HC Deb 14 June 1982 vol 25 cc607-10
29. Mr. Wolfson

asked. the Attorney-General whether he is satisfied that the present law and practice covering the registration and review of charities gives adequate protection to the public.

The Attorney-General

I consider that there is adequate protection to the public under the present arrangements so long as it is remembered that if cases occur in which it appears that a charity—or body claiming to be a charity—is being used for non-charitable or private purposes it is up to the public to draw the circumstances to the attention of the Charity Commissioners, or to my attention.

Unfortunately, from time to time it does occur that appeals and collections are made for charitable funds by those who have no intention whatsoever of using more than a small fraction of the funds for the benefit of charity and whose principal aim clearly is to secure a ready supply of finance for their own requirements. Such appeals are fraudulent and any case should be reported to the police. It is equally important that such a case should be reported to the Charity Commissioners to ensure that they can require registration of the appeal and ensure that any moneys that are contributed are used for the purposes which the donors intended.

Mr. Christopher Price

Does the Attorney-General believe that the whole law of charity is in desperate need of renewal? Is he aware that neither the report of Lord Goodman's committee nor the report of the House of Commons Expenditure Committee has yet been responded to properly by the. Government? It is absurd that Eton college can be a charity whereas the Penlee lifeboat fund cannot. Have the Government any plans for legislation?

The Attorney-General

Everyone involved was anxious that the Penlee lifeboat fund should not be a charity. Therefore, that is not a particularly fair comparison with a public school. The law on this matter is in a state of perpetual development, and as the needs of society change, so does the character of charity. It is important that the Law should be as flexible as possible, because, whatever their other attractions, statutory definitions are inclined to present great problems if they lack this important measure of flexibility.

Mr. Wolfson

I am grateful to the Attorney-General for his full reply to my question. Is he aware of the recent disturbing revelations concerning a leader of the Earmark Trust? On the basis of what my right hon. and learned Friend told me, can he assure me that the law on charities is adequate to cover those who may have donated sizeable assets to a charity but later find that they have done so under false pretences?

The Attorney-General

I repeat what I said in answer to my hon. Friend's question. If it is considered that the funds are being used for non-charitable or private purposes, that should be drawn to the attention of the Charity Commissioners or myself, so that action can be taken.

Mr. George Cunningham

Why is the Attorney-General answering this question? Has responsibility for the law on charities been transferred from the Home Secretary to the Attorney-General?

The Attorney-General

For his sins, the Attorney-General has over many years had a responsibility in the public interest to protect both charities and those who might be defrauded by bogus charities.