Charities Bill [Lords]
Peter Bottomley: My hon. Friend is going backwards. Surely the whole point is not to draw up a definitive list, but say that if there is not already discretion for local authorities, they ought to have it.
Mr. Turner: I assure my hon. Friend that I was not going backwards, merely hoping that we could draw up the list, find out how few opportunities there were for local authorities to remit fees and return to the issue on Report with the support of the Parliamentary Secretary.
Peter Bottomley: I should like to put on record that I do not believe that the discretion exists for village halls and other organisations that need to go beyond their temporary entertainment licences. That is one of the things that the Minister should raise in his discussions with other people.
Mr. Turner: That example sprang to mind when national scales of charging were mentioned. I think I have said enough; in fact, I know I havethat does not need confirmation. I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for agreeing to consider the matter and I shall
Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.
New Clause 13
Exercise of information powers
Before section 8 of the 1993 Act insert
Z8 Exercise of information powers
In undertaking any action under sections 19, 20 or 26, the Commission shall have regard to
(a) the need to ensure that the burden on staff or volunteers of the charity is proportionate to the objectives of the action taken or proposed;
(b) the need to ensure that its costs are proportionate to the objectives of the action taken or proposed; and
(c) the extent to which the charity depends on regular donations from members of the public...[Mr. Turner.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
This is another new clause to which the Cheltenham principle may be attributed, and I want to be sure of whether that is the case. I draw the Ministers attention to paragraph (c) in particular. It is relevant to consider whether charities have close relations with members of the public, as do those that raise funds.
Edward Miliband: The Committee will recall that, last week, we spent some time discussing the duty on the Charity Commission to act proportionately. The Charity Commission has that duty, and that of acting reasonably. We have strengthened that by giving the commission a specific duty to have regard for the principles of best regulatory practice. Its regulatory activities should be proportionate, accountable, consistent, transparent and targeted only at cases for which they are needed.
That duty applies to all the commissions functions, including those specified in the new clause. In reaching its decisions in respect of the exercise of its powers, the commission will take all relevant matters into account. On that basis, the commission will be required to follow best regulatory practice. I do not see the need for additional requirements, which would add confusion, not clarity. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the motion.
Mr. Turner: The Parliamentary Secretary has confirmed that paragraph (c) is covered. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.
New Clause 14
Disclosure of information to and by Northern Ireland regulator
(1) This section applies if a body (referred to in this section as the Northern Ireland regulator) is established to exercise functions in Northern Ireland which are similar in nature to the
(2) The Secretary of State may by regulations authorise relevant public authorities to disclose information to the Northern Ireland regulator for the purpose of enabling or assisting the Northern Ireland regulator to discharge any of its functions.
(3) If the regulations authorise the disclosure of Revenue and Customs information, they must contain provision in relation to that disclosure which corresponds to the provision made in relation to the disclosure of such information by section 10(2) to (4) of the 1993 Act (as substituted by paragraph 99 of Schedule 8 to this Act).
(4) In the case of information disclosed to the Northern Ireland regulator pursuant to regulations made under this section, any power of the Northern Ireland regulator to disclose the information is exercisable subject to any express restriction subject to which the information was disclosed to the Northern Ireland regulator.
(5) Subsection (4) does not apply in relation to Revenue and Customs information disclosed to the Northern Ireland regulator pursuant to regulations made under this section; but any such information may not be further disclosed except with the consent of the Commissioners for Her Majestys Revenue and Customs.
(6) Any person specified, or of a description specified, in regulations made under this section who discloses information in contravention of subsection (5) is guilty of an offence and liable
(a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or both;
(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to a fine, or both.
(7) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection (5) of disclosing information to prove that he reasonably believed
(a) that the disclosure was lawful, or
(b) that the information had already and lawfully been made available to the public.
(8) In the application of this section to Scotland or Northern Ireland, the reference to 12 months in subsection (6) is to be read as a reference to 6 months.
(9) In this section
relevant public authority means
(a) any government department (other than a Northern Ireland department),
(b) any local authority in England, Wales or Scotland,
(c) any person who is a constable in England and Wales or Scotland,
(d) any other body or person discharging functions of a public nature (including a body or person discharging regulatory functions in relation to any description of activities), except a body or person whose functions are exercisable only or mainly in or as regards Northern Ireland and relate only or mainly to transferred matters;
Revenue and Customs information means information held as mentioned in section 18(1) of the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Act 2005 (c. 11);
transferred matter has the same meaning as in the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (c.Â 47)..[Edward Miliband.]
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.
New Clause 15
Human rights compliance
(1) The Commission shall investigate the activities of a charity where it receives an allegation, substantiated by evidence,
(2) If, following any such investigation, the Commission finds the allegation proven, it shall either, if the charity is registered, strike the charity off the register or exercise its other statutory powers in relation to the charity, its property or assets or its charity trustees, officers or employees..[Peter Bottomley.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
The Cheltenham principle has been cited many times, but not by me; it will be now. The Bill is riddled with the substitution of the words the commission is for the words the commission are. That is Cheltenham all the way through.
I now turn to something rather more serious. I tabled the new clause very late, and so the Committee ought to know that if the Minister gives any kind of response, I do not intend to push it to a vote. Secondly, many of us have had correspondence from Benedict Birnberg, Uri Davis, Roland Rance and David Wolton. Those who have read the correspondence will know about the issue that they had in mind, but I do not think that it is appropriate for the Committee to become involved in that in any sense whatsoever.
The new clause is about human rights compliance, and I am relying quite heavily on a letter that Benedict Birnberg and his colleagues sent to the Minister, dated 26 June. I shall also be quoting from a letter sent to the Charities Bill team on 3 June. The proposed new clause
is framed to make it clear...that English charities may not engage in activities which, were they committed by a public authority, would be inconsistent with Convention rights as defined in the Human Rights Act 1998 and to mandate
the Charities Commission to investigate and take appropriate action against charities which are alleged to do so by exercising its statutory powers.
The allegation by itself should not be sufficient. The wording of the proposed amendment by which I have been assisted was based on the advice, I am told, of a senior member of the judiciary.
The letter dated 3 June is from correspondence with the Charity Commission and the charities unit, which has now moved to the Ministers Department from the Home Office. It has been put to Benedict Birnberg and his colleagues that existing charity law is sufficient to empower the Charity Commission to take action to deal with the abuses that were alleged when a complaint was put forward against a particular charitable trust. In fact, the petitioners, if I can put it that way, supported the view that the law was sufficient. That is why they wrote to the commission, seeking the investigation of the activities that they alleged contravened international human rights laws.
The Charity Commission rejected the complaint, taking the view that it operated within a statutory framework that precluded it from undertaking such an investigation, let alone from having the power to cause any remedial action. The petitioners considered, as they argue in the letter, that there was a gap in charity law that needed to be filled, namely the deficient
Mr. Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent, South) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman raises an extremely important and serious matter. Could he explain to me, as I am confused, his position in relation to his hon. and right hon. Friends, who appear to have a problem with the Human Rights Act and think that perhaps we should get rid of it?
The petitioners continued that they carefully considered what the Charities Bill team sent back, but that it reinforced their concerns. They were told that charity law provides remedies either in circumstances when the charitys
purposes cease to be charitable under English law
or in circumstances when the charity
carries out unacceptable activities (for example, activities that are unlawful...).
The whole point is that because charity law is, in the petitioners view, so unspecific and lacking in clarity and the existing statutory powers of intervention so limited, that prompts the question of what purposes are non-charitable and what charity activities are unacceptable or unlawful.
In the absence of clear statutory precepts, the reaction of the commission to the petitioners complaint and to similar complaints is bound to be as it was. There is no criticism of the commission in what has been said, but rather it has been questioned whether there is a gap in the law. It may be that charity law needs amendingand the petitioners would say that it certainly doesto make it explicit that an English charity, or for that matter any charity anywhere in the United Kingdom, may not engage in activities that contravene international human rights provisions and standards, and that the commission is mandated to intervene if it does so.
The proposal that was first discussed in correspondence has been changed and its most recent form is the new clause that I am offering to the Committee today. The particular wording does not matter, but the commission wishes to seeand there is an argument here that the Committee might wish to consideran amendment that satisfied the principle behind the concerns. The underlying issue is whether non-state institutions have obligations under human rights treaties and if so, to what degree. The purpose of the new clause is to make it explicit that UK charities not only are expected to comply with international human rights standards, but can be required to do so.
There are other matters contained in a letter that could come up if we return to the issue later, but I have spelled out the issue and the responses from the Charities Bill unit, which was very open, and the Charity Commission. The underlying question is not whether the law is being applied or interpreted
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