Charities Bill [HL]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 12th October 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Spokespersons In the Lords, (Assisted By Shadow Law Officers), Spokespersons In the Lords, (Also Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland - Not In Shadow Cabinet) 4:45 pm, 12th October 2005

My Lords, this amendment addresses an issue that we have already debated several times during the various stages of the two Bills brought forward during this and the previous Parliaments. Therefore, I briefly will restate the position of these Benches. Nothing that I have heard causes me to change my view. As I have said several times in the past as regards public benefit, the Government should be congratulated on managing to achieve a delicate balance—not a fudge but a delicate balance—reconciling the various issues and interests involved.

As we have already said several times today, this Bill abolishes the old charitable presumption, so we create a level playing field in which all charities have to meet a public benefit test, no matter what their purposes are, and must do so on a continuing basis. We have ensured that the responsibility for that is passed to the Charity Commission under Clause 4(1). We have made the Charity Commission independent of the government in new subsection (1)(a). It may not be independent enough, but we will discuss that again when we come to Amendments Nos. 9 and 10. However, we have made a big step forward and the Government are to be congratulated on what they have done in taking us forward and increasing independence in that clause. In Clause 4(3), we require the Charity Commission to revise the public benefit objectives from time to time.

I therefore have no problem with what the noble Lord, Lord Best, said—that there needs to be consultation and benchmarks. That seems entirely appropriate. But it is the Charity Commission which carries it out. I hesitate to tangle with the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, over Re: Resch., because if he finds it dense, as a non-lawyer he may realise that I find it even denser. This, as an historic case, will presumably be moved forward by the effluxion of time as the Charity Commission carries out those public benefit consultations.

Having set the Charity Commission the task of revising public benefit from time to time, we should surely now leave the commission to get on with its new responsibilities. Surely, it is inappropriate that having set the Charity Commission free—I think that we all agree on how important that independence is—it is ridiculous immediately to turn around and restrict that freedom by the sort of amendment that the noble Lord puts forward.