Law and religion round-up – 20th November

And in the week that we decided that no-one was to consume alcoholic liquor while reading this blog…

Keir Starmer and the House of Lords

The Observer reports that Keir Starmer is proposing that, if elected, Labour will abolish the House of Lords and replace it with an elected chamber as part of plans to “restore trust in politics”. Apparently, he has told Labour peers that he wants to strip politicians of the power to make appointments to the Lords as part of the first-term programme of a Labour government. The Observer understands that an incoming Labour government would hold a consultation on the composition and size of a new second chamber and on immediate reforms to the current appointments process. Final proposals will be included in the party’s election manifesto.

(On Friday, the House of Lords (Peerage Nominations) Bill [Lords], a private Member’s bill introduced by Lord Norton of Louth, was given a second reading in the Lords. It is never going to become law, but…)

VAT on contactless-giving equipment

Under HMRC VAT Notice 48: Extra Statutory Concessions (which does not yet appear to have been updated), special fund-raising buckets sold to charities and churches have always been zero-rated for VAT.

On behalf of the Church of England, Parish Buying asked HMRC earlier this year whether that concession could also be applied to kits for contactless giving. It reports that HMRC has confirmed its agreement that the concession also extends to contactless giving equipment.  That means that the prices displayed for contactless giving products will be what churches pay, and VAT at 20% will no longer be added by the supplier.

The main part of the official wording says that the concession applies to “any form of receptacle which is manufactured specifically for the purpose of collecting donated money and is used solely for collecting money for charity”.

COVID-19 and choirs

The Telegraph reports that a study carried out by Nottingham Trent University, Brunel University and Brighton and Sussex Medical School has cast doubt on the case that sparked the ban on singing indoors during the COVID pandemic.

In March 2020, 52 of the 61 people present at a rehearsal of the Skagit Valley Chorale in Mount Vernon, Washington became infected with the virus and two of them died. An investigation by Skagit County Public Health officials laid the blame at the door of a single chorister who had turned up to the rehearsal with symptoms and later tested positive.

The published findings were instrumental in numerous countries banning singing in church on the grounds that it could easily spread the virus; however, it now appears that in the majority of cases in Mount Vernon, the infection had occurred two to four days before the rehearsal. Professor Robert Dingwall, one of the authors of the new study, said that “the speed with which people were getting infected and displaying symptoms were not very plausible. It didn’t fit the epidemic curve”.

Charities (Regulation and Administration) (Scotland) Bill

The Scottish Government has published the Charities (Regulation and Administration) (Scotland) Bill, which aims to increase transparency and accountability and increase the powers of the Office of Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR). It will give OSCR wider powers to investigate charities and charity trustees and amend the rules on who can be a charity trustee or a senior office-holder in a charity. 

As part of the proposals OSCR will:

  • publish annual accounts for every charity;
  • include the names of all charity trustees in the Scottish Charity Register;
  • create a record of charities that have merged; and
  • create a publicly searchable record of removed charity trustees.

The legislation will also give OSCR new powers to issue positive directions to a charity to take action, such as managing a conflict of interest where it has identified a risk, and to remove charities that fail to provide accounts and do not respond to OSCR’s communications.

St Margaret Declaration

On Wednesday, St Margaret’s Day, the St Margaret Declaration was signed at Dunfermline Abbey by the Moderator of the General Assembly and the Roman Catholic Archbishop and Metropolitan of St Andrews and Edinburgh, in the presence of Princess Anne. The Declaration describes the Churches’ shared beliefs, “rooted in the Apostles, Christ’s first disciples”, and acknowledges a common heritage as Christians in Scotland. It also recognises the divisions of the past, apologises for the hurt and harm caused and seeks to make amends, asserting that “we repent and ask forgiveness of one other”.

Quick links

  • Frederick Cowell, UK Constitutional Law Association: The Three Eras of Opposition to the Human Rights Act: the second in a series on “The Human Rights Act After 22 Years”, following the SLS Annual Seminar held in November 2022.
  • Joshua Rozenberg, Law in Action: Spano uncut: podcast of his interview with Robert Spano, until recently President of the ECtHR, on the UK and human rights.

And finally…I

And finally…II

Should shortened pews be designated as ‘pewlets’, a term referred to in an HRBA post in 2020? Not in the Consistory Court of St Edmundsbury and Ipswitch. In Re St Peter Sibton [2022] ECC SEI 3, Gau Ch observed: “I note that the petitioners refer to shortened pews as ‘pewlets’”. I will not” – adding the footnote:

“Indeed, if any petitioner chooses to use the word ‘pewlet’ to refer to a shortened pew in any future application, they will have an uphill task persuading me to grant their petition”.

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