HL Deb 23 May 1996 vol 572 cc974-5

11.17 a.m.

Baroness Young asked Her Majesty's Government:

What statutory provisions permit the Charity Commissioners to decide to deregister groups of charities without reference to Parliament.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of National Heritage (Lord Inglewood)

My Lords, Section 3(4) of the Charities Act 1993 requires the Charity Commissioners to remove from the Register of Charities any institution which no longer appears to them to be a charity. The right of appeal against their decision is to the High Court under Section 4(3) of the Act.

Baroness Young

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, in exercising their duties under the Act, it is very important for charities which have taken legal advice about their activities and which find that they are to be deregistered to have a proper opportunity to discuss with the Charity Commission their requirements in order that they may bring their affairs within the ruling of the commission and so remain charities?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, there are two parts to my noble friend's question. In regard to any decision that the Charity Commissioners might take to remove a charity from the register, the matter is raised with the charity concerned, which has the opportunity to make formal submissions, including submissions made with legal assistance, before a final decision is taken. There may then follow an appeal to the High Court. In addition, the Charity Commission is very willing to discuss with charities that may fall foul of its test ways in which they can reconstruct their arrangements so that they retain charitable status. That is what happens in actual cases.

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that some of the activities of the charities under discussion have been deemed commercial, not charitable? Will he also confirm that most charities have accepted that, with the intention of restructuring in order to make sure that they are purely charitable, and have been given time to do that?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, thus far the questions have been couched in abstract terms. But the noble Lord referred to a number of school fees charities which have been under consideration by the Charity Commissioner, who is determined to remove from the register some particular school fee schemes, but not all. I understand that it is the case that of those schemes all but one are in discussion with the Charity Commissioners to endeavour to rearrange their affairs as I described earlier in order to bring them back within the definition of charities.