Charities Bill [HL]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:47 pm on 12th October 2005.

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Photo of Lord Swinfen Lord Swinfen Conservative 5:47 pm, 12th October 2005

My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 13 I shall speak also to Amendment Nos. 14 and 15. The purpose of these amendments is to require the commission to act fairly and reasonably, as well as in accordance with the best principles of regulatory practice, by placing a specific statutory duty upon the commission so to act, in order to provide clarity in charity law for the benefit of charity people, the charity appeal tribunal and the courts.

The requirement for the insertion of,

"and shall be fair and reasonable", on page 7, line 25, had much support in previous stages of the Bill in the House, and follows the recommendation of the joint parliamentary committee reporting on the draft Bill last year. Many noble Lords, like me, believe these words need to be placed on the face of the Bill because the commission has not always behaved in that way. I have given numerous examples of these in past stages of the Bill, which I hope it is not necessary to repeat.

The Minister's objection to the insertion of these words appears to be that administrative law already requires all government bodies to behave fairly and reasonably. But, in the Little Gidding Trust case, the high court specifically refused to consider whether the commission had behaved fairly and reasonably in making orders that were the subject of trustee appeals brought on grounds that the commission had not acted fairly and reasonably, but with bias, in the making of these orders. They are now case law and so will be followed in future cases.

Had there been a statutory duty on the commission to exercise its powers fairly and reasonably the courts would have been compelled to have full regard to such duty. This ruling now forms part of charity case law and is therefore of the greatest importance. I believe that, so far as charity law is concerned, the phrase "fair and reasonable" should appear on the Bill. The charity sector is founded on a bedrock of decency and morality, and surely has reason to expect a standard of regulation enshrined in statute, which places a specific requirement upon the commission, as regulator, to act fairly and reasonably.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, said:

"If there is the slightest reason to believe that charities would be encouraged by including the words 'fair and reasonable' in the Bill, it is a good enough reason to do so. I therefore hope that it is still possible to include these words".—[Official Report, 28/6/05; col. GC 187.]

I am grateful to him for those words on that occasion; I hope that he will repeat them this evening. I beg to move.