Charity, and hunting begins at Public School says PETER FROST.
The Charity Commission is looking into complaints about the RSPCA, the world’s oldest and largest animal welfare organisation. They are investigating whether the animal welfare charity is getting too political on subjects like badger culling and fox hunting.
The commission can take action if it decides charities are abusing their status, including whether they are using their funds for overtly political purposes.
These latest actions from the Commission are clearly aimed at putting pressure on voluntary organisations to stop them speaking out on issues that might embarrass the establishment.
In recent months the RSPCA has protested against the badger cull, saying “the government have ignored public, parliamentary, EU commission and scientific opinion”. A RSPCA petition gathered tens of thousands of signatures against the cull.
The Charity Commission also criticised the RSPCA for launching a private prosecution against Prime Minister David Cameron’s local Heythrop hunt.
Two of the hunt’s members pleaded guilty to hunting wild fox with dogs.
After the case, the Commission wrote to the RSPCA demanding that the charity’s trustees review its prosecution policies “given the amount of adverse publicity and the allegations of political bias that the charity has attracted as a result of the case”.
While all this has been happening the Charity Commission has itself been under attack by many people concerned with fairness in education.
The Commission continues to support the granting of charity status to those bastions of inequality the British Public Schools.
Amazingly these establishments escape millions of pounds of tax and rates every year by taking advantage of dubious charitable status granted by those same Charity Commissioners.
It begs the question as to whether producing the next generation of Tory Cabinet ministers could be considered an overtly political action.
In theory, in return for charitable status, the schools have to offer things like a few bursaries to working class students. They are also required to offer some small level of use of their facilities as local community payback.
This might be allowing neighbours to use the swimming pool one evening a week or some similar token act.
Almost unbelievably, for a number of schools, that community involvement will be the organising of a pack of hunting dogs and allowing blood-thirsty toffs from the local community to join in the hunt.
With not a word of complaint from the Charity Commission, some English public schools keep packs of beagles, paying for them, no doubt with money gained by that dubious charitable status.
Amazingly Eton, Radley and Stowe schools each maintain a pack of hunting beagles to teach the posh boys how to hunt as part of their extra-curricular studies.
The Eton College beagles.
The Catholic public school Ampleforth had school pack of beagles from 1915 to 1994, that hunt is now run separately by a group of old boys but still for pupils at the school.
In theory since the 2004 Hunting Act, all these packs of beagles are only allowed to hunt artificial rabbit or hare scents on pre-laid trails.
However using dogs for hunting and killing rabbits, flushing and shooting hares and the finishing off of those injured hares following shoots are still legal under exemptions within the Act.
In the name of sport public schoolboys and their hounds still kill live wild animals on the green playing fields of England.
It is of course organisations like the RSPCA who keep a watchful eye on the hunts and, as with David Cameron’s local pack, instigate uncomfortable prosecutions when they step outside the law.
Some people are asking whether the Charity Commission’s new tough line and more reactionary policies have happened since the former journalist and royal biographer William Shawcross was appointed as its head.
Three MPs on the public administration select committee voted against Shawcross’s appointment, claiming he could not be considered politically impartial, having urged people to vote Conservative.
Shawcross, you might not be surprised to discover, was educated at Eton although the Morning Star has not been able to discover if he was ever blooded with the Eton Public School Beagle Pack.
This article first appeared in the Morning Star