HL Deb 13 December 1966 vol 278 cc1640-3

7.28 p.m.

House again in Committee.


So that we may get the record straight, we have dealt with Amendments Nos. 14 and 18 and we are now taking Nos. 15, 17, 19, 20 and 21. We agreed that we should take No. 16 on its own, and Nos. 22, 23 and 24 are yet to come. When we adjourned I was caught at an awkward moment, in the middle of a sentence, so to speak, because I had listened to all the arguments about these Amendments and had put forward what I had to say in the way of a case, and had just arrived at the point of saying that I could not accept any of them. I hope, therefore, that the movers of these Amendments will not be too disappointed, but we cannot agree with the aggregation. We need to be more specific than that. That is how I wish to leave the matter.


Before my noble friend replies I should like to say that I hope the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, listened to what my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn said about the results if details of all the subscriptions given to charities became public property. I quite see the arguments for making information about every subscription to every charity accessible to shareholders in the company. That being so, the point is covered in the Amendment. The report and accounts of every company quoted on the stock exchange are in fact, if not in name, public property. Therefore, they are accessible not only to shareholders but to people like the secretaries of appeal committees. I leave the matter there, and only quote to the noble Lord the last line of the well-known limerick: The rest'll be wanting one, too".


It seems to me that Lord Polwarth's Amendment answers the point. If the position is made too difficult, subscriptions to charities will just dry up. The whole object of this Bill is to give more information to shareholders. If companies are obliged to keep a register, as is proposed in Lord Polwarth's Amendment, and shareholders can have adequate access to the register both at the company's office and on the table at the annual general meeting, I cannot see why the Government should not accept Lord Polwarth's Amendment. Otherwise there will be pages in the directors' report with all the charities to which they are subscribing over £25—it will make a very long report. If shareholders can get that information from the register I should have thought that was all we want. I strongly support Lord Polwarth's Amendment, and also the one to increase the £25 to £105. The Minister has said that he will look at that. I think something should be done, otherwise the charities may suffer very severely.


To be courteous to the noble Lord, Lord Wolverton, we are not at the moment discussing Lord Polwarth's Amendment.


As a director of a company which exists entirely in order to make profits which we distribute to charity, we object most strongly to the idea of putting a list of our donations in annual reports. On the other hand, we would accept quite cheerfully Amendment No. 22, to which we are coming shortly. These Amendments have been so heaped that it appears to me we are in some danger of getting into a muddle. There seem to be two different categories, political and charitable, and I hope that we shall treat them as quite different categories. There are three or four methods of dealing with them; there is the £25, the £105 and the "aggregate" and the charity register. The charity register may be a combination of £25 or £105; so we have numerous permutations and combinations, and the most important Amendment, No. 22, comes at the end. We are really getting into a hopeless mess.


I apologise to the noble Lord for being late and not hearing the final sentences of his speech. Our purpose in putting down these various Amendments was to find out some of the Government's intentions and attitudes not only towards the Amendments but towards their original proposals. It seems to me that this would be a convenient moment to adjourn, because I understand that the intention is that we should resume the Committee stage on Thursday. We shall by then have had an opportunity of looking at what the noble Lord has said, and at the Amendments still to be discussed; and perhaps we can resume our discussion of this very important aspect on Thursday afternoon.


I do not want to leave the position just as it is. I should prefer to go on and finish the clause, if that is acceptable. I cannot accept this series of Amendments at all. I made a gesture by saying that we would see what we could do on the money items, but on the aggregate, no; and I want it to be made quite clear that we do not propose to come back to this series of Amendments.


I did not make myself clear to the noble Lord. Of course we should finish the particular batch of Amendments we are discussing, but should not go on to discuss further Amendments, or the Question, That the clause stand part. It might assist if I beg leave to withdraw this particular group of Amendments, and thus enable us to continue another day.


I understand that the noble Lord will withdraw No. 15, and will not move Nos. 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21, but that he feels there is a different point on No. 16.


I understood the debate was on No. 15, and therefore I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 15.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

House resumed.