Editorial: Government has no imperative to progress the Bill

Stephen Cook

The Cabinet will soon be deciding what to put in the Queen's Speech, and this will almost certainly be its last set of legislative proposals before the next election. So the Government's priorities are likely to be bills that it thinks will persuade people to vote Labour, bills it really can't avoid, and bills that won't cause trouble.

Where does that leave the Charities Bill? It's not likely to bring much electoral advantage because the great bulk of the voting public will know little about it and care less. Nor is it the kind of bill that can't be avoided: charity law is a bit of a mess, but there's no great constitutional imperative to reform it right now.

That leaves the question of whether it will cause trouble, and the unfortunate answer is 'yes, it probably will'. That's because the emotive question of the future of the charitable status of private schools and hospitals has not been satisfactorily resolved by a summer of public debate and behind-the-scenes arm-twisting.

It's true that the Parliamentary scrutiny committee on the draft Bill has come up with a unanimous report which backs the recent 'concordat' between the Home Office and the Charity Commission, asserting that all will be sweetness and light.

But few members of the committee were entirely happy, and when a real bill comes into the Commons, the discontent is likely to break out. The backbench anti-public school brigade isn't going to lie down quietly, and the Tories have given notice they'll be objecting to everything they can. Ministers might decide that such perils must be faced down for the good of the cause - but don't hold your breath.

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