A report detailing reasons why the Plymouth Brethren do not meet public benefit requirements has been published by Paul Flynn, the Labour MP for Newport West, after a series of parliamentary debates.
Flynn closely questioned Plymouth Brethren members who last month appeared before PASC as it deliberated whether it should qualify for charitable status.
The report says that, contrary to Brethren claims, their services are not open to the public.
"For some 50 years, denial of public attendance at meetings has been absolute, with a handful of exceptions," the report says. "Contrary to the pictures displayed on the current website, main meeting rooms are surrounded by high-security fences and locked gates. These gates are locked at all times except for access prior to scheduled meetings: they are also locked during meetings. Larger or special occasions also use security guards.
"The notice boards, until about September of this year, have indicated no meeting times or welcome."
The report says that, for an organisation to provide public benefit, it should be possible to leave that organisation freely and without loss.
"This cannot happen," the report says. "Everyone who leaves loses all or almost all contact with family for all time.
"Leaving will most often include loss of employment and home since employment is generally within the church membership and funding for homes is provided by church membership."
Flynn told Third Sector he was convinced that the Brethren did not provide a public benefit. "They claim their benefits are preaching in the street, feeding the poor and ministering to the sick," he said. "I’ve tried to communicate to them that this is not necessarily beneficial."
He said some members of the Public Administration Select Committee felt that the Charity Commisson’s refusal to grant charitable status was an attack on Christianity. "But it isn’t," said Flynn. "This is an investigation into a single obscure sect that is apart from society."
A Brethren spokesman said it was not true that the public could not attend their meetings. "For many years our meeting rooms have had notice boards stating that they are public places of worship and giving phone numbers of trustees," he said.
"Readers should enquire why the Charity Commission has chosen to deregister the Plymouth Brethren and not Orthodox Jews, or other religious groups that have limited contact with the general public."
"If persons leave the Brethren, after making a mature decision to do so, that is their choice, although it is a choice we would always regret. But having chosen a different way of life, they cannot expect to have the same relations with Brethren and family members as before."
He said it was also untrue to say that Brethren members' homes were paid for by the church. Most were funded by mortgages from the major banks, he said.