Clause 2 — Meaning of "charitable purpose"

Part of Point of Order – in the House of Commons at 3:00 pm on 25th October 2006.

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Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 3:00 pm, 25th October 2006

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but that is not quite my point. The formulation, "religion and belief", is now widely accepted and understood in a variety of different— [Interruption.] The Minister for the Cabinet Office is shaking her head; perhaps she would like to explain why the title of the employment discrimination regulations and the formulation proposed by the Charity Commission are wrong. The fact is that it is now a widely accepted formulation in legislation, in case law and in many other respects. In principle, it means that humanist and secularist organisations do not to have to jump through a series of hoops to prove that they are analogous to religion.

We have heard about some imaginative ways of achieving that. Chris Bryant gave a list of the different heads of charity that they might come under. Tom Levitt suggested that they might squeeze in under the human rights head of charity or fall within the subsection that allows for purposes analogous to those listed previously. I take the point made by my hon. Friend Dr. Harris. Why should humanist and secularist organisations have to jump through these extra hoops in this area of law alone when it is not required, for instance, in relation to anti-discrimination law or human rights law?

This debate would be so much dancing on pinheads if the confusion did not have a practical impact, but I am persuaded by some of the correspondence that I have received that it does. My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon cited the Rationalist Association, which had to wait two years before its registration was eventually accepted, at some cost not only to the association but to the Charity Commission. I dread to think how much of the commission's staff time was chewed up in arguing over the fine detail of the case.

To follow the High Peak principle, there is another advantage in clarifying the law, even if the outcomes may be the same in that, one way or another, humanist and rationalist organisations will achieve charitable status. This is clearly an area of confusion. Most members of the Committee will be familiar with the example given by Mr. Rosser-Owen of Religions Working Together, who recently wrote about a description that has recently been changed on the Charity Commission's website in another context. It states:

"Belief in a Supreme Being is a necessary characteristic of religion in charity law which is why the criteria that we use include reference to a Supreme Being rather than a god. The existing law allows theistic, non-theistic and polytheistic faiths to be regarded as religions in charity law and the precise nature of a Supreme Being is not defined. A Supreme Being does not necessarily have to be in the form of a personal creator god; it may be in the form of one god or many gods or no god at all in the accepted understanding of the term."

The idea that a supreme being may be in the form of "no god at all" is a new one on me, and it illustrates the importance of the Bill in clarifying the position beyond reasonable doubt and allowing us to proceed on a more rational basis. I am happy to support amendments Nos. 123 to 125.

Moving on to the lighter topic of sport, I am happy to support amendment No. 3. I am sure that chess players everywhere will be celebrating, in a cerebral sort of way. It is a positive contribution to the Bill.

Amendment No. 122, tabled by Mr. Malins, suggests that we use the Olympic games, the Paralympics and the Commonwealth games as a guide to what constitutes a sport. Given that I am a member of a party led by a former Olympian, it would be churlish of me to oppose the amendment, which provides a neater formulation than the one in the original Bill. Some hon. Members are worried that certain worthwhile sports may be excluded. However, as the amendment adds to the Government's current formulation in the Bill, we need not worry about the exclusion of any sports apart from those that might have difficulty qualifying under the Government's formulation of requiring "physical or mental exertion". The hon. Gentleman clearly has shooting in mind, and I am happy to support that in principle provided that nothing gets killed in the process.