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House of Lords

Wednesday, 25th January 1995.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwark.

Charities in Scotland

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are preparing further legislation to clarify and regulate the situation of charities operating in Scotland.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Fraser of Carmyllie): My Lords, we do not consider that there is a need for further legislation at present. The existing structure was put in place relatively recently after full consultation and consideration. The early results have been most encouraging and clearly show that the present regulatory system is working well. Both the Scottish Office and the Scottish Charities Office are monitoring the operation of the existing arrangements and we will keep the matter under review.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble and learned friend for that reassuring reply. While I applaud recent government action in investigating certain cases which received publicity and therefore some notoriety, is it not better to provide clear guidance to guard against dubious practices rather than having to act later, especially since the Charity Commission does not operate in Scotland?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, my noble friend is correct. A number of recent investigations by the Scottish Charities Office revealed that there were improprieties, which have been satisfactorily dealt with. That is an important part of its work. I want to make clear also to my noble friend that a significant proportion of the work of the Scottish Charities Office is related to the provision of advice to trustees. I hope that that results in a more efficient and effective charities management in Scotland. Furthermore, the Scottish Charities Office is considering, with the Charities Commission—which, as my noble friend said, extends only to parts of England and Wales—the provision of advice in areas which are of mutual interest. Examples include guidance on the student unions and on campaigning and political activities by charities.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe: My Lords, does not the Minister agree that it would be wise for him to meet the people who briefed his noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy and myself on this subject? There appears to be a misunderstanding. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations is concerned about the inadequacy of the existing provisions. If the noble and learned Lord met its members, perhaps the difficulties could be resolved.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I regularly meet members of the Scottish Council for Voluntary

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Organisations and have had a fairly extended correspondence with them on this matter. I hope that they now appreciate that some of the anxieties they expressed are not necessarily well founded. One of their concerns was that there should be a better set of regulations on accounting requirements. When the new statement of recommended practice for charities accounting on this side of the Border has been produced, we certainly anticipate revising the regulations for Scotland in the light of that.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, as most people who join the Conservative Party in Scotland now join out of sympathy rather than conviction, is there any truth in the widespread rumour that the Scottish Conservative Party is thinking of applying for charitable status?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, the Scottish Conservative Party is anticipating some extremely successful fundraising over the next few weeks. But we are certainly not proud; if people want to join us as a charity, we shall be happy to receive them.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: My Lords, this is an interesting Question. Although it has been on the Order Paper for over a week, I have so far received no representations from charities and normally they are not slow to come forward with information. The points made by the Minister clearly illustrate the need for some clarity in our knowledge of the administration of charities in Scotland. I am therefore grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for raising this Question today.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I too am grateful to my noble friend. I believe that the Scottish Charities Office is settling in extremely well. If there are any particularly outstanding points, clearly we want to address them. We will take forward the way we offer advice and manage charities in Scotland, appreciating that there have been important changes on this side of the Border from which we can learn.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, is my noble and learned friend aware that the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations—I am glad to hear my noble and learned friend is in touch with it—is extremely concerned that unwelcome people may be tempted to start up activities in Scotland in the expectation that they will not be monitored or investigated in the way that they would be south of the Border?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, any fraudsters who believe that they can run a charity in Scotland and get away without being properly monitored or supervised had better appreciate how well the Scottish Charities Office has settled down. As my noble friend indicates, in two widely publicised cases where the charity got off on the wrong lines, swift action was taken and appropriate steps implemented.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale: My Lords, I am a little surprised by this Question. The Scottish legislation about charities which preceded the legislation applying

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to England and Wales included a number of provisions which we were only too happy to copy when our turn came.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I am grateful if that was indeed the case. There are a number of matters where clearly we wish to march in step because although there will be charities here in England which will be under the supervision of the Charities Commission, the larger ones in particular will often extend their operations north of the Border.

British Rail: Through-ticketing Facilities

2.44 p.m.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the regulator or Ministers will exercise their powers to prevent any reduction of through-ticketing facilities at British Rail stations.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen): My Lords, the Secretary of State for Transport and the Rail Regulator both have a statutory duty under the Railways Act 1993 to promote measures to protect through-ticketing. The regulator is consulting on the requirements for retailing through-tickets which he might impose on operators as a licence condition.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Where exactly does authority lie in this matter? Is he aware that when the Rail Regulator announced the proposed reduction of core stations to 294 his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport said:

    "If the regulator is proposing that the number of stations offering through-ticketing should be fewer than now, that is unacceptable"?

Can the Minister tell me where authority lies in this matter? Is it with the Secretary of State, who declares the through-ticketing arrangements to be unacceptable, or the regulator, who insists that that is what he proposes to do? It raises an important constitutional question. Since the recommendation on through-ticketing there has been a further announcement from the regulator that the price for using Railtrack should be substantially reduced—reduced by £1.5 billion. Will the Minister tell me what the effect on the flotation price of Railtrack will be if revenues are cut to that extent?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the noble Lord's final question is very different from that concerned with through-ticketing. If I may correct the noble Lord, first, the regulator did not announce that there would be 294 core stations. The regulator is engaged in a consultation exercise which has yet to be completed. The noble Lord asked about the division of authority. The position is that the Rail Regulator is under a statutory duty to facilitate through journeys involving services of more than one operator. He is not authorised to grant passenger train operating licences except with the Secretary of State's approval, without an obligation on operators to comply with approved arrangements for the

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sale and honouring of through tickets. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport has powers to give guidance to the regulator and, under the Railways Act, the regulator is obliged to take account of it.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, will my noble friend and his Minister take account of the fact that, if through-ticketing is in any substantial degree reduced, it will have a very adverse effect on the public reaction to privatisation of the railways?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that through-ticketing and other network benefits have a substantial effect on the desirability of the railway. That is why the Government have always been committed to seeing improvements in the service.

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