Charities bill awaiting only royal assent

Peers yesterday agreed to amendments made in the Commons, and royal assent is expected to be granted in the next few weeks, giving the Charity Commission new powers

Bill has passed all its parliamentary hurdles
Bill has passed all its parliamentary hurdles

The Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill is set to become law after passing its last substantive stage in parliament.

In a debate in the House of Lords yesterday, peers gave their agreement to amendments made to the bill in the House of Commons.

The bill now needs only to gain royal assent to pass into law, and this is expected to happen in the next few weeks.

Under the new law, the Charity Commission will gain new powers to issue statutory written warnings to charities and automatically disqualify from serving as charity trustees or senior managers people with convictions for money laundering, terrorism or sexual offences.

It will also extend the commission’s reserve powers to allow it to bolster the new Fundraising Regulator and give charities the right to make social investments.

The Lords did not challenge any of the MPs’ changes to the bill, but the Labour peer Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town expressed dismay that the clause designed to prevent housing associations from being forced to sell off their properties under the government’s expanded right to buy scheme had been removed.

She said that although Labour would not challenge the amendment, it would "be watching to make sure that, as this part of the Housing and Planning Bill is implemented, it does not force trustees to breach either their trust deeds or charity law".

Baroness Barker, a Liberal Democrat peer, warned that the clauses of the bill that allowed the disqualification of potential trustees and senior managers with convictions for terrorism and sex offences and money laundering might need to be re-examined in the wake of a High Court ruling last month that those with convictions for minor offences should not have to declare them.

"I rather suspect that, if that judgment is upheld, this legislation will have to be revisited fairly swiftly," she told peers.

Rob Wilson, the Minister for Civil Society, said in a statement today that he welcomed the broad support for the bill in parliament.

"The measures will help the Charity Commission to tackle abuses, help charities participate in the growing field of social investment and underpin the sector's approach to tougher, more robust and independent regulation of fundraising," he said.

William Shawcross, chair of the commission, also welcomed the bill’s passage.

"This important legislation will give us the powers we need to be more effective, regulating in line with public expectation," he said.

"The strong cross-party support this bill received is an endorsement of the vital role of the Charity Commission. We will continue to work closely with charities and trustees as we take forward this legislation."

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