Thursday, 27 February 2014

House of Lords 27/2/14

Baroness Berridge (Con):
My Lords, I must first declare an interest. Members of my family remain within the religious group which has been the subject of much controversy with the Charity Commission, namely the Exclusive Brethren. I thank my noble friend Lady Barker for securing this debate. It is clear that the future effectiveness of the Charity Commission will involve the investigation of charities such as this. This needs resources, and clearly £137 per charity is not sufficient. As one pays for the issue of court proceedings and to get a passport, I do not think that there is anything objectionable in the Charity Commission charging for the services it offers.

Under the new leadership of William Shawcross, I believe that the commission is more effective and a new day is dawning. In what may seem to colleagues like an Oscars speech, I thank him and Kenneth Dibble for their unique finding concerning the alleged group which I have mentioned. They found,

“on balance, that there were elements of detriment and harm which emanated from doctrine and practices of the Brethren and which had a negative impact on the wider community as well as individuals”.

The actual doctrines and harsh disciplinary practices were the issue this alleged church had to address. It was made to amend its trust deed, and will be reviewed in a year’s time to see if its behaviour has changed. This finding is an important acknowledgment of the mental, emotional and financial suffering of ex-members of this group, which is controlled from Australia by universal leader Bruce Hales. I thank ex-members of the group who bravely came to Parliament recently to tell their testimonies. The mental health implications were obvious to colleagues of living in a system where people are told, “We will do the thinking, you do the doing”. In this system people risk being separated from their family if they even own a phone from Carphone Warehouse, or go away to university. People work for a Brethren-owned company, so for some gaining their freedom meant losing their home and their job as well as members of their family, even their own children.

I previously called for a church-led inquiry, as I was aware of the wonderful pastoral support being given to ex-Brethren in many churches. However, I was naive. As my noble friend Lady Brinton and I stuck our heads above the parapet others ducked for cover, perhaps sensibly. Sadly, the Christian lobby fraternity have clearly brought this group under their umbrella, despite my repeated requests not to do so. I quote from the Evangelical Alliance in November 2012:

“This particular church has now become a test case for the 16,000 strong UK movement as a whole”.

In 2014, it was called a Brethren church by the Christian Institute. Neither of those groups has thanked the Charity Commission for exposing the victims’ stories, nor made them available for their many supporters to read. Nor are my speeches or those of my noble friend referenced. This does not reflect the Christians who support these groups, who I believe would give—even sacrificially—to help ex-members, particularly those who need legal fees to obtain contact with their children who remain in the group. Christians must always condemn groups such as this one, where there are allegations of racism, persecution of homosexuals and separation of families. They must never reserve criticism only for the Charity Commission’s assessment of the public benefit test.

However, a more effective Charity Commission will mean more work for the Government and for HMRC. The following issues arise from this effective investigation. Are the Government really content with a public benefit law which allows a group causing such detriment and harm to be a charity? Is this decision being considered by the Department for Communities and Local Government for its cohesion implications? Just imagine if there were allegations that imams dealt out such sanctions if their people did not purchase their mobile phone from a company whose directors were also the mosque committee, so that their calls could be monitored. I have seen such technology. Is evidence being sought by the Department of Health around the mental health implications for members of such a group?

Most chilling of all, this group runs its own schools. It does not recruit: you are born and educated into it. If this group is not a church—which I maintain strongly that it is not—then its nature is a matter of serious concern. As a friend of the Charity Commission, I believe that it needs to show that its annual review has teeth. As the right honourable Bernard Jenkin, chair of the Public Administration Select Committee, asked of Mr Shawcross, the changes for this group should be not superficial but substantive.

This group’s leadership is scary and intimidating. It is only because I am immune from legal proceedings in Parliament that these matters can be stated. This privilege of Parliament has been won by my predecessors, and I and the victims of this group could not be more grateful for it.

Then The Noble Baroness Brinton spoke;

Baroness Brinton (LD):
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Barker on securing this important debate. I welcome the fact that the Charity Commission is taking a more detailed look at charities’ activities, specifically under the public benefit rule, and challenging what in the past was almost a rubber-stamp approval for charitable status.

The noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, has already outlined the reason for the commission’s investigation into the Preston Down Trust but I want to add two or three more comments. For those who do not know, the Exclusive Brethren withdraws as much as it can from contact with the wider world. Its members will not eat or drink with worldlies, as they call us. They will not use TV, radio and computers that have not been approved by their Australian leaders, and its young people are banned from using Facebook. Their school books are heavily censored, with pages ripped out or stapled together.

The formal decision from the commission lists some of the evidence that it received from people who were members of the Exclusive Brethren, but who have left or been asked to leave—withdrawn or “cast out” in their parlance. Paragraph 89 of the decision says that it took evidence on:

“the impact of the doctrines and practices on those who leave PBCC; the exclusory effect on family life and relationships when members leave as a result of complete severing of ties; … absence of assistance and support to those who leave, including vulnerable children and young people; those who leave are ostracised and consequently treated differently from other members of the public; … loss of inheritance where relatives remain and leave their property to the Brethren which is encouraged; inability to participate in funeral arrangements and services of Brethren relatives; threats of legal action against those who speak out against the Brethren; and fear and anxiety of repercussions for themselves and family members who remain in the Brethren”.

I have met a number of people who have had to leave the Brethren because they are homosexual. One notable case, reported by the BBC in 2011, is that of Dario Silcock, who was bullied by the elders and the children in his church because he and they suspected that he was gay. He was asked to repent, as there is zero tolerance of homosexuality in the Brethren, and the teacher from whom he sought support and advice was suspended by the Brethren school. He said to the BBC then, aged 18, “I miss my family, but I have never been happier”.

Last year, a number of Parliamentarians heard evidence from another former member, who was abused by an elder when he was in his teens. He followed the advice that I think we hope all young people in his position would follow: he went to talk to another elder about the abuse. To his consternation, he was ordered on to his knees to ask God for repentance. As far as the EB was concerned, the rape was irrelevant. Because he had taken part in a homosexual act, he was guilty. It was not surprising that he left. He too has been allowed no contact with his family since he left.

I raise these two accounts with noble Lords because I have hope for these men and many others. The Charity Commission’s decision has made it clear in paragraph 98 that, if the Brethren does not comply with its undertakings to treat former members more fairly and differently from the list of its actions I cited earlier, the commission will review its charitable status again. The current public debate on disbelief [I think this should be disbenefit], not just looking at public benefit, is very important and one reason why I am more positive than others that the new and more thorough approach of the commission will provide some real benefit.

However, what I really pray for is a change in culture where people who have left the Exclusive Brethren are allowed to have contact with their families with no pressure on them. If the Charity Commission can have achieved this, it will have made significant progress, but I am not holding my breath.


  1. In 1959-60 my father walked out of this group. He said to the effect "You are not going to cut me off from my brother and my own two sons". You have replaced the conscience of the individual which is clearly Biblical, with forced groupthink and totalitarianism.

  2. Since the PBCC/EB have been approved as a charity by the CC; have there been any more " Pie Days" or any activity from the Rapid Results team? I suspect not.

    The recent British floods and storms should have been a great opportunity for the teams to prove themselves.

    Others may have more information.

    I am very glad the PBCC will be monitored.

    1. It's good to see that the Rapid team have remained busy in the floods. Long may their community interaction continue. You never know, the eyes of their youth might be opened to the fact we're not ogres waiting to pounce and contaminate them!

  3. I wish someone had stood up to these leeders (Hales) or Simmington, years ago. At 14 to 17 year old, I was plied with whiskey, and then when I was nearly drunk ,the local leader , would question me, about what I had done or others had been up to.
    I dread to think of how some of the kids now , would be questioned.
    in 1970, I got so drunk ,after being questioned for five hours, I went to leave the local leaders house, went to get my coat, and collapsed in their coat / meter cupboard, at approx 11pm on a Saturday night, approx 4 hours later came too , so I thought it would be funny to turn there electric off on the fuse board, and grab three bottles of unopened whiskey, and leave.
    the local leader did not turn up at the breaking of bread, at 6am so at 7.10 am I phoned his house and guess what , no reply.so I went round his house , and they were sound asleep. At the 9am meeting they talked about what had come to them at there breaking of bread earlier, thankfully , I can call Mr Simmington and our local leader Bloody Liars .

  4. I would very much like to inform the Chair of the Charity Commission, William Shawcross, and Bernard Jenkin MP, Chair of Parliament's Public Administration Select Committee, that this group of Exclusive Brethren is changing. In the variation of their trust deed they undertook not to treat people maliciously or vindictively, but to deal with non-members fairly, openly and honestly. I'm hoping that their members will soon live up to that commitment.

    1. Joan, you say 'this group of Exclusive Brethren are changing'. I have evidence which suggests the opposite. When I asked one close family member if she had read and understood the 55 page agreement made with the Charities Connission' she replied 'Of couse I have, it's on our own website'. This is odd, because the only thing I see on their website pertaining to this is a one page resume published by the PBCC. Another cousin who has been asked the same question has so far failed to reply. If our family members inside are not aware of the changes required, however are they going to know about treating us differently? We are almost two months into the agreement now. Bearing in mind the PBCC have a state of the art publishing arm in the Bible and Gospel Trust, I find it odd that they have not distributed the full document immediately, as they do with the ramblings of their leader Bruce Hales.

      As usual they will be hoping this will go away quietly and normal business and behaviour can be resumed.

    2. Dear Anonymous 28 February 2014 18:07 - I think you may have misread what I wrote:

      "I would very much like to inform the Chair of the Charity Commission, William Shawcross, and Bernard Jenkin MP, Chair of Parliament's Public Administration Select Committee, that this group of Exclusive Brethren is changing."

      I was expressing the hope that I might [one day] be able to tell William Shawcross and Bernard Jenkin MP that this group is changing. In fact, all I could tell them today is that I'm unhappy about the way these Brethren are treating me at the moment. It doesn't in the least accord with their commitment in the variation of the Preston Down trust deed.

      I'm getting the impression that the Brethren's belief that the Charity Commission matter has been resolved (I have that in writing from a member) has meant that they're no longer striving to represent themselves as people who act for others' benefit.

      I've been astonished at the abusive way some of their supporters have written on this blog this year. As well, my individual attempts to establish positive relationships with various members are being ignored and I have even been smeared (in writing) as someone who has acted to undermine Christianity.

      For the record, I am in touch with two senior members of the Brethren who are unfailingly courteous. I wish that all Brethren would take a leaf out of their book and understand that withdrawal from 'adikia' (= iniquity in the Brethren's charter verse 2 Timothy 2:19) simply means that they mustn't commit illegal or unjust acts.

      The Brethren's main responsibility is to love God, love their neighbour as themselves and to love their enemy, and it would be great to be able report to Mr Shawcross and Mr Jenkin that that is happening.

      But I'm repeating myself - please excuse me, readers of this blog!

    3. I think Joan is hoping to be able to inform the CC that there are changes; but, at the same time, her breathing remains regular.


  5. Watch out for the Brethren PR machine going into automatic denial mode, dismissing these two speeches as “all lies.” Having denied everything, they will then think they have “refuted” them.

    1. I agree they will probably try to do this. However the odd thing is, the Brethren - of their own choice and say-so - are not IN the outside world, nor are they recipients of their own revolting disciplinary and separatist policies. WE ex-members and non-members (multigenerational) are, so for any refutation or broadbrush denial to have teeth and veracity, surely it needs to come from those on the outside? So far, there is not exactly a vast gaggle of exEB lining up to say how wonderfully free their interactions are with Breth family, nor how "moral" and "non-physical" is the brand spanking new PBCC/HEB separation, nor how they have been fully and freely reimbursed by the Brethren for hurt and harm inflicted (and inheritances nicked).

      Form an orderly queue please, all those outside the HEB/PBCC currently feeling the enormous public benefit of their 'churchly' actions...
      (where's that tract I chucked in the bin - I shall wave it viciously at the Lady Sal Brinton, as proof of how wrong she is about this lovely group)

  6. I have evidence that the brethren are continuing to treat former members maliciously and vindictively Joan, The CC have been informed


  7. Are such breaches being reported to ebcompliance@outlook.com?

  8. Yes - but same thing as any breaches reported to ebcompliance will go to the CC

  9. Congratulations to both of the Baronesses for their testimony. The fact that Bruce Hales is specifically named is good as it should be coming increasingly self- evident to PBCC members that no real change will come until Bruce Hales and his clan are ousted from power.