The Royal Albert Hall's dispute with the Charity Commission about the charity’s governance arrangements "potentially damages the reputation of the sector as a whole", Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts has told the House of Lords.
Speaking in a debate yesterday about the Lords Select Committee on Charities’ report from last year, Hodgson, a Conservative peer, called on the government to ensure that a forthcoming charity tribunal hearing on the Albert Hall was held "as speedily as possible".
The commission has contended for several years that there is a potential conflict of interest on the hall’s governing council, where 19 of the 24 members are elected from among people who own a quarter of the hall’s seats and can sell tickets for them at inflated prices.
Earlier this week, the Attorney General, Jeremy Wright QC, gave consent for the Charity Commission to refer five key questions about these governance arrangements to the charity tribunal.
Hodgson told peers yesterday that although he appreciated the tribunal was independent and able to set its own timetable, "difficult cases like this should surely be dealt with as speedily as possible and not allowed to fester".
He said: "I have no idea where the truth lies, but the present confused picture not only potentially damages the reputation of the sector as a whole… but, maybe unfairly, damages the reputation of the Albert Hall itself.
"We need sunlight, and quickly."
Hodgson also questioned why the Charity Commission was legally unable to apply to the tribunal directly for a ruling on a point of law and needed the permission of the Attorney General.
"Surely this is an unnecessary measure, presenting a barrier to the commission’s ability to contribute constructively to the development of the law against which it is required to regulate," he said.
"Should not the commission have the power to make references to the tribunal directly, without the need for permission, provided that notification of the reference is given to the Attorney General, who retains the power to be joined as a party in the case if he so wishes?"
In response to Hodgson’s comments, the Conservative peer Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen, who provided the government’s response to the general debate, said she would take Hodgson’s views back to the government, but emphasised the Charity Commission’s independence as a regulator.
"We welcome the Charity Commission’s attempts to resolve this long-standing and complex issue and the referral of the case to the charity tribunal to consider specific points of law," she said.
"I agree that this should bring sunlight onto some tricky legal issues. The point about references to the tribunal is noted."