Charities bill goes into third reading with amendments waiting

Among these are one that would require the goverment to review how many trustees would be affected by the Charity Commission's proposed trustee disqualification powers

Third reading in parliament begins tomorrow
Third reading in parliament begins tomorrow

This story was clarified on 26 January: see final paragraph

A requirement for the government to review how many trustees are likely to be affected by the Charity Commission’s proposed new disqualification powers is among the latest amendments to be added to the charities bill.

The Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill would create new powers for the commission to issue statutory warnings to charities and to disqualify people with convictions for money laundering, terrorism or sexual offences from becoming trustees.

The latest amendments to the bill have been published before its third reading in the commons, scheduled for tomorrow.

Among the amendments was one tabled by Sir Edward Garnier, the Conservative MP for Harborough, Oadby and Wigston, that would require the secretary of state to conduct a report before the proposed new disqualification powers came into force, assessing how many existing trustees were likely to be affected.

The amendment would also require the government to review the effectiveness of the existing waiver programme for trustees and outline the criteria for those trustees who want to obtain an exemption from the new powers.

Garnier, who is a patron of the charity for convicts, Unlock, and a trustee of the Prison Reform Trust, first called for safeguards to be introduced during the bill’s second reading in the commons, warning that the disqualification powers could "make it more difficult for them – bearing in mind that the subjects that interest them are prisons, prison reform and the condition of prisoners – to have among their trustees people with criminal convictions".

Amendments tabled by Matthew Hancock, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, on behalf of the government include one that would enable fees to be levied by the Fundraising Regulator or Charity Commission under the reserve powers to the regulate fundraising.

Hancock also put forward an amendment that would allow the commission to withdraw or change a statutory written warning after it had been issued.

Another amendment, tabled by Bernard Jenkin, Conservative MP for Harwich and North Essex and chair of the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, would allow the commission to reinforce the rulings of the new Fundraising Regulator, with the government able to intervene in fundraising matters as "a last resort".

Anna Turley, the shadow minister for civil society, retabled several amendments that had already been rejected during the bill’s committee stage, including one that would introduce an appeal mechanism through the charity tribunal against the commission’s proposed power to issue official warnings to charities.

"We have retabled these measures because we believe they ensure charities can continue to continue their vital work without undue interference or disproportionate action from the Charity Commission," she said.

"If the government shares our belief in the importance of this, I hope they will listen again to our concerns and support the amendments."

Turley’s amendments also include the introduction of a notice period before warnings are published and for published warnings not to include the name of the charity involved.

Turley said: "Without these safeguards, the discretion of the Charity Commission is very wide and there is a danger charities could suffer significant and potentially unwarranted reputational damage."

Turley’s re-introduced amendments include a provision enshrining the right of charities to campaign on political issues, which Turley describes as an "attempt again to challenge the government’s gagging act", referring to the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act.

She is also trying to introduce a clause to the bill that would protect housing associations from having to comply with the government’s proposals to include their tenants in its right-to-buy scheme.

The clause was removed during the committee stage after housing associations came to an agreement with the government over the extension of the right-to-buy policy.

  • The story originally said the first-mentioned amendment by Hancock would allow the Charity Commission to collect fees on behalf of the new Fundraising Regulator.

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