New Clause. — (Powers to be exercised by the Charity Commissioners.)

Orders of the Day — VOLUNTARY HOSPITALS (PAYING PATIENTS) BILL [Lords]. – in the House of Commons on 8th May 1936.

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Where any voluntary hospital has obtained by Act of Parliament powers to establish wards for paying patients or to do other things authorised by this Act which are less ample than those conferred by the foregoing sections, the Charity Commissioners may, on the application of the governors, after public inquiry, modify and extend such powers to the extent provided by this Act and may provisionally approve and certify such schemes under the provisions of sections fifty-four to sixty of the Charitable Trusts Act, 1853, and the Charitable Trusts Amendment Act, 1855, if, in their opinion, it is desirable to do so pending application to Parliament.—[Sir A. Wilson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

11.12 a.m.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Arnold Wilson Lieut-Colonel Sir Arnold Wilson , Hitchin

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

The position, as I read the Bill—and I have been at some pains to study it—is that until a definite scheme can be passed and approved by the Charity Commissioners, they have not provisional powers to sanction schemes that may be put before them. In one or two cases that have come within my personal knowledge, the Charity Commissioners have been frequently unable forthwith to agree to a scheme. It has taken years sometimes to get a final settlement, but they could very well under these powers make a Provisional Order under the Charitable Trusts Acts, 1853, which would give the committee of management all the powers they seek to carry on with building, to make extensions and to take any action they think fit, subject to final settlement in due course. The Charity Commissioners, I understand, frequently take advantage of the powers they possess under Section 54 of the Charitable Trusts Act, 1853.

Although I have not had an opportunity of discussing this new Clause with the promoters of the Bill I cannot but think that it would assist the hospitals if they took a scheme before the Charity Commissioners for a Provisional Order, instead of having to have the whole scheme finally settled before they go to the Commissioners. Building contracts may have to be passed and plans considered in conjunction with municipal authorities or highway authorities, and they would be in a stronger position if they had these provisional powers at their disposal in addition to those given by the Bill. The Charity Commissioners are not a numerous body, and in many ways are grossly overworked. There is only one Charity Commissioner who can travel about the country to make personal inquiries into schemes, and unless there is some provisional scheme provided it may mean unnecessary delay. In dealing with hospitals and hospital buildings, time is the essence of the problem.

11.16 a.m.

Photo of Mr Donald Somervell Mr Donald Somervell , Crewe

When I looked at this new Clause I was not quite certain what the hon. and gallant Member had in mind, but, as I understand it, he desires that the power to sanction provisional schemes conferred by Section 59 of the Act of 1853 should be conferred on the Charity Commissioners by this Bill. I think the hon. and gallant Member is under a misapprehension. The power given by Section 59 of the Act of 1853 was in order to prevent the delay involved between the time when the Charity Commissioners had made up their minds and the period of a Bill passing through this House. This Bill itself is designed to prevent such delay. It prevents the necessity of hospitals hav- ing to come to this House for a Bill at all. As soon as the Commissioners have made up their minds, they can issue an order. I suggest that this is not a point of substance, and that it is quite inappropriate to put into this Bill Sections of a previous Act which were designed to avoid the delay which the Bill itself prevents.

11.18 a.m.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Arnold Wilson Lieut-Colonel Sir Arnold Wilson , Hitchin

In view of the explanation of the Attorney-General I should not venture to press the new Clause on the House, but I confess that had the Bill been in the form in which it was originally presented in another place, and not in its present form, I should have greater confidence in the validity of the explanation of the hon. and learned Gentleman. Clause 4 says: The Charity Commissioners shall not make an Order authorising any use or application of property or funds which, apart from the Order, would involve a breach of any trusts upon which the property or funds are held or a contravention of any prohibition or restriction imposed as mentioned in section two of this Act. They are far more closely tied by the Clause in its present form than as it was originally drafted, and I think that owing to the strict limitations placed on the Charity Commissioners there will in future have to be applications to Parliament. It May be that a new Clause such as I have suggested will be very useful. I hope the Attorney-General will further consider this point and, what action can be taken. In the meanwhile, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Clause.

Motion and Clause by leave, withdrawn.