Charitable Registration — [Jim Dobbin in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:42 pm on 13th November 2012.

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Photo of Sheila Gilmore Sheila Gilmore Labour, Edinburgh East 3:42 pm, 13th November 2012

I am not clear whether my hon. Friend is suggesting that this is inherent in the law, that we should take away the provision stating that there should not be any automatic presumption and that people should have to demonstrate public benefit. Mission creep is possible in any charitable organisation. There could be a suggestion that by defining oneself as a religion or any other kind of group, one does not have to demonstrate public benefit. What I am struggling with—after listening to what Members have said today and after being lobbied on the issue—is precisely how the Charity Commission came to its decision. Having said that, it is not for us to second-guess the tribunal. I was taken with the proposal made by the hon. Member for Congleton that in order to get the matter dealt with, perhaps it should be taken to the upper-tier tribunal as swiftly as possible, rather than meandering much more slowly through the process. It was held up by the Charity Commission while waiting for decisions in other cases.

The commission says that it does not see this a test case for all religions, and that it has not embarked on a process of trying to use this as a step towards something else, as people fear. I hope that that is correct. The 2006 Act stated that there was provision for a review of the Act’s workings, and in relation to the question of public benefit. That review has taken place and Lord Hodgson’s report, which was delivered to the Government some five months ago, was inconclusive. It said that there was no need for the definition of public benefit to be reviewed. Perhaps there is now an opportunity for a full debate on that review, and I will be interested to hear what the Minister says on the matter. I do not think that Parliament has had chance to debate that yet, so perhaps we could reopen why the question of why the review decided that the matter did not have to be reconsidered.

It is important that we have good, strong charity law and that the system ensures, as I think Members would agree, that what constitutes public benefit is clear. There are a number of opportunities to consider that, including in response to Lord Hodgson’s review, which is an issue that I hope the Minister will address.