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25 Oct 2006 : Column 1558

The sport to which I refer, and its governance, must not be confused with hunting or any gun lobby. Target shooting sport in the UK was founded in 1859 and featured in the first Olympic games of 1896 and every games, bar two, since then. Target shooting is an Olympic, Commonwealth and Paralympic sport. The home nations have a high reputation internationally and regularly win medals. Target shooting provides many opportunities for competitive sport at county, national and international level through recognised international governing bodies.

Target shooting sport, as regulated and governed by the national governing bodies, is an inclusive sport without any discrimination and with special emphasis on encouraging the young. It provides a safe sport requiring physical and concentration skills, and promotes and maintains health. It also provides a safe sport for those with disabilities, including blindness or sight impairment, in some cases on equal terms with the fully able-bodied. It provides a lifelong sports activity for the very young to the very old. It is a sports activity encouraged by many local councils, schools and cadet units. It encourages a responsible attitude to shooting and the handling of firearms from club level upwards, and is therefore a force for good in society.

The listing of target shooting sport as a charitable activity in the advancement of amateur sport is fundamental to the federation, and would help to give it the financial ability to support target shooting not only for its members, but for the blind and the Paralympics, and for the training of Olympic hopefuls. I believe that the Minister of Sport is sympathetic to the federation’s position, for I gather that in relation to the Olympics he has written a paper for the Home Secretary to help facilitate the making of arrangements for squad practice for target pistol shooters in the UK in preparation for 2012.

Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South) (Lab): I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman has said about target shooting, particularly for disabled shooters and young people, who can compete on equal terms. Is he aware that at present the Charity Commission excludes shooting per se? Does he not think that that is wrong, and that in the Bill we should try to do something about that?

2.45 pm

Mr. Malins: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. I believe—he must correct me as I go along—that he has something of a distinguished background in and knowledge of these matters, on which I congratulate him. He does not correct me, so I assume he concurs with what I said. Indeed, he is right: there is reference to “shooting”. I shall try in a moment to differentiate between shooting, which can be an emotive word, and the narrower interest on which I am focusing today—target rifle and pistol shooting, which we should try to separate in our minds from shooting in general.

My understanding is that the Charity Commission must issue guidance in pursuance of its public benefit objective. I understand therefore, and I shall be corrected if I am wrong, that the view taken by the Charity Commission concerning target rifle and target pistol shooting will be very important. However, I
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further understand that the Charity Commission stated in paragraph 11 of pamphlet RR11 that it did not consider that certain sports constitute “sport” within the purposes of the Bill. Among those sports the commission lists “Rifle and pistol shooting”.

I stress two points immediately. We are talking about target rifle and target pistol shooting, which is a different concept. I understand that the Charity Commission may have been advised that shooting should not be or would not be charitable, but in the advice that it received there was no reference to the sport about which I am speaking—target rifle and pistol shooting. This sport is already accepted as a “sport in the community” for the purposes of the community amateur sports club legislation by virtue of being recognised as a sport by the Sports Councils.

For the sake of future success and viability, as I have mentioned, the federation is keen for the sport to be recognised as such under the Bill. Although it is registered as a charity under the long established public benefit precedent, as its activities are

it believes that in the current environment it would be much more successful also to be recognised for charity purposes as a sport. As I said, this would help with recruitment of the young to the safe use of firearms for competitive marksmanship.

I stress that we must concentrate on the misunderstanding among some people of exactly what the activity of athletic, competitive target shooting is. The federation justifiably claims that its courses of sporting practice conform to requirements for fitness as they include elements of stamina, strength and suppleness—the qualifying criteria, in many cases. The federation represents a major category of international sport. If those sports are not regarded as a charity activity, they would be the only sports recognised by the Commonwealth Games Federation and the IOC not to be so.

In a letter to the federation, the Minister of Sport stated:

so I hope the Charity Commission will take careful note of my remarks, and I hope it will be positive in its response to them. I hope also that the Minster will be positive when he responds. Clearly, the Charity Commission pays attention to the intentions of Parliament as expressed in the House, and I would very much welcome from the Minister a positive message about the sport of rifle and pistol target shooting. It is my judgment that he will feel able to give me a positive message. Even a clear recognition that those are nothing to do with hunting would help.

Another misunderstanding has occurred. The Central Council of Physical Recreation produced a document on sports which it suggested would have difficulty qualifying for charitable status, and among those was included shooting. Again, the word “shooting” is so wide as to include a great deal more than the narrow pistol and rifle target shooting on which I am focusing. So, in the hope that the Minister will have something positive and helpful to say to me, I
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shall finish by quoting from a letter sent on 17 October this year by Disability Target Shooting Great Britain to the federation. It says:

That letter says a great deal. I look forward to hearing from the Minister.

Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): I speak as chairman of the all-party group on the voluntary sector and charities, as it used to be called. The all-party group on the community and voluntary sector, as it has been called for the past year or so, takes great interest in the progress of the Bill. I shall deal with amendments Nos. 123 to 125 from a personal perspective, but first I shall comment on Government amendments Nos. 2 and 3. They are good examples of the Government’s having listened to debates and accepted that loopholes need to be closed and anomalies corrected. Neither of the amendments is earth-shattering, but it was clear to those of us who served on the Standing Committee that members of the constabulary, in particular, were worried about the anomalous position of police welfare organisations. Extending the provision to all the emergency services removes any doubt. I therefore welcome the amendments.

Martin Horwood: I remember the hon. Gentleman teasing members of the Standing Committee about supporting an amendment which he described as

Now, that amendment has been introduced as a Government amendment. Should we regard something which is harmless, albeit not entirely necessary, as the High Peak principle?

Tom Levitt: The hon. Gentleman is too modest; he knows that that is the Cheltenham principle, and he advocated it as Liberal party policy on many occasions in Committee. I do not recall whether I said that in connection with this particular issue.

Martin Horwood: It was this issue.

Tom Levitt: Was it? Oh, right. [ Laughter. ] Nevertheless, the Cheltenham principle of advocating a provision that is “harmless, albeit not entirely necessary” was advanced so many times. This provision would not be regarded as “not entirely necessary” by those who will benefit from it.

On chess, I echo the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Charlotte Atkins). I ask her to pass on my best wishes on the success of the campaign to Robert Milner, whom she mentioned as the father of chess in north Staffordshire. I remember him well from my days growing up in Leek, and I also taught alongside him for a short period on teaching practice.

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Returning to amendments Nos. 123 to 125, I suspect that the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) and I have similar views on religious faith—I do not profess to hold religious views, and neither does he. However, I have reached different conclusions about the need for and practicality of legislating on the protection or the charitable status of non-religious views. The first part of the hon. Gentleman’s speech addressed beliefs and belief systems themselves, whereas it seems to me that charitable purposes can apply only to organisations which are involved in promoting those beliefs and belief systems.

One would not want to discriminate on the grounds of lack of religious belief, just as we do not allow discrimination on the grounds of religious belief, but the Bill does not do that, because it contains so many opportunities for an organisation involved in advancing non-religious beliefs to have its rights protected and for its charitable purposes to be recognised. The hon. Gentleman said that the Government were right not to define religion too tightly, but then appeared to accept that non-religious beliefs could be defined sufficiently well to put them in the Bill, which I found particularly difficult to get my head around.

Dr. Harris: First, I was talking about the advancement of non-religious beliefs. The hon. Gentleman must explain why the advancement of, for example, Christianity or Buddhism should be treated differently from the advancement of humanism. Secondly, one can use terms such as “religion” and “belief” in legislation, because it is understood from previous legislation what they mean. If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about a wide definition of “belief”, he should be concerned about the Equality Act 2006, the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Communications Act 2003.

Tom Levitt: I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the need to resist amendment No. 126, which would take away from religious organisations the need to justify their charitable purposes. I am sure that the Minister agrees that it would be absolutely wrong to go down that line.

I am one of those non-religious people who do not consider religion to be such an important thing that I want to shout about my lack of religious views or to get involved with such organisations; my personal credo is that my political views are much more valuable and useful to me. However, the Bill includes opportunities for organisations involved in the advancement of non-religious beliefs to have their claim to charitable status recognised.

Chris Bryant: Does my hon. Friend recognise this anomaly: the Government have chosen to change clause 2(3), so that the definition of religion includes

but the provision does not state that a religion might involve belief in a single God?

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Tom Levitt: Either my hon. Friend is thinking along the same lines as me or he has been reading the proceedings in Committee, where I raised that very point. In Committee, the Minister told me that clause 2(3)(a), which covers what religion includes, can include matters besides those listed in sub-paragraphs (i) and (ii). I hope that that is clear—that explanation was clear enough for my satisfaction at the time.

In an earlier intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) pointed out that subsection (2)(e) refers to “citizenship or community development”. In this day and age, I do not think it possible to discuss citizenship without discussing belief systems and, indeed, the beliefs that underlie those systems. I therefore think that an organisation that is involved in citizenship or community development from an explicitly and specifically non-religious point of view could justify its charitable status under subsection (2)(e).

Subsection (2)(h) relates to the point raised by the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon. As

is included as a purpose in the Bill, I therefore presume that that includes article 9(1) of the European convention on human rights. Even if that point were not covered, subsection (2)(m) refers to

which includes

Surely a non-religious organisation, in so far as it is all about beliefs and the advancement of those beliefs, is analogous to a religious organisation. Those provisions would allow a non-religious organisation to have its purposes acknowledged as charitable.

Dr. Harris: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is a further test—that the purposes

Why should humanism be treated like that just in this Bill, when Buddhism is not, simply because it is a religious belief? There is nothing innate about Buddhism that means that it should not have to go through the hoops of the extra test for non-religious beliefs. The hon. Gentleman thinks that the extra test for non-religious beliefs is straightforward, but practice has shown that it might not be.

Tom Levitt: As the hon. Gentleman has acknowledged, it is not practical to define exactly what we mean by “religious beliefs”. It would be completely wrong to include a schedule to the Bill listing religious beliefs for the purpose of the Bill. Even among humanism, atheism and agnosticism, there are lots of different views, and different organisations may adopt slightly different approaches. I do not think that we should to seek to define “religious beliefs” too closely.

Finally, I have always believed that one of the problems with the funding of political parties is that the public benefit that political parties provide to this country is not recognised in law or charitable law. On another occasion, perhaps we can examine whether political parties are covered by subsection (2), although that may be a discussion for another day.

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3 pm

Martin Horwood: This is an interesting debate, which illustrates a theme that was clear in the debate on section 36 agreements—that there is a practical advantage in having clarity in such a Bill, because that would avoid the kind of arguments that are reasonably harmless in this place but when conducted in the courts and with solicitors add up to delays and large bills for the charities involved.

Government amendment No. 2, which has not been discussed a great deal, adds a head of charity for

We owe the amendment to the inspiration of the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner), and I am pleased that the Government have tabled it. It is an example of adding clarity to the law in such a way as to avoid onerous debate and discussion by the relevant charities.

I had to be persuaded that amendments Nos. 123 to 125 had such a practical impact as well as the point of principle involved. My personal experience with humanist organisations was always that they had managed to achieve charitable status through the formula of “the mental and moral improvement of mankind”. The Minister pointed that out to me in Committee. The formulation, “religion and belief”, is increasingly widespread not only in human rights law but in Government legislation on several different topics. I even found some regulations that refer to it in their title—the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003. Some people worry that this might open the door to Marxism, for example, becoming charitable. However, the meaning of “belief” is well established in this context, as in those regulations and in human rights law—it does not extend to political beliefs but is limited to relevant beliefs such as humanism and secularism.

Tom Levitt: With all due respect to the hon. Gentleman, the legislation that he mentions concerns unjustified discrimination on various grounds, not belief itself. I am sure that we would all agree that this is not only about there being no circumstances in which it would be justifiable to discriminate against someone on the grounds of their belief, whatever it happened to be, in relation to their job, for example.

Martin Horwood: The hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point, so let me cite an example that does not deal with discrimination. It comes from a rather unlikely source—I found it on the Charity Commission’s website only yesterday. The commission recently accepted the promotion of religious harmony for the benefit of the public as a charitable purpose, and it gives some guidance for people wishing to promote religious harmony. Under the heading, “Religion and Other Belief Systems”, it says:

So the Charity Commission itself is advising people to regard religion and belief as—

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