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Charities Bill

Volume 684: debated on Thursday 6 July 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What was the reason for the delay in the resumption of the passage of the Charities Bill through Parliament.

My Lords, it was always the Government's intention to complete the Charities Bill in this Session of Parliament. As with any other Bill, the Charities Bill had to wait for parliamentary time in another place. I am pleased to say that Second Reading was completed on 26 June and that the Bill is currently going through Committee, which must be completed by 13 July.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that response, and for the good news that the Bill is now wending its way through another place. However, would he care to comment on why it took seven and a half months, after the lengthy pre-legislative scrutiny committee had done its work and after we had spent a good deal of time and effort in this House bringing the Bill almost to the point of conclusion before the general election in May 2005 and then spent further time deliberating it until November last year? Does he recognise that that delay in implementing measures that are highly valued by charities is more than inconvenient? The Bill contains measures to restructure the Charity Commission, to introduce an appeals tribunal and to facilitate mergers, and a good deal more that we badly need enacted.

My Lords, I am very appreciative of what the noble Lord has to say on the subject, because he and I clearly share a view about the importance and value of the Bill. Business matters in another place are entirely for business managers in another place. The House of Lords did an extremely good job. We spent more than 60 hours on the Bill over two parliamentary Sessions and I like to think that it was probably one of the most perfected Bills ever to have left your Lordships’ House.

My Lords, I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Best: can we have the Government’s assurance that the Bill in its later stages will be given urgent consideration in the next Session?

My Lords, of course the Bill is being given urgent consideration. I understand that it is going through its third day of Committee today, and that Members in another place are giving it very careful scrutiny. We could have had this Bill in April last year if we had had the co-operation at the other end from the party opposite that we had from it at this end.

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Best, I was on the Joint Committee that considered the draft Bill and was heavily involved in the 11 months in which we dealt with it before and after the election. Does the Minister agree that the Bill had singularly high public importance? The whole of the voluntary sector has been deeply engaged with it, and I commend the Government on the way in which they have brought the sector into it. Does he therefore agree that there is a severe dislocation in the way in which the public can follow the legislative process when there are these major gaps between bits of the legislation, and that it has an impact ultimately on the quality of the legislation?

My Lords, I very much regret the delay. I apologise from the government Benches for any uncertainty that it may have caused, but I, like the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, also pay tribute to the charities for their patience and their constructive engagement with government in bringing this legislation forward. The noble Lord played a major part in that, and I thank him for his work, as I do the noble Lord, Lord Best, because between them they made very valuable contributions to improving that legislation.

My Lords, given this extraordinary delay at the other end, is it not even more strange that we get from the Government ideas of putting a straitjacket of timing on business in the Lords? Could I invite the Minister to ask the right reverend Prelate to preach a sermon on beams and motes to the other place?

My Lords, a straitjacket might be the noble Lord’s way of looking at those things, but I believe in flexibility. As for taking a long time to get anywhere, I suppose the Liberal Democrats are quite experienced at that.

My Lords, where does flexibility come in when the proposal is to restrict discussion of legislation in this House to 60 days and then we have an example, as the noble Lord has just said, of what can happen in another place?

My Lords, I had not anticipated that we would get into this debate, but it strikes me that having timetabled business has benefits both for the Government and for opposition parties in ensuring timely legislation—a naive view, perhaps.