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War Charities Bill Hl

Volume 116: debated on Tuesday 7 May 1940

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Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.

4.5 p.m.


My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that it is largely based on the Act passed in 1916, designed to control charities during the war of 1914–18. The need for that Act at that time was abundantly made clear by the Report of the Departmental Committee from which the Act resulted. There is no question that grave abuses were at that time being committed in the name of charity by people who took advantage of the emotion of the day to reap personal gain. Cases came to light where all the money that was collected was found to be banked in the name of one individual. In other cases no accounts were kept and no properly audited books or records were in existence. Although it is true that most of the promoters of those charities were able just to keep on the right side of the law as regards fraud, nevertheless it was abundantly plain that some measure of control was necessary, and the Charities Act of 1916 was accordingly passed.

About the same time an Act regulating street collections was also brought into being. Since then, as your Lordships are aware, an Act was passed last year controlling house-to-house collection, and therefore the position is more safeguarded than it was in the early days of the last war. Nevertheless it is still clear that further control is necessary. It is still possible to appeal to the public through the Press or by advertisement and to get money from the public, which is showing itself eager to respond. It is unfortunately also clear that several dubious appeals have already been launched, and it is high time powers were taken to remedy the abuse. For that reason this Bill replaces the Act of 1916, and furthermore, in Clause 11, it extends the previous definition of "war charity" so that it includes charities connected with the present war and also provides for the extension of the Bill, by Order in Council, to other wars or acts of aggression. To take an example, it would be possible to extend the provisions of the Bill to charities connected with the recent campaign in Finland. That is the general purpose of the Bill and, if I may, I shall take your Lordships shortly through the clauses.

Clause I provides that no appeal is to be made to the public on behalf of a war charity unless the charity is registered or has been exempted from registration, and unless the charity itself has approved the appeal. The authority that is going to have the power of registration is the council of the county or the council of the county borough in which the headquarters of the charity are situated. The clause enables exemption to be given to small charities when the authority is satisfied that the public interest is not hurt by such exemption. Clause 2 lays down the grounds on which the registration authority can refuse to register, or can remove from the register, any charity. The main grounds, it stands to reason, are the same as in the Act of 1916. In general, these grounds are maladministration and bad faith. Furthermore the grounds originally stated in the Act of 1916 have now been strengthened by the inclusion of the more detailed grounds of the House to House Collections Act. There is, your Lordships will notice, provision for an appeal from any charity which has been refused registration to the Charity Commissioners, who will maintain a Central Register and are the central authority for the purposes of this measure, as they were for the purposes of the Act of 1916.

Clause 3 lays down the conditions with which any registered charity has to comply. There has to be a responsible committee of not less than three people. There has to be a proper book of accounts, and the accounts have, at intervals, to be submitted to the registration authority. There has to be a separate banking account and that account must be open to inspection by the people whom the registration authority may appoint. I do not think there is very much in the following clauses of the Bill until you reach Clause 11, which is the definition clause. Clause 12 provides for the application of the Bill to Scotland. The registration authorities will be the county and town councils and the Secretary of State for Scotland will take the place of the Charity Commissioners. Those, very briefly, are the main features of this Bill which, as I have said, reproduces the 1916 Act in many particulars. That Act was not found in practice to be unduly onerous or irksome upon bona-fide charities, although experience has revealed certain defects. These are corrected in this Bill, and I feel confident that your Lordships can give the Bill a Second Reading with the knowledge that it will perform a useful and necessary function at the present time. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a .—( The Marquess of Dufferin and Ava.)

My Lords, my noble friends and myself do not propose to offer any opposition to what seems to be a useful and necessary Bill at the present time. As we see it, such a Bill, when it becomes an Act, will be an assurance to those who respond to the appeals that are made to them. At a time like this, when we are all moved to give almost indiscriminately to appeals made to us, a Bill that does provide a certain guarantee as to the reputation of those appeals will be helpful and an assurance to the giver. I would only like to add that it may be that on the Committee stage a few criticisms will have to be made, but with respect to the Second Reading we do not oppose it.

On Question, Bill read 2a , and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.