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Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, that is the same answer that has been given many times now as we go round this course. We quite understand that human beliefs that are non-religious will never be accepted as expressly on a par. The Government are quite obdurate on that in a most remarkable manner. However, it enlargesI am sure he will agree; he must have thought about this many times as we have met so often on this subjectthe importance of the word "religion". I do not want to catch the Minister out on this. If he does not have a note on the matter perhaps he can write to noble Lords. Does religion involve worship?
Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this commendably
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short debate. I am grateful to my noble friend for a well intentioned answer, which has given some useful comfort for those who will interpret the Act. I have to say I think that the Government's view is negative, behind the times and does not even keep up with their own legislation. But I have no intention of dividing the House and therefore I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
In Committee on 28 June the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, moved an amendment which would have added the advancement of the effectiveness and welfare of the Armed Forces of the Crown to the list of descriptions of charitable purposes in Clause 2. The amendment attracted support from, among others, the noble Lords, Lord Phillips and Lord Hodgson. In my reply I promised to give further consideration to that matter and the amendment that I now move is a result of that consideration.
In moving his amendment in Committee, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, explained why he preferred to refer to the effectiveness and welfare rather than to the efficiency of the Armed Forces. Noble Lords will see that we have reverted to "efficiency". The good reason for this is that efficiency of the Armed Forces is the heading under which all Armed Forces charities including service non-public funds are currently recognised as charitable. It is a judicially recognised phrase and expression. By including this phrase in the Bill, then by reason of Clause 2(5) it will continue to have the same meaning as it currently has in charity law. If a different phrase were to be used, the courts may assume that Parliament had intended a different scope for this charitable head such that purposes that are not currently charitable could be held to come within this head.
Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, I thank the Government for the amendment which copies word for word the amendment which I first submitted to your Lordships' Committee in Clause 2 on the Bill that was lost due to dissolution.
I am delighted that the charitable purpose of promoting the efficiency of the Armed Forces of the Crownand thus of some 15,000 service non-public funds which do so much to promote the well-being of the Armed Forcesis now specifically recognised in the Bill.
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Such purposes beneficial to the community, along with the relief of poverty, the advancement of education and the advancement of religionthe four charitable heads which arise from the 1601 statutemerit this explicit inclusion. I welcome that, though it would be interesting to hear the Government's reason for its placement in the list of purposes between Clause 2(2)(j),
My own preference had been for it to be up with other heads of charity, the relief of poverty and the advancement of education and religion. When he repliesand I do not wish to sound uncharitable or ungrateful to raise this pointcan the Minister enlighten us?
His amendment is directly helpful to that position. But the Minister is aware of my concern expressed in Committee on 28 Juneand I have since written to him about itthat a public benefit test could not become a bar to the charity status of service non-public funds.
The meaning of "charitable purpose" in Clause 2(2)(l) requires two things: that the purpose falls within the list in Clause (2)(2); and is for "the public benefit". Given the Minister's statement, can he assure the House that SNPFs meet in full the meaning of charitable purpose as set out in the Bill? It would greatly reassure me if he would do so.
Lord Renton: My Lords, when dealing with charities, we must not become confused about responsibility for the Armed Forces. That responsibility is for those who command them and in particular, of course, the Secretary of State. To insert,
Lord Borrie: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Renton, has touched on an important point. I think that the Government have engaged in something of a volte face on this matter. In our earlier debates on this Bill we discussed the difference between promoting the efficiency of the Armed Forces, which is clearly the responsibility of this or any government, and matters such as the welfare of those serving in the Armed Forces, for which various charities already exist and justifiably are regarded as such. But the wording introduced by the Government seems rather odd and I would be glad if the Minister could explain how they have turned around 180 degrees on this matter.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the easiest response I can make is to say that we have been
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convinced by the arguments. We have listened to what has been said. I am grateful to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, for his energetic advancement of the cause of these particular charities.
The noble and gallant Lord asked me a perceptive question on the positioning of the new line in the Bill. I have to confess that we shall have to bring forward another amendment because we have probably misplaced it in the list. We shall have to make a further subtle change in the drafting at Third Reading. So I am grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to explain the point to noble Lords. He is probably right to point out that it does not sit well next to animal welfare. However, I shall not dwell on that.
In response to the other point raised by the noble and gallant Lord, I shall say simply that I am grateful to him for his letter, which I had occasion to revisit recently. It is fair to say that service non-public funds are subject to the public benefit requirement and they will continue to be subject to it. That is widely understood. The requirement will go on being applied by the Charity Commission. I hope that that clarifies the position.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the Bill says nothing about the extent to which a charity may engage in campaigning activities. I submit that there is some doubt about that because one publication from the Charity Commission states that,
"By the very nature of their knowledge and social concern . . . some charities are well placed to play a part in public debate on important issues of the day and to make an important contribution to the development of public policy. Others will invariably be drawn into such debate. It would be wrong to think that this cannot and should not happen: it is open to charities to engage in campaigning activities".
Certainly, as a former council member of the Save the Children Fund, I have accepted briefing from that charity which was intended to make an amendment to the previous Education Bill. I spoke on it and told the House that I was speaking to a brief from the Save the Children Fund so that the Government were quite well aware of where the information came from. I received a rather generous response from the Government on that occasion and it resulted in some changes to the law. However, there is some ambiguity about the matter.
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That would of course include international organisations. We now live, as we are constantly told, in a globalised economy. The amendment would mean that organisations such as Amnesty InternationalI am not certain whether it is regarded as a charitywould be able to make representations to change the law in any part of the world.
It is desirable to have this provision on the record so that there is no ambiguity about it. Without it, people will not be sure what their entitlement or responsibilities are. It is rather a good idea to have it in the Bill. I beg to move.
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