§ 2.46 p.m.
§ LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY rose to call attention to the work and status of charities in the United Kingdom and, in particular, to the operation of the laws affecting charities, and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the main purpose of my noble friends and myself in putting down this subject for to-day's debate is to give all noble Lords an opportunity of discussing any matter in the field of charity and charity law. In addition, I myself want to raise a specific topic: that of the state of the law on the definition of "charity" and the effect that this definition, or rather lack of definition, has on work in the charitable field.
§ More generally, there can be little doubt that the whole field of charities is an important one in the life of the country. Your Lordships, except for the occasional debate on an Unstarred Question, like the one recently initiated by the 324 noble Lord, Lord Brockway, have not discussed this field for about twelve years. Indeed, largely by chance, this debate coincides with more or less the tenth anniversary of the introduction of the provisions of the Charities Act 1960, and even more fortuitously with the very full Annual Report of the Charity Commissioners for 1970, which contains a review of those ten years. I am afraid that it was fortuitous and that I must disclaim any credit for such brilliant timing, but I also disclaim any discredit for giving your Lordships such a very short time to read and digest this Report before to-day's debate.
§ The mere size of the field is sufficient to show its importance. There are not many reliable statistics about charities and about charities' money, and we must be grateful to the Charity Commissioners in their latest Report for giving the first reasonable attempt to estimate the size of the field in finance. It would appear, for instance, that the income of the charities, excluding educational charities and those which are excluded from the scope of the Charity Commission anyway, such as denominational charities and public schools, is something over £60 million a year. Mr. Nigel Lawson in an article in The Times this morning which some of your Lordships will have read, estimates that income is probably over £100 million a year, and I should think that figure would be about right. The Securities Account of the Official Custodian for Charities amounts to something like £144 million. In 1967 industry alone contributed £32 million to charity. There are 77,000 charities registered with the Charity Commissioners, and 25,000 educational charities. They are growing all the time, and rather rapidly.
§ In a field of this size there must be a large number of problems of one kind or another which need airing, even if some of them are not properly the business of the Government of the country. May I mention one or two that I hope noble Lords may decide to talk about to-day? There is the whole relationship of charities to the Welfare State. There is the problem which stems from this: that the scale of unpopularity and popularity of charities usually means that those which most badly need the money are the most unpopular and least likely to 325 get it. Anyone who has had any experience of trying to raise money for the curing of drug addicts or for the counselling of homosexuals will know what I mean.
§ From that very interesting programme which Des Wilson did on television recently, I understand that there is even a very strong differentiation in people's minds between charities for the blind and charities for the deaf; charities for the blind being popular and getting money, charities for the deaf suffering from an image of possibly rather elderly and grumpy people who could hear if they would only try. That appears to be the image which some charities have, and whether or not that is the reason, the fact remains that there is a very real difference in the amount of money that certain charities can raise.
§ There is the problem of small charities whose objects have been largely fulfilled, and of their reorganisation under the doctrine of cy près, a matter on which I hope the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn will touch. While I am on that subject, may I say how sorry I am, as I am sure your Lordships are, to read to-day of his imminent retirement. We shall certainly miss him a great deal. Allied to that there is the possibility of setting up a national disaster fund, as put forward by my right honourable friend Mr. Jeremy Thorpe in a 10-minute Bill in another place two or three years ago; and I believe that my noble friend Lord Amulree may touch on that. Those are just a few of the diverse points which occur to me.
§ I should like to thank all noble Lords who have put their names down to speak to-day. I know of your Lordships' interest in this matter, as instanced by the presence of so many of your Lordships' names on so many headings of charity paper. I think it is not merely a matter of the pleasure of having a title on the top; it is also because of the enormous fund of experience in your Lordships' House. It gets some charities to the state where one feels that they almost need a statutory commoner to keep the balance. May I say, in particular, how much we look forward to, and welcome, the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve. I think we all know of her interest and experience in 326 this field; and indeed I have some small personal knowledge of one minor part of the work that she has been doing, together with my wife and the wives of several of your Lordships and of Members of Parliament, for a cardiac unit for Westminster Hospital which has now been installed.
§ I should now like to return to the specific point that I want to raise in the charitable field, and that is the whole question of the definition of charities. I want to make it quite clear that although I shall be mentioning several instances of charities and their good luck or bad luck in getting themselves registered as charities, it is not my purpose to-day to raise any particular case as a case. I am merely raising these as instances of the kind of things that happen. I would also ask noble Lords, and particularly noble and learned Lords, to bear with me. As I shall go on to show, I think that the law on this subject is very complicated. I am no lawyer and I hope I have understood the subject aright. I hope I shall be corrected if I am wrong, but possibly with kindness and charity. The Nathan Report on Charitable Trusts of 1952 recommended that there should be a new definition of charities, but in their White Paper the Government of that day rejected this recommendation as being too difficult. Accordingly, no such new definition was put forward in the Charities Act 1960. The idea that it is too difficult to produce a new definition is also agreed with by the Charity Commissioners in their Report for 1970. I have a great deal of sympathy with that point of view, although I do not think it is the final answer.
§ I should like to say a few words about the present situation. The Charity Commissioners have the power to say that a charity is a charity, and to register it as such. They have a job of definition. They are allowed to say, "This is a charity according to the law"; they are not themselves allowed to make or distort the law. Therefore, a great deal of criticism of the Charity Commissioners is very wide of the mark indeed. They are, if I may be allowed to say so, an admirable body of people doing a very difficult job, I think in intolerable circumstances, and some of those intolerable circumstances are what I am talking 327 about now. They can refuse to register a charity. That does not necessarily mean that it is not a charity; it means that the charity can then apply to the High Court. But there has been only one appeal from the Charity Commissioners' decisions in the last ten years, and I think that is at present waiting to come before your Lordships' House.
§ I want to make it quite clear, in case there is any doubt, that there is no accusation of bias against the Charity Commissioners. It is true that they have some slight leeway in the decisions that they make, as has anyone interpreting a very difficult field of law, but I think it is possible to say that their over-helpfulness in a large number of cases has often put them in a slightly difficult position. Since 1969, therefore, they have felt that they must stick more strictly to the law than they did before, going straight down the middle of this field. As the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said in reply to the Unstarred Question of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, neither the Charity Commissioners nor the Department of Education and Science can change the law; but the Government can, and that is what I am talking about to-day.
What then, my Lords, is the law? The law is based on a charities doctrine stemming from the Middle Ages and dealing with the relief of poverty and the advancement of education. More recently it is contained in the Preamble to the Statute of Charitable Uses of 1601, which gives a long list of charitable objects, including the provision of marriages for poor maids. It was further refined by Lord Macnaghten in 1891, under the four general heads of trusts for the relief of poverty, for the advancement of education, for the advancement of religion and for other purposes beneficial to the community. To be registered as a charity, a body must have objects which are exclusively charitable in those terms. But the law is case law, and some judgments have fallen within the spirit rather than the letter of the Preamble to the Statute, which indeed was not expressly preserved by the Charities Act 1960. The Charity Commissioners themselves are on record—and I think this is important—as having said, in their 1966 Report:
…as the judges themselves have admitted, charity law is not always governed by logic nor are the decisions entirely consistent.
Indeed, my Lords, the law on the definition of charities is what we are used to refer to, in spite of the denials of the noble and learned Lord who usually sits on the Woolsack, as "a lawyer's paradise".
§ The whole situation reminds me of the case of Dahlia Limited v. Yvonne, reported, as your Lordships will remember, by Sir Alan Herbert in Uncommon Law, Section 49. Your Lordships will remember that in that case the respondent, having lost an appeal in your Lordships' House, asked that costs should be borne by the Crown on the grounds that a judgment in the House of Lords is in the nature of an act of God. The contention was that a decision in your Lordships' House is something which no reasonable man could have expected. It was argued that it must be evident a priori that no reasonable man could foresee a decision of the House of Lords, for otherwise no reasonable man would appeal to it only to lose his case; and that, in any case which had been argued in different courts before a number of different judges who came to differing conclusions, and when the final decision was only given by a majority of your Lordships' House, it was doubly evident that such a verdict could not be foreseen. It was one of Sir Alan's most fascinating pieces of argument and I think it could more apply to a case brought on charity law than to almost anything else. As can be seen from the files of a large number of people who have gone to the Charity Commissioners for registration as charities, it is very difficult indeed to tell what their verdict is likely to be in the context of the present law.
This doubt as to the definition of charitable status comes in many different ways. For example, I should like to read briefly to your Lordships a series of aims put forward by a body called Release, when it applied for charitable status. The objects of the trust were:
To further educational activity particularly by and for young people in relating to the problems arising from drug taking and drug dependence in the United Kingdom, by facilitating and promoting research into and dissemination of information about all aspects of such problems and of social problems associated therewith…
With a view to improving the standards of treatment to further and promote the study of and research into all aspects and methods of the treatment and prevention of crime,
delinquency, poverty and ill-health and to publish the results of such study and research…
To establish research and community centres which…will provide facilities to all interested in the objectives of the Trust…will promote studies into different aspects of drug-taking and drug addiction…will promote educational conferences, meetings, lectures and film shows…will maintain an advice and information service on such matters…will help to develop or organise or will co-operate with other centres or institutions having similar charitable objects ".
I venture to suggest that all your Lordships would regard those as being charitable aims; but it was decided, in fact, that they were not charitable aims. I was delighted to hear just recently that the Charity Commissioners have approved a different set of aims for that admirable body Release, which deals with the problems of the young drug addict in a field which is very little touched on by other people; that the Charity Commissioners have shown the good sense and judgment which they have in finding a way to approve of this charity. But I mention that instance to show that something which your Lordships would no doubt regard as totally charitable is not necessarily so regarded by the law. Indeed, Lord Wright, in a judgment in 1948, said:
The legal meaning of 'charity' differs so widely from the popular meaning of the word as to have very little relationship to it ".
Then there is the problem of Quest, about which your Lordships may have read a short account in The Times yesterday or the day before. I have something to do with that body and therefore must declare an interest. It has been refused charitable status on, I am sure, perfectly proper grounds, one of which is that the law holds that a charity to service charities cannot really be a charity itself. But the work which Quest does—and I do not think there is any debate about this—in producing information for the whole charitable field is for the common good. It is a non-profit-making body; and it is a bad thing that a body like this cannot achieve charitable status. There is the problem of the Humanist Trust, which has already been raised in your Lordships' House and which will doubtless be raised again to-day. But, above all, there is the question of political action, and I shall come to that in a moment.
§ May I say that none of this would particularly matter if it were not for the benefits 330 which registered charities enjoy. In principle, and according to law, these are three: first, exemption from the rule against perpetuities; second, that imprecise bequests to them can be validated; third, the privilege and the ability to obtain fresh objects for the charity. But the real advantages, as your Lordships all know, are certain tax advantages which may be given by the Government of the time, and also the ability to receive grants from charitable grant-making bodies. It is this last advantage which may make all the difference between life and death to a small, valuable body like Quest, which can get a grant from a charity only if it has charity status itself.
The problem of political activity has been well stated and well analysed by the Charity Commissioners in their Report for the year 1969, and I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I quote from paragraphs 7, 8 and 10 of that Report:
In a world in which the pace of social change seems ever to be increasing we shall inevitably continue to be faced with new or extended activities, the charitable nature of which has never been the subject of consideration by the courts.
One contemporary development which has given us some concern has been the increasing desire of voluntary organisations for 'involvement' in the causes with which their work is connected. Many organisations now feel that it is not sufficient simply to alleviate distress arising from particular social conditions or even to go further and collect and disseminate information about the problems they encounter. They feel compelled also to draw attention as forcibly as possible to the needs which they think are not being met, to rouse the conscience of the nubile to demand action and to press for effective official provision to be made to meet those needs. As a result `pressure groups ', 'action groups' and 'lobbies' can come into being.
It is a well-established principle of charity law that a trust for the attainment of a political object is not a valid charitable trust and that any purpose with the object of influencing the Legislature is a political purpose. Thus no organisation can he a charity and at the same time include among its purposes the object of bringing influence to hear directly or indirectly on Parliament to change the general law of the land ".
That, my Lords, is the position. Apart from the slightly unfortunate sentence stating that a development which is giving them some concern has been the increasing desire of voluntary organisations for involvement in the causes with which they work, it is admirably put.
§ But what may have been admirable 60 or 70 years ago, and possibly not even 331 then, does not now seem to be entirely suited to the world in which we live. Charity after charity, from the possibly slightly suspect charities, some of whose views coincide with one political Party rather than another, to bodies such as the Disablement Income Group, for which the whole of your Lordships must have the utmost admiration and whose experience and work we have recently considered in legislation going through this House—from one extreme to the other—all see one of their objects, and sometimes the most important of their objects, as the influencing of the Legislature. And the reason for this, my Lords, is not rooted in Party politics as such. There is nothing wrong about it. It is rooted in the realisation that within a Welfare State such as we have, the great burden of relief of poverty and the provision of education is the responsibility of society as a whole, often working through the State, and that where there is a large organised charity it is in fact finding areas which the State does not at present deal with and which they believe should be dealt with. So for many charities it is axiomatic that their objects are twofold: first of all, to relieve the suffering which is there, and at the same time to urge the Government to take over that relief themselves, or indeed in many cases to obviate the need for relief by tackling the basic causes rather than the symptoms. And even a Government whose philosophy is very much to make people stand on their own feet will. I think, agree that this is worth while. Indeed, the Conservative Party have by their actions shown that they believe in it.
§ One way of getting round this problem has been for charities to split into two, so that one branch has charitable status and can relieve suffering and do research work, whereas another branch does the political work. It is, I think, no secret that the National Council for Civil Liberties with the Cobden Trust, and the Homosexual Law Reform Society with the Albany Trust, of which I have the honour to be chairman, and many other bodies, have availed themselves of this possibility, and that the Charity Commissioners have been helpful in this connection. But I do not need to go into details to point out to your Lordships that this must be an unsatisfactory way 332 of dealing with the problem and one which, to put it mildly, is open to abuse. So what I should like to see is the whole concept of what is a charity being widened; and I should like to see it widened to include any non-profit-making body working for the common weal. I know that this has difficulties. There is the difficulty of definition. The Charity Commissioners, in their Report, recall that the possibility of a new statutory definition was discussed when the Charity Bill was before Parliament and it was then generally agreed that it would be impossible to draft a satisfactory definition. They also point out that a new definition would give rise to other difficulties, and indeed it would. It is often argued that if you gave a charitable status to pressure groups undertaking political work you would find it hard not to give it to political Parties. I accept this; but I do not in truth see anything very wrong in giving political Parties some financial advantages. I do not think that I could be accused of having a vested interest, because I do not believe that my Party would be the one most to gain if there were such changes. The whole question of how we pay for our politics in a democratic society—indeed, how we pay for a democratic society—is a very important one to which a fresh approach needs to be made.
§ My Lords, I accept that any step which is taken will be difficult and will entail difficulties; but where I do not follow the implications—not the statement, the implications—of the Charity Commissioners' comments on this point in this year's Report is that it does not necessarily follow that if you have one difficult, complicated, obscure and unsatisfactory state of affairs you should not make a change which would be manifestly for the better, even if the result also is to some extent obscure and unsatisfactory. Of course it would be better if we could provide a clear-cut, lucid, straightforward definition; but even if we cannot do this, I think that we must make some move to bring the law of charities more into line with the realities of the situation of a Welfare State.
§ I have spent some time arguing a specific point which I wish to bring before the House and, indeed, to the notice of the Government. Before I 333 close, I should like to reiterate that I have put down this Motion in the hope that noble Lords will not concentrate on this point but will range widely over the whole field of charities. Only if they do this will I and my noble friends consider that this debate has really served a useful purpose. Finally, lest I should be accused of tinkering with the problem and not going deeply enough into the whole concept of charity, I would say that I view this debate which I have had the honour of introducing to-day as being part of and dependent upon the larger and wider subject which I raised on the last occasion that I initiated a debate in your Lordships' House—that of poverty. In almost all its objects charity comes down sooner or later to the relief of poverty. This is a matter for society as a whole; and to say that we can make things easier for the charitable bodies themselves and that we should do so—and I do say that—is not to take away for one second the responsibility that our whole society has for looking after its more unfortunate members. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.11 p.m.
§ BARONESS WHITE
My Lords, it is not merely to use a conventional phrase to say that we are all deeply indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, both for having chosen this subject for debate to-day and for the admirable way in which he has spoken to his Motion. I should also like to say from these Benches how very much we look forward to the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, and how much we welcome her presence here. I wish to speak briefly because I am far less experienced in these matters than my noble friend Lady Phillips who will be speaking at a later stage. She has had very great experience and can, I am sure, contribute to the debate with far greater authority than I—as indeed can many of your Lordships whose names appear on the list of speakers.
I should like to put a few points for consideration. This is in no sense a Party matter; but it is one of great concern to all parts of the House. I should like to say first, because I tend to agree in certain respects with some of the remarks made by Lord Beaumont—with the more controversial aspect of his 334 speech—how much we must all be impressed with the work done by the Charity Commissioners themselves and their staff. Anyone who has read their Reports, including the one which has fallen into our hands in time for this debate, must be impressed by the very positive role that they now play, much more so than used to be the case. This, I think, is one of the most helpful consequences of the legislation of 10 years ago with which the name of Lord Nathan is associated—and I am glad to see that his son will be taking part in our deliberations—because it was based largely, though not entirely, on the Nathan Report. As the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, indicated, the Government of the day did not accept all the recommendations of that Report. But I think that one of the results of that 1960 Act has been that the Charity Commissioners have felt able to take very much more positive action and to be, in the most helpful way, more interventionalist and not merely to be the guardians of charitable funds in the negative sense of seeing that they are not being misappropriated.
I was impressed with the references in the latest Report, the 1970 Report, which we have only just received. I have not read it all but I have been through it rapidly. It seems to me that in addition to the establishment of the central register, which we all knew about, they seem to be doing most admirable work in instigating local consultations, in trying to bring together in cities or neighbourhoods the various charities and in trying to see that the work of different charities with common interests should not be wasteful or overlapping and that, as far as possible, schemes of co-ordination should be worked out between those charities that are working towards the same or comparable ends. Similarly, they have very properly emphasised the need to bring together the charitable organisations and statutory bodies charged with the duty of the good of the community. Again I think we are much in the debt of the Charity Commission for the very useful work that they carry out in this field.
Furthermore, I was glad that Lord Beaumont mentioned the work they do in the field of reorganisation of charities under cy-près doctrine; because I think 335 that many of us in past days have been much disturbed to find charities which had been, as it were, jogging on for generations and which, if not entirely useless, were far from being as useful as they might have been. One of the advantages of the 1960 legislation was to make easier the reconstruction of such charities. Plainly, the Charity Commission are active in this way. In all these administrative fields I think it only right that we should offer our grateful congratulations to the Commission for the way in which they are setting about their work.
The main purpose of the debate this afternoon, however, is to give an airing to the problems which the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, has so vividly placed before us. These stem from the fact that a law enacted in Tudor times is not really the best and most suitable basis for action to-day. The concept of charity goes back to the law of 1601, when not only was society differently organised but the whole concept of social services and so on was different from the one which engages us to-day. I do not think that any of us who have been active in those fields of charity where opinion is in any way concerned can be entirely happy at the situation in which we find ourselves. It is true that the purpose of the Charity Commission is to administer the law and therefore one can lay no complaint at their door; but it is surely an unsatistory state of affairs that, as Lord Beaumont has said, so many organisations with which one is acquainted have to set up two organisations in order to carry out their purpose. He mentioned some. I think that we can all think of certain others. For example, when the group of charities concerned with overseas aid, Oxfam, War on Want and others, wish to influence opinion in the direction of greater contributions, by Government as well as by individuals, and set up a campaign of action for world development, they have to set up a different organisation in order to further this purpose. I understand that the Rowntree Trust for example, one of the best known charities in the educational and social field, has also set up a separate organisation to be able to help other organisations which are not charities in the strict sense of the word but 336 which are carrying out aims which, in normal, popular parlance, we would consider to be educational and charitable; but they do not come within the four walls of our law.
The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, naturally mentioned the Albany Trust with which he is concerned, and there is the Disablement Income Group, the Child Poverty Action Group and others which have got into difficulty—or apprehend that they might do so in this way—because they seek to change the minds of men, and not merely to collect money to relieve their distress. Is this an unworthy object? I should have thought that most noble Lords would agree that it is a worthy object. But it is not a legal object in the charitable sense because, I understand, it is not legally charitable to undertake any activity which would be likely to affect the law of the land. Any effort to influence the Legislature is a political purpose and therefore not charitable. This seems to me, my Lords, to be quite out of keeping with modern society and modern thought, and particularly, if I may say so, with the attitude of the younger generation. This definition, this attitude towards charity will, I think, prove to be one of the ingredients which has alienated a number of young people from political activity in this country. They feel that it is not realistic in the terms in which they look on life.
I read the passages in the 1969 Report of the Charity Commissioners for England and Wales to which the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, referred, and parts of which he quoted. The Commissioners devoted quite a considerable section of the 1969 Report to this very problem because, as they say, it had been causing them concern. They tried to indicate areas in which it would not be improper for there to be some communication, at any rate, between these organisations and those responsible for Government. For example, they suggest that if the Government are investigating, or have propounded proposals for, changes in the law, it would be proper for there to be some communication. If it is proper for the Government surely it ought also to be proper for Her Majesty's Opposition, who may be considering the possibility 337 of investigating changes in the law. In their Report the Commissioners say:…when a parliamentary Bill has been published a charity will be justified in supplying relevant information to a Member of either House and such arguments to be used in debate as it believes will assist the furtherance of its purposes. So also there can be other cases, not involving legislation, in which a charity is entitled to persuade a Member to support its cause in Parliament, for instance, where the question arises whether a Government grant is to be made or continued to a particular charity.But, my Lords, I find that when legislation to deal with gambling was before Parliament the Churches' Committee on Gambling, which is a charity—an educational charity, presumably—found apparently that it was not within its scope to undertake work of this kind because it set up a separate and non-charitable body namely, the Churches' Committee on Gambling Legislation, to deal with the problem of legislation.
I had an experience with an organisation which has very recently been established; namely, ASH—Action on Smoking and Health. The sole object of this organisation is to try to influence opinion—including, one would hope, indirectly if not directly, that of the Legislature—about the dangers of smoking. Your Lordships may recall that we were to have a debate on this subject in this House. When I asked the officers of this organisation whether we could have some information, they said that, as advised by their solicitors, they felt they should not supply anything other than the Report published by the Royal College of Physicians (a public document and, apparently, permissible) because it might endanger their charitable status. So plainly, my Lords, there is dubiety in people's minds about just how far they can or should go. The example I have given about the Churches' Committee on Gambling Legislation shows that the kind of reassurance which appears to be contained in the Charity Commissioners' Report of 1969 does not seem to have been disseminated sufficiently convincingly for legal advisers of charities to feel that they are entirely safe; and there is a great deal of difficulty over this business. A large organisation could perhaps set up a parallel organisation without too much difficulty or expense; but it is very difficult for a new or small organisation to have to go through all the 338 trouble and cost of doing this to make quite sure that it will be on the right side of the law.
I can quite understand that a major change in the law would need great consideration. I have had talks with people responsible for some of the largest and best known charities in the country, and on the whole I think that many of them—certainly the long-established ones—feel that they have found ways round the law and that they can manage not too badly. They feel that if the law were widened they might find themselves drawn into situations which might possibly be difficult for them, and might conceivably cause a fall in their income; because it might lead to controversy within the organisation. They also suggest that if there were a completely free-and-easy situation, in which there was no way of controlling or checking the way in which the money was dispersed, it would be very difficult to keep a proper balance, or to say what was a proper balance, between expenditure on the main object of the charity and expenditure on propaganda by advertising and so forth. So, my Lords, this is not a simple problem, and I do not think that it would be doing a service to anyone to suggest that it is. It seems to me, nevertheless, that one should ask the Government whether the time has not come to give further very serious thought to this matter because I think the growth of organisations in the last few years of a kind in which the members are "involved", to use the word of the Charity Commissioners, surely indicates that the balance of opinion in society—particularly, I repeat, among younger people—is changing somewhat, and therefore it is our duty to have a look at it.
I should have thought that we, as Parliamentarians, should suggest that ally communication from a charitable organisation to a Member of either House of Parliament should be regarded as privileged. There should be no dubiety in the mind of anyone in charge of a charity about whether he or she should be allowed to say anything he or she chose in relation to the charity, or to write it, to a Member of either House. I should have thought that a relatively simple matter, and something we ought to put beyond any doubt at all. Having said that, my Lords, I should like to quote a few sentences from an interesting lecture by Mr. Des Wilson given in 339 the Diamond Jubilee Address in December of last year to the London Council of Social Service on The Volunteer in Society.
I do not necessarily always agree with Mr. Wilson—some of us have reason to feel that some of his comments during the time of the past Administration were not entirely fair. But I must say that I think he is right here to pose the problem as sharply as he does. He says:We have got to get the only people who hold the answer, the ratepayer and the taxpayer, more knowledgeable about the need. This. I believe, has become the major role of the modern volunteer; acting as a bridge of communication between the island of the minority "—people who are in some form of distress or ignorance—and the mainland of the majority in our society.He then says:This is the challenge that faces Shelter."—which is the organisation of which he was until recently the Director—Should it go on raising money, claiming its very real achievements, but implying all the time that this is the best way for people to help? Or should it say plainly that this is the problem of the authorities, and that the authorities, denied the essential resources, cannot cope?…We believe where people are prepared to give time and toil to tackle the need, they have shown sufficient commitment to be also entitled to speak out about it.That I think is putting in a more precise way the problem which the noble Lord. Lord Beaumont of Whitley, had in mind when he put his Motion on the Order Paper. I repeat that I do not think that there is any easy solution, but I think that the time has come when we should think clearly and carefully about this problem.
§ 3.31 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE, HOME OFFICE (LORD WINDLESHAM)
My Lords, it is customary to thank the mover of a Motion of this kind, and I do so to-day for three reasons in particular. The subject of charities, their work and status, is one of continuing public interest and importance, although it lies in the main outside the field of day-to-day Parliamentary or Governmental control. Secondly, since there is no statutory 340 definition of "charity", the way in which the courts and the Charity Commissioners, in the exercise of their quasi-judicial functions, interpret the meaning of the words "charitable purposes" will change as society changes. It is easy to overlook or underestimate the closeness of the relationship between law and opinion in any political system. It was Abraham Lincoln who remarked, in the course of his debates with Judge Douglas a hundred years ago:He who moulds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed.Therefore a debate of this kind, accompanied as it has been by a certain amount of comment outside Parliament, in the Press and elsewhere, is important in that it influences attitudes which ultimately determine the findings in the courts.
My third reason for welcoming the noble Lord's initiative is that it gives an opportunity for a number of noble Lords with very considerable first-hand experience of charitable work to take part in the debate, so that we can benefit from their advice and knowledge. We are particularly fortunate that this debate to-day is to be the occasion of the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve.
My Lords, in his speech, the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, talked about the restrictions placed on charities as regards political activities, and proposed that the definition of "charitable purposes" should be widened. The noble Baroness, Lady White, followed very much the same lines in her speech. I listened with great attention, and some sympathy, to the way in which the noble Lord developed his argument. This approach represents a line of reasoning which combines idealism with impatience and with an element of protest. This is a feature of much political debate to-day and we should be very foolish to overlook it; but he will not expect me to reply in quite the same terms.
In order to give noble Lords who are going to take part in the debate a fairly full picture, I should like to describe the current situation, based as it is on the 1960 Charities Act, on a number of decisions of the courts and on the powers of the Charity Commissioners, and to 341 explain some of the reasons that lie behind the practices to which the noble Lord has referred. Although the Charity Commissioners, as your Lordships will know, are an independent statutory body, I think that I may be the appropriate person to acknowledge from this Box the tributes which have been paid to them by the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for the obviously difficult work they have to do and for the sensible and common-sense way in which they have interpreted that work. I should also say that I do not intend to refer to educational charities registered with the Department of Education and Science, since my noble friend Lord Belstead is to reply at the end of the debate.
Both noble Lords who have spoken so far have referred to the fact that in their Annual Report for 1969 the Charity Commissioners set out in some detail their views on the question of charities' taking part in political activities. The Commissioners thought that it was desirable to try to establish some guide-lines for charities on this question, because queries had arisen concerning some of the activities of a number of different charities. The Commissioners made it clear that the law is based at present on a limited number of decided cases and that it is consequently difficult to formulate precise general rules. They offered to give guidance in any particular case which arose, where it would be possible to look at the actual question in the light of all the attendant circumstances. I am sure that this has been valuable and useful for a number of charities.
The reason why charities are excluded from political activities has perhaps not so far been made clear in the debate. Charities in this country enjoy certain benefits, one of them, a traditional privilege, being that they are entitled to the special protection of the Crown. If it is necessary for action to be taken in the courts in the interests of a charity, the Attorney General will accordingly act in the charity's interests. But probably more important in these days of high taxation is the very considerable financial privileges which are enjoyed by charities. It is reasonable that in return for enjoying these privileges, which are not shared by others, charities should confine themselves to activities which are 342 recognised by the common law as being properly charitable.
One of the conditions that has to be met to establish that an organisation can be regarded as charitable is that it should operate for the public benefit. Here we come into an area of great difficulty. The courts have taken the view that they are unable to decide whether activities of a political kind are likely to benefit the public or not. The 1947 case of The National Anti-Vivisection Society v. The Commissioners of Inland Revenue, one of the leading cases in this connection, showed the great difficulties which arise in trying to decide whether or not a proposed change in the law—that is, a political aim—would or would not be for the public benefit. While noble Lords, particularly during our discussions of the Industrial Relations Bill, have been talking about a "lawyers' paradise" and about the aridity of the law, I think that the judgments in that case by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wright, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, and particularly by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simonds, show the immense breadth and width of understanding that the appellate courts can bring to bear when considering a question of this sort.
What happened in this case? I should like to give a brief description. In this case your Lordships' House, sitting in its Judicial capacity, held that the National Anti-Vivisection Society, an organisation which has as its object the total suppression of vivisection, was not a body of persons established for charitable purposes only and so was ineligible for tax relief. No one questioned the sincerity with which the members of the society believed that vivisection was cruel to animals and that its abolition would benefit the public. On their behalf it was argued that trusts for the protection and welfare of animals were beneficial to the community as a whole, and therefore in the public good, because kindness towards animals produces moral benefits as tending to promote feelings of humanity and thus to elevate the human race. Against these generous and humane sentiments, however, had to be weighed the importance of experiments on animals for the purposes of medical and scientific research. Consequently, the contrary 343 argument was advanced that, so far from the public benefiting if the Society succeeded in its object of banning vivisection, public health would suffer as a result.
Where in cases of this sort does the public interest lie? The noble Baroness used the word "worthy". I think that most people would feel that the aims of the Anti-Vivisection Society are worthy. But the courts had to decide whether they were or were not for the public good. There was a legitimate dispute in which honest and dedicated men found themselves on opposite sides. In such circumstances, it must be for the courts to decide. As it happened, in that case the House of Lords found against the Society. But these will never be easy cases to resolve. It is as a result of considerations of this kind that the courts have taken the view that if an organisation has as one of its main objects activities of a political kind, it cannot then be considered to be charitable. Political activity which is subsidiary to a main charitable object is not necessarily objectionable, but there is inevitably some difficulty in saying exactly where the line should be drawn between one case and another.
The Charity Commissioners have been in touch with a number of charities about activities which appear to be of a possible political nature, and have discussed with them the difficulties which arose, or are likely to arise, in the particular cases. The Commissioners have said that they believe that charities in general now understand fairly clearly what limitations the law, as it exists at present, has thought to impose on political activities. Moreover, they have added the comment that, in general, charities are not unhappy with the present position. It has happened from time to time in the past that an organisation wishing to be recognised as a charity has been unable to obtain that recognition because one or more of its objects was not recognised as being charitable in law. To be a charity, an organisation must have objects which are exclusively charitable. Where this difficulty has arisen, it has quite often been overcome by removing the objectionable object from the charity's purposes, and if it is still desired 344 to pursue that object, a separate non-charitable organisation has been set up for that purpose, relying on funds not raised for charitable purposes. The Charity Commissioners have suggested that a similar solution could be adopted where a charity wishes to exert political pressure: that a separate non-charitable organisation might be set up for that purpose. This, as we have heard already in the debate, has been done in some cases.
Apart from these considerations of public policy, however, there are a number of charities which are themselves doubtful about the wisdom of engaging in political activities, and I think it is worth placing this consideration before your Lordships. Donors to a particular charity will be unanimous in supporting the main purpose of the charity; but if the charity seeks to engage in political activity dissensions can easily arise as to whether such activity is desirable or, if so, as to what form it should take. Moreover, a charity may arouse opposition from taxpayers and ratepayers who do not agree with what the charity is seeking to do, or with the means being used, and who are aware that charities are, in a sense, because of the tax advantages that they enjoy, subsidised by the taxpayer and the ratepayer. There are therefore, I am informed, many charities which would be reluctant to extend their activities into the political arena for fear of creating dissension among their supporters and antagonising other members of the public. The Charity Commissioners refer in their Annual Report for 1969 to the controversies which have arisen in the United States because of objections on the part of members of the public there to the use of grants made by charitable foundations for what have been regarded as political purposes.
The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, talked about an alternative definition of "charity". This, as he indicated, is not a new suggestion. The possibility of devising a statutory definition of "charity" was fully discussed when the Charities Bill was before Parliament in 1960. I see the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in his place; he tabled an Amendment in the later stages of the Charities Bill which attempted to widen and put on the Statute Book 345 a definition of "charity". The late Lord Simonds, to whom tributes were paid yesterday, made a notable speech in the course of the same debate. But, in the end, Parliament came to the conclusion that, desirable as it might be in principle to have a statutory definition, the practical difficulties in the way of producing a satisfactory formula seemed to be almost insuperable. It was eventually accepted, although not without some reluctance, that the disadvantages of any statutory definition that could be devised would be likely to outweigh the advantages.
The origins of the present law can be found as far back as the Statute of Charitable Uses of 1601. There has been a long line of decided cases since then, and the law has proved itself to be flexible over the years. It falls to the Chancery Division of the High Court of Justice to determine what objects are charitable and from time to time attempts have been made to classify the results of these decisions. The classification usually referred to at the present time is that made by Lord Macnaghten in the case of Income Tax Commissioners v. Pemsel. Lord Macnaghten classified charitable purposes under four heads: the relief of poverty; the advancement of education; the advancement of religion; and other purposes beneficial to the community not falling under any of the preceding heads. It is this fourth category, of course, that has caused so many problems of interpretation.
But it is possible—and we must not make any mistake about this—by proceeding from one analogy to another to regard as charitable organisations which could not conceivably have been envisaged in the Elizabethan Statute, or at the time of later decisions based on that Statute. At the present time, we find on the register of charities organisations such as the Albany Trust, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, which it does not seem likely would have been regarded as charitable even a comparatively short time ago. If we were to have a statutory definition, it would be difficult to devise one, first of all, which would embrace all the existing case law; secondly, which would be flexible enough to enable development to continue in the future; and thirdly, which would not be so wide as to admit to charitable 346 status all kinds of organisations which have only the most tenuous relationship with the public good. Having regard to the pace at which social change continues, and the differing needs which emerge as a consequence of these changes, there would be dangers in replacing the present definition of "charity" with a broad formula on the lines envisaged by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont.
My Lords, I am very anxious that in what I have had to say I should not appear too negative. This debate is exploratory: it is an airing of the subject. It has been very useful to hear the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, and the noble Baroness, Lady White, and the Government look forward to hearing, and subsequently to studying with careful consideration, what other Members of your Lordships' House have to say. At the same time, we must remember the practical difficulties, and noble Lords may find it helpful to have in mind some of the considerations that I mentioned. But I do not want to close on that note. Of course we must be concerned with the law, the practice and the status of charities. We tend to think of charities—and there are 100,000 charities, large and small, registered at the present time—as organisations which raise money and spend it for purposes that we can applaud. We ought not, however, to forget the inherent value of what moves people to perform charitable work. Charity is one of the three great Christian virtues, together with Faith and Hope, and it is a virtue which enables a man to fulfil himself by serving others.
One voice is missing in our debate this afternoon, that of the late Lady Reading, who would certainly have spoken in a debate of this kind and whose contribution in this field is one that we all remember and which very few indeed can equal. I should like to end by quoting two sentences from the booklet on voluntary service which she wrote and which was circulated shortly after her death:To be a real human being is a challenge in itself, and so in this context the Chinese proverb, ' What you hear you forget, what you see you remember, what you do is part of you', is a tenet worth remembering.
§ 3.52 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF BLACKBURN
My Lords, I should like to associate myself with what has been 347 said by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and the noble Baroness, Lady White, in their appreciation of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for initiating this debate upon charities and in particular concerning the operation of the law affecting them. We are all aware that there are many anomalies in the law and not a little confusion. I am told that a gift to a vicar for parish work is probably not charitable, while a gift to a vicar for church purposes almost certainly is charitable. I do not intend to pursue this matter of law but to leave it to others more knowledgeable than I.
It has already been pointed out that the field of charities is a very large one indeed, with some 110,000 registered charities and some 30,000 unregistered charities and educational trusts with an income, so the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, tells us, of £60 million per annum. It needs to be remembered that charities have been from time immemorial the source of social intitiatives, social experiment and cultural development. Universities, hospitals, schools, friendly societies, social work amongst the poor and needly and the patronage of the Arts have sprung from charitable bequests and charitable works, and have in the course of time inspired the extension of these activities to make sure that that which was available for the few should now be made available to all.
Thus we have seen how, inspired by charities, the Welfare State has grown and developed and statutory authority has taken over, by and large, the work started, often in a small but inspired way, by some individual or charitable society. The example that immediately springs to mind is that of Dr. Barnado with his great work for homeless boys and neglected children, for whom, so rightly, provision is now made by statutory authorities; but the homes bearing his name, thank God! still remain and perform a most valuable function in partnership with the State. I believe I am right in thinking that one of the objects of the 1960 Act regarding charities was to promote co-operation between the statutory and local authorities and voluntary agencies; and we still need these voluntary agencies. I hope that this is a matter that will be brought out very strongly in this debate.
348 The noble Earl, Long Longford, said in this House in 1949—he was then Lord Pakenham—during a reply to a debate:It is the view of the Government that democracy, without voluntary exertion and voluntary idealism, will lose its soul.I am sure those words are true. Particularly in this technological age, with all the present emphasis on professionalism, we still desperately need idealism, and I hope that we shall always recognise our need for voluntary agencies because there is a greater flexibility about voluntary societies. There is a freedom to pioneer and undertake new work without being tied hand and foot by irritating regulations. Often, perhaps one goes to some statutory authority and finds that a particular department cannot deal with the matter of some regulation and so one is passed to some other department. But there is a freedom and flexibility about our voluntary agencies and we should pay tribute, as I am sure this debate will, to the great army of men and women throughout this land who are giving their time and service in a voluntary capacity on behalf of thousands of charitable causes, without whose aid the many agencies that exist could not be effective. The whole nation owes them a debt of gratitude, and we hope that with the increase of leisure there will be more and more people who are prepared to serve in voluntary and charitable agencies, which certainly cannot be effective without them.
The other great cause for gratitude is the wonderful generosity with which frequent appeals for charitable assistance are met. One thinks of the appeals for East Pakistan or, going further back, Aberfan, the appeals of Oxfam, Christian Aid, or appeals with which I have had something to do for a number of years such as the St. Martin-in-the-Fields Christmas Appeal. It is not only the large donations that are indeed necessary, but the "widow's mite" and contributions from old-age pensioners which reveal the inherent goodness in the hearts of the British people. It is true, as the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, said, that charities depend upon charity, which is the spirit of love and the spirit of God, the caring about the needs of others. It is this which inspires the actions of so many.
Personally, I do not think that the charity walks are to be despised or written 349 off. Provided that they are properly conducted, they give an outlet for a number of people who wish to do something to help a worthy cause. We may sometimes find flag days personally a nuisance, but in those a small army of volunteers help. There are also charity concerts in which great celebrities give their services. We welcome all these and believe that there are few, if any, genuine charities which fail to draw forth a response. As the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, said, some seem to be more successful than others.
But, having said all that, there is the real problem to which the noble Lord referred of the relevance of some charities to existing needs—the cy-près doctrine. Many charities are totally irrelevant in the traditional provision of shawls and red flannel petticoats. I was talking to someone this morning who told me that he had the greatest difficulty in disposing of £10 to needy poor on Whit Monday because none of such recipients must own his home. There are the loaves of bread which have to be distributed on Shrove Tuesday to poor people. A visit to almost any country parish church will reveal a list of these ancient charities. They are almost entirely out of date. We are grateful for the variations of these charities which can now be made. In this I have always found the Charity Commissioners to be very co-operative.
But there is an area which needs closer examination. That is the field of education trusts, especially those relating to church schools. In the days when the Church was almost entirely responsible for education, a large number of bequests, some big and some small, were made. Now many of those bequests are outdated and out-moded. There is a need for a very careful survey of those bequests and charitable trusts and for an examination of them so that they can be adjusted and better used in the service of education, and indeed of the Church.
As I see it, this is a joint responsibility of the Church authorities and the Department of Education and Science, which handles all educational trusts. The Department, with the Church Commissioners, are usually sympathetic to reasonable requests, but very often they are so overwhelmed with work that delays are long and tiresome. That is one of the things which Her Majesty's Government may think about in considering how to 350 increase the manpower in some of these departments which deal with these very pressing needs. It is very exasperating to have to wait for 18 months or two years for action to be taken. It might be possible to employ some voluntary agencies to help in this matter. I sincerely hope, with your Lordships, that this debate will initiate those procedures which are necessary to simplify the existing laws and also to speed their working.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ BARONESS MACLEOD OF BORVE
My Lords, I crave your Lordships' indulgence this afternoon and hope that nothing I say will prove contentious. As some of your Lordships may be aware, I was in the wings of another place—or perhaps, more correctly, more often in the Gallery of another place—for nearly 21 years, but I am very proud of being a Member of your Lordships' House.
I am enormously grateful for the many kindnesses I have received since I became a Member of this House. Specifically this afternoon I thank the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, the noble Baroness, Lady White, and the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, for their kind welcome. I also thank Lord Beaumont of Whitley for initiating this debate. This is one of the subjects I know a little about. One might perhaps have thought that I should have to wait two or three years before a subject arose on which I felt I knew a little.
My Lords, I wish to make one or two quite brief suggestions and comments. I am sure that everybody present read an article in one of the evening papers last night by a man who has been mentioned in this House this afternoon, Mr. Des Wilson. In that article he mentioned that charities are able to be exempted from certain taxes. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, has told us about that this afternoon. I wish to draw the attention of the Government to one tax which, if it were altered, could be of enormous benefit to charities, perhaps in the not too far distant future: I refer to the tax on Christmas cards. As all noble Lords will be aware, many charities, particularly the large ones, derive considerable profit from the sale of Christmas cards but perhaps not everyone is aware that Christmas cards attract purchase tax at 96⅔ per cent. This seems an extraordinarily high rate of purchase tax which, perhaps in the fullness of time, could be reduced. I wonder whether my right honourable 351 friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer could be persuaded at some foreseeable time to look into this matter and alleviate what I regard as the excess tax which charities have to pay on Christmas cards.
My Lords, to me charity does not necessarily mean money. I know that it does in the minds of a great number of people in the country to-day. To me, charity first of all means aid, then it means help, and then it means involvement. Also, as the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Blackburn said, it means caring. I have had 25 years of organising people who want to be involved and who do care, who are willing but are not necessarily able to give of their money because very often they have none or very little, although as the right reverend Prelate also said, the widow's mite is as much forthcoming as the pound notes from the general public. There is an enormous wealth of people in this country who want to give of their help—what we in the hospital services call personal service. In the 20 years I have been involved in trying to organise hospital services throughout the country I do not think I have ever had a refusal from anyone to give personal service. This, my Lords, is because people care and want to help.
I want to make a plea this afternoon that we should all nationally (and specifically from this House) try to involve more young people in the giving of personal service to others. In my experience young people will, if they are asked, always come forward to give personal service. They often do not volunteer although they will, in the end, be volunteers. When I have asked the young people of this country to help out I have never had a refusal. I hope that anybody in this House who is able to contact young people will ask them to make a special contribution in this field. I should declare an interest here in that I am chairman of a juvenile court. Having been in court the whole of this morning, I am quite certain that if some of the young people who came before me had been more involved in helping other people, then perhaps they would not have made my list rather longer than it usually is.
My Lords, you have listened to me very courteously and I am most grateful. I 352 have considerable knowledge, mostly in the hospital field. All charity, it is said, begins at home; but the British people have never been lacking in charity of any sort, and we should all be proud of our countrymen and give thanks where credit is due.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ LORD GORE-BOOTH
My Lords, I have suggested before now to your Lordships that fate gives one extraordinary gifts and occasionally inflicts on one extraordinary reverses. One of the happiest gifts that it has bestowed upon me is the privilege of being the Member of your Lordships' House to speak immediately after the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve. She has come through so many things in life with such courage, capability, vitality and charm that it is beyond the capability of my mind or tongue to do all that she has done adequate justice. So I give her a very simple welcome with all my heart, and, I am sure, the hearts of all your Lordships. We look forward to seeing her many times. Fate did something else to me: I went out of your Lordships' Chamber to see whether there was any difficulty about pronouncing the word "Borve" (my Celtic fringe comes from Ireland and not from Scotland). I had the pleasure of meeting the noble Baroness, who put me right and told me that Borve was in the Hebrides. I am sure that the noble Baroness will bring the fresh and fair wind of the Hebrides into this House often, where it will be very welcome indeed. May I also join with the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, in a tribute, particularly from these Benches, to the late Lady Reading. She was a regular occupant of these Benches, and we, like the rest of your Lordships miss her very much indeed.
In offering thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for introducing this Motion, I do not propose to detain your Lordships long, but to concentrate on two aspects of this question, one of which has been dealt with fairly comprehensively already. I should like to say a word about the function of voluntary societies and charities, and then a word about the complications of the principal point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley. I refer to political activity concerning charity work 353 abroad, or in connection with work abroad.
On the subject of charity as such, and its place in our society, I am very much with the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, the right reverend Prelate and the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, in paying a tribute to the people of this country for their instinct for charity. I feel a little more polemical about it than anyone who has yet spoken, because I have sat through some television programmes which seem to treat the subject with a kind of intellectual aridity or austerity which I find extremely inappropriate. I remember one programme which concluded with the last question being referred to one speaker, who was asked: "Do you think, therefore, that voluntary charity work should cease?" The gentleman replied, "Yes". Intellectually that is true: in the Kingdom of Heaven either there is no charity or it is all charity. No doubt in the perfect Welfare State there would never be anything left over. I am quite sure that, I think it is safe to say for centuries to come, there will be found pockets of suffering in the lives of our own people and other people where the instinct of our own people to help can still be applied voluntarily, with the thanks and not the rather condescending criticism of the State, or members of it. I feel very passionately that it is to those people who do this work—and I want to include one other community which has not been mentioned; namely, British communities abroad—that the human race owes, and will go on owing, very profound thanks.
Now I should like to turn to the problem of the action which can be taken by charities here in regard to situations abroad, because it is relevant to this question of whether more political activity should achieve charity status. I shall have to analyse this a little closely in order to reach a conclusion. We are familiar, and have been lamentably familiar in recent months, with disasters in different parts of the world. The world being the way it is, disasters are apt to happen in places where the political situation is complicated and, indeed, even tense. Often the repercussion of that is that charity work finds itself in great difficulties. Medical teams cannot get in or cannot function, or there 354 are other complications which prevent the authorities in the country concerned, understandably, from affording the facilities to charity work which charity workers quite naturally expect. This kind of situation immediately arouses the indignation (and so it should) of the people and organisations engaged in charity work in this country. If I may mention my interest, this is something I have found myself involved in for the past year. There is a temptation, when this happens, to rush into activity which must be classified by the Charity Commissioners as "political", a pressure on the Government which goes beyond what the noble Baroness, Lady White, spoke about and which, in modern terms, would be called "political".
When this happens, the following point arises. The best judge of a situation, and how much pressure you can put on it—as, for instance, in Nigeria and Biafra—is that body which has permanent information and judgment; and that body must be the Government of the day, of whatever Party. The Government of the day may well feel that political activity of this kind may be an impediment to charity work reaching the people whom it wants to reach. We all want to reach the people we want to help, and quickly. But it may well be that an indignant or pressure approach to this objective may have precisely the reverse effect of what the people who put it in hand expect.
I am not arguing, and could not possibly argue, that there must be any limit on people urging that right effects be produced by the wrong method. We all have the right to do that and must exercise it. Where the constitutional point arises, and the administration point, is whether that kind of activity is something which those who have studied charity legislation throughout the centuries would deem to be something which should be free of any tax obligation. I do not think it is, and I think that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, was extremely honest about this when he said that the total logic of his remarks might well mean that in the end the Conservative and Labour Parties should also be afforded tax privileges under this heading; and if that were the case, perhaps I might put in a word of co-operation from these Benches.
355 No, my Lords. There is a point very difficult to find here where the genuine, exempt charity work stops and legitimate political activity, but political activity that is essentially political, begins, and where therefore the financial and other privilege must cease. I have tried to bring out one of the most difficult cases because I think it gives the measure of the problem which the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, has raised. If I may refer again to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady White, I was very much attracted by some of the suggestions she made on where the borderline could in subsequent administration, or even again ultimately in legislation, be defined. There is certainly a very difficult moment where giving the public information goes over into advocating priorities on the Government, and that again is politics. So what I am really saying is that the Charity Commissioners have, to my mind, with great wisdom and great insight, tried to determine this borderline between the two; and even for purposes of the changed views of society that we have at this time they have got it about right. This is not to say that it will always be right, but I think it is still right at the moment.
I come to my final point here, and the only point on which I think I disagree flatly with the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont. That is that I do not believe this is a matter of definition. If we were all Latins probably it would be, but I think that even if we become members of the Common Market we shall retain that Anglo-Saxon part of our psychology which really makes us regard what we are discussing as a matter of degree rather than as a matter of definition. But I believe that in this matter of discussing charity, if I may steal from what may have been an unused part of the brief of the right reverend Prelate, we should think of charity rather as we did perhaps at the beginning of my remarks, in the way the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, used the word. I think that we should think of charity both from the point of view of people doing it and from the point of view of people watching charity being done in some extremely famous words:Charity suffereth long, and is kind"—356 kind and not disputatious for the sake of being disputatious—charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil.My Lords, if that could be the background of all charity work and of all people who talk about charity work, I am sure that the dedication of the many thousands of people who do it and contribute to it will be even more amply rewarded than it is already.
§ 4.24 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BOYD OF MERTON
My Lords, I should like to join in the chorus of congratulations that has greeted the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, on initiating this debate and on the manner in which his own intervention was framed. I should also like to join in the praise given to the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, on her maiden speech and to say how much those of us who have known and admired her for many years rejoice in her arrival in your Lordships' House and look forward to frequent interventions from her.
As the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, reminded us, the legal definition of "charity" is a very old one—370 years old in fact—and charitable objects which were set out in that definition were summarised at the end of the last century by Lord Macnaghten. Considering the antiquity of the definitions, it is not surprising that from time to time there is pressure to take a new look at them to see how relevant they are under modern conditions. I remember reading the debates in this House ten years ago when the Charities Bill 1960 was being considered. The first Lord Nathan, to whom all concerned with charities owe a very great deal, when dealing with the limited issue of the doctrine of cy-près, said in that connection:It should be possible to keep charitable trust purposes in tune with public needs in changing times.But he also made his own position clear and, so far as I know, no noble Lord at that time challenged it, on any widening of the definition of "charity" so that charities could find themselves in what the Commissioners would rightly call the 357 political field without losing their charitable status and all the much valued advantages that flow from it.
In the report of Lord Nathan which preceded legislation it was stated:Charity has always in this country been regarded as standing quite outside the realm of Party politics and it is in our view of the first importance it should continue to be so regarded.Noble Lords have been reminded already this afternoon of an article on charities which appeared in an evening paper yesterday with the arresting headline:Charities—A battle to free the money box. They should enter political arena and fight all the way ".The article then quoted from last year's Charity Commissioners' Report an extract which it said caused hilarity in the field. The extract read:One contemporary development "—it was in the Commissioners' Report of 1969—which has given us some concern has been the increasing desire of voluntary organisations for involvement '"—they put the word "involvement" in inverted commas—in the causes with which their work is associated ".If that was all that the Charity Commissioners said on that subject it could have been no doubt more happily worded. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, himself pointed out, and the noble Baroness as well, this was part of a very long, sustained argument occupying three pages of closely argued reasoning in that Report, and all who are tempted to economise on their reading' by concentrating solely on what appeared in last night's Evening Standard will, I hope, take the trouble of reading what the Commissioners wrote in full.
I speak with a little knowledge of the work in this field, for I was for nearly ten years President of the Save The Children Fund, of which the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, is now Chairman; and I am still President of LEPRA, the British Leprosy Relief Association; and as the Commissioners know very well, and have never hesitated to say, in both these splendid bodies, and in all similar bodies, the staff are deeply and passionately involved and to many it is their life's work. But being involved does not mean necessarily that they 358 would want their organisations to become political pressure groups. I suspect that most of these people working in these great organisations would hold firmly to the view that on balance charity in the future, as in the past, should remain free from political pressure. I frankly do not think they would follow the noble Lord in his desire to equip their organisations with the right to undertake some kind of pressure group or political activity.
If this change were made and charities working in the international field yielded to the new possibilities that would be open to them, relations with our own Government here, or overseas Governments, would become continuously embarrassing. No one knows better than the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, that it was in large part by keeping out of politics, despite constant pressure to get involved, at the time of the tragic war in Nigeria, and retaining freedom to work for children wherever they were in need, that the Save The Children Fund was able to operate field teams simultaneously on both sides of the firing line in the Nigerian civil war, and to continue to be acceptable to the Nigerian authorities after the war. I do not believe that it would be in the interests of existing charities for their power to be widened to enable them to engage in these new activities.
The noble Lord, apart from wishing existing charities to have new powers for which, so far as I know, most of them are not asking, has also a second purpose which he mapped out this afternoon. He argued that any non-profit-making organisation which attempts to promote the welfare of the community ought to be considered as a charity and entitled to the benefits which accrue to the existing registered charity. If this sweeping change were to be introduced, I very much doubt whether the privileges which existing charities enjoy when they are precluded from political activities not only by their charters, in most cases, but also by law, will long survive. It seems to me inconceivable, if the definition of a charity were changed, as the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, suggests, that public opinion would tolerate the continuance of the financial privileges which charities at present enjoy and without which their work would be impossible. So, my Lords, on this count too, while thanking him 359 for his speech, for the form it took and for the debate it has made possible, I see the most formidable difficulties ahead if either of the noble Lord's objectives were achieved.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ LORD MACLEOD OF FUINARY
My Lords, may I first join others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for his introduction, and also the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, for his explanation of what is almost the inexplicable: where charity begins and where politics ends. Though I may not agree with him entirely, I am grateful to him for the painstaking way in which we were brought nearer to some conclusion. Perhaps I may also add my happiness that my clanswoman, if I may say so, should have addressed us so well and amicably to-clay. Were I to declare my interest, it is that inevitably a minister of religion is concerned with the sponsoring or co-sponsoring of charitable funds; and, quite frankly, I, like others, have been mystified by what does and what does not qualify as a charitable status, which actually is the main issue that we have been discussing.
Before I say anything else may I declare with equal sincerity my gratitude to the Charity Commissioners for the positive way in which, time and time again, they approach borderline cases; for their obvious sincerity in endeavouring to show us ways in which to word it in order that—always in terms of integrity—an allowance may be made for charitable status. Time and time again they are on the side of the angels. The point of our mystification is that sometimes something seems to happen just at the point where the Charity Commissioners are almost agreeing with one. Am I out of order in suggesting that the office of Inland Revenue, in its largest sense, comes in at some point on the question of what is and what is not political?
It is at this point in the debate that we can all afford to be short, so many things having been said which need not be repeated. But perhaps I may make my short contribution by mentioning just two charities, to bring the matter down to actualities, and also make a comment arising from those two charities. These are two charities with which I am connected in sponsoring and which have 360 failed to qualify. And I do not think that specific comment is without importance. Most of your Lordships will be familiar with the Defence and Aid Fund inaugurated by Christian Action to assist the Bantu in South Africa, to ensure that he gets defence if he is accused. I think I am right in saying that the average salary of the white man in Johannesburg is £2,400 a year and that of the Bantu and the coloured £240 a year. There is no one in this House who would disagree with the view that anyone, especially those in conditions of poverty, should have the fullest representation when he comes up and is accused in the courts. This is precisely what the defence side of the Defence and Aid Fund is for; and the aid side is obviously for the children of people who have been put in this position. Bantus who are "had up" on the most difficult kinds of cases are unable, because of the lack of social security there, to have free advice, and therefore they must have defence. Here is something with which we all agree; that every man is entitled to justified and instructed defence; and, by the same token, that his children should not die of starvation, by reason again of lack of social security, while he is being tried, and sometimes while he is in prison.
Here is something which is charity, and here is something which on political grounds has been denied a position for charitable status. Parallel to that, because it comes also under the ægis and fathering of Christian Action, there is the more recent Martin Luther King Foundation, when there was an effort, starting in 1968 and still in process. We have been for three and a half years in most amicable, helpful and courteous discussion with the Charity Commissioners, but not yet does the Martin Luther King Foundation find that it has the kind of objects which allow it a charitable status. Its object is, of course, to spread the news of non-violent action, and although it seemed at one point in the discussions with the Charity Commissioners that it would pass for charitable status if they were to discuss non-violence, if it had anything to do with the practice of non-violence then that would be a political issue and the Foundation would not stand up as a charitable organisation. If this were the kind of way in which it was going to be argued on its face value, then the practice of non-violence by the 361 Founder of Christianity at Calvary would not qualify as a charitable status because of its political significance. Would this satisfy us? That might be the text—if I may use the word "text"—for the one comment that I want to make arising from these two cases at this junction between the political and the charitable.
With regard to the great responsibility that lies on the Charity Commissioners (or is it on those who advise the Charity Commissioners, the legal advisers, in the interpretation of the Act?), I would emphasise that it has become greater when Christianity is no longer the formative power of our national principles.
May I, again for the sake of brevity, put this point in this way? It so happens that I have strong views about the Common Market, and I have been expressing these views. What my views are has nothing at all to do with this debate, and I am not declaring them. I am merely referring to the point because, in becoming public in that matter, I have been amazed at the number of people, both inside the Church, and still more outside the Church, who in correspondence and over the telephone, and on meeting me in the street, have asked what on earth the Church has to do with the Common Market. They seem to feel that there is no place for a relationship between the Common Market and the teachings of the Church—or, if you like, between the area of charity and the area of politics. I must be entirely telegraphic here and not preach a sermon, but they seem to forget that the late Archbishop Temple said that Christianity is the most materialistic religion in the world. They seem to forget that "Bethlehem" means the House of Bread; they seem to forget that "Lord" means the warden of the loaf:Why call ye me Warden of the Loaf and do not the things which I say?They seem to me (and I was assisted by the noble Lord. Lord Gore-Booth, in quoting from Scripture) to say that Pentecost is of no significance at the present time. Yet at Pentecostall the nations were gathered together and they had all things in common.Too many people seem to forget that the parable by which it is decided, in biblical language, who is to go to Heaven and who is going to Hell—or, if you 362 like, who is going to have life now and who is going to have death now—is the parable of judgment. And the parable of judgment as to who is going to have eternal life and who is not going to have eternal life is precisely on political grounds:I was hungered and you gave me no meat; I was naked and you did not clothe me—either with clothes or with houses. I was in prison—either in the prison of illiteracy or the prison of dictatorship and you did not come to release me ".Political, political, political! The ultimate decision as to where spiritual life lies is in the political area. It is in this sense that there is an enormous responsibility lying on those, whoever they may be, who find it easier than I should find it to decide between charity and politics in the light of these things.
Perhaps, of course, it is not the fault of those who so decide. It may be because of the rarefied nature of the Church's witness for the last two centuries, getting more and more spiritual and less and less biblical, that we leave it to them to decide. Perhaps I may make this point by the shortest possible story, a true story, of the missionary in Africa who was in an area where there was a very primitive tribe who on March 1 used to celebrate their god's anniversary. They would go through the woods, to the cacophony of drums, until they came to a point shortly before midnight where they would pause and then go down into the groves for their bestialities and obscenities.
One of the missionaries, with some courage, decided on one occasion, to accompany them. He walked with them, and when they got to the pause just before midnight he got on to the stump of a broken down tree and preached the love of God. For a moment there was a terrifying silence, while the young men of the tribe were considering whether to knife him on the spot for getting in the way of their celebrations when they allowed him to have his Easter. But grace intervened, no one attacked him; he was not molested, and, somewhat to his own surprise, he was able to go back to the mission station. The next year he did it again; and there was less intensity, lessened tension. Indeed, he did it increasingly for ten years, and then he died a natural death. The year after he died, as March 1 approached, the head of the 363 tribe came to the mission station and asked that another missionary be appointed to do it, as it had now "become part of the show". Unfortunately, it may be that secular people are left with these terrible decisions because the Church has become "part of the show".
Up in the part of Scotland that I come from, not many days ago I found myself near Holy Loch—still so strangely called Holy Loch, where we are somewhat furtively unloading Poseidon missiles, not Polaris missiles but Poseidon missiles. Polaris missiles might be interpreted as being a response to such a terrible thing as nuclear attack. We all know that Poseidon missiles are not for that purpose; they are first strike missiles; they are not to reply to some attack by some atheist opposition. They are there to make the first strike in order to break down the missile centres and missile buildings on the other side. This is what we are committed to politically at the moment, and the Church is part of the show; and if it is part of that show it is no wonder that people look less and less to the Church to decide where politics begins and where charity ends.
My Lords, I would plead with those who are responsible for these final decisions, which are so difficult to define, that they should take on an immense responsibility, else charity will very soon be reduced to mere soppiness, and politics, in the last resort, will become the instrument of the devil.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ LORD SAINSBURY
My Lords, from these Opposition Back Benches I should like to extend our warm congratulations to Baroness Macleod of Borve. Her speech, I am sure your Lordships would all agree, showed deep humanity, sincerity and understanding. Secondly, I should like to join with noble Lords who have spoken earlier in this debate in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for initiating this much-needed and extremely interesting debate. Thirdly, I should like to apologise to your Lordships' House if during the course of my brief remarks I traverse ground that has already been traversed. I find it very difficult in a debate of this sort to decide whether to erase my name from the list of speakers or, out of sheer 364 vanity, to proceed with the speech I intended to make. I have, perhaps to your regret, chosen the latter course.
To my mind, one of the most pleasing features of our society, which reveals the compassionate nature and the generous character of the British people, is the support given to our many and various charitable organisations. I think it will be agreed on all sides of the House that most of our charities do excellent work, and that no matter how well the Welfare State functions charities at home will always have an essential role in supplementing the efforts of and filling the gaps left by the State.
My main reason for intervening in this debate is to underline, as other noble Lords have done, the growing anxiety felt by many charitable organisations, especially those in the field of research and education, about some recent developments concerning the definition of what is a charitable activity. As has already been said, the difficulty stems from the legal requirements that charities may not pursue activities with the object of changing the law of the land. I have no doubt that some safeguards are necessary in order to prevent the abuse of charitable status for political purposes. But the current interpretation of this rule seems to me to be too wide and all-embracing.
Thus, according to the 1969 Report of the Charity Commissioners, which concedes that the law is imprecise and difficult to interpret, any action to influence the Government to adopt a particular line of action may be against the law. Not infrequently, such a strict interpretation would, and does in fact, lead to some rather absurd results. For example, educational and research charities which study and report on a large number of subjects of general interest cannot lawfully make public recommendations as to what should be done if those recommendations involve action by the Government. In a similarly absurd way, if a charity engaged in the alleviation of poverty produces a reasoned case for greater Government expenditure on a particular branch of the social services it may be breaking the law.
Although the Charity Commissioners' Report of 1969 shows that there are certain exemptions, these merely make the 365 recent rather restrictive interpretation of the law even more absurd. Thus, apparently the rules regarding public recommendations do not apply in respect of a Government Bill that has been published or when the Government themselves ask for comment and advice. In other words, it is quite in order for charities to propose changes in the law or recommend new Government action when the Government have already decided that changes are necessary. This not only enhances the power of the Executive but also provides a strong built-in bias in favour of the status quo. History proves that many desirable reforms have originated from the efforts of dedicated pioneers outside the Government, and I am sure that many of your Lordships will agree that it would be most undesirable to restrict the activities of our charities in this way.
a few minutes ago I gave your Lordships a few examples of the absurd results brought about by the current interpretation of the law. I hasten to add that my examples are not entirely hypothetical. I am aware that the Charity Commissioners, and the Department of Education and Science, have indicated to certain charities that they are in danger of losing their charitable status by making recommendations and proposals which involve action by Government. Whether this is simply the result of the efforts of some over-zealous civil servants, or is due to a conscious change in Government policy, I have no means of knowing. In either case, however, it is, in my opinion, a regrettable development which is not in the public interest. It is highly desirable (and I would say even essential) that our charities should be deeply involved, and passionately concerned, with the causes that they are working for, and the fact of maintaining a highly legalistic and restrictive attitude regarding the range of their activities would merely shackle them and reduce their effectiveness. I am convinced that some safeguards are necessary, but it is essential, in my opinion, that the law is interpreted wisely and tolerantly, and that charities have the maximum possible freedom of action in this respect.
§ 4.53 p.m.
My Lords, like all other speakers I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lady Macleod of Borve on her maiden speech. The 366 fact that she has made most of my speech for me does not deter me in the least, and I hope that my few words to-day will reinforce what she has so ably said.
It is important to define, in the context of this debate, what we mean by "charity". There are many in this country who devote their spare time to charitable acts. Many are young people who have just left school and of whose kind acts we hear little. We live in an age when violence and crime make the headlines, and I feel sure that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the young and old who do so much in their quiet way to alleviate pain and loneliness among the less fortunate members of our community. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, to whom we are all deeply grateful, framed his Motion in order to bring to our notice the charitable organisations whose main duties are to fill in the gaps which cannot be covered by the State in bringing help to humans and animals, and indeed assistance to the Arts and the environment of our country. All who work in this field are finding it more and more difficult to raise the money required to finance projects which, in spite of the Welfare State, are of the utmost importance to the old and young who are in any way afflicted. Charity organisations do all they can to keep down to the minimum the cost of administration so that every possible penny goes to the object of that charity. It is essential that the State should assist them in every way.
In a very short speech I propose to put before Her Majesty's Government a few matters which, to my mind, need careful consideration. Some of these are requests for retention of privileges given in the past, and some are for privileges so urgently required in order that the organisations can continue to give their invaluable service. A great number of charities depend for their income on Christmas cards, as indeed my noble friend Lady Macleod of Borve stated a short while ago. There can be no doubt that the increased cost of postage will make it impossible for so many who sent them in the past to continue to do so. I know that this is a matter for the Post Office, but could not the Government, through the Minister, give their blessing during a limited period to a reduced stamp fee for Christmas cards? I fully 367 realise that it would be administratively impossible to differentiate—and I would not wish to do so—between charity and other Christmas cards; but at Christmas time we all want to remember those whom we do not often meet, and to revive memories of past friendships. I believe that the Post Office would be fully compensated by the volume of traffic at the reduced rate; I firmly believe that the public would play fair over this concession, and that it would be of infinite assistance to the charities and to all those who look forward to receiving the cards.
My second plea is for the abolition of S.E.T. contributions by registered charities. The payments are returnable, but it is ridiculous that charities should have the added administrative costs of the payment and reclamation of this tax. We are delighted that S.E.T. will, in the near future, be halved, and we look forward to total abolition; but we must consider the implications of any future tax, such as added value tax, on their work, and what concessions should be given. May I turn for a moment to football pools. I know that conversations are taking place regarding this subject, and I hope that ways and means will be found to ensure that charities can continue to receive income from this source. For many charities it would be catastrophic if the law decided against this method of raising money which really, in this day and age, is a quite harmless pursuit.
My last plea is in the educational sphere. I hope and trust that no Government in the future will remove the charitable status from independent schools (especially those not privately owned) which gives them a financial advantage. I know that there are differences of opinion on this subject; but there can be no doubt of the value of these schools, and if they cease to exist the added cost to the taxpayer would be very high.
May I finally say that our charity organisations, through devoted workers and voluntary contributions, are saving our country thousands of millions of pounds, and are extending to so many of our people from early youth up to old age that care which some, through pride, and some through ignorance, do not obtain. They care not for colour nor creed, but request, and indeed demand, 368 every facility from the State to carry on the great work for which, in this madcap world, there is ever more demand.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ BARONESS HYLTON-FOSTER
My Lords, may I first of all add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, for her valuable contribution to to-day's debate. Secondly, I should like to express my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for initiating this debate, as it gives us an opportunity to discuss some of the problems facing charities to-day. I am joining in the debate only because, like so many other noble Lords and Baronesses, I have an interest to declare, in that all my life I have either worked with, or been connected with, charities which have all been, or are, filling the gaps that the State is unable to deal with, raising money by voluntary efforts, contributions and donations from trusts and foundations, or receiving grants from local authorities and undertaking certain tasks on an agency basis. But they have all been, and are, utterly independent of pressures and of Government.
Once a charity becomes a pressure group, it is liable to get a political tang. If it lobbies the Government of the day, the Opposition Parties may quite likely take a different view and, inevitably, in the eyes of the public the charity will be linked up with a political Party. It may no longer indeed be truly independent. Surely one is then entitled to ask, "Is all this in line with the wishes of the founders of the trust or charity?" To follow up what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, and the noble Viscount, Lord Boyd of Merton, those of us connected with international charities know that it is vital that there should be no hint of political or other type of pressure groups having any influence at all, as the charity could then easily lose the respect and confidence which only time and experience can build up.
I must confess that I am thinking in particular of the Red Cross, because it has national societies all over the world who are respected by their Governments as they are bound by charter and by the Geneva Conventions, and because they uphold the principles of independence, neutrality, universality and no politics. Unlike some other charities, the Red Cross is an organisation which raises 369 money for its own day-to-day services in this country as well as overseas, in addition to supporting the League of Red Cross Societies in Geneva when asked for overseas help. In recent disasters and troubles the national societies have been used by their Governments often when other people and other organisations have not been acceptable. Your Lordships will remember that after the hijacking in Jordan only the Red Cross was trusted by both sides. If there is a relaxation of the accepted charity rules, this could reflect on those who keep strictly within hounds, as they might become suspect in the eyes of the public in this country and abroad, which would prejudice both fund-raising and confidence.
Of course, conditions have changed by leaps and bounds since the introduction of the Welfare State. Organisations are springing up to-day and doing splendid work and they expect to have the same tax concessions as the existing registered charities, which they regard as too established and old-fashioned because they abide by certain standards. Even the word "charity" is not acceptable to everyone to-day, and it would be of help to all of us—including the Charity Commissioners, I suspect—to have a modern definition of "charity", even if little change is needed. Finally, I beg the Government to resist all forms of charity pressure groups and to ensure that charities are run for genuine charitable purposes only.
§ 5.5 p.m.
My Lords, I have had to deal with charities and trusts for many years and I think I know enough of the tremendous complications of the whole subject. The field which has been covered to-day has shown what those complications are, but I want to deal with only one point. What I wish to say is very simple and very short. I am a member of a committee which issues grants and loans to charitable housing associations. We sit quite often, and, apart from myself, everybody on that committee is what I might call a housing expert, having spent many distinguished years in the voluntary housing movement. We are all nervous that perhaps as a result of debates of this sort, some Government will attempt to redefine what a charity is. We are not afraid that the associations which come 370 under us would fail to qualify under any conceivable definition of "charity". What we are afraid of is the red tape, the questionings, the legal conditions, the administrative regulations, the inspections and inquiries as to whether the scheme, or any part of the scheme, entirely conforms with the definition of "charity ". That may sound a small matter, but we go through these cases every six weeks or so, and in view of the tremendous complications about doing anything at all I always come away amazed that as much charitable building work goes on as it does.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, said, these are thoroughly involved people. I do not suppose they want publicity, but I sometimes wish they had a bit more, so that their task would be made a bit easier. I am always hoping that one day my noble friend Lord Sandford will give us some good news to make that task easier. I can see the attractions of widening the definition from the point of view of those who raise money. I would say, in passing, that I am somewhat amazed to hear that Mr. Des Wilson found himself inhibited by the law. He has said some pretty strong things and I do not know what he would have said if he had felt completely uninhibited. We feel that the Charity Commissioners and the Board of Inland Revenue are acting rather like your Lordships' House is supposed to do in the minds of many people—quite illogically but it works quite well. And we hope that until the housing society movement has been put on a completely different basis, as I suppose it might be, we shall be allowed to go on as hitherto.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ LORD AMULREE
My Lords, I want to turn your Lordships' attention to a rather different aspect of this question of charities, and to refer to something which is a good deal in the national Press at the present time; that is, the question of a national disaster fund. I shall be very interested to know the Government's views about such a fund, if they feel that they are able to express them to me at such short notice. The matter was raised in a Bill in another place in 1967, but nothing much happened to it, so far as I can make out. The idea is that there should be a central 371 fund which would be subscribed to by charitable people and which could be called upon at once for money when a disaster occurred. It would also be a fund in which surplus monies from other charitable funds could be put, so that they could be called upon at the same time. The idea, I admit, sounds a rather attractive one, but I think there are certain drawbacks to it. The first is that if you are going to have a relief fund for a disaster it must depend upon a degree of spontaneity among those who are going to be called upon to contribute to it. Secondly, if it is a local thing, it must depend a large amount upon local interest, local initiative and local feeling.
Another thing which we find about these funds is that when the time comes for them to be wound up, or when they cease to function, there is very little money left in them. In fact, I believe that on quite a number of occasions they have been left with a minus balance rather than with a surplus. I am quite sure that one could quote one or two cases where that was not so. I rather think that there was a large sum of money collected when there were floods in East Anglia in 1953, when about £5 million was collected. Whether or not that was all spent, I am not sure. It was the same in the case of the Aberfan disaster not so long ago, when about £1,500,000 was collected. I believe that some of the colliery disaster funds, too, have left a certain amount of money behind them in the past; but in the vast majority of cases the money has been spent upon the purpose of the fund and there has been nothing left when they have been served.
There are two certain difficulties at the present time in winding up these funds, but whether that should be a permanent affair I do not quite know. I am told that the fund for the "Titanic" (which, after all, sank in 1912) was not finally wound up until 1965, which sounds quite a long time; and there were long legal processes (running into thirteen years, I think) in disposing of the surplus of a fund which was raised when a number of cadets of the Royal Marines were knocked down by a bus in the middle of the night. That again was a long time ago but there are certain processes which could be speeded 372 up. There was some good which came, I think, from the Charity Act 1960, under which the Charity Commissioners were given a little greater discretion in putting money to other charities when the one in which they were involved was no longer required. But the cy-près doctrine is still a very powerful one, and is one which is adhered to pretty firmly.
As I said when I began, I can see the attraction in the idea that after two years have gone by the monies might go into a central fund, but I wonder whether, if that were to be the case, you would get as many people subscribing to the fund as you would if they thought it was going to go to the one object which they had in view. For various reasons, quite a number of claims come in late. That again might be a drawback to this project for a national disaster fund. But, if the Government can possibly give it to me, I should like an idea as to what their views are about this.
Before I sit down, I should like to add my congratulations and those of noble Lords on these Benches to the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve. I am sorry that I did not say so when I first got up, but I began to speak and it slipped my mind. However, I should like to congratulate her on her maiden speech, and say that we look forward to hearing her many times on this subject in the future.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ LORD NATHAN
My Lords, may I first congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, on her speech and on the warmth of her address, which I think we all appreciate; and if my remarks are somewhat cold, let that be the reason. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for having raised this Motion, and particularly for referring in his opening remarks to a more general discussion concerning social welfare and so forth. I am particularly glad that this matter should have been raised, and I shall refer to it in a few moments. I must say that the discussion, so far as the political activity of charities is concerned, is one on which I feel that a firm decision against should be taken. I think that the margin between what is acceptable and what is not would be too difficult to define. The noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, has referred to certain cases 373 in which obviously there is much merit, but to define the division between what your Lordships would think acceptable in this debate and what would not be acceptable seems to me to be quite impossible.
There are the additional points already raised with which I personally am concerned in relation to charities operating overseas. An absence of political bias or motive is of first importance. But I would mention also what I think has not been mentioned so far, and that is that the difficulties within organisations operating in this country if a political motive were to be introduced would be very great. One need think only of poverty. A charitable body properly constituted for the relief of poverty might decide to take upon itself a campaign of a particular type to persuade the Government to provide more benefits, more grants, or whatever it may be, which could lead to the most difficult political problems within the charity itself. This, in turn, would, in my view, create great difficulty in retaining the support of those thousands who, in their small and large ways, support it, and who are not of any particular Party; and I can frankly see only chaos resulting from it.
There is another interpretation which might be put on the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, and that is that, as he made fairly clear, he was really talking about money. The question that could be raised by his remarks is: should political pressure groups, or pressure groups without the adjective "political", or political Parties be entitled to some form of tax relief? That, surely, is an entirely different matter, and should be wholly distinct from the question of charities with which we are concerned here. It seems to me that the confusion between the two can only do very great harm. So one comes to the question of financial advantages which has underlain so much of what has been discussed to-day but has not been specified. I certainly do not intend to detain your Lordships upon it for any length of time. I should like to point out, however—and this is a rare occasion to do so—that in the case of legacies there is no advantage to a charity whatever. It was not always so. Twenty-five years ago there was relief for charitable legacies, but that is no longer so; and 374 I think it is a matter which the Government might care to consider.
There are two primary sources of funds, I suppose: one is direct donations and the other is donations under seven-year covenants. Seven-year covenants have grown up in a most extraordinary way and were certainly never created for the benefit of charities. It chanced that they developed in that direction. The fiscal convolutions involved and the administrative expense for the donor, the charity and the Revenue alike make this, so far as I know, a uniquely complex way of achieving what is comparatively simple. There is no tax advantage to the donor as some people seem to think. Indeed, as in most cases people have only earned income, entering into a covenant is an actual tax disadvantage. The advantage is simply that the charity recovers the income tax but not the surtax suffered by the donor. I feel that it is time for a radical review of the tax system now that the Green Papers have been issued, for some further consideration to be given to this matter and in particular to see whether it would be acceptable that a system similar to that in force in the United States should be adopted under which a portion of a person's income could be given to a charity and that portion would be tax deductable. There is a point on the Green Paper on value added tax to which reference was earlier made and where I would hope that the Government would relieve charities from all value added tax except of course in their trading activities, if they have some. This could be very easily done, by treating them in the same way as an exporter, by zero rating.
May I draw a distinction that I want to make between what I call social service charities and other charities. I do not want to define my terms too closely. There are charities which are in no sense (and are understood not to be) within the Welfare State in anything they do. I have the honour to be the chairman of the executive of the Cancer Research Campaign. It is quite clear that this is not within the Welfare State and that the vast majority, or perhaps I should say the majority, of the funds provided for cancer research are provided by voluntary effort. There is no resistance to appeals for money in that connection on the ground that this is a function of 375 Government. The position with regard to what I call the social service charities is somewhat different. Those charities which provide homes for the aged, mental after care and so forth are working in a field now similar in many respects to the local authority activities, and their finances are substantially assisted by money which comes to the charities concerned from those local authorities.
It has been said many times by Ministers of both present and past Governments, and it is transparently true, that the totality of the social service provided in this country just could not be provided with State funds and with State support alone, and that the voluntary services, the charities, provide an essential element. That element may take many forms. It may be in providing homes or assistance for particular groups of people, perhaps bound together by some religious or other association. They may be working to pioneer new efforts which it is the task of voluntary bodies to do. But the totality is a combination of the two. I, unfortunately, have had no opportunity, as many of your Lordships have had—and it is entirely my fault—of studying the recently published Report of the Charity Commissioners; but I feel that it is important that there should be public knowledge of the extent of voluntary service in the social welfare field and, secondly, the amount of money from private sources involved; because that will bring home to the public at large how important voluntary social service is. That is the point to which I referred in my opening remarks when I said that I was glad that Lord Beaumont had introduced this Motion.
But the knowledge, the availability of information in that field, is not relevant to the collection of money alone. The two principal problems facing those charities with which I am concerned are people and money; and as regards people, staff, the highly qualified young staff whom the social services require, whether that social service is being conducted by the Government, by the local authorities or by private effort. It would help that knowledge that private effort contributes substantially to the total social service was available, because it would encourage staff to make their careers with charities or by changing their work between working for local authorities and working 376 for charities. This has happened to my knowledge to a limited degree, and the benefit has been great to both. That I refer to staff for charitable private activities states that I have experienced that it is essential in charities of a certain size to have the most expert and skilled staff. Let it not be thought that compassion is confined to the volunteer or to voluntary service. It is to be seen very much in the work of the local authorities as it is with charities, although I yield to none in my admiration for those who work for the charities voluntarily—and fantastic work they do.
It is up to the charities themselves so to organise themselves as to attract the staff required not only by adequate remuneration but also by giving opportunities in the jobs provided. To achieve this I feel that there will have to be far greater co-ordination between them than hitherto while at the same time each must retain its character, associations and identity. This is not easy and may involve creating some novel ideas to provide a suitable framework. This may involve the Charity Commissioners in the exercise of their scheme-making powers. My own experience and that of those with whom I have worked and of those who have spoken is that the Charity Commissioners are most helpful. But I hope that they will give every assistance within their power in the situations which over the next few years will, I believe, confront them in relation to the co-ordination to which I have referred.
Charities concerned with overseas relief have come to the fore in the support they have received, particularly from the young to whom they are an outlet for idealism unimpeded by confusion with the functions of the Welfare State. Not only in terms of money but most of all in offers of service will the young come forward to offer themselves for service, for instance, overseas. The response to an appeal for such help that a charity with which I am concerned made was overwhelming in number, from whom it was difficult to choose, so high was the quality of those who applied. Therein lies the firm future of voluntary effort.
§ 5.29 p.m.
§ LORD FRASER OF LONSDALE
My Lords, I venture to say that the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, moved me, and it is a great 377 pleasure to congratulate her and to welcome her to your Lordships' House. I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for having introduced this debate. I myself have been connected mainly with three charities for most of an adult lifetime. They are St. Dunstan's, of which I have been Chairman for 50 years; the Royal British Legion, of which I was President for 11 years, and the Royal National Institute for the Blind, with which I have been connected for over 50 years. I mention these facts because there is a considerable experience that has been accumulated in this voluntary service over all these years, and also because it entitles me perhaps to claim just a little knowledge.
Charities should all be registered with the Charity Commissioners, save for one or two exceptions which I need not mention. They are not all registered, either because there has not been time or because people have been careless; but they should all he registered. In addition, war charities and charities for the blind, going back to the early years of the First World War have to be registered with the local authorities. The big charities to which I have referred, the Royal British Legion, St. Dunstan's and the Royal National Institute for the Blind, are all registered with the Greater London Council.
My Lords, long ago I served on the old London County Council for a period of three years, and therefore I was able to experience how this registration worked from both sides—as a member of St. Dunstan's Council and also as a member of the London County Council. It is my understanding (and I have checked within the last day with these three societies) that the local authorities, certainly those in the big cities, do this registration work satisfactorily and well, and no change in the law is required. The authorities request and receive annual reports, audited accounts, chairmen's statements and so on; and if they do not find these satisfactory the authorities ask questions. Their object, of course, is to see that the charities are well conducted and adhere to the purposes for which they were set up under their constitutions. As I have said, this is well done.
Suppose, my Lords, that, instead of my having been an unpaid Chairman or President of St. Dunstan's or the Royal 378 British Legion, I had been an official of those bodies and had been paid a salary. I expect that I would still have gone to the House of Commons and would have bothered every Government for the last 50 years to do more for the ex-Servicemen. Should I not then have been indulging in political activity?—not Party political activity, because I have "chased" every Government with equal friendliness and advocacy. To-day we have had at least five speeches in which requests have been made to Government to reduce this tax or to improve that tax—on Christmas cards, or whatever it might be. These are all political activities, and it is a great nonsense to suppose that those concerned with charities, especially the great national charities, should keep away from politics Their first aim should not be political, but one of their aims should be to improve the position of their members in the sight of Government and Parliament; and that, surely, must be a good aim. Even if I go to prison for it, my Lords, I shall keep on making these speeches—indeed, I have something to ask now.
The National Institute for the Blind supplies blind persons with machines for writing Braille, and all kinds of valuable gadgets to help them overcome the handicap of blindness. These things are supplied at much less than cost price. Many of these machines attract purchase tax, but by a kind and somewhat obscure arrangement between the Royal National Institute for the Blind and the Treasury, a rebate is given which almost covers the purchase tax. If value added tax comes along and is applied to every commodity, it will raise the price of these things to the charities; and, worse still, to the blind people. So here we are indulging in a political observation of which I hope good notice will be taken.
I do not think it necessary to redefine the meaning of the word "charity", nor do I think it necessary to introduce new legislation to make the supervision of the Charity Commissioners stricter or to give them more widespread powers than they have already. It is my experience—not only as a Member of Parliament, when I used to bring local cases to the Charity Commissioners for the application of the cy-près doctrine but also in national charities—that the work is very 379 well done by the Charity Commissioners or the big local authorities; and there has been a very good relationship which is much to the credit of both.
My Lords, this word "charity" was made famous by the Bible and the words, "Faith, hope and charity". There the word was a translation of a Greek word which meant Christian love: not sexual love, or any unpleasant kind of love, but Christian love of one fellow for another; the love of a man for his neighbours and his friends. It is a beautiful word. Nevertheless, it has come into discredit, and there is a stigma attached to it to which I wish to refer. So much so, that for the last six editions of the Bible the word "charity" has been dropped and replaced by the word "love". So now we have, "Faith, hope and love". They are to be found in nearly all the new Bibles.
Why has this stigma been attached to the word "charity"? It is due to the fact that a relatively small number of people put on airs because they had money to give away and because they were members of committees. They were patronising, and the poor people who had to go to them did not like this and felt that they were being patronised. A poor person would say, "I am not going to have charity"—very much like the Irish who would rather starve than have anything to do with England. Along with this there is a demand, which is a political demand, though not necessarily made by charities, by people who say, "We want the State to do, through the welfare services, through the local authorities, everything which is required to be done. We do not mind receiving help from our neighbours, the taxpayers and ratepayers and those who live next door to us—we do not mind that. What we object to is receiving charity". You see the confusion of thought, my Lords, because both are a form of uncovenanted aid. They say, "We want it as of right". Unfortunately, this ideal, if it is an ideal, or this idea—it is certainly an idea—is quite incapable of being fully realised.
Even now, when the State has developed the welfare services to a high degree, and so many of the accidents and misfortunes of life are covered, there are still a great many gaps which are filled 380 by various voluntary organisations including the Red Cross, the women's societies, the Royal British Legion, St. Dunstan's, the Royal National Institute for the Blind and many local societies for the blind. They not only bring money and help where needed, but they bring it quickly, kindly and sympathetically in cases where the State could not possibly be expected to intervene. When I was a young soldier I went to the Salvation Army in France for a rest and a cup of tea; when I was wounded the Red Cross took care of me. Then I went to St. Dunstan's as a beneficiary. That did not hurt me. One can receive help with grace just as well as one can give it. It is a great mistake to decry the work of charity, because if we are to discourage it, if Governments were to try to put it down or supersede it, it would mean depriving not only a great many people of the help they need but also a great many other people of the opportunity of giving that help.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ LORD BALERNO
My Lords, it gives me peculiar pleasure to be following my noble friend Lord Fraser of Lonsdale, especially because of what he has done for the war blinded. I am vice-chairman of the Scottish War Blind Association, and we find it a distinction to try to emulate the magnificent work that is being done by St. Dunstan's. I am also glad to join with other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for initiating this debate and for his speech. I should like to join in the congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, on her maiden speech and to thank her, for it is seldom that experience, charm and clarity of thought are combined in one and the selfsame speech, and we must all hope to hear her again frequently in your Lordships' House.
There are two points that I wish to make relating to tax on charities. Both have been covered by the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, and therefore I will not unduly detain your Lordships with a further elaborate exposition. The noble Lord spoke about the incidence of death duties on legacies and asked whether any alleviation could be made there. Many legacies are made by the testator free of duty but by no means all. There is, however, a peculiar facet of this situation to 381 which I should like to draw the attention of the Government. Where the donor dies within a year of making a substantial gift, the Treasury applies the full incidence of death duties. A prudent charity, getting a substantial gift, ought to take an insurance policy on the life of the donor. But where the donor insists on being anonymous this is somewhat difficult, and where the donor insists that the money be used with speed for a specified purpose, then the charity might find itself in a very serious situation. I have recently had experience of such a thing in the case of a donation of £50,000, given to Heriot-Watt University by an anonymous donor, who died within the year, and £40,000 has to be given over to the Treasury. I think that it ought not to be beyond the wit of the Government to devise some means of putting this situation right.
The second point that the noble Lord. Lord Nathan, made, which I most strongly support, is that we should adopt a better system than that of the 7-year covenant for making donations to charity. We should adopt a system of tax relief on production of receipts from charities, which are deducted from the total income liable to be taxed. Of course, there must be a ceiling on the amount for which this can be done. I think the noble Lord mentioned that in the United States and Canada, where this system works, the ceiling is of the order of 10 per cent. of total income. Such an alteration, I submit, would be very much more productive than the 7-year covenant; would be a greater incentive to donors and would give greater net return to charity. It has the virtue, which again the noble Lord mentioned, that it could greatly simplify the matter of tax collection. Those are the two points I wish to make.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ LORD SANDYS
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for giving us an opportunity to discuss this subject, and I should also add my voice to the chorus of congratulation to the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, on her delightful speech, delightful because it was so practical.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn reminded the House of the excellent nature of the voluntary societies conducting their charitable affairs, 382 especially in relation to the fact that they are not tied hand and foot by statutory regulations. I will address myself later to this point, particularly in regard to the Trustee Investments Act, 1961.
I should like to speak for a moment on the annual reports of the Charity Commissioners for the last few years. I was especially glad to see that the principles and purposes of a charity were underlined in their 1970 Report, in paragraph 28 on page 11, and also emphasised in their Report for 1969. Perhaps I may be allowed to quote from paragraph 12 on page 6:We are concerned simply with the law of charity and with seeking to ensure that funds which are impressed with charitable trusts are used for the purposes of those trusts and not for other purposes which could not be recognised as charitable.This is the very touchstone of what the Charity Commissioners attempt to do—the interpretation of the law.
I would especially commend the Commissioners' work in relation to the charities review, to which the noble Baroness, Lady White, referred. This review is taking place in no fewer than 36 counties, 25 county boroughs and 52 local authorities. I have a slight knowledge of this review in my own county. It is particularly relevant to-day that a large number of charities, whose aims are becoming somewhat obsolescent, should be drawn together and their funds used towards making possible tasks which are more useful and more relevant to the year 1971. But I would stress this. I happen to be a trustee of a charity of a type which might be termed anachronistic. I do not feel in this particular case that the cap fits. I am a trustee of a small trust for bellringers, and on Christmas Day every year £6.50 is distributed among 12 bellringers who perform an admirable public service, Sunday by Sunday. It cannot be claimed that this is in the same nature at all as overseas relief. Yet this is a charitable trust, and I think a public service is performed, and it is acknowledged in this bequest. Surely there is a place for small, charming and somewhat anachronistic charities to continue.
Trustees of charity funds work within the terms of the Trustee Investments Act 1961, and this Act followed almost exactly a year after the Charities Act 383 1960. I should like to point out the difficulties that trustees have experienced. I happen to be involved with the council of management of Oxfam and also in Red Cross, and the management of funds is governed inevitably by the Trustee Investments Act. The particular section of the Act to which I wish to draw the attention of the Government is Section 2, in which are implanted restrictions on the wider range of investment. Your Lordships may be only too well aware that in Schedule 1 to the Act strict rules are laid down whereby the narrow range of investments in Part I do not require professional advice. In Part II there are the narrow range of investments requiring advice; and further, in Part III there are the wider range of investments, including unit trusts and certain other investments. Because the Trustee Investments Act is so particular in the regulation which it lays down, and the interpretation of it requires particular skill, charities are careful to appoint those who are able to interpet it. But where the thing falls down is on inflation.
In 1961 the going rate of inflation, as everyone will be aware, was much less than it is to-day. I do not wish to enter into the political side of this inflation factor, because a number of Governments have been in power in the last ten years, but the point is that the first duty of any trustee is to maintain the value of the trust fund. All trustees are well aware, despite the fact that they enjoy a full measure of benefit of tax relief and other reliefs such as rates et cetera, that even when an investment in the narrow range, which hears high coupon interest of the order of 7 per cent. 8 per cent. and 9 per cent. is accumulated, it is insufficient to make good the depreciation of the total fund by the erosive effects of devaluation in the course of a year. I feel that this is a very relevant point. It should be stressed that the Trustee Investments Act could be revised: indeed, there are provisions for it being altered in Section 12, whereby Her Majesty may by an Order in Council vary the terms of the Act in any manner of investment specified in the particular Order.
This is a complicated area, and one on which I should not wish to detain your Lordships overlong. However, I should like to point out a further aspect of this which can be portrayed quite well 384 in Table 2 of the Appendix of the Charity Commissioners' Report. Values of stocks and securities worth over £141 million are set down, but the details of the actual portfolio are very sparingly set out. But we can gather from that that the "battle of the money box", referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Boyd of Merton, is all too apparent, because earlier in their Report they state clearly that the two classes of share—the share which bears income and the share which builds up—have not appreciated to anything like the same extent as, for instance, a similar investment in a unit trust. It is my contention that there is an opportunity here for the Trustee Investments Act to be varied.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, will feel that my remarks have been relevant, in that he suggested in the terms of his Motion that we should review the laws affecting charities. That is the centre of my contention.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ BARONESS PHILLIPS
My Lords, we are of course grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for introducing this debate to-day in his usual statesmanlike fashion. I think it is significant that the contributions from your Lordships have all been brief, practical and typical of the people who work in the field of social service. I should like to add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve. She is going to be a great addition to this House. Perhaps I can say to her, with all due humility, that she will carry on a tradition which we, as females, have set; namely, that we are always much briefer than the males, and therefore we commend ourselves very much to them. Within this House I can say that without fear of contradiction.
This debate has given us the opportunity to pay tribute to the work of charities, and it is very singular that we have heard to-day of some of the many charities with which your Lordships are concerned. I was particularly glad that the noble Lord, Lord Fraser of Lonsdale, made some reference to the misuse of the word "charity". It is sad to think that it has now become almost a term of abuse. If anyone says, "I do not want charity", it is not intended to be any other than a reproof.
385 My Lords, I have a vested interest in this subject. I have been employed for over twenty years, excluding the period when they lent me to the Government, by the greatest voluntary social service agency in Great Britain, the National Council for Social Service. I notice that the gentleman to whom some of your Lordships have referred, Mr. Des Wilson, in an article yesterday, said that it is time charities were taken away from retired colonels and Lady Peers. I should like to challenge Mr. Des Wilson from this Box as a Lady Peer. If his organisations are run as cheaply as efficiently as mine, I shall be interested to match him pound for pound, and to introduce him to every one of my 50,000 satisfied members.
For the purpose of this debate I have re-read the history of the National Council for Social Service, which they call Voluntary Social Service. I think it is important to remind ourselves of the background in which we discuss the law of charities and the status of charities. We see here a description of the conditions, which I think we sometimes forget, that prevailed in London in the mid-19th century, of 100,000 abandoned children; a ragged army who marched forth every morning, not to work, but to beg; and the silent legions of the poor bowing their heads for bread. But there was at that time very little method for a consistent purpose of alms-giving. Several attempts were made to draw the threads together and avoid misdirected charity, which I am sure we all agree degrades both the giver and the one who receives. Therefore over the years we see attempts to draw together the charities and to avoid overlapping. We also see that the growth of the voluntary societies affecting social and economic welfare has been continuous in the last hundred years, until we now have a vast variety of charities of all kinds. This growth has run parallel with an expansion in the local government field of statutory social service.
There is another factor to consider. The redistribution of income through taxation has resulted in the disappearance of what might be called the "great patrons". Their place has been taken in modern society by charitable trusts, big business and industry. That is why we are all so concerned when engaged 386 in charity work for the status which is bestowed upon us by being a registered charity. At present the National Council of Social Service have set up two committees to look into two specific areas we have been discussing this afternoon, one of them on charities and taxation. The Director when introducing this quite rightly said:Many charities in Britain think the lack of incentives in tax law is a serious obstacle to improving their income.We have had several instances of this to-day. I will not refer to the question of covenant, but I will merely say that the single graduated pension tax from April 1973 will mean that charities which are at present reclaiming a standard rate of tax at 38.75 per cent. under deeds of covenant will only be able to reclaim at the new basic rate of 30 per cent. I am not quite sure whether the Minister who is to reply will be able to deal with those two points; it is a little hard on him since this is obviously not his department. However, it is useful to air these matters. I believe one noble Lord referred to this debate as "exploratory". That is true.
Perhaps I may raise the question of the value added tax which is to replace purchase tax and S.E.T. The charities are wondering whether this, too, will have an effect, as at present they receive a refund of S.E.T. Then there is the question of national insurance. In the example of a charity which may run an old peoples' home, it is very hard if the warden working in the home has an insurance card on which the charity has to pay the full rate of insurance. This may make quite a considerable difference to the number of people they employ, though it is a small sum compared with the total amount of insurance collected. There is also the point that if a person makes a gift of land as a site for a village hall or community centre, this becomes liable for capital gains tax, because the owner is deemed to have made a "disposal". This means that he may have to pay tax, when in fact he has given the land and therefore has not only lost the value of it but also any profits that he might have made from it had he sold it and not given it away.
Another point with which the Committee is concerned is to look at the overlapping of appeals; and they are also 387 preparing a guide for the public about fund-raising. I should like to quote from this guide because it is very relevant to our discussion in relation to the definition of "charity". They say in their foreword that they are outlining the enactments and common law relating to charities and that there is one cardinal difficulty: In everyday usage the words "charity", "charitable" and "charitable purposes" are commonly applied to any enterprise or object associated with welfare, as distinct from commercial benefit. A second and more restricted meaning of "charity", "charitable" and "charitable purposes" arises when these terms are used to denote enterprises or objects which are exclusively charitable and not commercial, although trading may be part of their activities, and the proceeds are wholly devoted to charitable objects. Such charities are protected and regulated by law. The Charities Act 1960 provides for the registration of a large number of these charities, so it is convenient to distinguish them from those in the first group by using the term "registered charity". But even in the case of registered charities there is no universal, statutory or other definition of the word "charity", and the connotation it bears in particular circumstances has therefore to be decided on a legal basis by analogy with past decisions of the courts going back as far as the Elizabethan Preamble. That Act is the Act of 1601, which is sixty years before the Great Fire, and I would suggest that things have changed a little since then and indeed are changing rapidly now.
If we look at the Report of the Charity Commissioners we see at page 5 that the new constitution of the Commissioners was laid down in the first Schedule to the Act of 1960 and that it provided that the Commissioners should be appointed by the Home Secretary and should be civil servants. It was explained—and this is the relevant point—that when the Charities Bill was before Parliament the Commissioners would not be subject to ministerial control or direction in the discharge of their duties. This is excellent in one way, because it leaves them great flexibility of movement, but it makes it difficult for anybody to make an appeal; and what I have learned in my short exercises in local and central government 388 is that there is an appeal for almost any activity which is undertaken. So I feel that the Charity Commissioners are in a singularly unusual situation.
§ LORD WINDLESHAM
My Lords, before the noble Baroness leaves that point, there is an appeal to the courts through the Charity Commissioners.
§ BARONESS PHILLIPS
My Lords, that is so; but of course an appeal to the courts can be an expensive business, and a charity without any money is not often in a position to undertake such a course. The Minister gave us some very useful guidelines for charities which I think he said the Charity Commissioners used. The first is the limited number of decided cases where the activities were of a political and not charitable nature, but having objects which are exclusively charitable. We have had several examples cited this afternoon which are very difficult to explain under the fourth clause; namely, that they are charitable within the meaning of the Act.
I have founded a little trust to educate people in consumer affairs and, as I have said before, if the Consumer Council has gone out of existence—and perhaps it is reasonable that the Government should not spend money in this field—it therefore seems the more reasonable that a charity which is prepared to do this work should be encouraged. We have tried twice, and shall continue to try, to be registered as a charity although we are not bothered about profits because we have not go any—in fact, we have not got any money at all, which is quite usual for a charity—but we received a reply to the effect that because we were dealing with consumer education this was something outside the field of "charity", and it would not be sufficient to suggest that this was a purpose beneficial to the community, and one which would come within the fourth division of charity in Lord Macnaghten's classification in Pemsel's case. To come within that division, a purpose must be beneficial in a way which the law regards as charitable, and to do this it must be within the spirit and intendment of the Preamble to the Statute 43 Elizabeth I (The Charitable Uses Act, 1601). So we come back to the four dimensions which have been mentioned. I am sure there is a way out of this—it is not like the life cycle; you 389 must be able to break through it—but I have not yet been able to discover it.
Several noble Lords have referred to the fact that if money is subscribed for a particular object, it may lie fallow for many years unless it is whittled away by legal action. I am reminded of an occasion when a charity with which I was concerned had a report submitted by the treasurer in which he said that quite a large sum of money had been lying dormant for about thirty years. He said that it had been in the hands of the bankers and not of the lawyers, and that was why we had so much money left.
There is little doubt that there is a vast amount of money lying about which could be usefully employed if we could find a way of breaking through this curious law that it must be devoted to an identical object. If there is another disaster such as that at Lynmouth, which we pray will never happen, it could hardly be an identical disaster. I wonder whether "the common good funds" referred to in this Charity Commissioners' Report might be a way of breaking through this problem.
The right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Blackburn drew attention to something which we must never underestimate. Whatever the power of the State, and however good the statutory provision, there will always be a place for charity and for voluntary social services in this country. There will always be the group that needs to have the manoeuvrability and opportunity to pioneer, and always the need for the volunteer. I get a little tired of some of the snide comments about the "inspired amateur". I suppose that we in this House are all "inspired amateurs", and I hope that no one will say that this does not work. This is the British way of life; it is something very special to us, and we must not see it whittled away.
May I close on the note struck by the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, with whom I so much agreed. Charity means caring; personal charity means real personal service. But charities cannot survive unless they are given responsibility and money with which to do their very valuable work.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE, DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION AND SCIENCE (LORD BELSTEAD)
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, when he started his speech, referred to his good fortune in speaking immediately after the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod. I have no doubt that those who know the noble Baroness could have told us in this House that we would have a maiden speech of such exceptional knowledge and exceptional charm. The noble Baroness catalogued aid, help, involvement and caring as integral parts of charity as well as that of fund-raising. Those of us who have only recently come to know the noble Baroness must have realised as she spoke this afternoon that she herself is no bad advertisement for those characteristics and that we were listening to a speaker whom we hope will very soon take part in our proceedings again.
It is interesting to recall that back in 1949 the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel introduced a debate in this House calling attention to the need for encouragement of voluntary action, to promote social progress. Before that debate, the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, had published a book drawing attention to the fundamental question of the position of charities when their objectives had been overtaken by the statutory services of the Welfare State, a matter which has been referred to again and again this afternoon. So it is immensely heartening that over twenty years later, and with hundreds of millions of pounds added to the national statutory social welfare budget, the pressure in the terms of this debate (which we thank the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for initiating to-day) is for a widening of charitable activities. It is true that this stems partly from dissatisfaction which some of your Lordships have expressed with the legal view of what is charitable, but there is no question that behind this debate today there also stands an acknowledgment of the record of charitable work giving service to the public on a voluntary basis.
My Lords, lest you may think that this is just a glib phrase rolling off the tongue, may I refer you to statistics in the Charity Commissioners' latest Report for 1970, that at the end of 1970 there were some 391 77,000 charities registered, of which 10,444 were registered in the last ten years. In my Department of Education and Science this record is clearly seen in the general youth service field where service is given by a multitude of diverse organisations, some long established and building on their well-tried traditions to meet new problems in modern society. One remembers that it was the Report of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, a few years ago which made the point, which came startlingly to some people, that it was the older established charities which were doing a better job than anyone in dealing with immigrant problems. One sees that sort of organisation in youth services, and on the other hand fresh organisations often specialising entirely in voluntary service in urban areas. As my noble friend Lord Windlesham said earlier in the debate, the spirit of charity and service is nowhere stronger in the community than in the younger generation. I have had the good fortune in my Department to see the truth of this in general youth service organisations.
As paragraph 28 of the Commissioners' Report reminds us, over the last ten years "joint provision" is a term heard increasingly where statutory and voluntary bodies combine to provide facilities for the public. As that Report says, it was Section 12 of the 1960 Act which gave statutory authority for consultation and co-operation between the charity trustees, their fellows, and between charities and local authority services at all levels, and which authorised exchange of information for the purpose of co-operation, while at the same time Sections 10 to 12 of the Act ensured that local authorities had no power to review or to intervene in charities' affairs without the consent of the trustees.
None the less, the Commissioners have, since 1964, taken the initiative in launching local reviews to avoid duplication and have tried to identify need, and they tell the reader about this in paragraph 31. There must he many noble Lords in this House who have cause to bless the added effect when statutory and voluntary effort combine to act together, not only in simply providing more cash for a particular objective, but in dovetailing the services which are the special responsibility of each. For instance, to take 392 a simple example, many of your Lordships probably know a great deal better than I do that it is not much good having an organisation which exists, say, to offer temporary housing to those who have come out of prison and their families if the local authority housing list does not provide hope of ultimate permanent accommodation. This is the sort of thing I was trying to refer to when I spoke of dovetailing services. I for one listened with greatest respect to Lord Nathan's reference to the part of voluntary service in the social service field, which I am sure will be read with great interest by senior Ministers.
The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, to-day called for a widening of the intake for charitable organisations, and my noble friend Lord Windlesham undertook that at the end of the debate replies would be given about educational charities. I seek to reply to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, in this way. He mentioned the case of the Humanist Trust, which was placed on the register because its objectives were assumed to exist for the promotion of education in the sense in which "education" is used in charitable law, but subsequently the view was taken that this body has as its real purpose the promulgation of its particular beliefs and not of "education" in that legally charitable sense. There is nothing derogatory in what I am saying; I am simply relating facts. In these circumstances, Section 4(3) of the Act provides that the Secretary of State shall remove from the registerany institution which no longer appears to the Secretary of State to be a charity ".From Section 4(3) there is the right of appeal to the High Court provided by Section 5(3) of the same Act.
When the case of the Humanist Trust was debated in an Unstarred Question in February, the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, quite reasonably, pointed out that such an appeal would be far too costly for many charities. But what is the alternative? I suggest it can only be by a widening of the intake for charities, without any definition. Although the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, very properly gave his definition as "any non-profit making body working for the common good", speeches by other noble Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, the noble Viscount, Lord Boyd 393 of Merton, the noble Baroness, Lady Hylton-Foster, and my noble friend Lord Gage, showed that this would not be what one could call an agreed policy.
Although in many respects I sympathise with the views which the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, has put to the House, it is right for us to bear in mind that when the 1960 Act was passing through Parliament the attempt was made, as my noble friend reminded us, to define a "charity" or "charitable purposes". This proved impracticable, and after an Amendment had been unsuccessfully moved in your Lordships' House the matter was dropped, because the Statute of Elizabeth in 1601 did not give any definition; and in any case it could obviously be held to be out of date to-day. That Statute gave examples of matters then held to be charitable. For the past 370 years a body of law has been built up which has endeavoured to extend and adapt. I would draw your Lordships' attention to the second table on page 9 of the Charity Commissioners' 1970 Report, where it is shown that (taking Lord Macnaghten's first three classifications), 10 per cent. of the new charities which have been founded since 1960 have been religious; 2 per cent. have been educational; 18 per cent. have been for the relief of poverty and the rest have been for other charitable purposes. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, will be quite within his rights if he points out that the relief of poverty comes into a great many of these other charities. None the less, I think I am in my rights to point to this table, which surprised me and might surprise some other noble Lords.
I accept that there are disagreements about what institutions should be admitted to the register. Broadly speaking, I believe that a real attempt has been made to extend the register so far as the four classifications, and in particular the fourth, of Lord Macnaghten in the Pemsel case, will allow; and as both Lord Beaumont and Lady White said, the Charity Commissioners' Report clearly shows that their work through the cy-près doctrine is ensuring that charitable funds are not lacking in up-to-date objectives—at any rate, not if the Charity Commissioners can help it. Paragraph 45, about how the Charity Commissioners would like to chase some trustees if they 394 had the chance, makes not unamusing reading.
If the work of the past 370 years were to be consolidated into a Statute I have no doubt that it could be done, but it would be unrealistic not to recognise that the Nathan Committee, though wanting a definition of "charity", recognised that it must be based on Lord Macnaghten's classification, with the case law preserved as it stood. That is reported speech of what the Nathan Committee said. The attempt to introduce a definition into the 1960 Act defeated the ingenuity of your Lordships' House.
Notwithstanding all this, the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, put forward the case that the law of charity excludes sections of the community who are in need of help. On the Second Reading of the 1960 Charities Act the late Lord Nathan commended the central register which the Act provided as animmense step forward in the direction of enabling the public to derive the maximum benefit from charitable trusts, which, it must not be forgotton, by their very nature have been created for the benefit of the public.It is because the view has been taken over the centuries that "charitable purposes" exist for the public that no tightly defined definition has been achieved. But, at the same time, if the law were to follow the bidding of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, and were to extend Lord Macnaghten's classifications, although at first sight such a move would satisfy their wishes, it would lead us down a path which many people might bitterly regret. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, has referred to political organisations and their suitability for charitable status. We live in a democracy in this country where the give-and-take of Parliamentary life is sincere but invariably good-humoured. Doubtless the existing political Parties, and others in politics, whose objectives are persuasion by constitutional means might be deserving cases if there were a change in the law. But if there were any change in the law there would be no knowing where this move might lead.
The noble Lord, Lord Amulree, has discussed a national disaster fund, with money after two years going into the fund from localities. Like the noble Lord, I 395 respect the concept of a national disaster fund, but such a proposal involves certain misunderstandings of which most certainly the noble Lord was fully seized. The view of the Commissioners is that there are not large quantities of dormant charitable funds—though I know that there are certain exceptions to that statement. Any trustees in difficulties over applying their income in accordance with their trusts have a duty under the Charities Act 1960 to apply to the Commissioners for a scheme to vary the objects of their charity. If, on the other hand, the concept of the national disaster fund is to facilitate the raising of funds, I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, about local spontaneity, and I believe that emotive appeal is a most important factor in attracting financial support. It is not defeatist in any way to query this generous concept. Certainly a national fund would provide a ready answer to disaster, whether local or national in scale. But, as I have said, charitable funds across the board do not lie idle. We in this country have a wonderful gift for doing our best to meet disasters when they strike. Our money-raising record, as a nation, is such as to lead us to believe that the existing methods usually provide the heartfelt response which is the necessary ingredient in so many of these cases.
In this connection may I pay tribute to the chairmanship of the Disasters Emergency Committee by the representative of the British Red Cross Society, and refer to the case which was strongly put by the noble Viscount, Lord Boyd of Merton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hylton-Foster, about charities and political activities. Let me repeat, briefly, what my noble friend Lord Windlesham has said. One of the conditions of charitable status is operation for the public benefit. The courts have taken the view that they are unable to decide whether activities of a political kind are likely to benefit the public. It is possible that political activity, subsidiary to a main charitable object, may not necessarily be objectionable, but there is difficulty in saying where the lines should be drawn. So the Charity Commissioners have been in touch with a number of charities on this subject and it is now their belief (and this is subsequent to the 1969 report) that their stand on this subject is generally understood and is accepted.
396 I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, that the law to-day is interpreted in this respect more liberally and not less so. There are certain charities on the register in 1971 which it might reasonably be expected would not have been found on the register in the 'fifties. My interpretation of this is that the Commissioners are doing their best, within their terms of reference under the law, to be as flexible as they can. This can be nothing to do with Government policy, or civil servants because the Charity Commissioners, once appointed, are an independent body.
Other points have been raised in the debate, and in list form may I very briefly do my best to reply to them. The noble Baroness, Lady White, brought home the telling point about information to Members of Parliament: should it not be privileged when it comes from charities? The Charity Commissioners have made it clear to charities that the presenting of facts or analysing of situations to those in politics is something which is perfectly all right, but that as soon as political propaganda comes into the brief which charities may send to politicians we are once again led back to the field of controversy and this is something on which the Charity Commissioners would have to take a different view.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn brought to the notice of the House the delay in the altering of charitable objectives in Church schools. I am sorry to hear this. I should be grateful if the right reverend Prelate would give me afterwards relevant information. I am worried that perhaps the right reverend Prelate is referring to omnibus schemes which the Department of Education and Science has been making in agreement with the dioceses under Section 86 of the 1944 Act, whereby the Department and various dioceses deal with old, worn-out schemes just as the right reverend Prelate described. Naturally, these are sometimes held up by perfectly understandable opposition from people living in the locality and also by the weight of work to which the right reverend Prelate referred. If he cares to give me chapter and verse, I will do my best to be helpful at a later stage.
The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of 397 Borve, referred to Christmas cards, purchase tax and football pools. I think I must ask whether I may refer to my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer all three of these subjects and see what reply I can get from the Treasury. But on the football pools competition, I may say that the Bill for this has passed through all its stages in the other place and is down for Second Reading in this House next week. The object of the Bill is to give a limited continuing legality to certain charitable pools, provided the financial benefit they provide for charity or sport is kept as high as possible. The noble Lords, Lord Fraser of Lonsdale, Lord Nathan, Lord Balerno and Lord Sandys, all made points on which I must ask whether I may consult the Treasury.
The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, made a point on the rate of income tax. In the discussions on the Finance Bill in the Standing Committee of the House of Commons the Financial Secretary to the Treasury said:My right honourable friend has this matter under consideration. He is prepared to discuss it with the representatives of charitable organisations to see whether there is something else that the Government may reasonably do to help charities retain their equilibrium. We place the utmost value on the voluntary work which many of these large and small charities do, and we would not willingly see them suffer inadvertently as a by product on the reform of the system of taxation.The noble Baroness made other points as well, on which I would ask whether I might write to her.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, made a specific point on independent schools. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has affirmed in another place, on April 21, the belief of the Government in a thriving independent sector of education. We believe this because although no Minister at the Department of Education would be a Minister there unless he believed that the maintained system of schools in this country was the best in the world, we also as a Government do not like monopoly, and we view monopoly in the future of our children as suspiciously as we view monopoly in anything else. We also view with interest the contribution which the independent sector of schools makes to the boarding provision in this country. Out of a total of boarding places of 162,316, 398 only 24,818 are at the maintained schools to-day, and 119,658 of that total of over 160,000 are in independent schools. It is for reasons of this kind that I can give the answer to my noble friend that it is the Government's intention that the independent schools should continue to make their valuable contribution to the pattern of education.
My Lords, to end my remarks, may I return to the question of admissions to the register. Certainly the existing law applies restrictions, though the whole tenor of the 1970 Commissioners' Report demonstrates, I think, their desire to be as flexible and helpful as possible within the law which they are bound to administer; indeed, many noble Lords have said this during the debate. But there is another side to the coin. One of the difficulties voluntary bodies inevitably face is duplication of effort. This is the fault not of people but of circumstances, for it is only right that voluntary effort should be alive to meet the needs of the moment. Very often, inevitably, this will mean that diverse organisations find themselves all coming in together to try to sort out particular needs and particular demands. An unlimited widening of entry to the register might exacerbate this situation and might increase the apprehensions of many people who have the future of charities at heart and it would increase the difficulties which Departments have to face where the question of Government support arises.
It may be of interest to your Lordships to know that the Commissioners' Report shows that by the end of 1970 113 local authorities had started local reviews of charities within their areas. Arising out of these reviews the Commissioners have so far made 279 schemes, usually to modernise the objects of the charity, but sometimes to combine charities with similar objects, or both. Schemes are not required in all cases, however, for often such reviews will encourage trustees to think afresh about their objectives, the effective application of their income, and the need to co-operate with other bodies, be they voluntary or statutory. My Lords, I believe that this is the way forward—a sensible use of private money, and also of money given by public bodies, by co-operation and by constant review, bearing in mind that the 399 law and organisation of charities owes this to those who give and to those to whom charitable work, which to my mind is a vital element in the life of our nation, means so much. In thanking the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, for initiating this debate, I would add that we owe a debt of gratitude also to the Charity Commissioners whose latest report clearly shows their desire to promote the vital work of charities in as constructive and liberal manner as is open to them.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY
My Lords, it only remains for me to thank your Lordships' House, and particularly all noble Lords who have spoken, for what I think has been a useful debate. Noble Lords will forgive me if I do not take up their time by mentioning all the speakers, but it would be right to say that the highlights probably of to-day's debate have been the contributions from the Clan Macleod. It has been a great privilege for me to initiate a debate which has provided the opportunity for the noble Baroness to speak to us so early in her Parliamentary career. We are delighted that she has done so and very much look forward to hearing her on many other occasions.
I was also very pleased that this debate was the occasion for one of the rare but always trenchant speeches from the noble Lord, Lord MacLeod of Fuinary, who put in an exemplary way exactly what I feel about the interaction of politics and religion. I thought that possibly we strayed a little off the path occasionally when we got too theological about charity, because a term with two meanings but a common root can give way to a certain amount of misunderstanding, and it is not always right to follow that to its logical conclusion. Another highlight of this debate has been the special expertise of certain noble Lords, reflected particularly in the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, and the noble Lord, Lord Nathan. Indeed it is fitting that the noble Lord. Lord Nathan, should have made such a heavyweight contribution to this debate, seeing how well his name is tied up with this whole field of charity.
I think it has transpired in the field in which I particularly made my points 400 in my opening speech that there is a division in your Lordships' House, just as there is a division in the work of charities. I am not going to answer this debate in detail, but I should like to say one or two things on this matter before we close. First, I get the impression that it is a division between the older and the newer charities and, to a lesser extent, a division between the older and the younger generation. It may be unfair—I hope not—but my general impression is that when the Charity Commissioners say that they are in touch with charities and on the whole everyone is happy, what they really mean is that they are very much in touch with the bigger, most established and older charities.
To those who have been riled—and obviously some noble Lords have been—at the slightly astringent attitude taken by Mr. Des Wilson on this subject, I would say that he has earned the right to speak in this way by his brilliance in combining these two approaches of politics and charity. Therefore I hope I detected an element of open-mindedness in the Government, particularly in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, on the matter of definition. I think we would do well to bear in mind that if this diagnosis is right there may be more charities and more people, rather than less, who as time goes on, feel unhappy about the situation.
I do not think the question of international charities and the danger they may get into is a very real objection. No one is going to force charities to become political if they do not want to, and foreign Governments are perfectly able to distinguish between those charities which have any political taint and those which have not, as indeed was obvious in the case of the Nigerian Government, the Pakistan Government and other Governments.
I wish to make one personal comment about my reaction to the debate before I ask your Lordships' leave to withdraw the Motion. There is also, I believe, a psychological split in your Lordships' House. In terms of the argument adduced by the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth (if I followed it correctly) I am a Continental rather than an Anglo-Saxon. I do not think that to muddle through is a good thing; I do not think that the argument 401 that it works and therefore it is all right is a good one. The question is: How will this work and in comparison to what, and could something else work better? The argument that it works and that therefore we had better leave it alone is a singularly Anglo-Saxon device. I do not regard myself as an amateur—not even a gifted amateur; I regard myself as a professional politician, and I am proud of it. I think a large number of your Lordships would so regard yourselves. The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, is one, and it is a very good thing to be.
Therefore I think we ought to move towards a clearer and more satisfactory position on this question of the definition of charities. The way forward may come from the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, when he made the wholly pertinent comment on my speech that I was muddling up two things—charities and financial relief for pressure groups and political Parties. I do not entirely accept that criticism, but I think it may open a way forward that could be explored in the future.
I am grateful to your Lordships' House for giving me this opportunity of moving this Motion, of initiating this debate and so following my distinguished Liberal predecessors, Lord Samuel and Lord Beveridge, as the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, reminded up. All that remains for me to do now is to ask leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers standing in my name.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.