Charities Bill [HL]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:45 pm on 12th October 2005.

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Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Spokesperson in the Lords (Id Cards & Charities Bill), Home Affairs 3:45 pm, 12th October 2005

My Lords, I am sympathetic to what I take to be the intent of the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, but I am afraid I have to express my objection to the amendment because I think it would have consequences which she does not intend.

At present, the crucial distinction in terms of political campaigning is between charities whose purposes, objects and aims in their constitution state that they are for a change in the law, here or elsewhere, which is impermissible and, by contrast, political campaigning as a means of achieving non-political objects or aims. I fear—perhaps the noble Baroness intends this—that the amendment would be construed as allowing as charitable objects, purposes or aims which explicitly charge the organisation with a change in the law, whether here or elsewhere.

I believe—I have had many causes and cases to consider this very carefully—that one of the fundamental and virtuous bases of our whole charity structure is that charities should not be in existence to change the law. The traditional judicial argument against that is: "How are we the judges able to judge between one proposed change in the law and another, or between the status quo and a proposed change in the law?". It would make their role impossible, because by what yardsticks would they be able to double-guess Parliament or public opinion more widely? Therefore, since I believe that public support for the notion of charity is essentially bound up with the non-party-political nature of charity, this amendment would, inadvertently, I know, be an Exocet under the waterline of the charity sector as a whole. I put it as strongly as that.

The only point that I would add which should be of solace to the noble Baroness—and I think she knows it—is that the guidelines for campaigning by charities are now extremely wide and generous. For example, if a piece of legislation comes up, a charity can campaign strongly in respect of that legislation and claim that an aspect of it would be inimical to its charitable purposes. For example, Shelter has in times past gone very public and very political—non-party political—in resisting or supporting change in housing law. That is permissible so long as it fulfils very sensible guidelines.

The scope for charities to engage in strong political action is already with us. For the reasons I have attempted briefly to explain, the amendment would inadvertently create evils that would be really serious.