Blair urged to back charities bill

A coalition of 24 charities and sector representatives has written this week to Tony Blair and 19 cabinet ministers in a bid to secure the reform of the UK's 400-year-old charity law by getting a charities bill included in this year's Queen's speech in November.

The Charities Bill Coalition, which was formed on 12 February at NCVO's annual conference, is concerned that charity law reform will lose momentum and slip down the political agenda if the Home Office doesn't commit to a bill in the Queen's speech.

Home Secretary David Blunkett has already agreed to introduce a charities bill in a speech at the NCVO's annual conference in February, but urged the voluntary sector to keep up the pressure for reform to make sure that it doesn't lose out to other competing demands for legislative time.

"We are quite confident," said Chris Stalker, head of campaigns at NCVO, which is leading the coalition. "Blunkett has stated that the Government is committed to publishing a draft charities bill as soon as possible, and we have significant and growing support from the voluntary sector."

Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith is behind the changes. Last October, he called on the Government to introduce a bill in the Queen's speech and to push charity reform forwards.

The bill is needed to address a number of recommendations made by the Government's Strategy Unit in its report Private Action, Public Benefit.

The report made a total of 61 recommendations. The changes are expected to be made in three separate bills.

A Home Office bill would make charitable status dependent on public benefit, reform the Charity Commission and create an independent tribunal to hear appeals against the commission's decisions. A Department of Trade and Industry bill would remove the requirement for trading charities to set up a trading company. A Treasury bill would clarify the distinction between co-operatives and societies for the benefit of the community.

The coalition is focusing on the Home Office bill, which it says is needed for charities to be able to operate effectively.


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