Policy and Politics: Question Time - George Foulkes MP for Carrick and Cumnock

What was your role on the draft Charities Bill scrutiny committee?

I chaired its last session, after the previous chairman, Alan Milburn, was appointed to the Cabinet last summer.

Which members wanted to remove charitable status from fee-paying schools?

It came from Lord Campbell-Savours and was taken up by the Labour and Lib Dem members of the committee. It would have been a formal recommendation rather than just a suggestion in our report if the Conservative members had agreed.

So your recommendation on this was a compromise?

Yes. We recommended that defining public benefit should not be the responsibility of the Charity Commission, which is an appointed body. It should either be set by Parliament in the Bill or the Secretary of State, as an elected minister, should issue guidance.

What will happen as the Bill goes through Parliament?

We're disappointed the Government hasn't followed our recommendation and has gone instead for the Charity Commission formula. I think there will be a strong move to go back to what we proposed in our report. The feeling is that the Government's formula wouldn't put a strong enough searchlight on bodies such as private schools and hospitals to ensure they provide enough public benefit to justify the substantial advantages they get as charitable bodies.

What do you think of the rest of the Bill?

All the other provisions, such as the new rules over public collections, measures to tackle rogue collectors and the setting up of the new Charity Tribunal, are fairly uncontentious.

Do you think it will get through before the General Election?

Everyone's assuming the election will be on May 5. If the Bill isn't finalised in time and is reintroduced under a new Labour government, there's a better chance it will be made more radical.

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