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Lord Harris of High Cross: Before I launch into a formidable speech in support of the amendment, may I ask the Minister whether the Government intend to table an amendment to meet the anxiety that the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, has expressed and which is shared by many people, including by the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, and me? I understood the Minister to say that earlier.
Given that there are three or four think tanks considering the issue, together we might come up with a workable solution that will give effect to the noble Lord's intentions, although think tanks do not always solve problems, do they?
Lord Eatwell: I hope that they do. I should like to address this issue, first, specifically with regard to think-tanks. The development of think-tanks in the UK has proceeded apace over the past decade. Some venerable think-tanks--for example, the Fabian Society and the Institute of Economic Affairs, with which the noble Lord, Lord Harris, was connected--have existed since the 1950s or even earlier and have made a major contribution to British political life.
Over the past 10 or 20 years a number of other think-tanks have developed and have, I believe, contributed significantly to British political debate. They are a positive element and most are funded by voluntary contributions of one form or another. It would be unfortunate if voluntary contributions to thinking about policy and policy affairs were limited in some way by this Bill.
Therefore, I urge the Government to consider think-tanks, which of course are necessarily political. I refer not only to think-tanks such as the Centre for Policy Studies, which is not a charity, the Institute of Economic Affairs, which, I believe, is, and the IPPR, which I chair and which is a charity. Those are clearly interested in political issues and policy. I think also perhaps of Amnesty International or even the British Red Cross, which occasionally take strong political positions and which might be caught if the Government are not terribly careful in their drafting of the Bill.
The main division which exists in the Bill at present is between charities and non-charities. Of course, a clear divide within the remit of the Charity Commission is that an organisation can be political but it must not be party political. Whether or not that is an appropriate divide, I am not sure. I am clear that think-tanks and other organisations which are not party political should not be included within the restrictions which are imposed on political funding in this Bill. That would be entirely inappropriate and the Charity Commissioners give us a clear solution to that problem.
Therefore, I ask the Government to accept that the Charity Commissioners provide us with one step along the road to defining clearly the position of think-tanks as non-party political. I also ask them to be sensitive to the role of more party-political think-tanks, which can play an important role in our democracy today and whose funding may be placed in jeopardy if we take too hard a line on this Bill.
Lord Newby: I declare an interest as a trustee at the Centre for Reform, which, like all think-tanks, is engaged in policy development. I believe that it is important to stress that all think-tanks, particularly as they have developed, have shown an increasing willingness and enthusiasm to involve in their work people who are not members of a party, even if they come from a party background.
The Centre for Reform, for example, which not surprisingly is run by and serves to promote principally ideas which Liberal Democrats find acceptable, has recently published a book about EU enlargement. Most of the people who contributed to that publication were academics. So far as I know, they had no particular party allegiance. They were specialists in agricultural policy, foreign policy and so on. We like to think that the book that they produced helps to develop public debate on a major political issue. Therefore, I believe that it is important that think-tanks are given every opportunity to raise funds and to develop without being constrained in the same way as political parties.
The Centre for Reform was established after the last general election. We had to make a choice as to whether or not to become a charity. We decided that we would not do so on the basis that we were not absolutely sure how the Charity Commissioners would view us and that it would be easier not to be because we would be less constrained in what we did. We try very hard to carry out a great deal of work with a small amount of resource. I suspect that in that we have much in common with every think-tank in the land.
Therefore, I am wary of any proposal that will make it less easy for us to raise funds. Often we are talking about relatively small amounts of money. The Centre for Reform often approaches individuals or organisations and asks for small numbers of thousands of pounds to produce a publication, or possibly £10,000 or £20,000 to help to support a little research. In my view, anything that makes that type of fund-raising more difficult diminishes not only our ability but the ability of those who are thinking about public policy in this country to help in the development of public policy.
I, and no doubt other Members of the Committee, were heartened by what the Minister said. We look forward to discussing with him the possibility of another amendment. I believe that this is an important issue. I hope that on Report an amendment will be tabled on which we can all agree. I hope that such an amendment will make it absolutely clear that people who want to give money to think-tanks can do so without the constraints which understandably are placed on the giving of funds to political parties.
When I spoke months ago on the Second Reading of this Bill, I was deeply apprehensive about the intrusion of this type of legislation into what I might call the "nooks and crannies" of political life and thought in this country. This is a very good example of it. Therefore, I am delighted to know that the Minister is considering all those organisations.
Lord Blackwell: I am grateful for and encouraged by the support for this amendment around the Chamber. I am also grateful for and encouraged by what the Minister said and I look forward to hearing what he has to say on Report. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The effect of the amendment would be to repeal the existing requirements on the disclosure of charitable donations by companies without replacing them. It may be that the noble Lord thought that we were imposing new charitable disclosure requirements; we are not. This is only to make the new part of the Companies Act look as it should.
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