HL Deb 07 December 1992 vol 541 cc1-4

Lord Stoddart of Swindon asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are aware of the proposed sale, and consequent closure, of the London Central YMCA premises and what alternative facilities they will make available for the educational, cultural and physical needs of young people in central London.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, the Charity Commissioners are considering an application from the Central YMCA for consent to the sale of 112 Great Russell Street, part of which property is let to the London Central YMCA Ltd.

Government funding already supports a very wide range of facilities for the educational, cultural and physical needs of young people in central London. We have no plans to make any alternative facilities available.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that helpful and considerate reply. Does he agree that the loss to London of the facilities provided by YMCA London Central branch will be grievous? It is happening due to the selfish, self-centred attitude of a consortium of banks and a property company which wish to get hold of the property. Will not this do the banks even more harm? They are unpopular enough as it is. Is the noble Earl able to make representations to the banks with a view to them softening their attitude and giving the YMCA London Central branch a few more months in which to re-schedule the debt and save the facilities there?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am sure that there will be a sense of loss if the provisions which the London Central YMCA Ltd. give at the moment are no longer forthcoming. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, says that these are the selfish results of the banks. I should not be prepared to comment on that and it is certainly not for the Government to intervene over it. As I understand it, the Central YMCA borrowed a lot of money about three years ago to develop the property. It took full professional advice and the fact is that the return is less than anticipated and the income does not meet the outgoings. The organisation will have to make its own commercial judgment as to what is best to do.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, is not the Question wider than the issue of the behaviour of the banks? I understand that the Minister cannot comment on that, but does not the matter concern the disposal of the assets of a charity? Should not the Charity Commissioners be concerned? Perhaps it is a case where the Charity Commissioners might intervene to protect the interests of those for whom the YMCA provides a valuable service in London.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. It is a matter for the Charity Commission, and Her Majesty's Government have no power to intervene. The commissioners have been consulted. They have not yet given their consent to the disposal of the property and will not give it unless they are satisfied that the sale is in the best interests of the charity in the situation which it faces.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, does the noble Earl accept that there is much more to this than just the closure? There is widespread anxiety among all those people who work with youngsters in London at the fact that the building is to be sold and a valuable asset will be lost for us in London.

Perhaps I may quote from an article in the Evening Standard which referred to the YMCA being forced to close. It says that the Evening Standard showed that the bank syndicate has forced the cash-strapped YMCA to sell to a Knightsbridge property company, backed by Arab sheikhs. That must be something on which the Government could bring pressure on the Charity Commissioners or the banks or both. They have only to convene a meeting of all the parties concerned to see whether some amicable solution could be found to save this valuable asset.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the situation is quite complicated. The YMCA has, as part of its organisation, the Central YMCA which owns the building at 112 Great Russell Street to which I referred. Part of that building belongs to the London Central YMCA Ltd. Because of the difficulties which the Central YMCA is experiencing, it has been necessary to dispose of the whole property, of which London Central YMCA Ltd. is a part. The noble Lord says that it is undesirable—or that was the inference—that it should be sold to the sheikhs. I can only tell him that the Charity Commissioners have suggested that other alternative offers should be considered and have advised the trustees that if alternative offers are received, they should be examined.

Lord Kinnaird

My Lords, without in any way wishing to criticise the Question on the Order Paper, I wish to ask whether the Minister thinks it ironic that in the name YMCA, the "Y" stands for "Young", the "M" for "Men", and the "A" for "Association". There is no mention of Christianity but it was Christian people who started the organisation, my grandmother being one of them.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I had always rather assumed that that was what the "C" stood for.

Baroness David

My Lords, does the Minister realise this is another blow to youth services in London? Last week I tabled a Question about provision being reduced, and this latest measure will surely reduce youth service provision in London if nothing is done to help the YMCA.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I quite agree that this is a most unfortunate occurrence. However, one has to take a commercial judgment, or at least the YMCA has to. The YMCA had purchased property which it could not adequately service and therefore it had to dispose of it. The fact that as part of that disposal the Central YMCA Ltd. has to lose its source of provision is a great pity, but that is part of the commercial situation which results.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I understand the Government's difficulties over this. However, is it true—perhaps the noble Earl can advise me—that the type of loan which was negotiated was negotiated at the behest of the Charity Commissioners? If that is the case, have not the Charity Commissioners some duty to the YMCA to ensure that as a result of that advice the facilities are not closed down? Is there nothing that they can do to assist the charity at this stage?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the commissioners have to ensure that any action taken by the governors of the charity is taken in accordance with the legislation for which the Charity Commission is responsible. The commissioners did not ask for the loan to be at a fixed rate of interest. That decision was taken by the governors acting on the professional advice which they received. The commissioners' order which authorised the borrowing required that the rate should be reasonable having regard to market rates prevailing from time to time. As I understand the position, that was adhered to.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, my question is perhaps a little wide of the Question on the Order Paper but I believe it is relevant. To what government department, if any, are the Charity Commissioners responsible, or in what way is it possible to question through Parliament the actions of the Charity Commission?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the Charity Commission operates independently but is funded by the Home Office. Therefore any questions relating to the Charity Commission are answered by the Home Office. However, the responsibility of acting is solely that of the Charity Commission; in other words, the Home Office cannot tell the Charity Commission what it should or should not do. The Home Office is merely responsible for charity law.

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