Increased powers due to be given to the Charity Commission in a new bill should be balanced with an amendment to give charities broader scope to bring appeals against the regulator’s actions in the charity tribunal, according to the Conservative peer Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts.
Hodgson, who reviewed the Charities Act 2006 and is reviewing the lobbying act, was speaking yesterday in the House of Lords during a debate on the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill.
Hodgson said that Schedule 6 of the Charities Act 2011, which outlines which actions and decisions of the commission are liable to appeals at the tribunal, was a complex and "formidable bureaucratic list" and should be abolished.
The CPSI bill would amend Schedule 6 to allow appeals against two of the new powers that would be introduced by the bill, but other new powers – including the new statutory warnings – are not included in this, which means that the tribunal would not be able to accept appeals from charities against the use of these powers.
Hodgson said: "I recommended that the whole schedule should be replaced by two simple provisions: first, that any charity should have a right of appeal to the tribunal against any legal decision of the Charity Commission; and, second, that it should have the right of review against any other decision by the commission.
"In so far as the house may wish to explore proportionality in the commission’s new punitive powers, a reform to remove the existing Schedule 6 and have that simple replacement would represent a rebalancing. I hope that the government will reflect on the advantages of such an approach between now and committee."
This recommendation was previously made by Hodgson in his review of the 2006 act.
The question of the proportionality of the new powers and striking a balance between regulation and freedom for charities was raised by a number of other peers during the debate, and has been high on the agenda in the pre-legislative process.
Hodgson also used his speech to ask Lord Bridges of Headley, the parliamentary secretary in the Lords for the Cabinet Office, who introduced the CPSI bill, for reassurance that another bill taking forward Law Commission recommendations of changes to charity law be given "proper priority".
Responding to Hodgson, Bridges said he recognised the relevance of Hodgson’s point on the tribunal, but did not give any indication of whether it might be taken up. "The charity tribunal itself has, I am told, not expressed concerns about it in practice," he said.
On the Law Commission recommendations, Bridges said: "I am sorry to say that I cannot give any guarantees, but my noble friend knows that the government will look favourably on deregulatory and simplification measures."
Hodgson and a number of other peers gave their broad support to the bill, although various areas of concern were raised. Prominent among these was a concern that the powers for the commission to disqualify people from trustee or senior management positions were too broad. This was raised by Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town, Baroness Barker and Lord Low.
Hayter also reiterated concerns about the effect of the government’s right-to-buy plans on charities' assets, and Lord Hope of Craighead, who chaired the joint parliamentary committee that scrutinised the draft protection of charities bill, again expressed concerns raised by his committee that anti-terror laws might be inhibiting the work of charities.
The bill has moved to committee stage in the House of Lords, beginning on 23 June. Committee stage involves detailed line-by-line examination of the separate parts of a bill before it returns for a third reading in the Lords and thence to the Commons.