HC Deb 18 April 1983 vol 41 cc16-8
21. Mr. Dubs

asked the Attorney-General in respect of how many charities he has made representations to the Charity Commission that charitable status should be withdrawn.

The Attorney-General (Sir Michael Havers)

I have made representations for the withdrawal of charitable status only in respect of the two charitable trusts that are associated with the Unification Church.

Mr. Dubs

Does the Attorney-General agree that the law on what constitutes charitable status is confused? Does he also agree that that leads to difficulties in distinguishing between charitable work and lobbying, which means that the Charity Commissioners have to make difficult political judgments? Is he aware that that results in anomalies for organisations that want to further peace and disarmament, because they are denied charitable status while organisations such as the British Atlantic Committee are not?

The Attorney-General

The problem is that the Charity Commissioners have to work under the existing law. If the purpose of the hon. Gentleman's question is to change the law, he should address a question to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Michael Morris

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that our right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer persistently gives as one of the reasons for not giving exemption from VAT to charities that certain charities, such as the Moonies, are "undesirable"? In the light of that, will my right hon. and learned Friend make strong representations to the Charity Commissioners to review charitable status so that such problems can be solved?

The Attorney-General

The law is not altogether clear. That is why there has been a problem with the two trusts that I mentioned. Any major change in charity law requires legislation, and questions about that should be addressed to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Christopher Price

Does the Attorney-General agree that the law is in chaos as a result of the various judgments handed down over the years about what is charitable status? Does he agree that it is wrong that the Charity Commissioners should decide what is "political"? They have suddenly decided that peace is political in a sense that it was not before. Should there not be some other mechanism, so that three individuals do not pronounce what is political and what is not? Does the Attorney-General agree that the commissioners' powers affect all types of organisations, including Oxfam which is widely respected?

The Attorney-General

Charity law is not in chaos. Charity law is of long standing. Many judicial decisions upon which the Charity Commissioners act are rather old. The law has not, perhaps, kept up with the change in the nature of trusts seeking charitable status. Originally the law was designed to deal with rogues and crooks and the misuse of charitable funds. The law is probably necessary. Perhaps we shall see a way forward after the final decision is taken on the Moonies. It may then be necessary to reconsider the whole of charity law.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

Although the Attorney-General is right to have a test case for the Moonies, does he agree that that is a cumbersome way of clarifying the law on charitable status? Will he consider conducting a quick review to examine the implications of the confused and hazy state of the law, and in particular the powers of the Charity Commissioners?

The Attorney-General

I share the hon. and learned Gentleman's views about the law being cumbersome. That is one of the reasons why I sought to persuade the Charity Commissioners to hold an inquiry under section 6, rather than just to refuse to deregister. The litigation process will be long and expensive. Any review of the existing charity law is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.