HL Deb 30 January 1991 vol 525 cc701-2

2.43 p.m.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have for reforming the law relating to charities.

Lord Reay

My Lords, the Government's proposals are set out in the White Paper Charities: A Framework for the Future. The Government hope to be able to introduce legislation to give effect to the proposals during the lifetime of this Parliament.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Reply although I am not sure that it adds greatly to previous knowledge. Is he aware that there is widespread disappointment cutting across political boundaries that the Government have not introduced a Bill this Session implementing their admirable White Paper? There are grounds for thinking that potential donors are discouraged when they know that under the present powers the Charity Commission is handicapped in dealing with fraud and other forms of abuse and when the controls over fund raising are, to put it mildly, somewhat inadequate.

Lord Reay

My Lords, first, we remain committed to the proposals in the White Paper, but the legislative programme is full and there is pressure on space. With regard to the second supplementary question, we have no evidence that fraud or mismanagement are widespread or that they have had an effect on donors.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, while we are awaiting legislation, will the noble Lord consider giving the public more advice and information about the powers and weaknesses of the Charity Commissioners? Their writ rests mostly upon the ignorance and fears of the public and not on any statutory basis. Will he therefore enlighten the public on the risks they take if they give way to tendentious appeals for charitable help without some selection or inquiry? Before they give money to charities they should inquire what the charity is, what it does and more about it. Does the Minister realise how vulnerable people are at present? While we are waiting for legislation many will undoubtedly give money, as gullible members of the public do.

Lord Reay

My Lords, the noble Lord gave good reasons why there should be legislation. Those are the reasons why we intend to introduce legislation when we are able. I am sure that the other warnings that he issued are well made and will be taken widely into account.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

My Lords, is the Minister aware that old-established and genuine charities are concerned about the delay in introducing legislation to deal with charities? They are anxious about the responsibilities of trustees of charities as against directors of charitable companies. As yet there seems to be no clear cut-advice to give people.

Lord Reay

My Lords, being a trustee involves responsibilities. The proposals of the White Paper are intended to make those responsibilities clearer. Meanwhile the Charity Commission continues to give general advice and to advise charities on matters relating to their duties.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I totally agree with the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale? He is, therefore, perfectly correct in assuming that there is a cross-party view of the problem though maybe not a cross-Home Office view. Nevertheless, be that as it may, I hope that my noble friend realises that delay in carrying through the legislation and giving the Charity Commission the job, the duties and support which it needs to deal with charities is dangerous for the future of charities and charitable giving. I hope that my noble friend will represent strongly to his honourable friends in the Government that I and many in this House believe that there ought to be legislation this year, and I hope that they will take note of that.

Lord Reay

My Lords, I am happy to give my noble friend that assurance. We consider that legislation is necessary and wish to introduce it as soon as possible.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the important matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Allen, and the supplementary questions are of vital importance? Does he agree that the existing regulations are ignored by some charities, including some of the larger ones? It is about time that before we consider making new regulations we find some procedure to ensure that existing regulations are enforced.

Lord Reay

My Lords, the Charity Commission devotes considerable effort to monitoring charities and combating abuse. The proposed new powers will enable it to be more effective.

Lord Richard

My Lords, the Minister tells us that the Government's policy is set out in the White Paper. Can he say whether the Government accepted the comments of the charity world—for want of a better phrase? The Charity Commission cannot justify charging in order to expand its role if the Treasury then deducts any income from the Charity Commission grant.

Lord Reay

My Lords, there has been extensive consultation following the White Paper. We have received a great many constructive contributions which have been taken into account.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, the noble Lord said three times in his answers that the Government wish to introduce legislation as soon as time permits. Given that this is the lightest Session for legislation that we have seen for a long time, is he prepared to consult through the usual channels to ascertain whether we can accommodate a Bill immediately?

Lord Reay

My Lords, it is not up to the usual channels to take that decision.