Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill [HL] — Second Reading (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:46 pm on 10th June 2015.

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Photo of Lord Green of Deddington Lord Green of Deddington Crossbench 6:46 pm, 10th June 2015

My Lords, I first congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bridges of Headley, on a most impressive maiden speech. I thought that it demonstrated the elegance, economy and judgment that bode well for his future in this House and in the Government.

I shall be very brief. I would like to focus just on Clause 10 covering the revised powers to disqualify a trustee. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, spoke of a possible chilling effect on Islamic charities, and I think that similar concerns were voiced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson. I come to this from a rather different angle. We need to be fully aware of the risk that our charity system can be exploited by Islamic extremists, who pose a very serious threat to our society. I speak with some background in both counter-terrorism and the Middle East.

Noble Lords will be well aware that charitable giving is a fundamental and of course very welcome tenet of the Muslim faith. They may also be aware of the difficulty that Muslims often feel when challenging actions that are dressed up in religious clothing. It follows, therefore, that a charitable cloak is ideal for Islamic extremists in pursuing their intentions to infiltrate Muslim communities in Britain. Of course we have to tread gently in these matters, but we also have to be firm. I suggest that there is a clear case for strengthening the powers of the Charity Commission when such activities are identified.

At the same time, of course, it is no less important to be quite sure that we do not interfere with proper charitable activity in the region. I speak as a former chairman of Medical Aid for Palestinians. I am well aware of the need to ameliorate the appalling situation in which Palestinians find themselves in the Occupied Territories, and of course one need hardly mention the problems of Syria, Iraq, Libya and Sudan. Those charities must be allowed to operate. However, what we are talking about here is, frankly, dodgy trustees, and when they are detected by whatever agency, there must be powers which the Charity Commission can use to deal with it.

I think that covers it, and I commend the Bill.