Government consults about making Compact statutory

The Compact could be put on a statutory footing by 2010.

The Government has asked the Commission for the Compact to begin a consultation on whether the agreement should be backed by law.

Third sector minister Phil Hope asked the commission to carry out a three-month consultation on whether the Compact, a voluntary agreement that sets out how public bodies and third sector organisations should treat each other, should be toughened by statutory powers.

It is part of an ongoing review of the Compact that could see the five codes of practice rewritten and possibly amalgamated into one document. Speaking at an event in London to launch the consultation, Hope said it was a "watershed moment" for the Compact.

He said calls for the Compact to be placed on a statutory footing had "recently gained pace".

Issues such as whether the Compact should apply to other third sector organisations, including social enterprises, and whether a minimum consultation period of 12 weeks was still necessary in the age of email and the internet would also be considered, said Hope.

If feedback from the consultation suggested that introducing statutory powers was the way forward, then the Government "would be prepared to start work immediately towards making it happen", said Hope.

A spokesman for the Office of the Third Sector said that if that were the case then the earliest it could happen under parliamentary protocol would be 2010.

Bert Massie, the Commissioner for the Compact, said he was "warm to the idea of a statutory remedy", but was more cautious when he considered what that would mean in practice.

"My default position is to look to the law and to Parliament and this works well when there is obvious injustice and an imbalance of power," he said.

Massie also mooted the idea that the commission be set up as a quango, in order to give it a more solid platform for its work, and that it be expanded to include a research team.

"The only thing I am convinced about is that doing nothing is not an option," said Massie. "That would lead to the slow death of the Compact."

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