Committee (5th Day)

Part of Health and Social Care Bill – in the House of Lords at 3:30 pm on 14th November 2011.

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Photo of Baroness Barker Baroness Barker Liberal Democrat 3:30 pm, 14th November 2011

My Lords, for over 25 years I have worked either in or as a consultant to voluntary organisations. Consequently, my eyes lit up at the sight of an amendment that said VAT and charities. In my time, I have sat with wet towels around my head trying to figure out this, one of the most complicated subjects. I have attended seminar after seminar with the Inland Revenue at which people with bigger brains than me have come away with their heads reeling from trying to understand the issue of VAT and charities. It is infinitely more complicated for charities than it is for the private or public sectors. That is not new. As various people have said, this issue has been running for some considerable time.

I want to correct two impressions that might have been given inadvertently in the debate. First, there is the impression that there is a view in the charitable sector on this issue. There is not, because the issue effects different organisations disproportionately. While there may well be a consensus among hospices that it would be advantageous for them to make such a change, it may not be and indeed is not for other, smaller charities. That is the first thing.

Secondly, we have this new generation of social enterprises. These organisations are not charities but businesses. They are intended to be big players in the provision of services. The noble Lord, Lord Patel, has been clever here in not asking for the Government to take a particular step. He simply asks for a report on a subject that will fascinate some of us quite deeply. Were the Government to take on board the point that the noble Lord makes, apart from looking at a whole range of different charities-not just hospices-would they also consider the effect on social enterprises? I do not think that it is possible to come up with a set of legal proposals that relate simply to health and social care. By definition, they would have to go across the whole of public services. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Patel, would accept that an exercise of this kind should do that.

Finally, be careful in the questions that you ask of HMRC. As someone who advised charities, I was always brought up never to ask a question of HMRC unless I was pretty confident that I would get back the answer that I wanted. This may be an answer that the hospices want but I would wish to be pretty clear that it worked for charities across the board. I simply finish by saying that if this subject were straightforward, it would have been sorted out a long time ago-but it is not and that is why it has not been.