HL Deb 13 March 1997 vol 579 cc425-7

3.28 p.m.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will ask the Charity Commission to investigate whether the grant by the Pilgrim Trust towards the funding of the Constitution Unit is compatible with the trust's status as a registered charity.

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

My Lords, if any noble Lord ever has evidence of impropriety by any charity and passes it on to me, in turn I will pass it on to the Charity Commission.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. It is my understanding that the Pilgrim Trust has given the money to the Constitution Unit, which is not a charity, for general purposes. Does the Minister agree that this is a matter to which the attention of the Charity Commissioners should be drawn?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, having raised the matter on the Floor of the House, I will pass on his comments to the Charity Commission.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead

My Lords, I should declare an interest, although it will become obvious, having had the pleasure of being a trustee of the Pilgrim Trust for some 21 years. Successive chairmen have been: to begin with Lord Harlech, the father of the present noble Lord, Lord Harlech; Lord Richardson of Duntisbourne, a former Governor of the Bank of England; Sir Harry Fisher, an ex-High Court judge; now it is Mrs. Mary Moore. My fellow trustees of the Pilgrim Trust are now the Lord Chief Justice of England and a variety of other distinguished people including, from the noble Lord's own party, Sir Claus Moser.

The noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chief Justice, was present at the launching of the Constitution Unit study, as was the present Secretary of the Cabinet, Sir Robin Butler. The previous Secretary of the Cabinet, the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, is also a trustee of the Pilgrim Trust. The idea or the implication of the noble Lord's Question that the Pilgrim Trust and the Constitution Unit are politically motivated bodies is an example of the extraordinarily malign fantasies which occasionally seize the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Cocks.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, standing at the Dispatch Box it is not for me to answer the questions that have been posed. It is a matter for the Charity Commissioner.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, I am sure that the Charity Commission will give due weight to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, since he recently led a major debate on transparency in political funding. Will the Minister give a sense of urgency to the Charity Commission? I have already waited nine months for the results of its investigation into the Scarman Trust, which was formerly the Charter 88 Education Trust.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, in the case of the Scarman Trust, formerly the Charter 88 Trust, I gather that the inquiry had to look at a number of complex issues. The inquiry is soon to be finalised. I understand that emerging findings are that the trust will be required to clarify and, where necessary, review and revise its relationship with other organisations. I am sure that the Charity Commissioner will take forward his inquiries as speedily as possible, consistent with carrying out a thorough and proper inquiry.