My hon. Friend makes a characteristically astute point and I thank him for it.
I specifically want to mention the Preston Down Trust, because it is the subject of the appeal. I have additional information about its social action in the past two to three months, including the provision of free meals to members of the public, assisting at accidents, collecting for charity and street preaching and the distribution of tracts. It has that in common with all Plymouth Brethren churches. Surely no one can argue that they do not provide public benefit.
On the website, the Brethren say that
“we hold the same faith as every true Christian, we publicly preach the gospel and engage with the broader community through fund-raising and volunteer work. We work and live alongside people from many walks of life and many Brethren own businesses that collectively employ thousands of non-Brethren. Brethren characteristically are caring, active and contributing members of their local community.”
Someone might say, “Well, they would say that, because they are saying it about themselves”, but I assure people that I have spoken with a constituent of mine who describes himself as a lapsed atheist. He is certainly not a Christian, by his own admission, and he works for one of the several Plymouth Brethren businesses in my constituency. His name is Glyn Rushton, he is happy to go on the record and he works with Delta Balustrades, where he is a production manager. He got his job through the jobcentre in 2005 and he has the utmost respect for the Brethren, describing them as model employers:
“I would always view Brethren as a force for good in any area. They are industrious, independent minded people who care about those around them. They set out to solve more problems than they create and rarely feature in crime statistics”.
His point about the positive aspects of the Brethren way of life should not go unnoticed, and I draw attention to page 17 of the booklet to which I referred earlier.
It is important to raise the issue of information circulating on some internet sites that gives a negative portrayal of experiences to do with the Plymouth Brethren. I understand that such matters have not been a cause of the Charity Commission deciding to refuse charitable status. In a letter of
“We do not have any evidence before us at this time to demonstrate disadvantage which may serve to negate public benefit.”
No one would claim that any organisation is perfect, but if the Charity Commission has any such concerns the proper thing to do is to investigate thoroughly and to substantiate or discount them. At present, however, having checked with the Plymouth Brethren as late as this morning, I understand that that is not an issue in the appeal case of the Preston Down Trust.