HL Deb 18 February 1985 vol 460 cc434-40

5.50 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 2 [Resolution by trustees of old charity to alter objects]: Viscount Colville of Culross moved Amendment No. 1: Page 4, line 22, leave out ("must") and insert ("shall").

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I am indebted to my noble friend Lord Renton for pointing out this minor drafting matter. I think that, in accordance with the style of legislation these days, "shall"—in the two places with which the first two amendments deal—is better than "must" and is an improvement to the Bill. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 3 [Power for certain charity trustees to transfer whole property to another charity]:

Viscount Colville of Culross moved Amendment No. 2: Page 6, line 13, leave out ("must") and insert ("shall").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Form of resolution by charity trustees under Section 2]:

Viscount Colville of Culross moved Amendment No. 3: Page 10, line 28, leave out ("donor") and insert ("founder of the charity").

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, when I accepted Lord Airedale's amendments to Clauses 2 and 3, I missed the consequential amendments that were necessary in the schedules. Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 put the matter right. Amendment No. 4: Page 11, line 22, leave out ("donor") and insert ("founder of the……… Charity").

I have to admit that when working through Schedule 2 one is required to he fairly nimble footed to see whether it is the transferor or the transferee charity that is being referred to at each point. But it is something that has to be dealt with anyway, and I am only slightly adding to the burden of those who will fill in the form. I think that there will be guidance on it and I do not think that too much difficulty will be experienced. This is a necessary consequential amendment as of course is Amendment No. 4. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 2 [Form of resolution by charity trustees under Section 3]:

Viscount Colville of Culross moved Amendment No. 4:

[Printed above.]

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Viscount Colville of Culross

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Moved, That this Bill do now pass.—(Viscount Colville of Culross.)

Lord Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon

My Lords, having been slightly at odds with my noble friend and certain other Members of the Select Committee during previous stages of the Bill, I should like to take the opportunity of saying that I regard it as an excellent and useful Bill, and that I wish it well both here and in another place. I should like to congratulate and thank the Members of the Select Committee for all the work that they have done to make this Bill possible and to congratulate my noble friend Lord Colville on the skill, tenacity and at times cunning with which he has piloted this Bill through the House.

There is just one point of substance which I should like very briefly to make. When the Bill becomes law, as I hope and believe it will, it seems to me that its effectiveness will depend almost entirely on the extent to which the trustees of small charities, and of course the local authorities, are made aware of its contents. Obviously, the larger local authorities will become aware of it, and no doubt the Association of Parish Councils can tell the smaller ones. However, I do not think that many trustees of small local charities will become aware of the contents of this Bill just by reading the newspapers. In my view it will be essential that the Charity Commission, with what help the Government can give it, takes steps to try and circularise as many of the small charities as they can, and to make known to the trustees of the small charities not only the obligations which the Bill places upon them, but the opportunities which it opens up to them. If this can be done, I believe that the Bill will go a considerable way towards tidying up what has long been an unsatisfactory state of affairs.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, this is without any doubt a pleasant occasion in that it enables many of us to pay some tributes. I entirely agree with the tributes that have been paid so generously by the noble Lord, Lord Maude. However, we owe him a debt of gratitude, too; we owe it also to the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, and to the noble Lord, Lord Renton. The Faithfull-Maude-Renton Bills are indeed the parents of the present legislation. It is pleasant to continue because in our wisdom we referred both Bills (with some parts of which some of us were dissatisfied) to the Select Committee. We are indebted to that committee for the work that it did and to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, for his chairmanship of that committee. Lastly, we turn to the noble Viscount whose skill has already been described in apt terms by the noble Lord, Lord Maude. I cannot improve on that description. I, too, am an admirer of his subtlety—and I use that term in the nicest possible sense. It is the noble Viscount who has piloted this Bill through.

On Second Reading I dared to mention the point that was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Maude—namely, that one was worried about the fact that we might pass legisaltion in connection with small charities that by and large were beyond the ken of man, of local councils and of everybody else. Although legislation might seem extremely useful and we would have felt that we were doing our duty by enacting it, the real practical point—as the noble Lord has pointed out—is whether or not the trustees will know about the provisions of the Bill.

I know that the Charity Commissioners have in advance prepared a document dealing with the provisions of the Bill. However I feel—and I say this with the greatest respect—that not even a pamphlet of the Charity Commissioners is likely to have the right result. I say this expressly: in my view, the Government should take upon themselves the responsibility—it may well be in county papers rather than in the national press—to see that the provisions of this Bill are advertised and well known. I should have thought that if there were a suitable little poster to that effect, it would be extremely appropriate for it to appear in the local village church on the notice board and in places of that kind, including town halls. I throw that out as a mere suggestion.

When a Bill of this importance, although it is a modest Bill, comes before us, I do not think it is entirely appropriate that one should make long speeches on the Motion That the Bill do now pass because we had our opportunity earlier. Nevertheless, there is one other matter which is allied to the point that was first made in this debate by the noble Lord, Lord Maude. It was touched upon in Committee by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning. The noble and learned Lord moved an amendment which was subsequently withdrawn for good reason. The noble and learned Lord referred to the report of the Select Committee and he quoted paragraph 49 which said: Of the 144,000 registered charities … only about 10,000 render accounts to the Commissioners". The noble and learned Lord then said: The rest are dormant or obsolescent. About the others the committee gave a particular example of the position in Humberside. An investigation carried out between 1978 and 1979 found 120 inactive charities with balances of accumulated income of £ 107,000". I omit some sentences from the quotation. He then continued: What is the machinery in the Bill to persuade those people to do their duty?"—[Official Report, 28/1/85; col. 530.] 6 p.m.

The noble and learned Lord then referred to Clause I and somehat plaintively asked whether it really was to be left to members of the public to find out that such charities are not fulfilling their duties or that the trustees are dead, and to report all this to the Charity Commissioners, and to ask what will be the practical effect of that. It is a matter that arises from the very point which the noble Lord, Lord Maude, was making.

I believe that the answer which was given by the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, was partially helpful when she indicated that the Government would monitor this Bill over the next few years to see how effective it proves. I am sure that when the noble Baroness made a statement of that kind, she did so well knowing that the machinery of monitoring will be substantial and that it will not just be a gesture, because I believe that we badly need this Bill to bite. As some of the aged among us know, unless one is supplied with teeth, the bite does not happen. Therefore, I hope that, if possible, the noble Baroness will be able to say in rather more detail what this monitoring process will be.

Having said that, on behalf of those who sit on these Benches but bearing in mind that this is a Private Bill, I wish the Bill good sailing and a happy and successful voyage.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I could hardly believe my ears when I heard the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, refer to the "faithfull Lord Renton". I may have misheard him, but although I have always regarded myself in that light, this is the first time that it has ever been put on record in either House, and I am most grateful.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, when the noble Lord reads Hansard tomorrow he will see that I referred to the Faithfull-Maude-Renton Bill. Most likely the noble Lord did not hear the name Maude in the middle of Faithfull and Renton. If the noble Lord wants a compliment from me, I shall say that I have always found him faithful to principles with which I personally do not agree but for which I have the greatest respect.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I am most grateful for that correction. I think that one should pay tribute not only to my noble friend Lord Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, but also to my noble friend Lady Faithfull, because without their joint efforts I do not think we should be having this Third Reading tonight. I pay tribute, as I did earlier, to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, and in Lincoln's Inn we are indeed proud of his achievement on this occasion. I also pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross.

As the part-author of the 1960 Act and as this is the first major attempt to amend it, I should be grateful if your Lordships would bear with me while I make one or two comments which I hope will be found constructive about the implementation of the Bill, if and when it reaches the statute book, as I sincerely hope it will.

My noble friend Lord Maude has said that small charities should be informed. That is not an easy matter. I am sure that the Charity Commission will do its best; but the Community Councils Association, which was formerly called the Parish Councils Association, will perhaps be the best instrument for achieving this. As regards public information and information about charities, we also need to go a step further because great opportunities are given by Clause 3, which will enable moribund charities, which are really incapable of fulfilling their purposes because their resources are insufficient, to go to larger charities fulfilling similar purposes.

Therefore, as I ventured to mention on Second Reading, we need to ensure that the Charity Commission will publish information about those small charities so that Clause 3 can be used to devote all the resources of moribund charities to the benefit of living charities which are doing a good job. So a further administrative step is needed to turn this Bill into a reality.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, on behalf of the Government I should like to say how pleased we are with the progress that has been made on this Bill in your Lordships' House, and of course I should like to add my words of gratitude, which have already been very well expressed by everybody, to the Select Committee which was so ably chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, whose work has resulted in this Bill. I should also like to pay tribute to the work of my noble friend Lord Colville who has taken forward the work of the committee. We admire the "flair"—which I think is a new word—with which he has guided the Bill through this House and the clarity of his explanations on the finer points. It was particularly agreeable to listen to the typically generous remarks of my noble friend Lord Maude, and also to the interesting remarks of my noble friend Lord Renton.

Your Lordships will be interested to know that the Government are already aware of interest being shown in the provisions of the Bill by trustees. The Bill is biting already. I understand from the Charity Commissioners that there has been an encouraging level of interest in its provisions and I think we can be reassured that, if it is successful, the Bill will be a most useful reform.

The Bill will open the way forward for a number of trustees of local or small charities which are having difficulties in putting their funds to a sensible and an up-to-date use. I agree with my noble friend Lord Maude that the Bill's success will depend on how far trustees become acquainted with the provisions of the Bill. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary will be looking at the most effective ways of giving publicity to the Bill and its provisions, including posters. Therefore, there is nothing left for me to say except that I am happy to support the Third Reading of this Bill and to wish it a safe passage from now on.

Viscount Colville of Culross

My Lords, to some extent your Lordships have taken most of the speech out of my mouth but it would be only proper for me to make two or three remarks. The Members of the Select Committee have stayed very much in touch with each other during the parliamentary process of the Bill through this House. Indeed, a number of them are here this evening. I believe that we all recognise what the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said—that, had it not been for the original initiatives of my trio of noble friends, all of whom are here tonight, we should never have made this progress at all. They kept at it, and although there were points of disagreement we now seem to have reached a conclusion with which nearly everyone is happy. That is a very remarkable achievement and it is really due to them in the first place. I am sure that we are all extremely grateful to them for what they did.

I agree with every word that has been said about the need for publicity and I am delighted to hear my noble friend Lady Trumpington say what the Home Office will do. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, is quite right that the Charity Commission has already prepared a leaflet. I am not sure that it has not actually started circulating it—I hope that that is not a premature step—but at any rate it is ready and it can be issued as and when the Bill succeeds—if it does—in another place.

However, there is one other point worth making and it concerns the remarks that were made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, and which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has just resurrected. Others have spoken about dormant charities or charities with very elderly trustees. The Select Committee was given some examples of charities with very ancient trustees who felt that the job was no longer something that they could undertake. In those particular instances they had sought the help of one of the larger national charities which had taken the small fund under is wing and had gone through the process under the 1960 Act with success.

With this new Bill there will be much more incentive to do something like that and it will not necessarily depend on the initiative of one of the larger charities. Let us suppose that an elderly charity trustee feels that the matter is too much for him and that the objects of his charity are out of date. It will now become very much easier for him to do something about it. It will be much easier if you can find the trustees, or for charity trusts which have been dormant to be put into quick good order by the appointment of new trustees, who can then use the provisions of either Clause 2 or, particularly. Clause 3, whereby their tenure of office may be very short but the charitable funds are brought back into circulation. That is the advantage of the simplicity of the two pieces of machinery now incorporated in the Bill.

It will not be a major, herculean task for those trustees to go through the whole question of cy-près, or the appointment of new objects, or anyhing like that, under the 1960 Act. The new machinery is quite simple. The combination of the publicity and the simpler procedures ought to be wholly beneficial. That having been said, I am delighted that there is this new interest about which my noble friend spoke.

I hope it will be agreed on all sides that this House has improved the Bill. I think the Members of the Select Committee are in no doubt that it has. What encourages me most of all are the remarks of my noble friend Lord Maude, to whom I add my gratitude for his most generous speech this evening. He could well have been disappointed at what happened last week. He is not. With characteristic good humour this evening he has now wished the Bill well, as a whole, on its way to another place. I thank those who have taken part in the proceedings on this Bill, I think on behalf of all members of the Select Committee. We hope that my honourable friend the Member for mid-Suffolk, to whom I propose to entrust it, will manage to steer it through another place so that we may see it back in due course.

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.