HL Deb 28 April 1986 vol 474 cc6-8

2.50 p.m.

Lord Denning

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government when they expect a final decision to be made by the courts, including any appeals, as to the charitable status of the Unification Church.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone)

My Lords, the Treasury Solicitor estimates that the trial at first instance of the Attorney-General's actions concerning the charitable status of the two trusts associated with the Unification Church is unlikely to be concluded before late 1988 or early 1989.

No reliable estimates can be given for the timing of any appeals. This will depend on a number of factors, including the nature of the appeals, the state of the court lists at the relevant time and whether or not the appeals are expedited.

Lord Denning

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for his Answer, but is it not a fact that a deplorable length of time has elapsed since the decision in March 1981? It is over five years since the Daily Mail exposed the Moonies and their evil practices, and a jury found that the Daily Mail was justified, adding a rider that the tax-free status of the Unification Church should be investigated. That was over five years ago. The present situation is that the Attorney-General has started an action, and in view of what my noble and learned friend has said, is it to take another five years? Would it not be better and quicker to have a short statute that deprived this cult and similar cults of tax-free status and controlled their evil activities?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I think that perhaps my noble and learned friend is straying into a discussion of the merits of a case which is sub judice. Undoubtedly the Daily Mail action stopped in March 1981. As soon afterwards as the 23rd June of the same year the Attorney-General wrote to the Charity Commissioners formally inviting them to remove the two trusts associated with the Unification Church from the Register of Charities. At that stage there was an indication of an appeal in the libel action, which held things up. The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal on the 20th December 1982.

I think my noble and learned friend will realise that to have proceeded with the Charity Commissioners pending the appeal would have been inappropriate. The commissioners replied on the 20th January, stating that it would be considered an oppressive and unjustifiable use of their powers to institute a formal inquiry into the two charities. On the 7th February 1983 the Attorney-General again wrote to the Charity Commissioners. On the 10th February the commissioners replied that they remained of the conscientious view that on the information before them there was insufficient justification to use their powers under the Charities Act. On the 7th March the Attorney-General formally renewed his request that the commissioners remove the two institutions from the register. On the 17th March they replied that they had no power to do so.

Proceedings take the form of originating summonses directed to the trustees of the two relevant trusts associated with the Unification Church. One is called the Sun Myung Moon Foundation and the other is called the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity. I do not think I can give my noble and learned friend much other information without straying beyond the bounds of the Question.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, am I right in thinking that in addition to the two charitable trusts which have been referred to there are some 90 other organisations of a non-charitable kind connected with the Unification Church, so that a decision five years hence to strike the two charities off the register will not necessarily mean the end of this particular church? Whatever one thinks about it, is one not driven back to the point raised by my noble and learned friend that if this church is to be banned, it is a matter for Parliament? Whatever attitude one has to this particular sect, I think that this would raise questions of religious toleration which would not be entirely non-controversial.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I do not think that I have particulars of the 90 other bodies. The period of five years was given by my noble and learned friend, but my original Answer gave the end of 1988 or the beginning of 1989 as a probable date for the end of the first instance proceedings.

I do not know that I can help the House very much on the subject of legislation. Parliament is omnipotent. However, I suppose that any legislation of this kind would be either private or hybrid. The noble Lord and the House will realise the difficulties which sometimes attend these measures. Perhaps I had better not talk about religious toleration.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord elaborate a little on the reasons why the Charity Commissioners felt that they could not exercise their powers in this instance? In what circumstances are the Charity Commissioners empowered to strike off the register any allegedly non-charitable organisation?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I am not very well briefed in this matter because it is basically a question for the Charity Commissioners and the general law rather than for Her Majesty's Government. I may be wrong, but I think that the question demands an analysis of what on paper are alleged to be the objects of the foundations in question. Should it turn out that I have misled the House, I shall write to the noble Lord.

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