|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Amos: My Lords, the funding comes from different places, so to date we have never had a
12 Oct 2005 : Column 291
problem in our immediate emergency response. If over time there seemed to be a problem, I am sure that we would revisit this.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, the Minister will be aware that not only will the disaster affect Pakistani Kashmir in the here and now, but that it will have an impact in the future because a generation has been wiped out, affecting the number of teachers, medics and many other people whom Pakistan will need. Will the Government take a positive and sympathetic approach to long-term aid requirements, particularly in human development and infrastructure?
Lord Weatherill: My Lords, I think that I may be one of the few Members of your Lordships' House to have visited the part of Pakistan affected. The infrastructure, as the House well knows, is very difficult indeed. Is the Minister prepared from the Dispatch Box to applaud the mosques of the United Kingdom, which have been so generous in sending aid and people to Pakistan at this time, notably in my former constituency of Croydon?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, we must applaud the efforts of all who have contributed not only to the DEC but to individual NGOs, and that includes the Pakistani and Indian communities in the United Kingdom.
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner): My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to make provision about arrangements for redress in relation to liability in tort in connection with services provided as part of the health service in England or Wales, and for connected purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.
Moved, That Standing Order 41 (Arrangement of the Order Paper) be dispensed with on Thursday 20 October to allow the Motion standing in the name of the Lord Dholakia to be taken before the Motion standing in the name of the Baroness Scott of Needham Market.(Baroness Amos.)
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 1 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 2 and 5. I hope that the outflux from the House does not signify the lack of their importance because their purpose is simply to protect European convention Article 9 rights in such a way that religious and non-religious belief is on an equal basis, to reflect the wording on international instruments and all our recent relevant legislationthe Communications Act, the Employment Equality Regulations and the Equality Billand implement the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
Amendment No. 2 is simply a more felicitous phrasing of the clause to capture the same point. Amendment No. 5 is there to respond to my noble friend's concern in Committee that the wording then proposed linked charity law too definitely to any future evolution of the convention. In Committee, my noble friend said that the Bill conformed to the Human Rights Act. But putting non-religious belief under the catch-all heading is not only technically discriminatory, but implies that non-religious ethical belief is not equivalent in value to religious belief. It will inevitably lead to the development of different tests for religious and non-religious charities doing similar work and will reinforce the prevalent view that, for instance, humanismI ought to declare my interest as a vice-president of the British Humanist Associationis not an ethical system on a par with religion but a set of opinions on a par with a political policy. All those are inconsistent with the Human Rights Act.
Of course, one way to resolve this issue, if my noble friend is really claiming that non-religious beliefs do not need explicit inclusion, is to delete religion as well on the ground that it too is covered by Clause 2(2)(l). But surely we need not be so drastic. I beg to move.
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: My Lords, we have been round this point quite a lot before and the Minister gave us an exposé of the Government's position at col. 146 of the report of our proceedings on 28 June, which I have read with care.
The problem that continues to trouble people is as follows. First, the definition now given in subsection (3)(a) is rather secular in nature. A religion is a religion. It does not address the issue in a way in which the definition adopted in Australia and New Zealand appears to do. More importantly, there is a mismatch between what the Government say the legal position is and how the Charity Commission practically applies it. I have a letter from the Association of British Muslims, which in a nutshell states that although the Government have introduced a clause that says that a religion can now include,
or a belief in no godthey have simultaneously said that that will not alter the criteria applied by the Charity Commission. Noble Lords will recall that the Charity Commission's criteria are that a religion has to involve a belief in and worship of a supreme being.
If the Minister could unpick and address that issuewhich he may say he has unpicked several times beforeit will solve some of the concerns that are floating around and which are reflected in the correspondence to which I have just referred.
Lord Borrie: My Lords, we have been round this course before, as the noble Lord has just said. My colleague and noble friend Lady Whitaker has given voice to a further interest in this matter, because it seems unsatisfactory that the only belief that the Bill recognises for charitable purposes is one specifically recognised as a religious belief. That is unsatisfactory because there are bodies that are created for the betterment of mankind, for the furtherance of philosophical beliefs and for the furtherance of ethical understanding of the way in which people should behave. Provided those organisations are for the public benefitof course, one has to establish both those points in order to be charitable under the Billthey ought to be covered.
My noble friend Lord Bassam, in the passages to which the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, referred in Committee, referred to the possibility of a belief being furthered which was frivolous or bizarre. If there is an organisation established for frivolous or bizarre beliefs, how on earth could it pass the test of being in the public benefit? That is the substance of my concern about the Bill as it stands. I welcome the amendment that my noble friend Lady Whitaker has proposed.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, a self-denying ordinance at this stage is not a bad one, but I cannot resist reminding the House that Clause 2(2), which sets out the heads of charity, is not supposed to create any new law or extend the existing boundaries of charity, but merely to explain them and set them out in more understandable terms. In his response, the Minister may go some way towards rebutting the perfectly understandable concerns of the noble Lord who has just spoken. If he looks back on reading Hansard tomorrow, he may see that the description of non-religious bodies, which he would suggest might have charitable status, in fact, potentially goes hugely wide and might even include new Labour. I say no more and wait for the Minister's wise words.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am very grateful for that introduction. While my noble friend Lord Borrie was speaking, I was thinking of one or two occasions when a bit of frivolity and bizarreness might definitely have been in the public interest. Sometimes I think that as I sit here on the Front Bench. However, perhaps I shall not dwell on that.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, said, we have been around this issue on rather a few occasions. I can do no more than set out where we think we are. I owe it to my noble friend Lady Whitaker to do no less than that.
12 Oct 2005 : Column 294
For decades there have been charities promoting humanist, rationalist and other coherent and serious non-religious belief systems on the register of charities. Non-religious belief systems, such as those I have just mentioned, which promote moral and spiritual welfare are now, and will continue under the Bill, to be charitable. Subsections 2(l) and (4)(a) of Clause 2 secure that state of affairs.
The Government are clear that the Bill has no discriminatory effects as between charities promoting religious belief and charities promoting non-religious belief. Indeed, the Bill further levels the playing field between religious and non-religious belief. At the moment, religious organisations enjoy a presumption that they are for the public benefit while organisations promoting non-religious beliefs do not. The Bill removes that presumption. That will mean that after the Bill is enacted organisations promoting religious beliefs will be in exactly the same positionthat of having to demonstrate public benefit in order to qualify for charitable statusas organisations promoting non-religious beliefs.
It has been argued that the Bill leaves non-religious belief at a disadvantage because it is encompassed by the catch-all provision of Clause 2(2)(l) rather than being expressly mentioned. That argument is based on the perception that the purposes within Clause 2(2)(l) are somehow lesser purposes. I do not share that view. They are not. More importantly, there will, once the public benefit presumption is removed, be no respect in which those purposes are treated in law or in practice any differently from any other charitable purpose.
I remind noble Lords of some of the purposes covered by Clause 2(2)(l): preservation of public order; relief of unemployment; rehabilitation of ex-offenders; promotion of industry and commerce; promotion of agriculture, and so on. I would not belittle the promotion of non-religious beliefs to sit alongside those purposes, which are all very important areas of present-day charitable endeavour. But we cannot give everything that is charitable its own specific heading without making the list unmanageably long. Even if we had a very long list, we would still need a final category consisting of purposes that had not been specifically mentioned to avoid the risk of removing charitable status in error from any other recognised purpose which was not mentioned in our long list. Although I understand why my noble friend Lady Whitaker would like to see non-religious belief placed directly alongside religion, I can assure her that it would have no legal or practical effect.
As I have said before in setting out the Government's position, by including the word "belief" in the list in the terms proposed by my noble friend's amendment we would bring in various types of belief system that, however worthy, should have no place in charity. Defining belief by reference to Article 9 of Schedule 1 to the Human Rights Act 1998 would not, in our view, overcome that objection. Article 9
12 Oct 2005 : Column 295
concerns the freedom to hold, manifest and change one's beliefs, whereas our concern is, more narrowly, with beliefs, the advancement of which is likely to result in a public benefit. We do not agree that it is safe to allow all belief systems or philosophies into the list of charitable purposes on the grounds that the public benefit test would act as a backstop to exclude those that had no place in the domain of charity. We disagree with that argument because it is ultimately an argument for a definition of charity which does not have a list of headings of charitable purposes, but simply says that anything for the public benefit is charitable. That is not the route that we, or any commentators on the Bill, favour at all.
Neither is it inconsistent of the Government to argue that non-religious belief need not have a specific reference in the Charities Bill while conceding that it needs a specific reference in some other legislation. In the Charities Bill, non-religious belief is already present in the list of charitable purposes by virtue of subsections (2)(l) and (4)(a) of Clause 2. That subsection brings in everything that has already been recognised as charitable but which does not come under any of the other headings listed in Clause 2(2). So, unlike with some other legislation, non-religious belief does not need to be imported into the Charities Bill; it is already present.
I conclude by re-emphasising that the Bill as currently drafted provides every possible assurance and safeguard that it will remain a charitable purpose to promote moral and spiritual welfare through non-religious belief. It follows that we do not believe either that my noble friend Lady Whitaker's amendment is necessary or, for the reasons I have given, that it is desirable.
I am advised that earlier in my reply I did not make it clear that I was referring to subsection (2)(l). I have a feeling that I have repeated that error. I hope that my noble friend will feel satisfied with that response.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|