2005-02-05

Intolerance: New Charity Laws will kill Church and School

Church 'The Church of Scotland' has warned 'Scottish Executive' that new charity laws will bring the work of the 'Kirk' to a halt. Lawyers for the Church have told ministers that the powers in new legislation, aimed at preventing fraud, will 'rapidly prevent the Church from continuing to function at all'. The 'Kirk' is angry that 'The Charities and Trustee Investment Bill' will give new powers to a regulator and to the courts to intervene in the Church's internal working which it argues are guaranteed under an 'Act of Parliament' dating back to 1921. Around 1_500 separate congregations, 46 presbyteries and the three 'Kirk' national boards -- including the bodies which invest church funds and manage property -- are registered charities. Up until now, these bodies were subject to the Church's internal jurisdiction, including their own 'courts'. Ms.Jeanette Wilson, the solicitor for the Church, said that if the bill becomes law it will allow for the intervention of the proposed new charity regulator, 'The Office of Scottish Charity Regulator' (OSCR) or 'The Court of Session' into the work of church organisations. She said:
'If there was ever a situation where the powers in the bill were exercised "The Church of Scotland" would not be able to carry on. 'We would not be able to pay ministers or pay other bills or administer our property and this is potentially interference in the government of "The Church of Scotland". Under earlier legislation, this is an area in which the state is not supposed to interfere'.
Ms.Johann Lamont, the deputy communities minister, said:
'If somebody wanted to do something about the powers that "The Church of Scotland" has under "The Church of Scotland Act 1921", there would have to be a repeal of the 1921 act. 'That is not the intention of the bill. The bill's intention is to regulate charities and to find an interface with all the churches in relation to their charitable status. 'There is recognition of the fact that "The Church of Scotland" has a particular place in law. It is not the view of "The Executive" that... we should impinge on the internal matters of the church'.
New charity laws 'will be a calamity for the Kirk', Peter Macmahon, The Scotsman, 2005-02-05, sa Schools Scotland's 'Private Schools' will become more exclusive and ´┐Żlitist if MSPs succeed in stripping them of the charitable status which they currently enjoy, one of the independent school sector's most influential figures warned yesterday. Mr.Frank Gerstenberg, former principal of Scotland's biggest independent school, 'George Watson's College' in Edinburgh, said an end to charitable status would drive up fees and threaten bursaries, preventing some children from less privileged backgrounds from going to private schools. He also claimed some MSPs were motivated by 'politics' rather than economic or educational considerations in driving through changes to the charitable status of private schools. Mr.Gerstenberg's comments represent the first major skirmish in what will become one of the most contentious issues in 'The Scottish Executive'' reform of the charities' law. 'The Scottish Executive's' 'Charities & Trustee Investment Bill' is currently going through 'The Scottish Parliament'. One of its provisions would introduce a new and much tighter definition of charity. At the moment, 'Private Schools' are registered as charities and enjoy charitable status, giving them tax benefits, the most lucrative of which is Local Authority rates relief. The new definition of charity would require all charities to provide a 'public benefit', and MSPs on the communities committee, which is considering the bill, believe this would rule out most -- if not all -- the 'Private Schools' in Scotland. 'Private Schools' estimate that they will have to put up their fees by between 5 and 8 per cent if they lose charitable status. For those with children at 'George Watson's College', this could mean an extra 400_GBP to 500_GBP a year. Parents of 'Fettes' pupils could be asked to find an extra 1_00_GBP or more every year to keep their children at school. There is a fear in the independent school sector that this extra hike, on top of the usual annual rise, is likely to be too much for some parents. Mr.Gerstenberg, who retired as 'Watson's' principal in 2001 after 16 years in charge, said making schools more exclusive would be 'one of the effects' of losing charitable status. He said:
'Most schools have done an exercise on it and found they will have to put up their fees by up to five per cent. 'It can certainly make it more difficult for parents -- they would have to make more sacrifices, or decide not to go for "private education"'.
Mr.Gerstenberg said this would be compounded by the expected loss of some bursaries and scholarships which schools provide to help those from less privileged backgrounds. Mr.Gerstenberg said:
'"George Watson's" has 120 pupils financed out of its own resources. Schools would be much less able to provide this assistance if this [change to the law] went through. Many of those who are pushing this are politically-driven rather than educationally or economically-driven'.
A combination of MSPs from 'The Scottish New Labour Party', 'The Scottish Liberal Democrat Party' and 'The Scottish National party' are pushing for the change. Ministers have insisted that they are not changing the law to attack 'Private Schools', merely reforming charity law. A 'Scottish Executive' spokesman pointed out the final decision on whether schools qualified as charities would rest with 'The Charities' Regulator', who would decide whether or not to assign charitable status under the terms of the Bill. 'New law 'will force private schools to be more elitist'', Hamish Macdonell, The Scotsman, 2005-02-07, Mo Links: HM Inspectorate of Education Independent Schools Council Information Service

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