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Let me explain what the aim is of the new definition of sport. First, it makes it clear that what we are talking about, in the context of charitable sport, is sports or games that improve public healthI shall explain shortly why that is necessary. The Bills existing definition, with its requirement of physical skill and exertion, implies
that, but it does not say so. The new definition takes a direct approach by referring specifically to health. That puts into statute the essence of the current law, and it will allow sports that the commission has not so far accepted to make their case. I shall say more shortly about the processes that will be gone through in that respect.
The new definition also extends to sports or games that involve mental, as well as physical, aspects. There is no justification for continuing to prefer the physical to the mental, given that those two aspects appear to be of similar significance. That responds to a point made by the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon, and which was eloquently spoken to in this debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Charlotte Atkins). I should say that I was never a chess player as a child as it was too complicated for me. I was more of a backgammon player, but I am unsure whether backgammon will be able to make its case.
Some Members will ask why there has to be a link to health at allwhy not just make all sport charitable? That is the approach that the community amateur sports club legislation takes. For charitable status to applyregardless of whether it is in respect of schools or sportsthere must be a public benefit. Health is the obvious link, and that is why it is flagged up in our amendment. However, I want to make it clear that it will be open to activities that do not qualify under the heading of sports that promote health to put forward their case that they deliver public benefit under one of the other headings that is available in respect of being a charitable purpose. For instance, some sports clubs already qualify because they promote citizenship or community development.
On amendment No. 122, in the name of the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), we considered over the summer whether we should follow his approach of a list for sports. It is worth explaining to the House the two reasons why we did not go for that option, attractive though it might be in certain respects. The first of them is a matter of principle: community amateur sports club relief is designed for all recognised sports, and included in that are the National Rifle Association, the Clay Pigeon Shooting Association and others. The difference in respect of charitable relief is that there should be public benefit.
The second reason is important and complex, and it is a reason of practice. The clause that we are debating merely establishes a heading of charitable purpose. As with all charitable purposeswhether for animal welfare, education or anything elsea test to show that there is public benefit must then be applied by the commission and, ultimately, the court.
The problem with the amendment of the hon. Member for Woking is that even if we were to adopt itthis is why I decided not to go for the list approachall the sports on the list would still have to
show a public benefit such as health before they could qualify as charities. That is the whole basis of charity law. The problem then is that we would be sending a misleading message to those sports that somehow they were all in, when in fact they would still have to go through a process of proving public benefit.
Mr. Walker: I thank the Minister for giving way. As he might know, I am vice-chair of the all-party group on angling. As such, I am aware that there are thousands of angling clubs across the country that do an excellent job in their communities. Will they be eligible for charitable status, bearing in mind that their members exert themselves mentally and physicallyit improves their healthand also that the Government are spending large sums of money through the Environment Agency to encourage people from all sorts of ethnic and social backgrounds to participate in fishing?
Edward Miliband: I am afraid that I am going to disappoint the hon. Gentleman. One of the virtues of the Charity Commission being the regulator is that it makes individual decisions about particular sports. Angling will be able to put its case, like any other sport.
Mr. Bone: The argument is perhaps confusing clauses 3 and 2. The promotion of health is a public benefit and should relate only to clause 3. I do not see why it should be included in clause 2, which simply recognises groups that mightI emphasise mightprovide a public benefit. The reference to health ought not to be included.
Edward Miliband: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point that, although I do not agree with it, is hard to refute. The reference to the promotion of health is really a flag to make it clear that health is an entry point for sports to prove that they can promote the public benefit. If we removed all references to a definition of sport, as was proposed in Committee, or adopted the approach of the hon. Member for Woking, in effect we would be in the same position because the established lawsuch as it isfocuses on health. However, we would give the impression to lots of sports that they were suddenly going to be covered by the legislation, when that would not be so. I agree that this is a complex point, and I hope that the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) will accept my assurances.
Mr. Andrew Turner:
The Minister referred tangentially to what I might describe as the stimulating exchange that I had on the telephone with a member of the Charity Commissions staff only yesterday. I understand that health is the current entry point for sports to
clause 2; what I do not understand is why, once we have legislated, health will still have to be the entry point to clause 2.
Edward Miliband: In order to pass the public benefit test there needs to be an entry point of some kind, and the accepted entry point is health. If Parliament wanted to legislate to say that all sports were automatically for the public benefit, it could do so. In my view, it should not take that decision because there should be a proof of public benefit of some kind. There is a whole range of public benefits that it is open to different sports to prove that they possess. There is helping young people and the disabledI shall deal later with the specific case that the hon. Member for Woking raisedwhich, at least in part, are charitable purposes, and the promotion of health, with which this part of the Bill deals. Our principal position is that there should be a public benefit, unlike community amateur sports club relief, which applies to all sports. I am afraid that the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Woking would not achieve the purposes that some Members seek to achieve.
Edward Miliband: As I tried to explain earlier, we are repeating it partly for the sake of clarity. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman looks quizzical, but I spent more hours than I care to report to the House working out whether there was a different way forward. If we did not adopt the Governments preferred amendment, there would be no difference in practice, but a misleading impression would be given to sporting organisations throughout the country.
In short, the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Woking would not have a material effect; having said that, I hope that I can offer him some consolation. First, if the Bill passes as it stands, a definition of sport for charitable purposes will have been put in legislation for the first time. The Charity Commission has agreed to undertake a new consultation on that basis, so that all sports can make their case under the charitable heading. Secondly, it will be open to any sport to make its case under any other heading. I received a letter from the National Rifle Associationas I understand it, it is already a charitystating that it plays a particular role in helping young people, which is another charitable purpose. So it can make that case.
The hon. Member for Woking spoke eloquently about the role that target shooting can play in providing a safe sport for disabled people and others. I am happy to make it clear that that is obviously very different from field sport shooting, and I am sure that the Charity Commission will be aware of that distinction. Thirdly, I have talked to the commission and if the hon. Gentleman has other concerns, it will be very happy to meet him to discuss them.
I hate to carp on[Hon. Members: Oh.] Will the Minister confirm that he is aware of
the huge contribution that angling has made to involving people with disabilities and young people in the sport?
I turn to the amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon, which were debated extensively in another place. It remains the Governments view that they are neither necessary nor desirable, and I want to explain why as briefly as I can. They are not necessary because it is established beyond any shadow of doubt that organisations promoting non-religious belief systems such as humanism and rationalism can be charitable. The British Humanist Association, for example, has been a registered charity since 17 January 1983.
I was slightly confused by the speech by the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood). He said that it had been established that humanist organisations could be regarded as charitable under the provision concerning the moral, mental and spiritual improvement of humankind. So there is a clear charitable purpose in respect of which humanism can make its case; more than that, it is accepted under that provision that humanism is a way of promoting such improvement. The amendment on humanism is unnecessary because humanisms contribution to charitable purposes is established in law and accepted by the Charity Commission.
Martin Horwood: I understand what the Minister is saying, but I made a number of points in my speechnot just concerning the point of principleand accepted that the outcome would be more or less the same. However, there is a very important practical point. The Rationalist Association sounds to me, to all intents and purposes, like an organisation very similar to the British Humanist Association, but it has been put through the various hoops under existing charity law, which will be the basis of the new definition, and it took two years for it to achieve charitable status. So there clearly are cost implications and practical problems.
I shall now explain why the amendment is not only unnecessary but undesirable. The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon tried to mount a compelling argument, but I did not think that he clarified the way in which belief is defined under the Human Rights Act. Actually, it is not defined under the Human Rights Act. As I understand it, the Human Rights Act reference to belief has been relied on for cases of non-discrimination, as my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt) pointed out. If public resources are being made available, however, the order of magnitude is different. We would want to be assured that we were not opening up the definition, through the use of the phrase religion or belief, to a wide and uncertain class of individuals or organisations.
Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend says from a sedentary position that Lord Phillips has left. Lord Phillips talked about precisely this issue, and I know how much he is relied on by the Liberal Democrats. In speaking to an amendment in Grand Committee, he said:
The phrase or belief has no constraint to it at all...belief on its own could embrace eugenics, hunting or a thousand and one other things. Frankly, we would be in a dark, deep, uncharted sea if the amendment were agreed.[ Official Report, House of Lords, 3 February 2005; Vol. 669, c.GC45.]
I tend to agree with him on that point. The reason why the amendment is undesirable is that it would potentially open up charity law and charitable status to a whole range of organisations. As the noble Lord said, we would be in uncharted territory.
Dr. Evan Harris: The implication of what the Minister has said is that religion is a shallow, charted sea. Everything that he said about the potential coverage of belief applies equally to the various religions. Why must only non-religious beliefs go into uncharted, deep waters, and not the huge variety of, some might say, strange religious beliefs, which, under his formulation, will not have to pass the same extra hurdles as non-religious beliefs?
Edward Miliband: One of the questions that we will address in the Bill, which we will come on to debateif we ever move onis whether a public benefit test should be applied to all organisations, including religious organisations. My point to the hon. Gentleman is that we are some hundreds of years into the establishment of religion in charity law. Yes, the Charity Commission must make decisions about Scientology and other religions, but Parliament, if it is amending legislation and passing charity law, must think carefully before potentially opening up the definition to a whole set of organisations that might come forward and say that they are now for a charitable purpose.
Chris Bryant: I wholly agree with what my hon. Friend says. For the avoidance of doubt, however, on the matter that I raised with my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt), an ordinary person looking at the Bill might think that religion was now defined as involving belief in more than one God, or as not involving belief in a God at all. I presume that that does not preclude religions that only believe in one God. Obviously, it would be odd to include pantheism but not panentheism, and to provide support for those who believe in Diana of the Ephesians but not for those who believe in Jesus of Nazareth.
Unfortunatelyas I recognise the eloquent case made by the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon and the problems faced by humanist organisationsthose are the reasons why we cannot accept his amendments. He has referred to difficulties that rationalist organisations have had in dealing with the Charity Commission, but I do not think that that
derives from uncertainty that organisations promoting rationalist beliefs can qualify for charitable status under the law. I have discussed the matter with the commission, as it has been raised in the other place as well as by him. Let me put on the record that the commission accepts that it needs to acquire a greater understanding of the basis of rationalist and other non-religious belief. It has agreed to engage in a consultation process with the relevant representative organisations in parallel with discussions now taking place with religious bodies.
I hope that that explains why we feel unable to accept the amendment. I also hope that it demonstrates the seriousness of the commissions intent to ensure equal treatment and respect for humanist organisations.
Dr. Evan Harris: Before the Minister ends his speech, I want to give him an opportunityfreestyle, as it wereto deal with the view of the Joint Committee on Human Rights that the Government are in peril of finding themselves outwith articles 9 and 14 of the European convention on human rights, as incorporated in the Human Rights Act 1998. There has not been a Government responseas there need not be under the current arrangementsto either report on the matter so far.
Edward Miliband: As a non-lawyer, I should probably turn down the invitation to deal freestyle with the Human Rights Act. However, I believe that the Bill as it stands complies with the Act. Indeed, Ministers must sign documents making it clear that that is the case.
As I have said, I understand where the hon. Gentleman is coming from, and I understand where humanist and other organisations are coming from. The Charity Commission accepts that it needs to raise its game in respect of those organisations and wants to embark on a process of consultation and discussion with them.
Martin Horwood: I am impressed by what the Minister has just said, but I should like him to restate more clearly what he said earlier, before being interrupted, about the outcome that he desired from the parallel process involving religious and non-religious organisations. I understood that what he was aiming for was equal treatment. Is that correct?
Edward Miliband: I am happy to make that clear. As I have said, I think the commission has made plain its wish to ensure equal treatment and respect for humanist organisations. However, we do not think that we can do that in legislation in the way that the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon suggests, and I hope that on that basis he will withdraw his amendment.
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