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Searchlight Educational Trust
Registered Charity No. 1013880
1. This report is a statement of the results of an Inquiry under section 8 of the Charities Act 1993.
2. Searchlight Educational Trust (“the Charity”) was registered as a charity in August 1992 and is based in London. The Charity organises seminars and produces literature for the public and its annual income is approximately £140,000. Its stated objects are:
3. The advancement of the education of the public and in particular but not so as to limit the generality of the foregoing:
4. In May 2002, the Charity Commission received a complaint alleging that the Charity was carrying out political activities that were not compatible with its charitable status.
5. The initial evaluation raised concerns about the political content of the Charity’s website, namely sections of the Charity publication “When Hate Comes to Town” (WHCTT); and also regarding the public’s confusion between the Charity and two companies – Searchlight Magazine (“the magazine”) and Searchlight Information Services (“SIS”).
6. The Commission instituted an Inquiry under section 8 of the Charities Act 1993 on 28 June 2002 with the aim of investigating whether the Charity was undertaking political activities incompatible with its charitable status.
7. The Commission considered that certain parts of WHCTT went beyond the Commission’s guidelines on Charities and Political Activities. In particular WHCCT encouraged members of the public to not only vote against what it saw as far right political parties, but also to carry out direct action by, for example, disrupting political meetings.
8. There was no reference on the website to the Charity’s registered status, the charitable objects were not stated and it was not made clear that the Charity is distinct from the magazine and from SIS.
9. All three organisations shared a telephone number and postal address. This caused further confusion regarding the separate objects and activities of the charity and the two companies.
10. The Charity had yet to implement some of the recommendations previously made by the Commission, during a Visit to the Charity in 2001.
The trustees explained that WHCTT was out of print. The recent reference to it on the website was an employee’s mistake, undertaken without consulting the trustees.
Outcome of inquiry
12. The Charity has removed WHCTT from the website.
13. The trustees agreed the necessity of making clear the distinction between the Charity, the magazine and SIS. The Commission advised the Charity that they should not use the general label ‘Searchlight’ when referring to the Charity. The trustees confirmed that future Charity publications will clearly state that they are issued by a registered charity.
14. The website is in the process of modification to display the Registered Charity Number, as well as information regarding the objects and activities of the Charity. Whilst this is being done the web site has been withdrawn. The Charity now has a separate telephone number to the other organisations.
15. The trustees satisfied the Commission officers that outstanding issues would be resolved within six months from the close of the inquiry. The Commission will monitor progress in this regard.
16. The Inquiry was closed on 9 September 2002.
17. Charities cannot be political bodies but this does not mean that they cannot contribute to the political process. However, the dividing line between permissible and unacceptable political activities is sometimes a fine one. The Commission publishes guidelines in ‘CC9 Political Activities and Campaigning by Charities’ which is available on the Commission’s website (www.charitycommission.gov.uk). Where there is any doubt trustees should seek appropriate advice from their legal advisors or from the Commission before undertaking any activity that might be beyond the proper scope of a charity.
18. A charity should not seek to organise public opinion to support or oppose a political party that advocates a particular policy favoured or opposed by the charity. It is inevitable that sometimes a policy put forward by a charity coincides with that of a particular political party, or a political party decides to adopt such a policy. It does not follow that the charity is prevented from promoting its policy on the issue. However, it may influence how it does so. In such case, the charity should take particular care - especially to ensure that the independence of its view is explained and understood.
19. A charity must not issue material that supports or opposes a particular political party or the government or seek to persuade members of the public to vote for or against a candidate or for or against a political party.
20. A charity may respond to forthcoming elections, whether local, national or to the European Parliament, by analysis and commenting on the proposals of political parties which relate to the charity’s purposes or the way in which it is able to carry out its work, provided that it comments in a way which is consistent with these guidelines and complies with all the relevant provisions of electoral law.
21. A charity may also bring to the attention of prospective candidates issues relating to its purposes or the way in which it is able to carry out its work, and raise public awareness about them generally, provided that the promotional material is educational, informative, reasoned and well-founded.
22. A charity should conduct its external relations and publicity in a way that enhances its own reputation and that of charities generally. Information provided by a charity about itself, for example its purposes, connections, or activities, should be as accurate as possible and not misleading. In particular, where separate organisations with similar names exist, the fact that the charity is distinct from them should be made clear.