Committee of MPs will not comment on charitable status of Brethren congregation

Public Administration Select Committee says it cannot take a view on the Preston Down Trust case, but is unhappy with the Charity Commission's conduct of policy on public benefit

Preston Down Trust
Preston Down Trust

The Public Administration Select Committee has decided, following advice from the Attorney General, not to comment on whether the Preston Down Trust should be granted charitable status.

The Role of the Charity Commission and ‘Public Benefit’: Post-legislative Scrutiny of the Charities Act 2006, a report published by the committee today says it looked in detail at the case of the trust, a congregation in Devon of the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, also known as the Exclusive Brethren, which was refused charitable status on the grounds that its benefit was too restricted.

The trust appealed to the charity tribunal against the decision, but the case has been stayed until September to allow further negotiation with the Charity Commission over its application.

The Brethren practise a doctrine of separation that prevents them from eating, drinking or socialising with those outside their faith. The commission has argued that this restricts how much benefit their charities can provide to the public.

But the Brethren argue that the doctrine of separation does not prevent members of the public attending their ceremonies, and that other religious organisations also restrict access to services, including Orthodox Jews and Roman Catholics.

The report from the committee, which heard evidence from Plymouth Brethren members, says: "We are far from happy with the manner in which the Charity Commission has conducted policy concerning public benefit. We have, however, received clear advice from the Attorney General that it is not parliament’s role to make decisions on the charitable status of particular organisations.

"For the purposes of this report, we are therefore treating the Preston Down case as sub judice and will not make a substantive comment on the commission’s decision until any judicial proceedings on the case have been concluded."

- See our Big Issue on the PASC report

David Ainsworth

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