Government hints at a U-turn on charities select committee

The Government has indicated for the first time that it supports the establishment of a House of Commons select committee dedicated to scrutinising policy on the voluntary sector.

The NCVO is briefing MPs on the issue ahead of tomorrow's debate on the Government's third sector review. The umbrella body believes a committee devoted exclusively to the sector is needed to hold the Office of the Third Sector and the Charity Commission to account and examine government policy on the sector.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: "We have agreed that parliamentary select committee scrutiny of the Office of the Third Sector and the Charity Commission would be beneficial." He added that it was a matter for individual MPs to decide on, however.

The NCVO first advocated a select committee in its 2005 election manifesto, but until now Labour has said scrutiny of government funding of the sector by the Public Administration Select Committee was adequate.

Earlier this year, the Conservatives' Social Justice Policy Group report Breakthrough Britain included a recommendation for a select committee on sector issues.

"There are too few opportunities to hold government to account on its policy and practice towards the voluntary sector," said Greg Clark, the shadow charities minister. "I'm aware of the constructive proposals from the Centre for Social Justice and the NCVO on this issue, and I'm determined that the Conservatives will bring forward reforms to put an end to this democratic deficit."

Sultana Begum, parliamentary and campaigns officer at the NCVO, said: "The third sector review has got to deliver tangible improvements in the way we work, and that won't happen without proper scrutiny."

Kevin Curley, chief executive of umbrella body Navca, backed the idea. "It would ensure that government departments other than the Office of the Third Sector would be scrutinised and that issues such as long-term sustainable funding for the sector could be tackled," he said.

The establishment of a select committee requires a motion placed by the leader of the House of Commons, Harriet Harman.

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