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25 Oct 2006 : Column 1564

Mr. Andrew Turner: I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman, but surely the point about that example is that the promotion of harmony is the charitable purpose—religious harmony is merely one example of the kind of harmony that is being promoted.

Martin Horwood: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but that is not quite my point. The formulation, “religion and belief”, is now widely accepted and understood in a variety of different— [Interruption.] The Minister for the Cabinet Office is shaking her head; perhaps she would like to explain why the title of the employment discrimination regulations and the formulation proposed by the Charity Commission are wrong. The fact is that it is now a widely accepted formulation in legislation, in case law and in many other respects. In principle, it means that humanist and secularist organisations do not to have to jump through a series of hoops to prove that they are analogous to religion.

We have heard about some imaginative ways of achieving that. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) gave a list of the different heads of charity that they might come under. The hon. Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt) suggested that they might squeeze in under the human rights head of charity or fall within the subsection that allows for purposes analogous to those listed previously. I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris). Why should humanist and secularist organisations have to jump through these extra hoops in this area of law alone when it is not required, for instance, in relation to anti-discrimination law or human rights law?

This debate would be so much dancing on pinheads if the confusion did not have a practical impact, but I am persuaded by some of the correspondence that I have received that it does. My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon cited the Rationalist Association, which had to wait two years before its registration was eventually accepted, at some cost not only to the association but to the Charity Commission. I dread to think how much of the commission’s staff time was chewed up in arguing over the fine detail of the case.

To follow the High Peak principle, there is another advantage in clarifying the law, even if the outcomes may be the same in that, one way or another, humanist and rationalist organisations will achieve charitable status. This is clearly an area of confusion. Most members of the Committee will be familiar with the example given by Mr. Rosser-Owen of Religions Working Together, who recently wrote about a description that has recently been changed on the Charity Commission’s website in another context. It states:

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The idea that a supreme being may be in the form of “no god at all” is a new one on me, and it illustrates the importance of the Bill in clarifying the position beyond reasonable doubt and allowing us to proceed on a more rational basis. I am happy to support amendments Nos. 123 to 125.

Moving on to the lighter topic of sport, I am happy to support amendment No. 3. I am sure that chess players everywhere will be celebrating, in a cerebral sort of way. It is a positive contribution to the Bill.

Amendment No. 122, tabled by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), suggests that we use the Olympic games, the Paralympics and the Commonwealth games as a guide to what constitutes a sport. Given that I am a member of a party led by a former Olympian, it would be churlish of me to oppose the amendment, which provides a neater formulation than the one in the original Bill. Some hon. Members are worried that certain worthwhile sports may be excluded. However, as the amendment adds to the Government’s current formulation in the Bill, we need not worry about the exclusion of any sports apart from those that might have difficulty qualifying under the Government’s formulation of requiring “physical or mental exertion”. The hon. Gentleman clearly has shooting in mind, and I am happy to support that in principle provided that nothing gets killed in the process.

Mr. Malins: It is target shooting.

Martin Horwood: Absolutely. A few others might have had difficulty in getting through under the formulation, “physical or mental exertion”. Synchronised swimming, which is an Olympic sport, certainly involves physical exertion. Curling and, I understand from the Commonwealth games website, 10-pin bowling would unambiguously be brought into the Bill by the hon. Gentleman’s amendment, which is spreading the net rather wide. I say to the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) that I am sure that croquet is already included under “mental exertion”. I speak with some authority because the Cheltenham croquet club has played host in recent years to the world croquet championships, which I attended. I was disappointed not to see the Deputy Prime Minister there—I gather that he is a fan of the sport. Great mental exertion was in evidence on that occasion, not least because two games are sometimes played simultaneously on the same lawn. That is mind boggling.

I support the group of amendments. I hope that the Under-Secretary will make it clear in any directions that he gives the Charity Commission on the substance of amendments Nos. 123 to 125 that humanist and secular charities will no longer have to jump through the hoops that the Charity Commission has specified in the past. I therefore also hope that, in future, there will be a more level playing field between those organisations and religious charities.

Mr. Andrew Turner: We are considering an eclectic group of amendments. I shall begin by briefly considering those tabled by the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris). He is clear about the beliefs that
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the amendments do not cover but unwilling to specify those that are covered. That worries me. There is a distinction between belief systems that are essentially non-rational and must therefore be subject to a light-touch public benefit test—I hope that that would happen—and those that are rational and therefore testable. A rational belief system is more testable than a non-rational belief system. It would be unfortunate to couple them under the same heading in clause 2.

Kelvin Hopkins: I am interested in the distinction that the hon. Gentleman tries to make but, in a sense, all beliefs are, by their nature, not rational. I believe that Bertrand Russell said that he could not prove that there was no God, even if he thought that it was highly likely.

Mr. Turner: I accept that, but one of the few examples that was given was rationalism, which, I assume, is meant to be rational.

Mr. Gummer: To credit all secular organisations with being rational is contrary to experience. I debated against the National Secular Society in the Cambridge Union last week and I have rarely heard a bigger load of irrational nonsense.

Mr. Turner: Perhaps I had better move on.

Chris Bryant: Surely it is equally daft to suggest that all religious beliefs are irrational and not based on rational thought.

Mr. Turner: I am grateful for that observation.

Before getting to the meat of my remarks, I wanted to tell the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon that it was not only the Rationalist Association that had to spend two years obtaining charitable status from the Charity Commission. Many organisations spend two years or more doing that. They include an organisation that promotes the protection of Bembridge harbour in my constituency. I am concerned that it takes the Rationalist Association and many other organisations too long to achieve charitable status.

I warmly welcome Government amendments Nos. 2 and 4 and the inclusion of police charities in the Bill. We pressed for that in amendment No. 1 in Committee. I also welcome the further inclusion of charities that benefit ambulance and fire service personnel and their dependants. I am especially pleased about those amendments.

I want to spend most of my time on Government amendment No. 3 and amendment No. 122, which my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) tabled.

Clause 2(2)(g) provides for

as a charitable purpose when it is defined in subsection (3)(d) as

There is already a circular element to the definition. I make no bones about welcoming Government amendment No. 3, which was tabled following remarks on Second Reading by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), who listed sports that do not qualify as charities. They appear in the notorious RR11 as:

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rifle and pistol target shooting, I stress to my hon. Friend the Member for Woking—

I see no reason why such sports should not benefit from charitable status subject to their fulfilling the public benefit test. Others, such as darts, are popular but do not appear to fall within the definition in clause 2.

3.15 pm

There is a two-hurdle process in acquiring charitable status. The first question is whether an applicant is covered by the definition in clause 2. After establishing that, the second question is whether the activity fulfils the public benefit test in clause 3. There is no point in worrying about clause 3 unless one can be sure of clearing the hurdle in clause 2.

In Committee, we tabled an amendment that would have deleted the restrictive definition in clause 2(3)(d). The Parliamentary-Secretary kindly agreed to consider it. He has devised something that appears both to broaden and restrict the eligibility of different sports. Conservative Members welcome the extension of the clause to cover mental as well as physical skill and exertion, as do the hon. Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Charlotte Atkins) and others, because chess will be included. We also welcome the inclusion of games as well as sport, although I should like to know whether a new definition of games is emerging in the bowels of the Charity Commission.

Edward Miliband: Don’t ask.

Mr. Turner: I was about to cite tiddlywinks, Monopoly and the national Scrabble championships.

Mr. Malins: Sudoku.

Mr. Turner: Indeed. However, I am especially worried about the new qualification that sports and games should “promote health”—I emphasise those two words—

I fear that the amendment would introduce an additional bar. That is certainly true when compared with the amendment that I tabled in Committee. Government amendment No. 3 would introduce a “promote health” bar.

It would be difficult for some sports to demonstrate that mental exertion promotes health, yet that requirement will be placed on applicants. I am not sure why they should have to demonstrate that—is not sport a good enough activity in itself for it to be charitable? How does one demonstrate that mental activity promotes health? If health, education and the advancement of religion are good in themselves, why should not that be true of sport? I do not suppose that the Chancellor would spend so much money on sport merely because it provides entertainment. I am sure that he does so because he believes that it is a good thing and not simply because it promotes health.

Stephen Williams (Bristol, West) (LD): The hon. Gentleman appears to doubt whether mental exertion
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can contribute to good health. Does not he accept that it can contribute to good mental health and helping those with depression, which is currently a big health worry in the work force?

Mr. Turner: I accept that mental exertion can contribute to health. However, how do, for example, darts players, show that their mental exertion contributes to health?

Martin Horwood: When I worked for the Alzheimer’s Society, our director of research, who worked for the Institute of Neurology, more or less believed that any stimulation of the neurones was good for the physical health of the brain. I do not know whether that would cover darts players, but the general principle is good enough.

Mr. Turner: The principle is good and I am pleased about the inclusion of chess, but I am worried that some less fashionable sports—my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) has made some disobliging remarks about darts players—

Mr. Walker: They are very thin.

Mr. Turner: My hon. Friend says that they are very thin. I am worried that it would be difficult for some less fashionable sports to show that they contribute to mental health. I am not sure that the proponents of those sports should have to demonstrate that they contribute to mental health, because sport is a good thing in itself and should not need the qualification of contributing to health.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I am shocked that the Government’s proposed new measure relates not only to mental sport but to physical sport. When someone drives a car around a track there is physical exertion, but there is no indication that that improves their health, so it would appear to be excluded by the proposed new provision.

Mr. Turner: I do not think that it would be excluded, because it would be brought in by the “mental” element of the measure. I am sure that driving a car around a track involves mental exertion, so it would probably be brought in by the new provision if those undertaking that activity could demonstrate that it contributed to the promotion of good health. [Interruption.] Well, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster says that she is not sure whether it is of public benefit. With respect to the right hon. Lady, that is the second hurdle, and for the moment I am still trying to get over the first hurdle.

My concern is simply that the Charity Commission appears to be applying a definition that has emerged from a desire to include sport. It has been asked, “How can we get sport charitable status?” It has thought about that and said, “Well, it does promote good health, so we shall slide it in under that.” However, the Bill was introduced without a definition involving the promotion of health. [Interruption.] The right hon. Lady will find out in a moment. As I said, the Bill came forward with a definition that did not include the promotion of good health, and now the promotion of good heath is to be included again.

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Having said all that, let me add that I accept the Minister’s good intent in introducing the amendment. I am grateful and pleased that he has done so, and I believe that, given reasonable efforts on the part of those who shoot at stationary targets—most people shoot at targets of one kind or another—they will be able to demonstrate that that is good for their mental health, if not for their physical health, and they will thereby qualify. However, I would be grateful if the Minister would make it very clear that it is not his intention to make what I have described as the first hurdle—clause 2—artificially high so that it stands in the way of the eligibility for charitable status of normal and widely recognised and practised sports, such as darts, billiards or target-shooting, so long as they cross the second hurdle of the public benefit test, to which the right hon. Lady referred.

Edward Miliband: We have had an interesting—and, at times, entertaining—debate. I shall try to be admirably brief as there is a lot to discuss on Report and we need to get on.

Let me first move amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 4, or speak to them—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. There is no need for the Minister to move them; he just speaks to them, as the group has been headed by another amendment.

Edward Miliband: I stand corrected, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I shall speak to amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 4. Amendments Nos. 2 and 4 respond to the debate that we had in Committee about the exclusion of the efficiency of the police from being a charitable purpose. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) moved an amendment that had been suggested to him by the Police Dependants Trust. We have talked to it further, and we propose to insert the promotion

into the list of charitable purposes. We also thought that we should include at the same time

That is what amendments Nos. 2 and 4 do, and I hope that that satisfies the hon. Gentleman—I think that he has indicated that it does—and others.

Before I speak to the amendments tabled in the name of the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), I shall talk about the sport issue. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight tabled an amendment in Committee to probe the Bill’s definition of sport. As the hon. Gentleman has expressed concern, I wish to reassure him that the intention of amendment No. 3 is certainly not to narrow the definition of sport—indeed, it is to widen it, hence the reference to “mental...exertion”. I want to make that clear at the outset.

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