An attempt to clarify the term 'charitable purpose' in the Charities Bill was revoked last night at the Bill's Committee stage first sitting in the House of Lords.
The definition of 'charitable purpose' or 'charitable purposes' together with the definition of 'charity' itself "are the linchpin definitions of the entire Bill," said Lord Phillips of Sudbury, a president of numerous charities and trustee of Age Concern Funeral Trust, who put forward a motion to amend the Bill.
He sought to remove clause 11 of the Bill which defined the terms differently from a definition in an earlier clause. "The last thing in the world one wants is for the unwary reader - that is to say he or she who does not plough all the way through the Bill - then to find that there is a different definition of 'charitable purposes' in Clause 11," he argued.
His move was supported by Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, who said that while "one often has a sense of when a 'charitable purpose' really is a charitable purpose and when it is stretching the limits", it should not be left to common sense. "The noble Lord has thrown down a rather wonderful challenge to the government," she said.
Lord Phillips asserted that, "The last thing one wants in the world when legislating for the voluntary sector is to force it into the hands of lawyers who will do their best but who, I am afraid, are expensive beasts." However this was countered by Baroness Smith of Basildon, who said: "I am not sure that we are ever able to make such legislation more understandable to the lay person. This is very much a lawyer's issue."
'A case for simplification'
The Committee concluded that there was "a case for simplification" of the terms. But while it was recognised that "it could be a desirable simplification to substitute the two definitions applying in different contexts by a single definition applying across the board", doing so would confuse matters across regional lines where the earlier definition applied to Scottish and Northern Irish legislation, but Clause 11 only applied to English and Welsh legislation, said the Committee. They added that clause 11 was part of a chapter of special provisions for the Act.
Instead, it was recommended the issue should be revisited in the upcoming review of the Charities Act later in the year.
The Committee was "keen that progress on this Bill is not unduly delayed", said their spokeswoman Baroness Verma, and Lord Phillips withdrew his amendment on the basis that he would engage in further discussion on the issue.
The Charities Bill 2010-11 will now move to Report Stage at an as yet undecided date.