recommendations arising from it as the council after consultation with the trustees think fit.
§ 4.59 p.m.
LORD SALTOUN moved, at the beginning of subsection (1) to insert:
The Commissioners may initiate at the request of
§ The noble Lord said: This is a very important Amendment. It puts on to the Commissioners the onus of initiating a review, and that is done deliberately with a view to protecting charities from wrongful interference. Charities are very dependent on local councils for a great many facilities they enjoy. They are dependent on them for flag days, which are almost essential to their existence. But they are also, very often, in difficulties with local councils. For example, the organisation to which I belong might well be in difficulties with the local council over the placing of a lifeboat; and other charities might be in difficulty over the placing of an ambulance or anything like that. No great organised charity could afford to refuse such a review if it were requested by a local authority. It would be difficult to refuse the review even if it were pressed for by a few members of that local authority, because we are so dependent on local authorities for facilities for the collection of money from the public.
§ The noble and learned Viscount, in winding up on Second Reading, explained to me that as the consent of the charity trustees has to be obtained that was sufficient and ample protection for any trust. That is not so, however, because, as I have explained, nobody with practical experience would think that that was any protection at all. The best protection would be to do what I have done in my Amendment—that is, to say that the Charity Commissioners may initiate a review at the request of a council of a county or borough, and with the consent of the charity trustees. All the other Amendments which stand in my name to this clause are merely consequential upon that. It does not help me at all to look at the later Amendments in the name of the noble and learned Viscount which say that the council of the borough or county may carry out "a review of the working of any group of local charities," because there again we have the Boys' 115 Brigade and the Boy Scouts working side by side. To take an example which I have known in another form in the past, there might well be some local councillors who were great believers in the Scouts or in the Boys' Brigade, and who would wish to confine activities in the area to one or the other. For those reasons I attach a great deal of importance to this Amendment.
§ One of my correspondents says that this provision would expose the trustees of such charities to near-blackmail. That shows the kind of fears entertained by some of these charities. I do not think they could have misunderstood the clause, because so many compliments were paid to the drafting of the Bill on Second Reading. I beg to move the first Amendment.
Page 11, line 6, at beginning insert ("The Commissioners may initiate at the request of").—(Lord Saltoun.)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am sorry that the attempt that I made in the Amendment which I have put down has not satisfied my noble friend. I should like to develop the argument a little more, in the hope that I may persuade him, and in the certainty that, as he always does, he will give full consideration between the stages of the Bill to the arguments I advance. The Amendment which we are discussing at the moment and with which the other five Amendments are joined, seeks to add thatThe Commissioners may initiate at the request ofthe local authority. There is, of course, no need for the grant of any powers to the Charity Commissioners; they already have full powers of inquiry under Clause 6. As long ago as 1892 the Charity Inquiries (Expenses) Act, of which the substance is re-enacted in Clause 43 (3) (a) of this Bill, enabled local authorities who wished the Commissioners to carry out inquiries in their area to contribute to their expenses. But the position we are trying to face, on a basis of partnership and co-operation, and not subordination, is that the local authorities are operating services alongside charities in common fields of welfare. Therefore we think that it is reasonable that a locus should be given for them to consult together on a voluntary basis—I repeat "a voluntary 116 basis"; I have stressed and underlined that point from the moment of the introduction of this Bill—either on the initiative of the council or otherwise, as to how their respective resources are to be employed to the best advantage.
I would ask my noble friend Lord Saltoun to consider the Bill and also, if the Lord Chairman will agree, for the purpose of the argument, the Amendments which I have put down. The position is, of course, that if the council suggest that there should be a review, the trustees, as I said on Second Reading, can consult with the Commissioners before giving their consent. But I would ask my noble friend to look at the end of subsection (1) where these words appear:… may make to the Commissioners such report on the review and such recommendations arising from it as the council after consultation with the trustees think fit.Thus, they have the review; they then have to consult with the trustees—they must do that—and then they must report to the Commissioners. So one gets back to the Commissioners, the body that my noble friend wishes to initiate the matter, before any action can be taken. My noble friend has said that what he fears is pressure on the part of the local authority, and he has quoted an unknown correspondent of his who was moved to use the word "blackmail". I am sorry that that term should have been used, because it is not a term that ought to be used unless one has a real basis for making so serious a charge. It is a disgraceful criminal offence, and I think that people ought to be careful about applying it to responsible bodies. Let us, then, remove the approbrious epithet for the moment and just say that there is a fear of undue pressure by the local authorities.
My noble friend is speaking for nation-wide charities who have this fear. I recognised that the fear had been expressed by him and other noble Lords, and so I put down the Amendment No. 25, with which go Amendments Nos. 29 and 32. Amendment No. 25 says that… subject to the following provisions of this sectionthe local authority mayinitiate, and carry out, in co-operation with the charity trustees, a review of the working of any group of local charities with the same or similar purposes in the council's area.117 Surely nothing could be clearer than that we have in the area of the council a group of local charities with the same, or a similar, purpose; and then, and only then, does there come into force the procedure which I have just outlined, under which the local authority may go to the charities and the charities can ask the Commissioners. And there is the further fact that the charities must give their consent before anything happens. In order that there may be no doubt at all about that, I suggest putting, in a separate subsection, these words:No review initiated by a council under this section shall extend to any charity without the consent of the charity trustees, nor to any ecclesiastical charity.So that there must be the group of charities, and there must be consent; and if a review takes place the Report must be made to the Commissioners. Thus, the Commissioners come into it at the first and second stages; and that really brings about the position which my noble friend wants—that the Commissioners should have control. I want to make clear, however, that the importance of the Amendment is that it shows that the power of review is intended to relate to the working of a particular class or classes of charity, and not to an individual charity, and therefore I believe that those charities for which my noble friend has been mainly speaking must have their fears allayed.
My other Amendment is mainly a drafting Amendment. Without it a borough council would be unable to move, for fear that, after the review began, the local authority would be found to include a charity whose field extended into the county service. This Amendment would enable the county council's consent to be obtained if this were discovered after the review had been initiated. On this point I would say to my noble friend Lord Saltoun that Her Majesty's Government have taken a view different from that of the Nathan Committee and that expressed in Amendments which were put on the Order Paper last night. We have taken a view which is much more favourable to the independence of the charities than the Nathan Committee thought. I should be the last to expect gratitude in politics. I believe that the noble Viscount who leads the Opposition would say it is not something in the expectation of which 118 we live our lives. But I am rather surprised that my noble friend Lord Saltoun has not appreciated that we have, in our view on this, moved in his direction.
There is only one other point I want to make clear. In reply to a question from the noble Lord, Lord Granville-West, I gave some examples of exceptions from the register. I made clear that I was only giving examples, but I do not want anyone to get a false impression. One of the reasons why exception regulations with regard to registration are to be made is the relief of charities with many branches from separate legislation. As I believe the noble Lord will agree, if there are a great number of branches it may be easy to except the branches because we have a major charity from which people can get full information. I mentioned that in replying to the noble Lord, but I wanted to keep that matter entirely free, because negotiations are going on, and I did not want either the noble Lord or others interested from a different angle to think I was barring that as a possible use of the excepting regulations.
The materiality on this Amendment is that I hope by these negotiations, and by the further discussions which were the subject of a promise by my noble friend Lord Dundee yesterday to my noble friend Lord Bridgeman, that we shall be able to allay another fear of my noble friend Lord Saltoun. But on this point I hope he will feel that I have gone as far as I can to meet him if we are to maintain what I believe is essential—partnership and co-ordination on an equal footing, without subordination of voluntary and statutory work.
§ LORD GRANVILLE-WEST
I am most grateful to the noble and learned Viscount for the further information he has given in regard to registration. While he was very anxious that there should be no misunderstanding about what he previously said, am I right in understanding him to say now that although the principle of non-registration of charities should cover those which have parent bodies, it would not be exclusively those, and that other charities, also, would be considered for exception from registration?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
All that I have mentioned stands, without qualification. I am saying only that I did not want anyone to think I barred using the excepting procedure for small local manifestations of national charities. It could be done in that way. Again, I hope no one will take it that I am laying down what will be done. I am merely trying to make the position clear. Suppose there was a small local fund of under £500, or £250 for a national charity. We might well exempt that from registration, because, of course, there would be the national charity from whom it would be possible to get particulars of what was going on. That was the point I wished to make clear.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
No; there is no limitation at all in what I have said. It was only to ensure that no one would take what I had said as a limitation that I added these words.
§ Moved, That the House do now resume.—(Earl St. Aldwyn.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and House resumed accordingly.
§ House adjourned during pleasure.
§ House resumed.