HL Deb 10 March 1988 vol 494 cc802-4

3.24 p.m.

Baroness Blatch asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether complaints about the alleged infringement of charitable status by the "Reading Matters" bookshop in Haringey have been referred to the Charity Commissioners.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, the Chief Charity Commissioner has received a letter dated 26th February 1988 about this bookshop. He is considering those issues which relate to the charity called Reading Matters Limited.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply; but it was rather short and I had hoped that he would be a little more forthcoming. Is the Minister aware that this organisation and a sister organisation operating from the same address purport to be improving the education of the public in Haringey and North London generally, but that in practice it is a vehicle for producing propaganda, subversive literature, promoting homosexuality, supporting positive images, is a cover for "Troops Out of Ireland", and produces literature such as this—The Scum? Does he agree that not only is that a gross abuse of ratepayers' money, but is an insult to a civilised society? Indeed—

Noble Lords

Order! Question!

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am coming to the question. I have asked one question and am in the throes of asking my second. Will my noble friend the Minister agree that this is the best possible justification for the Local Government Bill that has recently passed through your Lordships' House?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, there is a complication here which I think that I should address to my noble friend. There are two organisations: one is Reading Matters Limited, and that is a charity, the other is "Reading Matters" Bookshop Limited, which is not a charity. It is by no means clear whether either the charity or public money is involved in the publication or production of any literature or merely purveys it. Concerning the literature to which my noble friend has referred, whatever one may feel about its contents it is by no means clear that it is provided out of ratepayers' money.

With regard to my noble friend's second question if the intention behind Haringey Borough Council's support for this bookshop is to promote homosexuality, then Clause 29, which is now Clause 28, will forbid the spending of public funds for this purpose.

Noble Lords

The other way round!

Lord Renton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that no person, body or partnership can call itself a charity unless it has a charitable purpose recognised by law? Is he also aware that only Parliament or the courts can enlarge the definition of a charity as it has been handed down, and that the Charity Commissioners have no power to do so?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, perhaps I may refer to the observations which noble Lords were kind enough to make in saying that I had got it wrong. I say to them courteously that I think that I am right. Clause 28 became Clause 29; now that it is in another place it has reverted, becoming Clause 28.

Having said that, I have now forgotten what my noble friend asked. I think that this will clarify the position for my noble friend. Reading Matters Limited is a charitable company. Its objects are to promote any charitable purpose for the benefit of the community in the London Borough of Haringey and North London generally, and in particular the promotion, maintenance, improvement and advancement of education and the relief of poverty. The Chief Charity Commissioner is looking into the concern which has been expressed by my noble friend.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, is the Minister aware that his manner of answering Questions in this House is most acceptable? In order that the position is made abundantly clear, will he also confirm that there are two entities at that address, one of which does not purport to be a registered charity? Is he also aware that since this charity was created in 1981 no complaint of any kind was made between 1981 and 1987 or until very recently, and that was quite obviously a politically inspired complaint?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, for having said that my manner of answering Questions was acceptable. I am much more concerned that the Questions themselves should be acceptable. With regard to the noble Lord's second question, it is perfectly true that there have been no complaints against this charity until now. A complaint has been made and the Chief Charity Commissioner is inspecting it.

Lord Hutchinson of Lullington

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the form in which this matter has been put to him merely confirms what many noble Lords believe to be the real reason for Clause 28; namely, to bring in a new form of censorship by the back door?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, that is a totally different question, which the noble Lord prosecuted on a number of occasions when we discussed the Bill concerned. It has nothing to do with the Question on the Order Paper.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that although "Reading Matters" bookshop is not a charitable organisation, the other organisation is indeed receiving money from "Reading Matters" bookshop, which is directly funded by Haringey Council? Therefore, both directly and indirectly ratepayers' money is being used to propagate such literature. If the Bill is intended to deal with censoring that kind of literature, then it has my full support.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, as I understand it, Haringey Council supplies the funds to pay for two full-time workers in "Reading Matters" Bookshop Limited. The connection between Reading Matters Limited and "Reading Matters" Bookshop Limited is a matter for the Chief Charity Commissioner, and he is looking into it.