Controversy delays Scots reform

A leading figure in the Scottish voluntary sector this week accused the Scottish Executive of postponing pioneering reforms of charity law because they were too controversial.

Speaking exclusively to Third Sector, law lecturer Jean McFadden, who chaired last year's commission on charity law reform, said that deputy first minister Jim Wallace had told her progress towards legislation was halted because some of the recommendations are "controversial". The report was submitted 11 months ago.

"I suspect the delay could be to do with private schools," said McFadden. One of the report's key recommendations was that "the overriding purpose

of Scottish charities should be "for the public benefit". This means that fee-paying schools could lose their charitable status unless they offer some kind of public benefit, such as scholarships.

The Government's review of charity law is also considering a public-benefit test for organisations seeking charitable status. If the Scottish Executive is reluctant to back the public-benefit test, it is thought the Government could follow its lead.

McFadden said: "I am deeply disappointed by the delay of the reforms. Almost a year has passed since we submitted the report and there is not a sign of progress.

"The sector is anxiously waiting for news but it is not going to happen this side of the next Scottish Parliamentary elections."

McFadden said that the commission was led to expect a White Paper on law reform by January this year, but that now the earliest a bill could appear was May 2003.

The executive is in the process of setting up a forum to reconsider the commission's recommendations, but this too has been delayed, according to McFadden.

SCVO has refused to take part in such a forum. Policy officer Philippa Bonella said. "There is no value in returning to the debate. The commission has gone into the subject and made clear recommendations that were welcomed by the sector. After two decades of calls for Scottish charity law reform, and three recent consultations, further delay is frustrating."

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