MP on select committee condemns its 'atrocious' report on charity regulation

Paul Flynn says the report by the Public Administration Select Committee fails adequately to address the issue of charitable status

Paul Flynn MP
Paul Flynn MP

A member of the Public Administration Select Committee has described its report on the regulation of charities as "atrocious" during a debate in the House of Commons.

Paul Flynn, MP for Newport West and a member of the PASC, told parliament yesterday that he "profoundly" disagreed with the report.

"The report does nothing to add to the reputation of this house," said Flynn, who described the document as "atrocious".

The report, The Role of the Charity Commission and ‘Public Benefit’: Post-legislative Scrutiny of the Charities Act 2006, which was published yesterday, looks at a range of issues, including the granting of charitable status.

Flynn told the Commons that the report had failed adequately to address the issue of granting charitable status, especially for religious groups and independent schools.

He said it had been hoped that the Charities Act 2006 would change the "unfairness" that independent schools such as Eton and Harrow could "get a handout from taxpayers whereas ordinary schools in poor areas do not".

Flynn said: "The act tried to change that, but a perverse decision taken by the law stated that the status of a charity depends on what it was established for, not on what it does."

He said he had been approached about 50 times by members of what he called the "Hales Exclusive Brethren" – referring to the majority of Exclusive Brethren who follow the leadership of the Australian accountant Bruce Hales – since the PASC had started to take evidence on the regulation of charities.

"Around every corner in this house, there were members of that very unpleasant sect waiting to accost us," said Flynn. "The committee made a point about the control of bodies that lobby in that way. It was not about religion or charitable status; it was about money.

He later added that the way the Brethren controlled its members’ lives made it "rather like what happens in North Korea".

Bernard Jenkin, MP for Harwich & North Essex and chair of the PASC, said that it was not for the committee to determine whether individual organisations should receive charitable status. 

He repeated what the committee had said in the report – that it had been unable to comment on the case of the Brethren because the Attorney General advised it that it was not parliament’s role to make decisions about the charitable status of particular organisations.

Jenkin added that "too much had been laid at the door of the Charity Commission" in determining which organisations should and should not be eligible for charity status. "If parliament wishes to legislate to provide additional restrictions against religious organisations, it is for parliament to do that, but there is established case law that should determine whether or not a religious organisation becomes a charity," he said.

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