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Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I generally support this amendment and the group of which it is part. As the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, said in moving the principal amendment, when this was put to the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, last time, the word that he used to describe the Government's approach was, I think, "simpler". On reflection, I do not agree. I accept that in some circumstances it can be simpler for the user to have matters set out precisely rather than under general headings, but I do not think this is such a case. One would be saving how many pages?
I also applaud the fact that a right of appeal would be given under these amendments for unreasonable delay on the part of the commission. I moved an amendment to that effect separately at the previous Committee stage, and I think that it is worthy of a place in this part of the Bill. Unless there are some aspects to the debate that have so far avoided me, I am certainly inclined to support what the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, proposes.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: We debated the amendment on 23 February. Thinking back, I think that we must have debated a lot on 23 February; we have had a lot of references to it today. I shall pretty much repeat what I said then, word for word. I am sorry that that is the case, but I cannot see that things have changed at all since.
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The Charity Appeal Tribunal will provide a less formal means of challenging the decisions of the Charity Commission than pursuing a case in the High Court. That is accepted. It is intended that appellants would be able to represent themselves in person should they wish to do so, although the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, thinks that there will be instances where it is necessary for them to employ lawyers to do the work of the charity.
As I said before, the table in Schedule 4 is not only simpler but clearer about which Charity Commission decisions would be subject to appeal, who would be able to submit an appeal in each case, and the powers of the tribunal in relation to those decisions. We decided on a course of action that sets out how we feel that the mechanism will work, rather than leaving it open-ended. We think it best that way.
Members of the Committee are right that it would have been possible to group some of the decisions together, but we think that the table, with the decisions listed in the order in which they appear in the Charities Act 1993, is clearer than the proposed amendments. It will provide the opportunity for a lay person to identify whether the decision about which they are concerned falls within the jurisdiction of the tribunal.
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: There is something that I do not think that the Minister has tackled so far. The Charity Law Association has identified two legitimate bases for appeal to the tribunal that will not be allowed because they are not included in the list. None of us is confident that those are the last two that will be found. They were Sections 29 and 33 appeals, which are not appealable at present. The Charity Law Association believes that they should be. The Minister's comment that the 1993 Act's appealable provisions have all been lifted wholesale has not been fulfilled. I do not say that he gave the undertaking in anything other than good faith, but we need to address the issue.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I shall try to address those two points. I want to make it clear to Members of the Committee that the position as we have set it out is better than the proposed amendments, because it will enable the lay person more quickly and readily to identify whether the decision about which they are concerned falls within the relevant jurisdiction and whether they are eligible to appeal.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I realise that the Minister is working his way through the argument, but I simply do not understand that it is simpler for the lay man to wade through six pages of schedules with three columns in them than to give the lay man, trustee or charity a general right of appeal against the decision, direction or order emanating from the Charity Commission. How can it be simpler? Seriously, that is counterintuitiveit is counter to common sense.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: Judgment has already been passed, I fear. If you have, set out in terms, the
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situation in which you can appeal, the way in which that appeal will work and how you can make that appeal, that is plain and not vaguenot undescribed or amorphous in its scope. The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, makes a fair point
The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, provided us with the examples of the Charity Law Association. With Section 29, on the question of advice, it is not appropriate to appeal to tribunal. The commission would give authority, if appropriate, for directions to be given by the court.
As for things which have not yet been thought of as relevant, and are perhaps unlisted, there is the facility to add to the list by virtue of paragraph 6 on page 95. So there is that element of flexibility.
On balance, we prefer our approach of describing, setting out and showing what the appeal right covers for the lay person. I accept the point that it is there, and at length. The lay person, however, would at least have the opportunity to see quite plainly what it is that they are unable to appeal against, and how the appeal process works.
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: The Minister has made a gallant attempt in the face of some powerful arguments. I am afraid I do not find his argument persuasive, however. While I am all for our trying to make this Bill comprehensible, the thought that I, as a charity trustee, am going to go off and read between pages 88 to 94 without a lawyer, work out where I am, what clause I can appeal under and who may actually make the appeal, flies in the face of common sense. If I may borrow the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, the Government's approach is counter-intuitive.
The hour is late, I will not belabour the luckless Minister, who has had no dinner, any longer. I reserve the right to come back to this one. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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The noble Lord said: My Lords, we come to the first of a series of amendments we have tabled which seek to reduce the regulatory burden for both charities and the Charity Commission, and to make the framework of charity law more easily comprehensible by charity trustees.
I want the Committee to note that I use the word "must" not "may". This was not the case in the original Bill. There, the Charity Commission could refuse to register a charity if its annual income was below £5,000. This was clearly wrong. If a charity, any charity, wants to register with the Charity Commission, it should be able to do so. We tabled amendments to ensure that this would happen by changing "may" to "must" in line 25 on page 12 of the Bill. We were extremely grateful to the Government for accepting that amendment.
There are many reasons why even the smallest charity might want to be registerednotably that many grant-giving charities and local authorities will give grants only to charities that are registered. But why should small charities have to register? Equally important, what risk is there if they do not? At an annual income of £5,000, a charity will have total assets of just over £100,000, if they are all invested at the current benchmark gilt rate. That is a ludicrously small sum at which to require a charity to be registered. No one can argue that such charities present any systemic risk to the charitable sector or public confidence in charities generally.
So, for once, let us take a positive step to lift the regulatory burden. In Grand Committee, I argued that the minimum threshold should be lifted to £25,000. I accept that that did not find favour with the Committee, but the noble Lord, Lord Shutt of Greetland, whom I am now sorry to see in his place, said that he would be tempted to support a figure of £10,000. So here is temptation. I beg to move.
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