Charities Bill [HL]
Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Labour)
My Lords, I rise briefly to speak to the amendment, which would require the Charity Commission to,
"consider the effect on public benefit of the charging policy of any charity",
when consulting on guidance. That makes a lot of sense and I am sure that the Charity Commission will do so in the normal course of issuing guidance.
However, I want to raise a point that I have made in earlier debates on the Bill in the previous Parliament. It relates to the university sector. I declare an interest as chief executive of Universities UK. It bears repeating that many universities are fee-charging charities, and it is clear that charging fees per se is not inimical to the principle of public benefit. Of course, the public benefit conferred by our universities is not narrowly related to the provision of tuition to students. In broadening research horizons, transferring the knowledge that they create, providing cultural and other facilities for the communities in which they are situated, they must all be considered to be providing public benefit. I hope that the universities' contribution to public benefit is not in any doubt.
Universities are complex organisations that are unlike any other charity. I urge caution when considering the question before us. I hope that the Minister will acknowledge the complexities of the university world in relation to charitable status. If the Charity Commission is to consider fees policies when consulting on new and revised guidance, it must also take a steer from the Higher Education Funding Council as the principal regulator for the higher education sector, about the impact of any such guidance on universities. I hope that my noble friend will confirm that that will be the case.