HL Deb 06 October 1986 vol 480 cc4-6

2.44 p.m.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

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 whether they have decided to allocate additional resources to the Charity Commission for England and Wales.

The Minister of State, Home Office (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, no decision has so far been taken to increase the amount voted for the commission.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, I should like to begin by offering congratulations and good wishes to the noble Earl on his new appointment. I hope that he will find enough to do. I thank the noble Earl for that not very helpful reply. Given in particular the delays in getting new charities registered and the evident need for the Government to have competent advice about charity law, and given the nature of the provisions included in the Finance Bill as originally introduced, is there not a powerful and indeed overwhelming case for strengthening the Charity Commission at all levels? Am I not right in thinking that at present they do not have any account-ants on the staff, and that the register is still not computerised?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord's initial remarks. I can assure him that I am quite busy answering Questions and looking after Bills at the moment.

With regard to the second part of what the noble Lord said about the commission, as the noble Lord will be aware, there is quite a lot under discussion. Unfortunately, I cannot tell him anything further at this stage because nothing has been decided, but of course I shall draw his remarks to the attention of my right honourable friend.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, from these Benches perhaps I may also tender my congratulations to the noble Earl and wish him well. May I also wish him as long a tenure of office as it takes to get a reply from the Charity Commission? Is he aware that, quite apart from governmental application to the Charity Commission for advice, humble trustees have to apply to the Charity Commission under the terms of the Act for advice, and again there are substantial delays by virtue of shortage of staff?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I hope that I, and particularly this Government, will be here a lot longer than it takes to get a reply from the Charity Commission. With regard to the other points, I shall note them and bring them to the attention of my right honourable friend.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, I also congratulate my noble friend on his appointment and wish him well.

Is he aware that in this country at the present time there is a tremendous wealth of goodwill towards charities? To my certain knowledge, two charities that I have been asked to help in the past fortnight have been told by the Charity Commission that at the present time it would be two years before they could even go through the papers.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am aware of some of the immediate problems facing the Charity Commission. There have been recent discussions, and discussions are continuing. Unfortunately, I cannot tell my noble friend anything further, but her points are noted.

Lord Fletcher

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, apart from the general question as to whether the law on charities is ripe for overhaul, there is widespread concern that there is such a shortage of staff in the Charity Commission that they are unable effectively and efficiently to administer the present law on charities?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, indeed, that argument has been put to us and it is one of the matters under discussion at the moment.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend the Minister whether Her Majesty's Government have taken any action on the working party report made by the National Council of Voluntary Organisations on malpractices in fund raising? If not, is that due to the lack of resources of the Charity Commission?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I believe that to be slightly wide of the Question on the Order Paper.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, following up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, one hears rather disquieting rumours that the Treasury staff inspectors have been suggesting that the Charity Commission should do rather less and should, in effect, reduce the quality of their advice to trustees. Can the Minister give an assurance that in the deliberations that are going on the Government will remain concerned that the Charity Commission should, if anything, step up their responsibilities for dealing with breaches of trust and propriety of behaviour on the part of charity trustees?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, we would all expect the Charity Commission to maintain the highest standards in their work. The Treasury staff inspection report is under consideration at the moment.

Baroness Lane-Fox

My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that as charities now have elaborate computerisation, sophisticated methods, and wide-ranging fund-raising practices going on all the time, there is a need for the commission to keep pace as umpires, as well as everything else? We are encouraged by the noble Earl's suggestion that discussions are going on, but I hope that these points will be kept well to the fore.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, as my noble friend will be aware, there are, in order to enforce the law, new and better links between the Inland Revenue and the Charity Commission as a result of Budget proposals this year.