There has been "an increasingly disproportionate focus on Muslim charities" during the tenure of William Shawcross as chair of the Charity Commission, the former Foreign Office minister Baroness Warsi said last night.
Giving the annual Hinton lecture organised by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, the Conservative peer said Shawcross’s earlier statements on Islam and his connections with organisations such as the think tank the Henry Jackson Society did not bode well when he was appointed.
Once he was in post from 2012, she said, he made remarks about donors’ money leaking out to support terrorism, which indicated that the Muslim community was under scrutiny. Between December 2012 and May 2014, said Warsi, 40 per cent of formal inquiries started by the commission were into Muslim charities.
In 2014/15, there were 20 formal investigations by the Charity Commission under way relating to terrorist abuse of charities, she said, with more than 500 legal disclosures between the commission, police and other agencies.
But of 13 inquiry reports concluded between 2014 and 2016, she said, only one related to Islamic extremism, and extremist abuse remained negligible: "Data and evidence indicates an increasingly disproportionate focus on Muslim charities and supports claims that this focus is a distraction from the real issues facing the sector."
Warsi paid tribute to Sir Stephen Bubb, former chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, for being an advocate for Muslim charities and "a bulwark against some of the questionable conduct of the Charity Commission".
A spokeswoman for the commission said it refuted any allegation that it was biased against Muslim charities and did not recognise many of the figures stated in yesterday’s lecture.
"We produce and publish a regular analysis of charities subject to a statutory inquiry, compliance or monitoring case," she said. "This tells a different story of our casework and helps to provide assurance that there do not appear to be any areas of significant over or under-representation in the charities into which inquiries or compliance cases are opened."
She said the commission regulated according to a strict risk framework. "Unfortunately we do come across instances of the abuse of charities for terrorism and extremism-related purposes, and when this does happen it can cause significant damage to the charity or charities in question, and to public trust and confidence in the charitable sector," the spokeswoman said.
Shawcross has chaired the commission since 2012 and is due to stand down early next year. Candidates to succeed him have been interviewed and the government is expected to announce a name shortly.
Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the NCVO, said: "The views expressed by Baroness Warsi remind us of why it is important that the chair of the Charity Commission is seen to be clearly independent of the government of the day, so that the commission can avoid the damaging accusation that it is being politicised and doing the government's bidding.
"We made a number of proposals to strengthen the commission’s independence, including giving parliament greater power in the appointment of the chair. These were not taken forward by the minister at the time, but they evidently remain relevant and we hope to see the government commit to demonstrating the importance of the commission’s independence.’
Warsi, who resigned from the government in 2014 saying that Britain’s policy on the crisis in Gaza at the time was "morally indefensible", has recently published a book called The Enemy Within – a Tale of Muslim Britain.
Asked after the lecture how charities could foster integration, she said the social action projects in the National Citizen Service were helping to bring young people of different backgrounds together. Mainstream charities could also collaborate more often with minority charities and help to consolidate "core British ideals."
She said that the minority of Muslims preaching segregation must be challenged, as must false stories about Muslims. She called for resistance to "post-truth politics", a higher standard of public debate, reduced inequality of income and reduction of the north-south divide.