Committee removes right-to-buy amendment from charities bill

The clause, inserted by the Lords, would have protected housing associations from being forced to sell their properties under right-to-buy

Parliament: change made in committee
Parliament: change made in committee

The clause of the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill designed to protect housing associations from being forced to sell properties under the right-to-buy scheme was removed in a vote by the bill’s general committee last night.

Clause nine of the bill, which required the Charity Commission to ensure charities were not compelled to dispose of their assets in a way that was inconsistent with their charitable purposes, was added to the bill during its progress through the House of Lords last year.

But Rob Wilson, the Minister for Civil Society, yesterday described the clause as "an undisguised attempt to undermine or even block the government’s manifesto commitment to extend the right to buy to tenants of housing associations" and said it was unnecessary because a deal was struck between in October to allow housing associations to join the scheme on a voluntary basis.

Wes Streeting, the Labour MP for Ilford North, said many housing associations had been "effectively press-ganged" by the government into signing up for right-to-buy.

The clause was voted out of the bill by 10 members of the committee to six.

Wilson also sought to reassure charities about provisions within the bill that would automatically disqualify from serving as charity trustees those with criminal records relating to sexual and terrorism offences.

He said charities would be given "sufficient notice" of "at least six to 12 months" before the provisions were brought into force, allowing any individual with relevant convictions already serving as a trustee to apply for a waiver or resign.

In response to a question from Anna Turley, the shadow civil society minister, Wilson said the Charity Commission would not be given any additional resources to deal with increased workload caused by waivers and disqualifications.

The bill also includes a provision that would allow the commission to disqualify any trustee whom it felt was "unfit", a description which many in the charity sector, including the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, have criticised as too broad.

Turley proposed an amendment to this section of the bill, requiring the commission to publish a document setting out what would make a person unfit to serve as a trustee, which would be renewed every five years.

But when the government indicated it would not support the amendment, it was withdrawn.

The committee is due to meet again tomorrow. Third Sector understands Turley is planning to propose an amendment that would allow charities to campaign politically around areas connected to their charitable purposes and to lobby for relevant changes in the law.

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