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MP wants Commons debate about recognition of Christian groups as charities

Robert Halfon, the MP for Harlow, says his concern was sparked by the Charity Commission's refusal to register Preston Down Trust

Robert Halfon
Robert Halfon

A Conservative MP has called for a parliamentary debate about the Charity Commission's recognition of religious groups as charities.

Halfon told Third Sector today that his move was prompted by the commission's decision to deny charitable status to the Preston Down Trust, an Exclusive Brethren congregation, which is appealing against the decision to the charity tribunal.

Speaking in parliament yesterday, Robert Halfon, MP for Harlow, referred to an early day motion he tabled last week, which calls for the Charity Commission to "stop the discrimination" against "the Christian Brethren" and to treat all religions that seek charitable status equally.

The motion, which has been signed by 11 other MPs, says the commission granted charitable status to the Druid Network, which Halfon said has only 300 members, but refused to register the Christian Brethren, which he said has 16,000 members.

Halfon said that the church provided "extensive community and charitable outreach" and had a membership far greater than that of the Druid Network.

"May we have a debate on the Charity Commission and the recognition of religious groups to find out why it recognises Druids but does not recognise the Christian Brethren, which has 16,000 members and 300 churches across the country?" he said in parliament yesterday.

Exclusive and Christian Brethren share common roots but split in 1848.

Andrew Lansley, the Leader of the House of Commons, responded to Halfon in parliament yesterday by saying: "The Charity Commission is not a regulator of religion and it should be explaining its responsibilities and doing so in a way that commands confidence."

A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said: "Our role is to determine what bodies are charities and to register them. We do this on application and on an individual basis following the charity law framework.

"It is for an organisation applying to satisfy the commission that it is a charity, not for the commission to demonstrate it is not."

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