§ 5.5 p.m.
Viscount Colville of Culross
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
465 It is the result of the deliberations of a Select Committee of your Lordships' House which worked through most of last Session, but I think I shall offend none of my colleagues if I say that the credit is to be attributed to a very large measure to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, our chairman, whose hard work and hard thought are really responsible for what we have before us. To his name I would add that of our most assiduous committee clerk. If I may say so, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, could not have found a more appropriate or happier occasion on which to choose to make his maiden speech, and we much look forward to hearing him in a moment.
What had happened was that—I am sure your Lordships will remember this—over recent years there had been two Private Member's Bills involving my noble friends Lady Faithful, Lord Renton and Lord Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, in a previous incarnation. After these Bills were submitted to the Select Committee, a great deal of written and oral evidence was received about them. It is printed in the big blue book for your Lordships to read. In the end, the Select Committee felt that it could not recommend that either Bill, as such, should proceed because there were great arguments which had arisen on certain aspects of each of them, but they addressed very substantial mischiefs which should be put right; and that is what this Bill tries to do. I hope, therefore, that it has now been reduced to a form which is uncontroversial in principle but in fact is practical to achieve the results that we want.
But it is a modest Bill, as befits a Private Member's Bill. It is not intended to be anything like a wholesale reform of charity law; that would be a job for Government, not for me. Upon reflection, I think that there may be something to be said for changing the Long Title of the Bill so as to make it certain that that is not the overall intention. There are various technical reasons for that. Nor is it any attempt to change the workings of the Charity Commission. We heard from them on two occasions at least, and they have been extremely helpful in relation to this Bill, because, commendably quick off the mark, they have published a pamphlet about it, which is already in circulation—I hope not too prematurely—for charity trustees to use.
I shall leave others to go into the details of what happened in the Select Committee—the process and reasoning—but of course there is a very full account of it in the report of the Select Committee, which is Paper 293-I, The three mischiefs that the Bill sets out to remedy are to be found in paragraph 79 of the smaller document. For me at least, the starting point is the fact that in many charities money is available for public purposes to fill needs which had been selected from one time to another as being requisite to be put right. The money came from private beneficence, but now it is wrong, I think, if some obstruction or fetter prevents it being put to a proper charitable public purpose. It is also wrong if there is no public accountability. It emerged, incidentally, from some of the evidence that, in relation to many of these funds, there has been information available about the funds or their value ever since the charity was first registered under the 1960 Act—probably about 20 years ago. No up-to-date information is available at all.
466 This is public money in another sense too because if there is income there is of course no tax payable, or if tax has been paid it is refunded. The Inland Revenue require accounts if that is going to happen; but of course no accounts would be publicly available through the channels of the Inland Revenue. All in all it seems that there is just no supervision at all of how efficiently or how properly the trustees are administering this public money. So with that very short introduction and in the hope that other Members of the Committee will fill in more of the details of our discussions, I should like to turn to the Bill because it is my job to take the House through the content of the clauses.
It must first be realised that the Bill is to be read as one with the main Act—the Charities Act 1960. So if any interpretation is required of the phrases used one looks to the text of the 1960 Act and the whole will be part of a single statutory code. Clause 1 deals with local charities for the relief of poverty. The first matter that appears in the text is that the Home Secretary is given power to require by regulations more detail in the accounts that the trustees have to lodge. Next, instead of sending accounts to the parish council—or I may say, as a result of having had a letter from the National Association of Local Councils it perhaps ought to say "as well as" sending it to them—and to the Commission, the accounts are to go to the appropriate local authority. Which local authority that will be has still to be decided and will take the form of a statutory instrument, because it is probable that the proper one would be the one responsible for social services and that, according to what part of the country you are in—and I do not want to get on to delicate ground in this respect—may be the county or the district council. Therefore, it may be better to look at this matter in rather more detail through regulations which of course could be changed unlike the Bill itself. At any rate the accounts are to go to the proper local authority where they will be available for public inspection. The trustees have to give notice where the accounts can be inspected; and also unless and until they have lodged the accounts with the local authority they must make a copy (on repayment) for anyone who wants to see them.
The final sanction on the publication of accounts would lie in the fact that power is now being given to anyone to complain to the commissioners if accounts are not published. Section 18 of the 1960 Act gives the commissioners very wide powers; but at present the procedure is complicated and there is a limit on who can apply—an ordinary member of the public cannot apply. So Clause 1(6) gives the commissioners a free hand, with less formality and on application by anyone, to exercise their powers under that section. For instance, they can establish a scheme for the administration of the charity; they can remove the trustees; and they can deal with any problems relating to property or to money payments. Even if the commissioners do not often use that power—and I do not envisage that they would do so—it is hoped that its existence will underpin the other requirements in the Bill that figures should be published which really mean something, and that they should appear on a regular basis.
467 The next problem arises out of the objects that were originally laid down for a charity and which may have become very out of date. Here the Bill deals again in Clause 2 with local charities for the relief of poverty. Some of them are very ancient. But even if they are not so old the objects as originally set out may have become obsolete. However, the important point is that the evidence showed us that, despite the existence of the welfare state, the opportunity to put money to good use is still very present—perhaps even more so at a time of economic constraint.
I was very struck with the evidence of the Family Welfare Association when they came to the Select Committee. In 1982–1983 they gave £80,000 to the poor, having taken over the administration of a large number of charities. They said that they could, with the greatest of ease, have given away from between £800,000 and £1 million annually, to meet what they called "desperate needs". Those needs are exemplified in the stouter of the two blue books on page 229. There was also evidence that the same applies in Wales and in Northamptonshire, to give two other examples that can be found in the evidence. The Charity Commissioners themselves confirmed this view earlier on in the evidence that they gave at Question 49.
Yet the trust may be so drawn that such contemporary needs cannot be met or usefully met. I have only picked out a few examples. There is a Humberside charity formed as recently as 1910 which provides an income of £3 a year to provide oranges for school-children. There is another one for the provision for 16 loaves in the market-place at Michaelmas for the poor. There is another to provide financial assistance to the first sons of miners in the parish entering the Anglican ministry. The right reverend Prelate no doubt would applaud that with his Kentish coalfield constituency; but it may not be perhaps the most relevant way in which to help all the poor at the present time.
So looking at those type of charities and bearing in mind the doctrine of cy près, which means as near as practicable, it is really not possible to allow free and ready change in the objects which will meet an up-to-date need. For the reasons given in the report, the Select Committee thought it better not to attempt to tinker with the doctrine of cy près, and so there is another approach in Clause 2 which is to allow a discretion in the trustees themselves to change the objects. Fifty years or more after the charity's foundation the trustees can say that the objects are obsolete or useless or unachievable for reasons such as social or economic changes over the period concerned, and that an alternative would allow better use consistent with the the spirit of the original gift.
Clause 2(3) sets out the extent to which change in the objects can be made, and there are other safeguards. One has to consult the founder of the charity if he is still alive (and that will perhaps not be very often in view of the period, but if he is still alive then so be it). There has to be a unanimous resolution, and they have to give their opinion on the modified objects; there has to be publicity, if that would be useful; and there has to be a copy of the change sent to the commissioners and to the local authority. The 468 Charity Commissioners have three months in which to consider this, including any representations that may be made. They can ask for an extra six months in addition to that, but they cannot take more than nine months in all.
However, in order to put the minimum of burden on to the Charity Commissioners, this clause provides that the trustees' opinion that the new objects are apposite is, prima facie, to be considered as well-grounded, and by that means we hope that the number of times that the Charity Commission will have to expend a great deal of trouble on one of these cases will be greatly reduced. If and when they concur, the objects will stand as so modified. But they need not of course concur—they have a complete choice. I may say that there have been many cases in the past where even under the more cumbersome method of making schemes they have concurred in the changing of objects, so it is nothing new.
The next problem relates to the ineffectiveness and size of the charity. Under Clause 3 an exactly similar procedure to that which I have just been describing about the change of objects is introduced for another purpose—the amalgamation this time of any registered charity, provided that its income in the last accounting period was £200 or less. It must be amalgamated with another charity. That other charity must be willing to take over the property and must have objects which are similar enough to adhere reasonably to the donor's intentions or the spirit of the gift. The modification of the procedure, as against that to be found in Clause 2, is only very small. The local authority only has to be notified if the charity transferring its property is a local one for the relief of poverty. If it is not that sort, there is no need to inform the local authority.
This is in fact a simplified form of scheme-making (which I have just mentioned) for small charities. It keeps the money available for charitable use, and this is a principle that has underlain a great deal of the evidence which the Select Committee received; and, again, it should not cause any more trouble to the commissioners than the scheme under Clause 2.
I should like to raise one small point on it. The question was raised whether the Bill itself should take power to vest any property that was being transferred under these provisions; but for conveyancing reasons, it was thought better to leave this to an order under the Charity Commissioners so that there would be a proper record in time to come, and not leave it simply to the Bill. As for the monetary limit, I have received a number of representations about these monetary limits and of course under Clause 3 it is possible for the Home Secretary to increase by regulation the income level of charities which can avail themselves of this machinery over and above the rate of inflation. I suspect that that is something which will only be done when the system has been tested to see whether or not it is a success. But to those who say that the limit should he increased, I would point out that under Clause 3 the power is there to he used at a suitable time.
The other provision to deal with small charities which may be ineffective occurs in Clause 4, and this again applies to any charity with a permanent 469 endowment valued at £25 or less, not being land, and with an income of £5 or less. There is an enormous number of such charities; noble Lords would be surprised if they had heard or read the evidence about that. In this case the trustees may resolve to free themselves of the restriction on spending the capital as income. Again, they must be unanimous; they must notify the commission, but in this case the commission has no power to prevent it; it is simply a matter of record—they must put the file right and note that that is what has happened: the possibility is that the charity will cease to exist.
Under Clause 5(2) the financial limit can only be increased to take account of inflation. This is intentional because, again, there was a great deal of evidence and discussion about whether it is proper for money which has been set aside for charitable purposes to disappear altogether in the course of spending on some project. Therefore, the Select Committee was quite deliberate in keeping the size of charities which could do this to a very small figure indeed.
Clause 6 is the interpretation clause. In the schedules, which are quite important, there are some draft forms for trustees to use. The schedules apply respectively to Clauses 2, 3 and 4. They need not be followed exactly, but they are meant to be simple forms to fill in which will encourage the trustees to use these do-it-yourself provisions without resort to high-powered advisers in the legal or accountancy professions, because we hope that the schedules are clear and easy enough to fill in without any such assistance.
In summary, the Bill tries to pick up the best of both the two previous Bills. It entirely avoids compulsion on amalgamations of charities, which previously was a very controversial issue. It avoids any substantial costs falling upon local authorities, which was another controversial point; it minimises any loss of endowment funds from charitable use: it has very small implications for the workload of the Charity Commissioners; and indeed it ought to help to fulfil some of their duties, such as the question of insisting upon accountability, on which, sadly, they fail very greatly at the moment. In addition—and this is a very important point for any Private Member's Bill—the Bill has no resource implications. Yet the amount of' money—public money—which could be put to better use seems substantial. For instance, there was £60,000 in unused accumulations of parochial charity funds for the relief of poverty on Humberside alone. It is anyone's guess what the total over England and Wales might be. I do not propose to make such a guess about the figure. But even so, without it I would hope that your Lordships will agree that this Bill represents a useful, if comparatively modest, reform but one which is full of common sense. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Viscount Colville of Culross.)
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, in the course of the very lucid introduction of this Bill—a lucidity which we have come to expect from the noble Viscount—the noble Viscount said that it was a Private Member's Bill 470 and that in the circumstances it was not appropriate to talk about the larger implications of the law of charity. The noble Viscount was quite correct in making that observation, but, as I cannot resist the temptation, perhaps I may be excused for saying that I hope this will not be made the excuse for not looking again (as it is so necessary that one should and that the Government should) at the shortcomings of the present law of charity and the implications which charities have in our modern social life.
It is a fact that our law of charity goes back to the days of good Queen Elizabeth I, the Act being dated 1601. Lawyers still have to invoke that statute, helped, as they are, by the very memorable categories that the greatly esteemed Lord MacNaghtan put upon them: the advancement of religion, the advancement of' education, the relief of poverty and, the fourth category, a general benefit to the community not falling within the other three categories. That has lead to a very narrow interpretation of what is a charity. Political implications have been ruled out in spite of the fact that political propaganda of some kind or other is very often necessary to advance the very cause of the charity that one is having to examine.
Therefore, as my very first point, when welcoming this small Bill now before us (as in general terms I do from these Benches, bearing in mind that I speak as an individual, as one always does on a Private Member's Bill) I enter a plea for a general look—be it by Royal Commission or otherwise—at our general law of charity and the need to have it brought up to date. If one needed a reminder, one had it in yesterday's Sunday Times where, in the course of an article headed "Getting the giving habit", the writer of the article, Mr. Michael Brophy, said:I suggest that a look at charities and their financial position is long overdue.Charities are big business. Charity Statistics show that in 1980 their annual income was £7 billion. That is equivalent to 14 per cent. of all public expenditure on health, personal social services, housing, social security, education and the arts. There are also many of them: the Charity Commission, which officially registers all charities, has nearly 150,000 on its records, with about 40 new organisations approved every week".May I turn to the Bill before us? It finds its birth in the parenthood which was given to two Bills which were considered in the course of discussions in your Lordships' House. I do not suppose that the parent of either of them, if I may say so, is necessarily happy with the present child that has emerged, but that does not mean that one should not pay tribute at all events to the act of conception, even if the issue is not quite what the conceiving parents had in mind.
Your Lordships will remember so well that we had in our debates the provisions of the Small Charities Bill brought before us. We considered them in our general discussion of another Bill in which the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, brought before us the most powerful arguments for the Bill for which she was responsible, the Parochial Charities (Neighbourhood Trusts) Bill
We were in a dilemma because the Government, as we understood, it—the Home Office—were giving their support to the Small Charities Bill sponsored in another place by an honourable Member who has in fact had public esteem for many years and who is now most welcome in your Lordships' House: Sir Angus 471 Maude as he was then, and now Lord Maude, who has taken on the cloak of Shakespeare himself by having as his title Lord Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon.
One saw that there was a problem about that Bill. That Bill had as its object the turning of what were supposed to be perpetual endowments for small charities into non-perpetual endowments giving the trustees the power to spend capital even though that power had not been given, or intended, by the original settlor. That meant the extinction of these small charities. Some of us were worried, not least by the fact that this was not the intention of settlors, and settlors might be discouraged from creating charitable settlements if it was found that their wishes were by statute ignored.
Then came the Bill of the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull. She is so well liked in this House that almost automatically we found ourselves liking her Bill, but that did not mean that we did not have some concern about it. There was concern because under that Bill local authorities could—and, indeed, they were requested so to do—compulsorily see that certain small charities were amalgamated into neighbourhood trusts. In this day and age, when local authorities are complaining that they have not enough money and personnel to carry out their existing important objects, one wondered whether this was likely to be a power that they either wanted or could in fact carry through.
The other aspect that made us a little doubtful was the compulsory element in it, which hardly encourages charitable trustees to perform the duties which they do as a great public service and usually in a voluntary capacity. Therefore, we did a sensible thing. We said, "We are in a dilemma: let a Select Committee of this House try to sort it out". The Select Committee, or somebody, did a further sensible thing by appointing the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, as its chairman.
The noble Viscount paid him a tribute, and may I from these Benches say that I, too, pay him and all the members of the committee a tribute for putting before us a fine report accompanied by a draft Bill, and accompanied by forms which are going to be of great use to the people involved. Belonging to the profession that I do, possibly I do not necessarily welcome Bills which seem to draw for the layman everything that the lawyer thinks is possibly his entitlement to draw or advise upon: but, seriously it is most valuable, especially for small charities.
I am nervous about one thing, and that is that we should believe that the provisions of this Bill necessarily cover one of the greatest lapses that we have allowed of necessity in regard to these small charities. The lapse which is brought out in evidence is that so many of them have not registered; so many of them have gone to sleep; so many of them return no accounts to anybody at all. I am really saying to the House, "Please do not let us think that the provisions of this Bill have covered these inadequacies because these provisions apply to those small charities which will be known by local authorities, so that indeed if they do not render the accounts the local authority, or the Charity Commissioners, can chase them and say, "Please may we have the accounts?", or indeed get even stronger in their attitude than that.
472 The real problem here is that we have not reached the many charities—one suspects there are thousands of them throughout the land—that really nobody knows anything about. Since it is difficult in a statute to provide for them, I would hope that there will be a substantial propaganda campaign by the Government, or by a properly financed body of charity commissioners, to see that all local charities, where they may exist are at least told in our national newspapers, or by such advertisements as can appear by posters, to please see to it that they have communication with, and that certainly they have an obligation to send accounts to, the authorities set forth in this Bill.
There are so many who are taking part in this debate—and noble Lords will all have a particular contribution to make—that for me from these Benches to try to cover all aspects and all arguments would be a selfish act in regard both to the time that I should take and to the contributions that those Members of your Lordships' House have to make, and I am sure that they will be very worthy contributions. I therefore want to close merely by saying that I think that this is a sensible compromise between the two Bills, which were conflicting. It is a sensible Bill in many ways. There are duties which are going to be cast upon the Charity Commissioners which they do not have at the moment, and upon local authorities, which have to be recognised as additional duties upon overburdened bodies. The practical aspects of that have to be faced. They should be faced, and they must be faced, but generally this is a good Bill.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Lord Brightman
My Lords, I wonder whether the House might find it useful if I seek to sketch the reasoning which lies behind the recommendations of the committee which I had the honour to chair. Ample evidence emerged to convince it that there were many charities within the order of reference of the committee which were not effective, and the committee identified the causes of this ineffectiveness as threefold. First, a woeful lack of accountability on the part of charity trustees. Secondly, the difficulties and complications in the way of updating obsolete charitable trusts. Thirdly, an ineffectiveness flowing from the sheer smallness of the funds at the disposition of the trustees. It was the task of the committee to search for an acceptable solution for those problems.
It became central to the committee's thinking that any solution to be acceptable had to comply with three requirements. First, the solution must be a simple one, easy for the trustees to understand. Secondly, it must be a solution which made no appreciable demands on central government or local government in terms of money or manpower. Thirdly, except only in the sphere of accountability, it must be a solution which was voluntary, in line with the voluntary nature of charitable giving.
May I turn first to the question of accountability which is sought to be tackled by Clause 1 of the Bill, and may I invite your Lordships to read paragraph 87 of the report of the committee which is the essential background to what we seek to do in Clause 1 of the Bill? If I may quote, paragraph 87 points out that:there is no immediate incentive for trustees of parochial and local charities to try to perform well. In the case of a private trust there 473 will almost always be specific beneficiaries to whom, or to whose parents or guardians, the trustees are accountable and who are likely to take action if the trustees fall down on the job. In the case of a charitable trust, by contrast, the trustees are operating largely on their own, without any effective accountability save in exceptional cases. The result is that inactivity or incompetence is likely to go undetected and unchecked".The principle behind Clause 1 of the Bill increasing the accountability of local charities for the poor is that a charitable foundation exists in the public domain. It is not a private matter, not a private concern, either of the trustees of the charity or indeed of the parish. Therefore, accounts have to he made informative and they must be open for all to see. Not only local authorities but also local residents and local charitable organisations must be able—and indeed must be encouraged—to concern themselves with charities for the poor which exist in their locality.
Clauses 2 and 3, as your Lordships have been told, deal with the updating of obsolete trusts and with amalgamations among small charities. The principle of Clauses 2 and 3 is that trustees of local charities and trustees of small charities should be placed in a position where they can put their own houses in order. Under Clause 2, the trustees of local charities for the poor are to be able, by means of a simple resolution, to bring their trusts, if obsolete, up to date, and they turn to Schedule 1 for the form of the resolution. Under Clause 3, trustees of a small charity may amalgamate with a more viable charity, again by means of a simple resolution. The trustees turn to Schedule 2 to see the form of the resolution.
These are very wide discretions given to trustees, and the committee considered that it was imperative that there should be adequate safeguards to prevent those discretions being misused. Six safeguards are built into the Bill. First, there is a waiting period, which is likely to be about three months, before the trustees can put the resolutions into effect. Secondly, the trustees have to be unanimous. The majority cannot dictate to the minority. Thirdly, the new purposes have to be such that they are compatible with the original purposes and do not violate the spirit of the original gift; and the trustees are required to express their opinion that that is so in the form of the resolutions. Fourthly, there must he public notice given of the change. Fifthly, the resolution must he sent to the Charity Commissioners with a statement of the reasons and also to the local authority in the case of a charity for the relief of poor in a parish or other locality. Lastly, the trustees are not able to act on the resolution until the Charity Commissioners have signified their concurrence.
Whether we have the right safeguards in the Bill is an important question. In a way it is a balancing act between simplicity for the trustees on the one hand and not overburdening the Charity Commissioners with too many duties on the other. I hope that the Committee has that balance about right.
The only other point that I ought to mention is the question of resource implications for local authorities. Those resource implications are negligible as the Bill stands. Under Clause 1 the duty of a local authority is confined to receiving the accounts, to allowing inspection to any person who wishes to see them and to supplying copies on request and upon payment. All 474 the local authority has to do is to compile an index and possess a copying machine.
Under Clauses 2 and 3 the local authority has no mandatory duties. It has powers which it may exercise or not as it thinks fit. The Bill, as I think your Lordships have been told, is supported by the Charity Commission. Indeed, I think I am right in saying that it is welcomed by the Charity Commission. I hope your Lordships may feel that the Bill makes a modest but worthwhile contribution to society in an important and sensitive area.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Lord Airedale
My Lords, when I became a member of your Lordships' House just over 25 years ago it never occurred to me in my wildest dreams that the day would ever come when it would fall to me to congratulate a Law Lord upon his maiden speech. But having served under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, not only upon this committee but on the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills, I offer my congratulations to him not only with humility but with the greatest enthusiasm. I think it has taken him just over two years to come to his maiden speech. We very much hope that it will not be another two years before we hear from him again.
Much has been said already about this Bill. I have only one point to make, and I shall not detain your Lordships for more than a very few minutes. The transfer of one charity to another will mean a loss of identity, and it may mean a loss of a piece of local history. Many charities were founded in honour of some well-known local person who was held in very high regard. The committee were told by one of the witnesses that what inspired the founders of charities sometimes was the desire to perpetuate the memory of a particular person whom they admired: the desire to perpetuate his memory for ever, they hoped, being almost more than the desire to accomplish the good works that the charity was to perform.
It will sometimes be possible to preserve the name of the transferor charity by incorporating it into the name of the transferee, but sometimes this will be difficult because it will lead to a cumbersome new title. However, I hope that the Charity Commissioners, whose task will be to oversee these transfers, will themselves be instinctively anxious to do what they can to see that a piece of local history does not disappear. If Ministers and others were to echo these hopes in the course of this Bill through Parliament, I am sure that the Charity Commissioners would feel strengthened in their desire to do what they can to see that local history is kept alive.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Lord Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon
My Lords, as has already been said, the Select Committee dealt with two Bills relating to charities, one of which was the Bill that came ultimately to your Lordships' House as the Small Charities Bill and was taken over by my noble friend Lord Renton.
It took me 28 years of solid balloting to draw a place in the list for Private Member's Bills in another place. I confess that when I managed to carry it through all its stages in another place in the last Session of my last 475 Parliament, such is the vanity of politicians that I was puffed up with the hope that I might go out in a blaze of glory leaving a Maude Act on the statute book as a permanent memento to my parliamentary career there. But your Lordships, in your wisdom, decided differently. Swallowing my natural disappointment, I hope that I am able to approach the present measure dispassionately and with generosity.
Not only my Bill but that of my noble friend Lady Faithfull were fed together into a kind of legislative mixer which, like the mills of God, ground very slowly but came up in the end with what I think we can all agree is a valuable and worthwhile measure. I fully appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said about the very important matters with which this Bill does not deal. What my noble friend who moved the Second Reading said is essentially true and very important for us to realise; it is that there is no hope in the world that any Private Member's Bill which attempted to deal with the whole field of charities law and of reorganisation of the Charity Commission could possibly get through the other place during the Private Member's Bill time in one Session of Parliament. Nor do I believe that it would be a proper subject for a Private Member's Bill. This is something which the Government must do. It would be the greatest pity if what is valuable and important in this present measure were to be prejudiced by any attempts to widen the scope of this Bill. I hope very much that my noble friend will follow his suggestion of tightening up the Long Title to ensure that we can keep within the bounds of what the committee set out to achieve and what they have put into this Bill.
There is no doubt whatever, as the committee find, that there are a great many small charities in this country which have become ineffective, not always because the resources are not there but often because they have been ill-managed or because the trustees have lost interest or simply do not understand what they could do to improve the effectiveness of their charity. There is, as has been said, a great deal of money lying about which might be much better used. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, that a great deal of publicity ought to be given to try to stir up public interest and the interest of the trustees to see how much more could be done to make effective use of the endowments and income.
I wish to refer to only two specific points in the Bill to which I might wish to return in Committee. The one which is the most important and which has been mentioned already refers to the financial limits. I do not find anything to disagree with in the financial limits in Clause 3—a gross income of £200 or less. This seems to me to be reasonable for that purpose. It is with the financial limits in Clause 4 that I am concerned, because Clause 4, to all intents and purposes, is the one that replaces my own Small Charities Bill. I recognise, of course, that the use which is likely to be made of Clause 4 will be considerably diminished by the provisions of Clause 3, because very many small charities which without the provision of Clause 3, might have wished to spend their capital and terminate their charity, may well be stimulated to take advantage of the opportunities under Clause 3; but there will still be some which will not.
476 I feel that the financial limits in Clause 4 are too low. My noble friend Lord Colville of Culross—and I know that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, and other members of the committee felt the same—took the view that there was a great deal of opposition to the idea that any charity, having once been established by a donor, should fail and be wound up completely. I was advised that there was no law or anything else which said that this was something immutable and could not happen. Obviously, there is a moral obligation to try to keep a charity in being as long as it can be effective. But even if there were some total bar in law or morality to the winding up of charities by disposal of their endowments, Clause 4 breaches that anyway because Clause 4 gives charities the power to spend their endowments if the endowment and the income is below a certain point. So the principle is breached in Clause 4, anyway: and since the principle is breached, I think that one is entitled to ask whether the figures are reasonable. As to the gross income of £5 or less, that, I think, is arguable; but what I am sure is that the value of the endowment at £25 or less is a figure that is too low.
One must assume—and I think that it is probably right that it will be assumed—that when the Bill mentions the value of the endowment we are talking not of nominal or par value in the case of securities but about estimated current market value, whether of securities or of whatever else. I would point out that it is possible for a charity's gross income to be less than £5 while the value of the endowment is considerably more than £25, because not all trustees have invested their money as cleverly or with due notice of changing opportunities for investment. I believe that while there may not be a case for increasing the £5 limit under Clause 4(1)(b), there is certainly a case for increasing the value of the endowment in Clause 4(1)(a) above the figure of £25 because—and this is important—before a charity can dispose of its assets it has to meet both these requirements, both in terms. If it had been "either/or", there might perhaps have been more to be said for it: but it is very restrictive indeed to make it meet both the endowment value of £25 and the income limit at £5 or less: and I think it would be worth pursuing that in Committee.
The only other point that I should like to raise—this is a comparatively minor one but it has caused me a little concern—is about the requirement for trustees to give public notice of what they are about to do. This is provided in Clause 1(4)(a), and the phrase appears throughout the Bill:give such public notice as they think reasonable and justified".It appears again in Clause 2(6)(a):give such public notice that they have done so as they think reasonable and justified".But in this case, in Clause 2, that is substantially cancelled by the last paragraph of subsection (6), which says:The trustees need not comply with paragraph (a) of this subsection if they consider that, in all the circumstances, no useful purpose would be served by giving public notice of the resolution".Exactly the same appears in Clause 3(5), where they are told togive such public notice … as they think reasonable and justified";and then are immediately told that they need not comply with that if they do not want to or consider that it would not be useful.
477 I think there is a contradiction here; but I am not sure that they ought to be allowed to take these steps without giving some public notice of what they intend to do or have done, even if it be only, in the case of a small local charity, a notice on the parish notice board. I think the reasoning behind this was that, since they are under an obligation to notify both the Charity Commissioners and the appropriate local authority, notifying the appropriate local authority would bring it to the notice of all local people who might be concerned or interested. I do not think that this is necessarily so. Where you have, for example, a large county council or a large district council and this is a very small charity in one tiny village, it does not in the least follow that some councillor will in fact pick up what is going on by local word of mouth and inform his constituents. I see a certain amount of trouble, resentment and opposition being caused if local people discover that their own small, local charity is going to undergo some transformation about which they have never been informed. I think it would be sensible if, at least, we remove the waiver of the obligation to give public notice where it occurs in this Bill.
I am sorry to have taken up so much of your Lordships' time but, having been thwarted in my ambition to go further with my own Bill, I felt I was justified perhaps in spending a little time on the present one. I should like to conclude by thanking the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross and all the other members of the Select Committee for having done such a good job and for having brought this matter to a conclusion with which I hope we can all be satisfied.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Lord Allen of Abbeydale
My Lords, it was a very great pleasure to listen this evening to the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, as indeed it was to serve on the committee under his chairmanship. He kept us under very firm control and was very strict in seeing to it that we came up with positive proposals, as indeed we did. Altogether it was a fascinating experience and I think some of us ended by knowing rather more about such mysteries as ecclesiastical parishes and Welsh local government than we did at the beginning. I shall not keep the House for very long, as the provisions of the Bill and the reasons for them have already been explained with a clarity which could not be excelled, but there are one or two points I should like to make.
For one reason or another, I have been concerned off and on over the years with problems of charity law and administration, and what struck me with renewed force as our inquiry proceeded was that we knew so little about some of the basic facts. The Central Register of Charities, of which such high hopes were held when it was created by the 1960 Act, manages at the same time to be cumbersome, incomplete and out of date, for reasons which one can readily understand; and although we have the results of some of the county reviews and some very valuable pieces of research, the fact is that we just do not know with any exactitude what we are talking about in terms of sums when we discuss these local charities.
I think, though, that everyone does now agree that as a starting point it can be accepted that there are 478 quite a lot of charitable assets in existence which are not being put to the best advantage. Conscious though I was of the advantages of passing into law the Bill mentioned by the noble Lord who has just spoken, it always seemed to me a fatal objection to that Bill, which we know the Government at one stage favoured, that it would result in the loss for all time of sums which could still be made capable of effective use for charitable purposes. Incidentally, that Bill would also have had the effect of creating further havoc with the central register, as charities could simply have faded away without anyone at the centre knowing.
It seems to me that Clauses 3 and 4 of the Bill tackle this problem of the small charity in a much more effective way.
The question which has been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, about the financial limits in Clause 4 no doubt can be pursued at Committee stage but since he has raised the point, I think it only right to say that in my view it would be wrong to go above the limits we have set out in the clause. He fairly takes the point that the clause itself breaches a principle, and it is no secret that there was some discussion on whether that clause should be included at all; but if one is to breach a principle, in my view, the breach should be kept as small as possible.
If we turn for a moment to Clauses 1 and 2, I am conscious of the fact that earlier on, I think on two occasions, I spoke in favour of the Parochial Charities Bill, a central feature of which was to import an element of compulsion. I felt then that so little had been achieved in this regard by voluntary effort under the 1960 Act that it was pretty doubtful whether much more would be achieved in the next 20 years or so unless we had on the statute book something with some teeth in it. But the evidence we received during our inquiry persuaded me that to go in for compulsion would arouse much controversy and much resentment, especially among the trustees who are conscientiously discharging their responsibilities, so much so that we might end up with a measure which created just as many problems as it solved, in the somewhat unlikely event that the measure would get through Parliament at all.
I came to the conclusion that the other possibilities which emerged in the course of our inquiry and which are now embodied in these clauses in the Bill offered a greater prospect of real progress, even though, as has been said more than once, that progress could be quite modest. I am therefore very much in favour of the Bill; but there are four points I should like to touch on very briefly. They are points where I feel a little concern; I was going to say "anxiety", but that would be putting it too high.
The first sounds a bit technical. It arises on Clause 2(2) and is rather more than a drafting point to be left to the Committee stage. Clause 2 itself very neatly bypasses the problem of cy-près, but I cannot help wondering just a little whether some lay trustees might he a shade puzzled, when they come to set out objects which are not too dissimilar to those of the original gift which of themselves become obsolete, to learn that these new objects must still be objects which are charitable in law—a test, the answer to which is not always entirely straightforward.
479 Secondly, I think one is bound to ask: is it right to limit the first two clauses to charities for the relief of poverty? There is the particular problem of the charity with a number of purposes, only one of which is the relief of poverty, which will find that different rules apply to the different parts. We were assured that difficulty could be surmounted.
However, going beyond that rather narrow point, there must be something of an argument that if we think that what we are suggesting in these clauses is good sense for charities for the relief of poverty, then it ought in logic to apply to other types of local charities as well. It is true that the Parochial Charities Bill, which comprised half our terms of reference, was similarly limited; and in paragraph 82 of our report we make a valiant attempt to justify such a limit on the merits, arguing that it is among those often old and largely obsolescent charities that the chief mischiefs lie. I suppose, too, that I should remind myself of the Churchillian adjuration to abstain from needless innovation, particularly when dictated by logic. Even so, I shall be interested to know whether the Government (if, as I hope, they are going to welcome the Bill) have it in mind to suggest any widening of the application of these two clauses.
My third point is whether the Charity Commissioners will be able to take on the extra duties that the Bill puts on them and which to my mind are perhaps a little greater than the noble Viscount suggested when he was introducing the Bill. They find it difficult enough in all conscience to discharge their present duties with the resources allocated to them. The Chief Charity Commissioner was examined closely on this point, but I think it would be right to ask the noble Baroness when she speaks whether she feels able to give us any reassurances on this point, and whether the Government are confident that these new duties can safely be taken on and properly discharged.
Finally, I should like to say a few words about investment. Some charities have done well; a great many have not. Some of them have not raised their rents. Some have simply left their capital in undated, fixed-interest gilts. Some think that, because their assets are now vested in the Official Custodian for Charities, they are relieved of the responsibilities of financial management. Altogether it is not a very happy story.
The other day I read an interesting article in the Investors Chronicle which argued that it was rather a pity that this opportunity was not being taken to revise the Trustee Investments Act. Notwithstanding the width of the Long Title (I go along with the noble Viscount in thinking that some alteration is called for there). I fear that such a proposal would fall well outside the scope of this legislation. But I believe that charities with sizeable funds—I think that the operation of this Bill should add to their number—would find it sensible to follow the advice of that article and appoint an investment adviser. The trouble is, I suppose, that not all trustees read the Investors Chronicle; come to think about it, they do not read Hansard either.
I noticed that in The Times today there was an article about charities in which the writer referred to the report of the Select Committee but seemed to be 480 completely unaware that we were just about to debate this Bill.
One of the problems on which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, touched, and which the noble Lord, Lord Maude, took up as well, was the question, if the Bill is passed, of getting it widely known and understood. No doubt the National Council for Voluntary Organisations will play its part in giving publicity; no doubt the Charity Commission, which has already started, will also organise some publicity; but as has been pointed out, it is not in touch with all charities. I think there is a real problem here and I wonder whether the Government have any thoughts to offer in this particular context.
I am bound to confess that if I had been given a free choice of a place in the legislative programme for a Bill on charities (even a Private Member's Bill, with all its modest scope) I am not entirely sure that this particular topic would have come right at the top of my list. But certainly we have here a perfectly good opportunity to make worthwhile, if modest, progress, as the noble and learned Lord put it, in an area where progress is much needed.
There are a great many trustees who discharge their duties perfectly satisfactorily, and all credit is due to them. But the mischiefs we identified exist on too great a scale for comfort. There is still a very important role for voluntary charitable effort in our welfare state and the Bill will help a little to improve the discharge of that role. I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading and, if I may go on, I hope that we shall be told that, if necessary, the Government may be able to find some time for it in another place.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Lord Mancroft
My Lords, I, too, should like to join in congratulating my noble friend Lord Colville on the very clear and helpful way in which he has introduced this Bill to your Lordships' House. I should also like very warmly to congratulate the chairman of our committee on his maiden speech, and indeed on his chairmanship. I have only one complaint to make: he has spoilt the market. None of us will ever be able to take on the chairmanship of a committee again without looking anxiously over his shoulder to see whether the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, would have approved or disapproved of the course he is suggesting should be taken by his colleagues. I hope it will not take all the time of another Private Member's Bill and another Select Committee before the noble and learned Lord gives us the benefit of another speech in this House in its legislative capacity. If that proves to be the case, I will utter an ugly threat. In the course of the 42 years in which I have had the honour to be a Member of your Lordships' House, I have sponsored no fewer than seven Private Member's Bills with varying degrees of luck and ill-luck. I still have two or three left in my filing cabinet. If the noble and learned Lord promises that he will speak again, I will keep them there; if not, he knows perfectly well where the threat lies.
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, touched on, and almost flirted with, the subject of the Charities Act 1960 and the possibility of amending it. My memory goes back to 1950 when the Nathan Committee was 481 appointed; to the discussions afterwards in which I took a part myself; and to the Bill which I think was piloted through another place by my noble friend Lord Renton, who followed me at the Home Office in the role of Under-Secretary (and both of us were kept in order by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, who has just spoken). I must confess that I thought the same as the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. The more I listened to the evidence that was put before us, the more worried I became about the obvious gaps in the 1960 Act.
I was also reinforced in that worry by the ten years in which I have served as a trustee of my regimental charity, because day after day—the committee met daily and worked daily—I came to realise how the development of the welfare state and the changes in our social conditions had brought about a complete change of what would have gone through the minds of Lord Nathan and his colleagues when they were working upon the draft of the 1960 Act. But of course we could not do that; first, it would have been completely outside our terms of reference as a Select Committee—we must never do that of course when the Whips are listening; and secondly, it would have been a Herculean task which we could not possibly have undertaken.
The noble Lord read to us from one of yesterday's papers and it happened by coincidence that there were two major articles in the press yesterday concerning the public reaction to this little Bill. The writers were concerned principally with major charities and not with the charities which we are discussing this afternoon. But they made that same point and I think it is worth considering.
The other point I should like to make, which was brought up in two speeches in the House this afternoon, concerns the attitude of the Charity Commissioners towards this small Bill. One of the letters in The Times directly after our Bill was published commented, I think a little unfairly, on the attitude of the Charity Commissioners and asked why they had not taken a more active part in supervising this problem. With the best will in the world, they could not. They could have done so of course if they had three times the number of staff and four times the number of computers. Impressed as I was with the evidence they gave us, I came to the conclusion they had done their level best with the facilities at their command and the time at their disposal. The Charity Commissioners take a certain amount of time and trouble over their work; the expression "helter-skelter" is not one that can be readily applied to the work of the Charity Commissioners. Therefore, we cannot blame them. They quite clearly showed that they are proposing to take a much more active part, if they possibly can, with the resources at their disposal. I was grateful to hear that.
What about the fate of this Bill? We shall listen eagerly to what the noble Baroness has to tell us. I hope very much that it will pass easily on to the statute book. There are various types of Private Member's Bills, as I am only too well aware. There is the Private Member's Bill that is really a Government Bill, given to a Back-Bencher or private Member for the sake of the timetable. There is the old warhorse of a Bill; a Bill 482 of the kind which noble Lords opposite on the Liberal Benches used to produce year after year—a Bill of Rights. They never expected to get it on to the statute book but took it out for a little airing once a year. Dear old Lord Merthyr, whom we all liked so well, used to produce a Bill at regular intervals to try to have the date of Easter fixed. He knew that he would never get it on to the statute book but he took it round time and time again.
There is then the Bill that is directed towards a specific ill, a specific injury, a specific mischief. The noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, who I am sorry to see is no longer in his place, produced such a Bill only two or three days ago for the improbable though proper cause of enabling one to marry one's mother-in-law. I am not making fun of that because I tried some years ago to introduce a Bill to make it possible for one to marry one's divorced wife's sister—not one's deceased wife's sister but divorced wife's sister. It is an Act. It took the noble Lord, Lord Maude—I think it was—25 years to get his Bill into action, and it took me 11 years to get my Bill on to the statute book. I therefore beg the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, to be of good cheer.
My Bill had some awkward consequences which I hope this Bill of ours will not run into. Many people did not realise that one could not do what my Bill sought to achieve; to allow one to marry one's divorced wife's sister. Indeed, I had some pained correspondence with a lady living in Manchester, who told me she had been living for some 20 years with a husband whom she discovered she had never legally married. When she told him this, he (realising the marriage had not been happy) folded his copy of the Manchester Evening News, heaved a sigh of relief, and went to live with a barmaid in Bridlington.
The last type of Private Member's Bill is the kind we have before us today. I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to reassure us about this Bill. I was worried about the 25 years mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Maude. I could picture him standing—as so many of us do—by the luggage carousel in an airport. One makes a grab (or a small porter does) at one's luggage. One misses it or it falls to pieces in one's hand, and away it goes for 25 years, into the maw of the airport, never to be seen again.
I hope therefore that the noble Baroness will be able to give some reassurance that this Bill be more kindly treated than some of our Bills have been in another place. We treat their Bills very kindly always. I am sure that the noble Baroness, with all her power and charm (and, if she will allow me to, I ask her to forget about Bridlington), will be doing all she can to get this Bill on to the statute book, where it deserves to be.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Lord Denning
My Lords I enjoin with all your Lordships in thanking my noble and learned friend Lord Brightman and the other members of the committee for the good work that they have done, and in congratulating my noble and learned friend on his maiden speech today. I may tell your Lordships that no one in this country knows more about charities than my noble and learned friend Lord Brightman; we could not have had a better person to chair the committee.
483 If I may say so, the proposals are excellent. I warmly support the Bill, but I would almost join with my noble friend Lord Allen in asking whether it has enough teeth to ensure that matters are put in order. The mischief is plain and it is spelt out in the report of the Select Committee. It is that 140,000 charities are registered with the Charity Commission but only 14,000 of them submit any accounts. Also, charity trustees are supposed to manage funds and invest them properly in order to ensure that they earn a proper income. Do they do that? No, my Lords, funds are left in the bank and no one reviews them or sees to it that any changes are made to the investments.
Lastly, what is to happen about trustees? Many of them fall dormant. Trustees die and nobody is appointed in their place. It happens that there is £60,000 left in a bank for a trust for which no trustees exist. In my own little town of Whitchurch there was a trust in favour of the freeholders of the Borough of Whitchurch. They disappeared and the corporation no longer existed. Who owned the property? We had to appoint our own trustees. Many trusts do not have proper or suitable trustees, or sufficient of them.
Looking through the report, one sees that this and that obligation is placed upon the trustees; that this or that power is given to them to apply, for instance, to extend the objects of the charity—the cy-près—if that matter is not properly dealt with; they must apply for permission for capital to be used; and they must apply also to transfer funds to another charity. All those powers are vested in the charity's trustees. Who are they? Are they all good and responsible trustees? The report assumes so and the Bill assumes so. Must not something be done to ensure that all charities have good and responsible trustees?
I should like the matter to be placed in the hands of the parish councils. I was president of the National Association of Parish Councils for some years. They did not have enough work to do. Could they not supervise parochial and other charities? They could do so without any fee or expense. I am sure that they would do this work voluntarily. There could be a solicitor, a banker, and some other representative. Why should not the charity trustees be properly constituted so as to perform the very important functions which this Bill will give them?
I am afraid that I do not find one word in the report as to the appointment of new trustees or the constitution of them. I should like to see some provision to ensure that trustees are fully representative of good and responsible people. I believe that they would all do this job voluntarily. Many people in our localities would do so; bankers and solicitors would voluntarily give their services if only we requested them to do so. The only request I would make—although it would of course have to be done in Committee—is for some consideration to be given to the appointment of trustees and to seeing that proper trustees are available for all the charities in the land, and that they will do their duty.
The only other point I would make concerns accounts. Clause 1 of the Bill lays down that the accounts are to be properly prepared in the prescribed form and delivered to the local authority, whichever it may be. But who is to enforce those provisions? 484 Subsection (5) states that any person may apply to the Charity Commissioners. All well and good—but will one be able to find a person who will do that, if the accounts are not proper? One must find a public-spirited person who will take an interest in the charity and will himself apply for the accounts to be properly regulated. Could not the responsibility be not only with the person but with the parish council, or whatever it may be, in order to see that accounts are properly prepared? These are only Committee points; but I should like to see this excellent report supplemented in some way, and given some teeth in the way that I have suggested.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Mancroft has made a revelation to your Lordships which saves me from making a confession; namely, that I had the responsibility of piloting the Charities Act 1960 through its Committee and Report stages in another place. It was one of the most harassing experiences that I have ever had in a long and varied life. Strangely enough, that Act was regarded at the time as being controversial, not because people thought that it did not go far enough, but because, its critics said, it went too far by giving too much power to the Charity Commission over trustees, even though, as has been pointed out in several speeches this evening, it contains practically no powers of compulsion over them. Indeed, the Charity Commission has lacked the resources which would have enabled it to take the fullest opportunity of such power as is given to it by that Act. At the time that Act was considered progressive, almost adventurous. Now, however, its shortcomings are well known and have been referred to by most of those who have spoken in this debate. It was very far-reaching, so much so that the mere list of statutes that it repealed starting with, I think, the 1601 Act to which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, referred, came to 12 or more pages.
Before I go any further, I should like to join in the congratulations to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman. His speech was well worth waiting for, if I may say so. Like others, I hope that we shall not have to wait so long to hear him again. His committee, by its terms of reference, was necessarily confined to the scope of the two Bills introduced in July 1983—one by my noble friend Lady Faithfull and the other by myself, although I always regarded it as the Bill of Sir Angus Maude, which it truly was for reasons which your Lordships know. I should like to join in the rejoicing that he is now with us.
In my opinion the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, and his committee in their difficult task managed to combine the virtues of both of those Bills with the vices of neither. In particular, I am glad that the Select Committee avoided recommending compulsion. Even now, after 24 years, I think that it is best to see how far we can get with voluntary action. If we had something more stringent, there would be no hope of this Bill getting through both Houses. In any event, I think that if we are to have all charitable trusts registered with the Charity Commission, put on a computer and with compulsion to provide information so that it can be properly analysed and so that we can detect the moribund trusts to see that their 485 endowments are better used, that would be a major task for the Government to undertake. I join with those in hoping that one day the Government will undertake it. Frankly, I do not think it will be the major task that the Nathan Committee, the Home Office and the Government undertook before the 1960 Act came on to the statute book. All that would be needed is some tightening of administration, coupled with some amendments to the 1960 Act; and funds will have to be provided.
My noble friend Lord Colville of Culross is ideally suited to pilot this Bill through the House because he is a Queen's Counsel, a former Home Office Minister and a member of the Select Committee. I hope that when he does so he will be so kind as to bear in mind, first, the point made by my noble friend Lord Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon in referring to the very small limit in Clause 4. It is quite absurd. I hope that we can get that amended in Committee. I do not think that that would jeopardise the Bill.
I refer also to Clause 3 because, unlike Clauses 1 and 2, it is not confined to local charities for the relief of poverty. Indeed, it is abundantly plain that it can refer to any registered charity as long as the conditions laid down in subsection (2) are followed; that is to say, £200 gross income is the limit.
In order to make the fullest use of the opportunity given by Clause 3, I suggest to your Lordships that what is needed is an effective method of identifying those small charities that the clause would cover so that the trustees of those charities can be approached by larger charities—I mention for example the Royal Society for the Mentally Handicapped, of which the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, is chairman and I am president. When the objectives of these small charities are not dissimilar from the larger charities which might approach them with a view to arranging a transfer of property within the power given in Clause 3, it would be a great pity if the opportunity were missed. I do not suggest that any amendment to the Bill would be needed to achieve the passing of information about these small charities. It merely needs a Ministerial statement that the Charity Commission will publish information about those small charities so that the clause could be used to devote all the resources of moribund charities for the benefit of living charities which are doing a good job. Some of those charities are of course very big but need more money. In wishing the Bill a safe passage through both Houses I should like to remind the business managers in another place thatIn faith and hope the world may disagree, But all mankind's concern is charity.".
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, I shall always value the experience of serving on your Lordships' Select Committee, and I hasten to add my tremendous appreciation of the leadership that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, gave to the committee. At every stage the noble and learned Lord was decisive. Indeed, he was an inspiring chairman. We are also grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, for having introduced the Bill to the House and explained its provisions.
486 There is one point that I should like to make, and it is this, The problem is not new. The three principal problems identified by the committee are not different in nature, although possibly different in degree from those which have beset charities for over a century. One could quote from the reports of the Charity Commissioners in the 19th century complaining of difficulties which were being constantly experienced because of outdated objects or outdated purposes. Similarly, since the middle of the last century there have been complaints of inadequate accountability of charity trustees.
We know from the evidence of history, from the evidence brought before the committee, that the Charity Commissioners are there in the background, but the trustees do not stand in awe of them. Indeed, we have heard how some trustees have allowed their charities to become dormant and to be wiped off the map. Bearing in mind the recommendation made by the committee in order to improve accountability, we might do well to recall that the Charitable Trust Amendment Act 1855 imposed an obligation upon trustees of charities to submit accounts annually. But this obligation was ignored by two-thirds of the charities. That was partly due to the absence of a sanction or a penalty for failure to submit accounts.
The obligation to submit accounts was also cemented into the 1960 Act in order, hopefully, to provide a firm foundation on which to build accountability. But we have heard that nothing came of this, the obligation having been ignored by the majority of the parochial charities to which it applied. So one cannot be blind, deaf and dumb to this unsatisfactory state of affairs.
Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, I am a little uneasy about the role of the Charity Commissioners. This is the second point which I wish to make. In their report for the year 1982, published a matter of a few months before the Select Committee was established, the Charity Commissioners appeared to be agreeing with a government statement of about 1980 that there was no need for changes in the law on charitable status or in the administrative practices relating to charities. Then they went on to reassure the reader that that did not preclude a reconsideration of the subject in the light of fresh evidence suggesting that changes are desirable. That is to be found in paragraph 15 of the report for 1982.
Within 18 months the fresh evidence became available in Volume 2 of the report of the Select Committee. I should have thought that it must be a matter of some anxiety that the evidence contained in Volume 2, or the nature of it, was apparently not known to the Commissioners in 1982. It is also worrying that this evidence in Volume 2 would not have been collected together and have seen the light of day had it not been for the perseverance of the individuals who sponsored the Parochial Charities (Neighbourhood Trusts) Bill and who sponsored the Small Charities Bill. We in this House are particularly indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, the noble Lord. Lord Renton, and the noble Lord, Lord Maude, for their lasting contribution. But anyone who reads Volume 2 of the committee's report will appreciate that there is considerable unease about the 487 commission as at present constituted, and with its current resources, making any sort of showing commensurate with the efforts which are required of it.
The proposals and the safeguards have been explained; I will not go over that ground again. But we should note that a quarter of a century ago the reformers looked to the Charity Commissioners and the local authorities to take the lead in bringing about the changes which were seen to be necessary. In this report we have not gone down that prescribed road. The proposals contained in the committee's report start with the trustees and the need to make it possible within limits for them to make the most effective use of the endowments available to them. One might well ask: is there a better place from which to start?
Having asked the question, one must, however, mention the caveat that has been spelled out by my noble friend Lord Mishcon, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, and other Members of your Lordships' House. It is that this Bill, if it is passed, will be what the trustees make of it. Therefore, we must ask: are we asking too much of the ordinary trustees of a charity? Will they co-operate or will they be indifferent? In other words, are we asking trustees, in the words of the old-fashioned sermon, to change themselves? We just do not know enough about the attitude of mind of the average trustee to enable us to answer this question—although I think it is absolutely right that we should ask the question. Certainly this Bill, with its limited but still real powers, will open up possibilities which should be seized by trustees of afflicted charities. If they fail to do so, if they fail to grasp the opportunities, we shall be back to square one.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Baroness Lane-Fox
My Lords, none of us who served on the Select Committee can be surprised by the admirable maiden speech by the noble and learned Lord. Lord Brightman. The Select Committee on Charities is the first Select Committee on which I have had the honour to serve, so I have no yardstick by which to measure. Certainly to observe the masterly skill, good humour and patience of the chairman was inspiring and unforgettable. Here I so agree with the last speaker. The report owes much to the brilliance of the noble and learned Lord and also to the sustained effort and expertise of the clerk, who had a mass of documents to unravel, collate and condense.
My noble friend Lord Colville of Culross, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, and other speakers have dealt with the main substance of the Bill. I want just to refer again to Clause 3(1) and Clause 4(1). Both give a kind of do-it-yourself power to trustees to pass a resolution regarding (a) the transfer of property worth £200 or less to another charity and (b) to free from any restrictions imposed by law expenditure of an endowment of £25 or less, or gross income of £5 per annum or less. My noble friend Lord Maude and my noble friend Lord Renton think these limits a little low. I should certainly say they were no passport to profligate expenditure. But they are sums which would be warmly welcomed by other charities struggling for funds.
488 Any of your Lordships who have my experience of trustee meetings in a rural locality will know only too well how time-consuming is the current requirement to consult a higher authority. At best, and by their own word, it takes six weeks to get a reply from the Charity Commissioners. There is then further correspondence, followed probably by the need for a journey to London from far away rural areas to give verbal clarification of a point at issue.
The Bill's proposed method streamlines this course to reduce these delays—delays that can exasperate the trustees. And we have heard what valuable people they are to keep on our side. Many rightly consider that they, at grass roots level, have a far clearer view of local requirements than the Charity Commissioners. In any case, a copy of such a resolution, which must have been unanimously carried, is to be forwarded to the commissioners and, in the case of transfer of property, forwarded also to the local authority. The Charity Commissioners will be asked to signify their approval or otherwise of the resolution within three months unless they state that they require further time to consider the case and then the time limit will be not more than six months. Such a period may not seem long to the Charity Commissioners, but to those with constructive plans awaiting a decision it is quite long enough.
Throughout the taking of evidence it was apparent that the Charity Commissioners have the reputation of being aware immediately of events and conditions in far flung hamlets and villages. Yet the extent of their existing establishment and their shortage of information technology renders this most unlikely. The Bill aims to recognise these deficiencies and, in the case of the small sums I have mentioned, to provide more realistic timetables to meet the present day scenario.
May I make a passing reference to a fact that repeatedly showed up throughout the hearings? That is the determination of trustees, voluntary bodies and organisations to protect the small charitable sums in their charge from compulsory schemes even where these would save both time and effort. Conscious of this bastion of defence of these tiny local nest-eggs, the chairman and my distinguished colleagues on the Select Committee have sought to respect this very responsible stance yet to give a gentle reminder that the needs of the 1980s call for a slightly more flexible attitude to bring to life these useful and oft-forgotten funds. For many more reasons than I have described, it is my hope that the Bill will be welcomed in this House and in another place.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Baroness Faithfull
My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, was astonished to find himself after 25 years being the one first to congratulate a noble Law Lord, it never occurred to me in a thousand years that I would be a member of a triumvirate who would supply a subject on which a notable Law Lord could make his maiden speech. I am proud, with my noble friends, to have achieved that. With much diffidence, I congratulate the noble and learned Lord. Lord Brightman. May I also thank the noble Viscount, Lord 489 Colville, for introducing this Bill—this modest Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, called it. I believe that it is modest, but valuable.
I am sure that the noble Lords, Lord Renton and Lord Maude, hear the Select Committee no ill will for the fact that it has not produced exactly the Bill which they brought before the House. I also bear no ill will, but I would not be human or indeed honest if I did not express a tinge of regret that some of the recommendations made in the Parochial Charities (Neighbourhood Trusts) Bill have not been incorporated in the Bill before your Lordships today.
The Parochial Charities Bill—I shall confine my remarks to that Bill—made it mandatory for parochial charities for the relief of the poor to amalgamate, not transfer, across parish boundaries to meet the needs of new parishes, many consisting of new estates. This amalgamation was to take place with old parishes having parochial charities bringing in an annual income but no poor or needy in the parish. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London said of parochial charities in the debate on 6th May 1983:It is often forgotten … that they belong not to the parishes but to the poor and needy"—[Official Report, 6/5/83; col. 287.]The reason why the promoters of the Parochial Charities Bill recommended mandatory amalgamations was due to the historical fact that the Nathan Committee of 1952 which, as the noble Lord, Lord Renton said, led to the Charities Act 1960, gave permissive powers to trustees to form neighbourhood trusts. The recommendation was subsequently endorsed by both a Select Committee of the House of Commons and the Goodman Report. Suffice it to say, that from 1960 to 1983 only a few trusts availed themselves of the permissive power.
Having read the evidence given to the committee of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, I appreciate that feelings ran high over the mandatory clause. As I believe that the views, opinions and feelings of people should be heard and as in this country at present, in some sectors of public life, we have dissension, disagreement and frustration, I fully appreciate the line taken by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, and his committee in deleting the mandatory clause.
I am still not clear why the committee recommended transfer of funds from one parochial charity to another, rather than amalgamation. A Mr. Hellin wrote to me suggesting that the trustees of small parish charities might be more reluctant to be taken over by other charities, by comparison with the formation of a totally new body. I wonder whether the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, will forgive me if I quote his reply to me concerning that letter. The noble and learned Lord says:Such an arrangement could readily he carried into effect under the Bill as it stands. To take a simple case, suppose that there are in a parish three charities for the poor; suppose that there is general consensus in favour of the formation of a totally new body to take over and administer the funds of these three charities, as a single charitable fund".Then the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, goes on to state what the procedure would be. I say this because I think that it will allay quite a lot of worries in a number of people's minds.
490 The second point about which I am deeply concerned occurs in Clause 2, which is headed,Resolution by trustees of old charity to alter objects.As I think I said earlier, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London made clear that the charities were for the poor and for the needy. I should like to ask the noble Viscount to say when he replies whether he is satisfied that the original charities for the poor and the needy will in fact be used for the poor and needy. I am bound to refer to the pamphlet that the Charity Commission has, I think very efficiently and quickly, drawn up. Nevertheless, a clause in it which worries me says that the trustees,should he able to resolve unanimously to change the objects of the charity if they are of the opinion that the existing objects are obsolete or lacking in usefulness or impossible of achievement".In regard to the parochial charities, I feel very strongly that they should be used for the poor.
But that brings me on to the point about which I am still confused. Suppose one has a village—a large village, perhaps—which has a good charity, well run by the trustees, with a good income. When I say "a good income", I do not mean thousands and thousands, or millions; I simply mean £500 a year, which would he quite adequate to deal with the stop-gaps of the welfare state. Suppose you have such a village—and I know such a village—where there are no needy and no poor. I know that that village would like to use that money in order to put up seats on the village green and build a bus shelter. But that would not be devoting the money to the poor. I should be grateful if the noble Viscount could explain to me exactly how that would be fulfilled.
The strength of this Bill is the clause which lays down that annual accounts must he submitted to the local authority, which, in turn, can make them available to those requesting to see them. Therefore, if this Bill is to be effective and money is to be available for the relief of the poor, it behoves members of the public, voluntary organisations such as the rural community councils, councils of social services, the Charities Information Bureau, and the National Council of Voluntary Organisations, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, to call for and to see those accounts, to take an interest in them and to be aware of them. Thus the public would have some control and could ask the trustees to administer well the trusts for which they are responsible. May I say that there is a growing awareness of the responsibility of trustees. Indeed, Brunel University has inaugurated a course for trustees. I did not believe that it would get anyone on that course, and I was astonished to find that the course is full.
Finally, I should like to say that from 1962 to 1983 the Charity Commission have not seen it as their role to safeguard the poor or the donors to parochial charities; hence the position today is as it is, and to a great extent this was appreciated in 1952. However, I believe that under the leadership of Mr. Denis Peach, the Charity Commissioner appointed, I think, less than two years ago, the commission will be aware of the mischiefs and poor administration of some parochial charities and will give support to trustees who have conscientiously and with integrity carried out their duties and will give help to those who are having difficulties. Despite my apprehensions, I support the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Baroness Trumpington
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Government's behalf in this interesting and important debate. My noble friend Lord Colville, who was of course a member of the Select Committee, has introduced with his usual eloquence the Bill which is before us. His speech permits me to confine my remarks to the Government's attitude to the provisions of the Bill and to endeavour to answer those questions aimed at the Government.
First, however, I should like to congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, whose untiring efforts while chairing the Select Committee have produced this Bill. The noble and learned Lord must be aware, from the warmth with which his speech was received, how much we have enjoyed listening to his splendid and informative remarks this afternoon. I do not feel timorous when I congratulate my betters—just very, very jealous.
In producing its report the Select Committee has been admirably thorough in its consideration of the two Bills before it and of the issues underlying the problems of local charities; those of the responsibilities and powers of trustees, and the nature of the cy près principle. As my noble friend Lord Colville and many other noble Lords have said, for this we must be grateful not only to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, but to all the noble Lords who served as members of the Select Committee.
I must also pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Faithfull who has done so much to bring to your attention the very real problems which exist and to attempt to resolve them. Although we did not feel able to support my noble friend's own Bill, I am confident of your Lordships' agreement when I say that if this Bill is successful it will be in large measure due to her energetic and unselfish work.
There is widespread concern that something needs to be done about parochial charities. I am sure that we all share a desire to see the resources of charities, both large and small, used to their greatest effect. It is right that, in the case of local charities, we should be concerned with the proper and relevant use of funds which were donated sometimes hundreds of years ago. It is true that modern needs in a welfare state are different from those of previous times, but it is sadly also true that a need still exists. We have for some time recognised the problem of putting to effective use the under-used resources of parochial charities, so we were happy to support the setting up of the Select Committee to examine both Lady Faithfull's Bill and that introduced into another place by my noble friend Lord Maude and into this House by my noble friend Lord Renton. My noble friends Lord Maude and Lord Renton have shown not only stamina in the past, but also typical generosity in the present situation.
As we have heard, although the Select Committee did not consider that either Bill should proceed, it found that the evidence put to it confirmed the nature of the difficulties facing local charities—an inefficiency and ineffectiveness on the part of some trustees, which the committee believed stemmed from insufficient accountability, the restrictions imposed on them by the rigidity of cy près and the special difficulties of 492 charities with very limited funds in relation to their objects.
Let me now comment briefly on the Government's attitude to the four provisions of the Bill. In regard to Clause 1, there is no doubt that many charities fail to meet their obligations under the 1960 Act to file accounts, and that trustees should be publicly accountable for their activities to a greater extent than at present. We see this provision as increasing public knowledge of the activities and assets of local charities. For the first time, trustees could be obliged to keep up to date their valuation of the property they hold on trust, which in itself might be a spur to action. The thought that anyone might make representations to the Charity Commission for serious default would also, I think, be a spur to action.
If I may pick up the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, about the failures of charities to register, I would suggest to him that reviews of local charities sponsored by local authorities throughout England and Wales brought to light many charities which had not complied with their duty to register. It is difficult to know how many have so far escaped the net. I think it is safe to assume that the number cannot be large, particularly in view of the tax benefits that accompany registration. I would anticipate that the publicity given to this Bill will bring to light some of these charities. I have little doubt that the commissioners will take every step to make the necessary provisions widely known.
To return to the Bill, its second clause empowers parochial charities for the relief of poverty to be able to change their objects. The architects of the Bill intended that trustees should be able to circumvent what the committee considers to be the over-restrictive principle of cy près, and the cumbersome process of changes through a scheme of the commissioners—a process determined by the legal requirements of the Charities Act. We find this proposal attractive for two reasons. Its simplicity may make it more likely that trustees will take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the Bill. It may also effect much needed reform while not imposing too great a demand on the resources of the Charity Commission.
We believe that the commissioners have a crucial role to play in ensuring that sufficient regard is paid to the original objects. They will if necessary act as a brake upon the trustees' intentions, should they appear to be straying too far from the terms of the original bequest. They will also take into account any representations made by the appropriate local authority or other people. Here other local organisations or people who have a view could make this known to the Charity Commission which would take it into consideration before deciding whether to concur with the trustees' resolution.
I come now to the third clause. We believe that this power for trustees of small registered charities to transfer their property to another will appeal to trustees and others who want to see sensible use made of small, perhaps dwindling, amounts of capital and who believe that the money cannot be put to a good use in isolation. By this method they will not be put to the strict test of cy près but could go to any registered charity large or small, local or national with similar 493 purposes and ask, "Would you like to absorb our funds?" We think that its simplicity should commend the procedure to trustees.
The final substantive provision affects charities with a permanent endowment worth not more than £25 and income in the preceding accounting period of not more than £5. For charities of this size the committee accept that amalgamation might not be a practicable proposition and they therefore propose that they should be empowered to spend capital. The procedure proposed is again simple and straightforward for trustees. We welcome this provision as a useful measure for very small charities, although we believe—and I take note of the remarks of my noble friend Lord Maude—that there is something to be said for considering whether the limits have been set at the correct level initially.
When your Lordships' House last debated this matter, my noble friend Lord Elton said that charity is voluntary giving and charity law is based on the importance of preserving that principle. We believe that the chief merit of this Bill is its adherence to this principle. It gives to trustees of parochial charities for the relief of poverty a greater freedom to interpret their trust deed in line with modern life and needs. At the same time it tightens up their responsibility for proper management. This will focus on the production of accounts which should be a public statement of a charity's true financial affairs.
We cannot know to what extent the voluntary provisions of the Bill would be used; but if the opportunity is used a way would be opened for trustees to modernise and rationalise old charities. I like the idea of "do-it-yourself" amalgamations—a phrase coined by the committee in its report—although I am not sure how many trustees will want to tackle even the simplest of schemes. This view of the Bill as a potentially useful tool for trustees is shared, I know, by the local authority with which I was associated, and would expect by many others. I cannot speak for local authorities in general, but I understand that they are considering this matter urgently. I hope that they too will be able to welcome this Bill.
We see the Bill as a self-contained measure which should place only limited additional demands on the Charity Commission and local authorities. Your Lordships—in particular the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, and my noble friend Lord Mancroft—will have noted that the Charity Commissioners have already indicated their support for the Bill, which they welcome as a potentially helpful measure and a modest but useful reform. With regard to publicity for the Bill, about which the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, asked me, my reply is that the Government will consider how the Bill should he publicised and will consult the Charity Commissioners about the most effective way in which to make it widely known.
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, will be pleased to hear that the Charity Commissioners believe that they could implement the provisions of the Bill without additional resources—a point which we believe should commend the Bill to your Lordships' House. The 494 noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, the noble Lord, Lord Maude, and the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, said that they did not think that the Bill was wide enough and that the Government should act. It is probably true to say that it is virtually impossible to devise a comprehensive law governing charities that would meet universal approval. A balance has to be struck therefore between periodic revisions of the law to meet changing circumstances and caution not to upset the delicate balances that have emerged over the years. One of these balances is between the voluntary sector—whether it be the donors or those that administer the charities—and the Government.
To answer the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, and his remarks about the Government's attitude to charity law, let me say that the Government keep a close watch on the criticisms made of charity law and enter into discussion with those who wish to see changes—for instance, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations. They are not averse to change if change is clearly necessary to enable charities to function properly and effectively, but they are hesitant to support frequent changes in the law if it is not the law that is at fault. For example, the Charity Commissioners have recently interpreted the existing law in a way which allows the promotion of racial harmony to be charitable and they have given guidance to charities to help charities avoid exploitation by unscrupulous professional fundraisers.
The Bill is a modest reform measure but it is by no means generally agreed that radical reform is needed. The Bill does not impose the heavy hand of the Government through severe restrictions on trustees. It does, however, command widespread support for its provisions and if that support is not to be lost it is important that amendments be kept to a minimum and that the substance of the provisions remains essentially as recommended by the committee after their careful and detailed consideration.
I must say to my noble friend Lord Maude, my noble friend Lord Renton, and my noble friend Lord Mancroft—who tugged at my heart strings when asking whether the Government would give time—that the Government are already committed to a heavy legislative programme. I cannot hold out any promise of Government time. However, the Government will not oppose the provisions of the Bill as it now stands, and in view of the care taken by the Select Committee in its consultations it is hoped that others may not oppose it.
I have briefly set out our view of this Bill. The subject of parochial charities is one which, although it may not attract much attention at national level, is important in local communities, and I know that many Members of your Lordships' House have, like myself, direct experience of local and parochial charities. I believe that the careful and thorough study of this matter by the Select Committee reflects the depth and variety of the experience in this House of the problems of parochial charities. I understand that some minor technical amendment may be necessary. But having said that, I should like to assure your Lordships that the Government welcome the Bill.
§ 7.29 p.m.
Viscount Colville of Culross
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, made a speech which most earnestly and fully supported the case, which I had to deal with in rather technical detail, for the Bill. In joining with others in congratulating him on his maiden speech, I feel that he must be a happy man this afternoon because of the way in which his work has been received by this House. First, he succeeded with members of the Select Committee in obtaining the support of my noble friend Lady Trumpington on the Front Bench, without whose support we would not get any further at all. Then he managed to secure the generous support of my three noble friends whose Bills have not been pursued. They have set aside their disappointment; and I congratulate them and thank them for their generous remarks this afternoon about this new Bill, which has tried to pick out the best of what was contained in the two previous measures. So it has not been a failure.
At the bottom of the difficulty is the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, about teeth. The difficulty about teeth is that they do not come cheap in this field. Therefore, we have had to rely upon secondary measures (I would not say that they did not involve teeth) such as the points made so widely around the House, including the use of publicity and propaganda, the use of other national or slightly smaller bodies to bring to the attention of trustees the possibilities under this Bill, and other methods, all of which have been so constructively discussed this afternoon. If the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, has any further points which would not involve resources, of course we should be only too happy to consider them at the next stage of the Bill, and his wisdom in this would be very much appreciated.
I think I should try to answer a few points that have been made. First, my noble friends Lord Maude and Lord Renton raised the point about Clause 4. I should not for one moment wish to say that these figures at the upper limits are immutable, and by all means let us have a discussion in Committee about it. But I know that there are feelings—and the noble Lord, Lord Allen, is one who expressed them—that we must not go very much higher than this because otherwise the principle will be breached in a much more severe way, and one which may not be tolerated. This is a danger area, but by all means let us discuss it.
My noble friend Lord Maude raised the point about public notice being given under Clauses 2(6) and 3(5). One can exemplify the point by a case that was raised before the Select Committee. There was a charity—it has now been amalgamated under the Charities Aid Foundation—which was originally set up in order to give money to natives of Cumberland now resident within 30 miles of St. Paul's Cathedral. Where does one give public notice for that if one proposes to amalgamate with the Charities Aid Foundation? There must be some relief for cases of this sort; otherwise, it will not be possible for them to amalgamate at all because of the technical difficulty. Therefore, on reflection, I think that my noble friend may withdraw his objection to that.
The noble Lord, Lord Allen, pointed out that the new objects of a charity which the trustees wished to 496 change must still be charitable. It will, or course, be for the Charity Commission to say whether or not they are, just as it does with all new charities now. But I say to my noble friend Lady Faithfull that if there are no poor in the parish and they wish to spend the money on seats for the park or for bus shelters, she may find that they get into great difficulty because I am not so sure that they are charitable. It may be that they should look a little further afield to see whether a wider amalgamation is not the solution to this because, for the purposes of amalgamations, you do not have to stay within the parish. It may be that one of the larger organisations mentioned by other speakers this afternoon would be more suitable, or at any rate perhaps they ought to consider it more broadly.
What is important is that the Bill provides only that the spirit of the gift should be preserved. I believe that that is an important concept when one is looking at something which has become obsolete but which could be used for up-to-date purposes.
The noble Lord, Lord Allen, commented upon the fact that Clauses 1 and 2 are confined to charities for the relief of poverty. I believe he will recollect that the reason for that is that the Select Committee did not have any evidence about anything else. The scope of the Select Committee was confined to this matter; but it does not seem to me to be beyond the bounds of possibility that if in this field the provisions of Clauses 1 and 2 appear to be helpful and satisfactory, some other person many come along later and wish to broaden the scope of charities to which they can apply. This is another area where the Bill may act as a pilot. Of course, the noble Lord will have been greatly relieved to hear from so authoritative a source as my noble friend on the Front Bench that the Charity Commissioners think that they can take on such extra work as there is within their existing resources. That is a relief to all of us, as well as to the noble Lord.
I believe that those are the points that needed to be answered. I am extremely grateful to noble Lords who have taken part in this debate for the support that they have given and for the anticipation that we shall continue with a very constructive approach to this small piece of legislation. I particularly thank the Government for their support and for some of the intimations about how it might be possible to deal with the matter in another place, which is a very useful tip for myself and in due course for some friend from another place. I hope that I have dealt adequately with these matters this afternoon on Second Reading. I look forward to a Committee stage when we can go into some more of these details. For the moment, I hope that the Bill may now be given a Second Reading.
§ On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.