Preston Down Trust decision was a not a 'climb-down', says Charity Commission

Paul Flynn, a Labour MP on the Public Administration Select Committee, says the regulator was 'cowardly' to allow the Plymouth Brethren congregation charitable status

Paul Flynn
Paul Flynn

The Charity Commission has rejected suggestions by Paul Flynn, the Labour MP for Newport West, that the decision to allow the Preston Down Trust charitable status was a "climb-down" and showed the regulator was "cowardly".

The trust, a Plymouth Brethren congregation based in Devon that adheres to a doctrine of separation, gained charity status in January after a lengthy legal battle and appeal process.

Flynn was sitting on the Public Administration Select Committee in Westminster, taking evidence this morning from Sam Younger, the regulator’s chief executive, and William Shawcross, its chair.

"Is the lesson of your climb-down that lobbying triumphs?" asked Flynn. "Is that the advice – that if you employ PR people, you employ legal people, the commission will climb down?"

Flynn also claimed that the regulator was cowardly.

In response, Younger said: "I don’t think this is a case of giving in, in any sense. We will turn down people again."

Shawcross said: "The Brethren were willing to change. Many of the Brethren’s opponents in the House have welcomed this decision. We came to a completely new decision on a completely new application and I’m actually rather proud of it."

Bernard Jenkin, Conservative MP for Harwich and North Essex and chair of the committee, questioned whether the public could trust that the Brethren were making meaningful changes.

Shawcross said: "It’s clear on paper that they are substantial and, if anyone has unhappy dealings with the Brethren in the coming months, we will take that very seriously."

Robert Halfon, the Conservative MP for Harlow, who had supported the Preston Down Trust’s application for charitable status, said he was grateful for the commission’s "morally just" decision and asked whether the Brethren would now be held to the same standard as other religious charities. 

Shawcross replied that they would be.

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