Parliamentary committee gives broad approval to extending Charity Commission powers

The Joint Committee on the Draft Protection of Charities Bill, which was established by the government in November, publishes its report

Houses of Parliament
Houses of Parliament

The Joint Committee on the Draft Protection of Charities Bill has given broad approval to extending the powers of the Charity Commission in its report on the draft legislation, published today.

The government published the draft bill in October. It proposes giving the commission a range of extra powers, including the ability to disqualify people it considers unfit from being charity trustees, to order the closure of charities and to issue statutory warnings to individual charities.

The bill would also extend the list of offences that automatically disqualify an individual from being a trustee to include crimes such as money laundering or terrorism offences.

A scrutiny committee of MPs and peers from all parties was appointed in November, and took oral and written evidence from the sector until January.

Lord Hope of Craighead, the crossbench peer who chaired the committee, told Third Sector it had reached a unanimous view that the proposals in the draft bill deserved its support, although he added: "We’re not giving a clean bill of health in every respect to the bill; there are areas where I hope we have been constructively critical."

The report recommends that the bill should include further guidance for the commission on how to issue the proposed new statutory warnings, and that the clause saying the commission can direct a charity to wind up if that is "likely to help to increase public trust and confidence in charities" should be dropped – something Hope said was "a rather woolly recommendation" – in favour of what the report calls "a more clearly limited power".

The report says the commission should not be able to disqualify a person from trusteeship if they were convicted in another country of an offence that in the UK would lead to disqualification, on the grounds that there might not be comparable standards of justice.

And it asks the Home Office for more clarity on the system of criminal cautions, which the draft bill says could lead to discretionary disqualification. It says the commission should better publicise the system that allows people with convictions to apply to have their trusteeship disqualifications waived.

The government should respond to the report within two months.

Hope said: "If there are gaps in parliamentary time in the summer or early autumn, this is the sort of thing that could be picked up with the benefit of a report such as this and brought forward."

The measures in the bill are generally regarded as having cross-party support.

The committee also looked at the government consultation that paved the way for the bill, which closed in February 2014.

The report gives the government what Hope calls "an amber signal" to look again at two proposals that were consulted on but then dropped: the power to prevent disqualified trustees from acting in another "position of power" in a charity; and the power to restrict or prevent charities that are the subject of statutory inquiries from taking certain actions.

Rob Wilson, the Minister for Civil Society, has said he supports a return of the "positions of power" clause, and the commission has expressed its support for both of those proposals to be reinstated.

Commenting on the report, William Shawcross, chair of the commission, said: "I am delighted the joint committee has given the draft bill its vote of confidence and has supported our calls for additional powers to be added to the legislation." He mentioned the reference in the report to there having been an "unusual measure of consensus between government, the commission, and the sector it regulates behind many of the proposals", saying that this "underlines the importance of the draft bill becoming law swiftly".

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