Labour amendments to charities bill defeated at third reading

Proposals from shadow charity minister would have ensured anonymity for charities issued with warnings and allowed them to make political representations

Parliament: bill almost through its stages
Parliament: bill almost through its stages

An attempt to ensure anonymity for charities that are issued with warnings under proposed new powers for the Charity Commission has been defeated in parliament, along with a call to enshrine in law the right of charities to make political representations.

A Labour amendment that would have granted charities the right to appeal in the charity tribunal a statutory warning from the Charity Commission was also withdrawn during the third reading of the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill in the House of Commons yesterday.

But Rob Wilson, the Minister for Civil Society, agreed that the commission would give 14 days’ notice before publishing a warning, and would not enforce for at least 12 months after passage of the legislation rules that would disqualify people with certain criminal convictions from becoming trustees.

He also clarified that the commission would not be able to use written warnings to direct charities.

The bill, which would give the commission new powers to issue statutory written warnings to charities and automatically disqualify people with convictions for money laundering, terrorism or sexual offences from serving as charity trustees or senior managers, received its third reading in the House of Commons yesterday and has almost completed its passage through parliament.

An amendment put forward by Anna Turley, the shadow minister for civil society, which would have guaranteed charities the right to engage in political campaigning related to their cause areas, was defeated by 280 votes to 236.

Turley described the amendment as "a direct attempt to challenge the unfair and poorly applied Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014".

But Robert Jenrick, the Conservative MP for Newark, said it would "give a green light to... extremely negative behaviour" such as political campaigning in favour of a particular party.

Turley also tabled an amendment that would have prevented the commission publishing the name of any charity issued with a warning.

"Warnings that are meant to deal with low-level issues could, particularly when published, have a significant effect in choking off donations, funding and sponsorship," she said, warning that the reputational damage to a charity "could be significant or even terminal".

But Wilson said: "The concern about adverse publicity is an attempt to avoid accountability to donors, beneficiaries and the general public."

The amendment was defeated by 280 votes to 196.

Turley withdrew the amendment that would have given charities the right to appeal warnings in the charity tribunal, but said she would continue to work with the commission and the government to monitor the use of warnings.

Another Labour amendment called for the commission to give at least 14 days’ notice of its plans to publish a written warning.

Although this amendment was not put to a vote, Wilson told MPs he was sympathetic to the idea.

"The commission has recognised the concerns raised and it has reassured me that it will normally apply a minimum notice period of 14 days," he told parliament.

The notice period would be explained in forthcoming guidance, he said, but the commission might sometimes need to act more quickly than 14 days.

Wilson agreed that the automatic disqualification provisions would not be enforced until 12 months after the bill comes into force, which would give affected charities a chance to apply for a waiver. He said he would "be prepared to consider a slightly longer period if necessary" in response to representations from Sir Edward Garnier, MP for Harborough, Oadby and Wigston and patron of the charity for convicts, Unlock, and a trustee of the Prison Reform Trust.

Charities that work with offenders last year warned that tougher disqualification rules were a 'direct threat' to their mission and could result in 50,000 people being automatically banned from trusteeship.

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 have made the commission the "primary guarantor" of the new Fundraising Regulator, able to reinforce it with public hearings.

But Wilson said he did not support the amendment, and it was not voted on.

"It is important to keep a clear division between statutory and self-regulatory powers to ensure better regulation of fundraising," said Wilson.

"Should self-regulation fail, the government will not hesitate to intervene, which could include tasking the commission with the regulation of fundraising."

But he said it was too soon to commit the commission to a statutory role.

The final wording of the bill will be finalised between the Commons and the Lords, before it gains royal assent and passes into law.

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