Government backs bill to remove ministerial power to appoint trustees to NHS charities

At a general committee session, a private member's bill put forward by a Conservative MP has gained the support of Alistair Burt, minister for community and social care

Parliament: measures contained in private member's bill
Parliament: measures contained in private member's bill

Alistair Burt, the minister for community and social care, has pledged government support for a bill that would remove the power of the Secretary of State for Health to appoint trustees to NHS charities in England.

During the general committee session debating the NHS (Charitable Trusts Etc) Bill in parliament yesterday, Burt accepted the private member’s bill brought forward by Wendy Morton, the Conservative MP for Aldridge-Brownhills, which is designed to give NHS charities greater independence.

NHS charities are currently regulated under both charity and NHS law and have either an NHS body as a trustee or have trustees appointed by the Secretary of State for Health.

In its response to a 2012 consultation, published in 2014, the government stated its intention to allow NHS charities to become independent charities in their own right or to revert fully to the control of the trustees of the NHS body to which they are attached.

Burt told the general committee that the government supported the provisions in the bill relating to the removal of the secretary of state’s powers to appoint special trustees in England.

He said: "The removal of those powers to appoint trustees... will deliver on a key government commitment made in response to the review of the regulation and governance of NHS charities in 2014.

"Those powers are no longer considered necessary, as the government committed to allowing NHS charities to become independent if they so choose."

Burt said NHS charities that did not wish to become independent could remain governed by NHS legislation, with the NHS body holding the charitable body as a corporate trustee.

He said he agreed with the specific provision included in the bill for the Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity, which receives the royalties from all publications and performances related to the children’s story Peter Pan.

The character's creator, JM Barrie, gave the rights to the story to the charity in 1929 and, when the copyright expired in 1987, 50 years after his death, special legislation was put in place to allow the charity to continue receiving royalties in perpetuity through government-appointed special trustees.

Morton’s bill would allow the charity to continue receiving these royalties, even if it takes advantage of the opportunity to become an independent body with its own trustees.

Burt said: "I want to put it on record that the bill will ensure that the rights, royalties and other remuneration in respect of Peter Pan are to be conferred on the new, independent Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity."

According to Morton, six charities have already made the move to full independence, including: Barts Charity, which raises money for Barts Health NHS Trust; Liverpool’s Alder Hey Children's Charity; Birmingham Children’s Hospital Charity; London’s Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity; and the Royal Brompton & Harefield Hospitals Charity.

No amendments to the bill were tabled and it was passed to the report stage, scheduled for 22 January.

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