Government would prefer not to impose statutory regulation on fundraisers, says Lord Bridges

Tory peer tells House of Lords that charities should be allowed to show they can put their own house in order

Lord Bridges of Headley
Lord Bridges of Headley

The government would prefer to keep a self-regulatory system for charity fundraising, according to the Conservative peer Lord Bridges of Headley.

Bridges, parliamentary secretary for the Cabinet Office, who is sponsoring the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill, made the comments during a debate on the legislation in the House of Lords yesterday.

The bill, which will strengthen the powers of the Charity Commission, is being debated amid concerns about the practices of some charity fundraisers, which have been in the spotlight since the death of the 92-year-old poppy seller Olive Cooke in May.

Bridges told the House of Lords the government took the view that "charities should have the opportunity to redeem themselves and [show] they are capable of putting their own house in order and making self-regulation work".

The Labour peer Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town had tabled an amendment to the bill that would have required all charities with annual incomes of more than £1m to register with the Fundraising Standards Board and abide by the Code of Fundraising Practice.

But Bridges said any legislation that forced charities to submit to self-regulation "would effectively be statutory regulation, not self-regulation".

He added: "We do not want to legislate for a new bureaucracy. In particular, we do not want to entangle with red tape the vast majority of small charities that have not had anything to do with the unacceptable practices reported in the media.

"Our preference therefore remains self-regulation, not a government-regulated solution."

A review of fundraising self-regulation, chaired by Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, is due to report back to ministers on 21 September, and Bridges said he did not wish to pre-empt the review’s conclusions.

Hayter said she hoped Bridges’s comments were not doing just that by "appearing to rule out any statutory response".

"I think that everyone accepts, including the big charities and the new chair of the Fundraising Standards Board, that membership of the board must become compulsory and that the board, which should be independent of the charities it regulates, must in some way have more power than naming and shaming, which is open to it now," she said.

"There is also general agreement that the weak and unsatisfactory fundraisers’ code must be beefed up."

Such powers, she added, would also entail a role for the Charity Commission, although she did not know what that would be.

Hayter withdrew her amendment, but said that, in her judgement, "a pure self-regulating system will no longer be acceptable".

A similar amendment tabled by Hayter was withdrawn at an earlier stage of the bill's passage through the Lords.

The bill was passed to the House of Commons. It is not yet known when its first reading in the Commons will take place.

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