An MP who has proposed a bill to reinstate the presumption of public benefit for religious organisations will today meet with the charities minister, Nick Hurd, to discuss it.
Peter Bone, Conservative MP for Wellingborough, presented a Ten Minute Rule Motion in the House of Commons on 19 December seeking leave to bring a bill to amend the Charities Act 2011 to "treat all religious institutions as charities".
Bone said yesterday on BBC’s The Big Questions programme that the bill will contain three tests that an organisation must pass before it can be a charity: it must either provide prayer, do social work and education or provide money to other charities.
He said that sham charities and those that have harmful doctrines would also not be permitted.
The motion passed its first reading in December by a majority of 166 to seven. A second reading of the bill, which is formally titled the Charities Act 2011 (Amendment) Bill, has been scheduled to take place on 22 March, although parliament is not due to be sitting on that day.
It is rare that bills introduced under the 10-minute rule become law because they are usually opposed by the government in the later stages. The majority pass their first reading without any opposition.
Bone’s bill was introduced in response to a recent decision by the Charity Commission to refuse charitable status to the Preston Down Trust, a congregation of the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, a religious group which practices a "doctrine of separation" which limits their contact with the outside world.
The Brethren have since appealed to the charity tribunal.
A Charity Commission spokeswoman said: "Judging from his comments during the BBC programme, Mr Bone’s test appears different in nature as well as content to the commission’s understanding of the public benefit requirement for religious charities in charity law.
"The public benefit of a religion derives from the positive impact the organisation’s doctrines and practices have on the wider community: activities carried out by a religious organisation have to be seen in that context.
"Demonstrating public benefit is not an onerous task for religious organisations – the commission registers hundreds of religious charities each year."