Focus: Policy and Politics - How do things stand at Westminster?

With Parliament now in recess, Francois Le Goff eyes the progress of the relevant Bills.

It has been a busy time in Parliament since May, with the Government pushing through the 45-Bill package announced in the Queen's Speech. So far, 22 Bills have been introduced, most of which are expected to reach their final stages in the House of Lords in October. Here are the latest developments for those set to have an impact on the voluntary sector.

Charities Bill

Since June, the Government has come under growing pressure to introduce a clause on public benefit criteria. LibDem peer Lord Phillips of Sudbury tabled an amendment to tackle concerns that some fee-paying charities might enjoy charitable status without actually serving the public good.

This view received support from Baroness Pitkeathley, Lord Best and Lord Swinfen during committee stage debate in June.

Thus far, it is unclear whether the Government will come round to the idea of a clause clarifying the meaning of public benefit. Preparations are being made to raise this subject when the Bill reaches the Commons.

Debate in the Lords committee has otherwise centred on the powers of the Charity Commission. The Government also welcomed a late amendment from Lord Best that would allow under-18s to become trustees.

National Lottery Bill

A change made at the Bill's reintroduction in May ensures that it cannot be used to move funds from one good cause to another. The NCVO remains concerned about the control over lottery funding that the Bill would give the Government. It wants to see the Government's commitment that 60-70 per cent of lottery funding would go to the voluntary sector "on the face of the Bill".

Equality Bill

The British Humanist Association fears that the wide exceptions for religious schools and other religious groups in part 2 of the Bill would allow them to discriminate on grounds of religion or belief, and also to harass people.

"The Government tabled amendments to remove the most objectionable licences to harass in committee stage in July," said director Hanne Stinson. "But faith schools can still harass people 'if it is necessary in regard to the establishment's purpose'."

Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill

The Bill was criticised by the Refugee Council for making successful asylum applicants wait for up to five years before getting permanent residence.

Neil Gerrard, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees, raised the issue during July's second reading and is the likely candidate to table an amendment at committee stage in October. The charity fears the Government might introduce more controversial measures after the Bill has passed its Commons stages, as it has done in past asylum-related Bills.

Mental Health Bill

The Government conceded that the definition of mental disorder in the Bill was too broad after the joint committee on the draft Bill said it should not include behavioural problems resulting from drug and alcohol misuse or immoral conduct. But it was criticised by the Mental Health Alliance for widening powers to compulsorily detain people with mental health problems.

Racial and Religious Hatred Bill

Introduced on 9 June, the Bill created a rift between the British Muslim Council and the British Humanist Association. The council denounced as "ridiculous" claims by the association that the Bill would undermine freedom of speech. It said the Bill clearly aims to protect people rather than beliefs.

Opposition parties, who are also concerned about the impact of the Bill on human rights, are expected to scrutinise it thoroughly in the Lords in October.

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