Delays spell doom for Charities Bill, say Tories

The Government's decision to defer two planned Lords committee debates on the Charities Bill means that the chances of the Bill becoming law before the expected general election are now "very slim indeed", according to the Conservatives.

Jacqui Lait MP, shadow Minister for Civil Society, said charities would be bitterly disappointed by the news. "Having waited so long for it to be introduced, the Government has now made it almost impossible for the Bill to become law before the expected general election," she said.

"After all the hard work to get this Bill, it is unacceptable that the Government cannot find a space for it. It is a result of its introducing too many Bills in the Queen's Speech in November, a substantial number of which are inevitably going to fall."

The decision to postpone today's hearing came on Monday as the Government struggled to find sufficient Parliamentary time for its most urgent legislation, including the hotly contested plan to introduce house arrest for suspected terrorists.

Lord Hodgson, Conservative home affairs spokesman in the Lords, said the committee hearings had been 'bounced' twice - hearings on 28 February and today had been deferred. The hearing today gives way to a session on the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Bill.

"We are now two days behind, and the Government is not giving the Bill a fair wind," he said. "We have dealt with 97 out of 188 amendments and we are not going to deal with the remainder in one day or even two."

The Government is also being criticised for resisting a key amendment to the Bill for fear of being accused of attacking independent schools in the run-up to the expected general election.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury (LibDem), a leading charity lawyer and a prime mover in the current debate on the Bill in the Lords committee, said the refusal by ministers to accept a "common-sense and moderate" clause about public benefit was "pure politics".

He told Third Sector: "They are giving undue regard to a minority of independent schools spokespeople who are trying to frighten the horses over all this and spreading completely false notions of what the Bill is all about.

"They fear a headline or two in the Daily Mail or The Daily Telegraph that give a completely skewed idea of the potential impact of this Bill.

Understandably, a lot of those who use independent schools are anxious that the Bill doesn't damage them."

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