Newsmaker: Fast learner - Andrew Turner, Conservative spokesman forthe voluntary sector

"Forgive me if I refer to my notes," says Andrew Turner as he jumps off his chair to reach for two handwritten pages on the Charities Bill.

Appointed just a fortnight ago to the position of Conservative spokesman for the voluntary sector, the MP for the Isle of Wight admits he has a lot to learn.

"One of the things that front-bench spokesmen frequently find is that they are plunged into a new area they have to learn quickly. That's the position for me," he says.

Fortunately for him, he has been eased into the job gently. The Charities Bill, which is currently going through its committee stage in the House of Lords, has already been read and re-read in draft form, and his party agrees with the bulk of it.

"I believe there will be pressure from some Labour members to tighten up the definition of public benefit. Personally, I am happy with what the Government is proposing on that.

"An area I will watch with interest in the two days down for committee in the Lords is the section about fundraising, because I don't think it has been scrutinised in enough detail," he says.

The Bill proposes to make the Charity Commission responsible for issuing public collections certificates, which charities would have to obtain before running public collections, including door-to-door and face-to-face fundraising.

Turner's background is in education. He trained as a teacher in Birmingham and taught economics and geography at comprehensive schools for seven years. He has been a member of the Select Committee on Education and Skills and is currently vice-chair of the Conservative policy group on education and local government. "The advancement of education is one of the oldest charitable purposes," he says. "I think there is merit in charities running schools instead of the state because their objective is not political but educational. We politicians can get terribly involved in the details of how schools should be run, and that's not necessarily to the advantage of the service."

Turner is little known by charities outside his constituency, which he won in 2001 in his second attempt, ousting Liberal Democrat Peter Brand.

Marian Prowse, manager at the Isle of Wight Rural Community Council, describes him as a bright man who makes himself available. "I don't think he has an in-depth knowledge of the sector, but he picks things up fast," she says.

Turner's sharpest criticism of the Government is reserved for the new Lottery Bill. "The lottery was set up to help charities do the things the Government didn't take responsibility for, but it has become a substitute for doing the things the Government should do itself," he says. "I think it reflects badly on them and leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

"I think it also reflects the Government's tendency to distort people's priorities. If you are a charity with a certain purpose and the Government has funding that points in the other direction, and if you are not careful, you'll shift towards its agenda instead of achieving what you wanted to do in the first place."

But his views, echoed by others in both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, were not enough to stop the Bill, which went through its second reading in the Commons on 14 June.

"We didn't vote against it, which doesn't mean we were in favour of it," he says. "What we did was to table an amendment that said we declined to give the Bill a second reading."

With issues such as Compact Plus, VAT reform, Capacity Builders and the Charities Bill to grapple with in the months ahead, Turner will have to do a fair bit more reading of his own.

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