HL Deb 02 March 1988 vol 494 cc178-80

2.55 p.m.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether Comic Relief is a registered charity.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, Comic Relief is not a charity. It is a fundraising company which covenants all its profits to a registered parent charity, called Charity Projects.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, I should like to thank the Minister for that reply, which may perhaps come as a surprise to some. While I have no doubt that Comic Relief ran its recent successful appeal quite properly, does the Minister agree that his Answer highlights the fact that there is at present no effective statutory control over fund-raising activities? Does he therefore agree—and I believe that the organisers of Comic Relief would go along with this themselves—that there ought to be some such provision in the legislation on charities which the Government have promised?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, in this case the operation of Comic Relief is controlled by both company law and tax law. My right honourable friend is concerned to see that legislation is produced during the lifetime of this Parliament further to control charities.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that my grandchildren have been insisting that I was wearing facial additions in aid of Comic Relief when in fact I was not? On a more serious point, is it not the case that criticism should not attach to the conduct of Comic Relief by virtue not only of the fact that, as the noble Earl said, all its profits are covenanted in favour of Charity Projects Ltd., which is a registered charity, but also because no charges are made for fund-raising, which, again, is an example that other charities might well follow?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I was not aware of the requirement imposed upon the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, by his grandchildren. He said that he was not wearing those facial additions. I did not realise that he was not.

With regard to the noble Lord's second more substantive point, this trading company lodges its accounts, which can be inspected at Companies House and which are therefore open to inspection by anyone.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, is the Minister aware that many of us are concerned about charities that do not give sufficient of their proceeds to other bodies for which they are intentionally raising the money? Is he aware of the degree of concern about the number of bodies applying to register as charities, about many of which we have doubts? Is it not time that there was a general review and reclassification of charities into those that are genuine and those that are not?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, my noble friend is quite right to express concern about the position of charities in general. She will probably be aware that Sir Philip Woodfield carried out an efficiency scrutiny and made a report. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has accepted that report and intends to introduce legislation during the lifetime of this Parliament to cover many of the points about which the noble Baroness is concerned.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that the BBC is another very large charitable trust? Its Children in Need Fund is collecting something like £14 million a year but it has no public accountability whatsoever. Can we be assured that in the Government's review of charity law all these matters will receive consideration, particularly broadcast appeals for money, which are probably the most influential and largest collectors of money in the country?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am not sure that the noble Lord was wholly right in respect of his last point. However, I can tell him that certainly one of the matters which is being considered is how best that aspect should be dealt with in such legislation as may be forthcoming.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, can the Minister say whether the Government have yet made up their minds to produce a White Paper outlining what may be contained in such future legislation?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, it has not yet been decided whether to issue a White Paper.