Charities Bill [Lords]

– in a Public Bill Committee at on 11 July 2006.

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[Mrs. Joan Humblein the Chair]

Charitable incorporated organisations

Question proposed [this day]: That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Labour, Cardiff South and Penarth

Mrs. Humble, may I say what a pleasure it is to sit under your discipline this afternoon for the second part of my speech?

I was explaining that I have deep reservations about schedule 7. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take away my reservations and consider amending the Bill on Report. My objection is that the schedule incorporates a pointless acronym into law. It not only incorporates it but repeats it, so that in my view those who wrote this part of the Bill are guilty of a serial offence.

It is a dreadful habit of Whitehall to turn everything into acronyms. The issue is important, because language and communication are important. An acronym can do two things: it can damage communication because the acronym label is not comprehensible and does not mean anything, and it can exclude those who are not anoraks.

Anyone who has served, as I have, at DEFRA and DTI will know that it is possible to have whole sentences that contain few words and little meaning because acronyms are used all the time. When I was given responsibility for chemicals, it took me a little time to adjust to the fact that the CIA that was referred to in the Department was the Chemical Industries Association. I think it is right to say that the Federation of British Industries changed its name to the Confederation of British Industry to escape association with an American institution. It is certainly not always clear whether one is talking about the Food Standards Agency or the Financial Services Authority when the initials FSA are used. The tin lid was put on all that for me when I heard officials describe the rural affairs forum as “the RAF”. I made the point at that stage that although the rural affairs forum was an important way of communicating with rural communities in England, we did not intend to bomb anyone into submission in the course of our deliberations.

In this Bill, which is in other ways such an excellent piece of legislation, we have the dreadful acronym habit of Whitehall being incorporated into primary legislation. It is an absolute outrage. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept my point and cleanse the Bill with amendments on Report.

Exclusive language is damaging, and we now have the initials used in schedule 7. I had something of a battle to persuade officials that community interest companies should not be called CICs, because the word CIC does not communicate anything whereas the title community interest company tells one exactly what it is. It would be simple for my hon. Friend to introduce an amendment into paragraph 1 of schedule 7, in page 114, line 30, to delete “a ‘CIO’” and to insert “an incorporated charity”. We would then all know what we meant by the term, and the label on the bottle would be clear. In the age of the computer, it cannot be claimed that typing the term “an incorporated charity” is onerous compared with using initials.

I do not want to delay the Committee on this point, but I do not believe that it is trivial. The Government have done a good job in making available different models, such as the community interest company and the incorporated charity. Those two options are available for organisations that want to pursue worthy purposes but want the protection of incorporation, apart from industrial and provident societies and the other options. To have that range of options and refer to them simply so that people can make decisions based on the best model for them to deliver the value-led outcomes that they want to achieve will be a major step forward. I hope we can take that step forward with clarity, and not with an acronym settled into primary legislation. I regard that as an outrageous proposition and the one defect in an otherwise excellent Bill. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will have sympathy for the fact that, as a Welshman, I am trying to protect the English language from this outrageous intrusion.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

It is nice to see you in the Chair presiding over us, Mrs. Humble. I have some sympathy for what the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Alun Michael) said and was rather looking forward to his pronouncing the words in the proposed new section 69C(4)(a) of the Charities Act 1993, as I suspect that he is the only member of the Committee who could do so.

The right hon. Member might be rather exaggerating the threat contained in schedule 7, because although it provides for added flexibility in exactly which incorporated status a charity might adopt—I hope that every member of the Committee would welcome that—as I read it, it does not oblige them to use the letters CIO. In fact, the precedent is for limited company status, which many charities—certainly all the major ones—have adopted without having to use acronyms such as plc, Ltd or anything else in their notepaper or elsewhere. That has not proved much of a limitation, so although I share the right hon. Gentleman’s dislike for acronyms where clear English will do, the injunction to charities that adopt CIO status to call themselves charitable incorporated organisations rather than CIOs should remain.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West

I agree with the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth. We could take the polysyllabic sludge of “charitable incorporated organisations” and say that we do not need the word “organisation”, because it is implied by “incorporated”, and that we should substitute one syllable in “charitable” to make it “charity”. What is proposed is absolutely straightforward—Dorothy Sayers would have approved of it—so I hope that the Minister will take the wording away and bring it back changed.

Photo of Ed Miliband Ed Miliband Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office)

The passion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth was clear for us all to see. If our proceedings were being covered by “Today in Parliament” or “Yesterday in Parliament”, he would deserve to get on with the speech that he delivered, which was entertaining and informative.

There are good reasons to be sympathetic to my right hon. Friend’s view. The Government come up with lots of incomprehensible acronyms and other phrases that mean nothing to members of the public. However, “incorporated charity” does not work, because there are other non-CIO forms of incorporated charity, namely the industrial and provident societies, and friendly societies, which are incorporated charities—to use the term of art—but will not necessarily apply for the status that we currently call CIO.

I am tempted to say that anyone with good ideas should send them on a postcard to my right hon. Friend over the summer. We have been aware of the problem, but we have not found a better alternative. However, Members of Parliament get a long summer break, and although I do not promise to devote the whole of mine to thinking of an alternative formulation, we will apply our minds to see whether something can be done about the dreaded acronyms.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West

During the summer break, will the Minister also turn his mind to a word that appears right at the beginning of the Bill, which is “institution”, of which I am not sure I have found the definition? I think that I know what it means, but if there is a definition, perhaps the Minister could point it out. “Institution” is an acceptable word, but it would be lovely to know precisely what it means.

Photo of Ed Miliband Ed Miliband Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office)

My list of summer tasks is growing, although in the meantime perhaps the hon. Gentleman can tell us what he thinks the word means.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West

I think that I will not do so.

Photo of Ed Miliband Ed Miliband Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office)

I gather that “institution” is defined in clause 76(5), which says:

“In this Act ‘institution’ means an institution whether incorporated or not, and includes a trust or undertaking.”

I hope that that satisfies the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West

Does that also include all the other organisations that would otherwise be included in the incorporated charities that the Minister has talked about?

Photo of Ed Miliband Ed Miliband Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office)

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman asked that question. I think that the answer is yes.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Labour, Cardiff South and Penarth

In view of the Minister’s generous undertaking to think about the matter during the summer, I can respond only by offering to enter into correspondence with him to see if we can find a solution and protect the English language. I am grateful to him for his response and I shall not press the clause to a Division.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 34 ordered to stand part of the Bill.