A proposed amendment to the charities bill that would force all fundraising charities to become members of the Fundraising Standards Board has been rejected by the government as likely to "trigger an irreversible slide to statutory regulation".
But speaking in a House of Lords debate about the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill yesterday, Lord Bridges of Headley, the parliamentary secretary in the Cabinet Office, also warned that the sector’s response to the current scrutiny of charity fundraising would ultimately determine whether such a slide could be avoided.
The Labour peers Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town and Lord Watson of Invergowrie tabled one of their proposed amendments to the bill.
This amendment would add a new clause to the bill called "Regulation of fundraising", which would say: "All fundraising charities must be members of the Fundraising Standards Board and abide by the Code of Fundraising Practice."
In discussing the amendment, Hayter said she and Watson believed that fundraising self-regulation was not working. She clarified that in its final form their amendment would include only larger charities, not all of them. "We do not have all charities in mind, but those raising more than, say, £1m a year." Hayter said she and Watson would set this detail out at a later stage of the bill.
Responding to the amendment, Bridges, who is sponsoring the CPSI bill, said he welcomed the debate and there was "certainly no complacency on behalf of the government on this issue".
But he rejected the amendment, saying: "My concern is that the amendment as it stands would trigger an irreversible slide to statutory regulation. Whether such a slide can ultimately be avoided depends upon the will and leadership in the charity sector to address this issue satisfactorily soon."
Hayter and Watson’s amendment was withdrawn – under parliamentary convention, amendments tabled in grand committee stage are never put to vote but are debated in order to inform the wording of potential amendments to be tabled at the subsequent report stage. Yesterday was the second of four days in grand committee, with the final day scheduled for next week.
In the same session, peers debated whether it was necessary to use the bill, which would give extra powers to the Charity Commission and create a new explicit power for charities to make social investments, to better protect staff and trustees of charities working in conflict zones or areas controlled by terrorists.
This would be so that people were not prosecuted for interacting with terrorists where it was necessary to do so in order to gain access to people in need.
But Bridges rejected suggestions that charities needed to be given protection such as an exemption from anti-terror laws. "There is no evidence of a significant number of prosecutions against them, which suggests that the protections already in place are adequate," he said.
Another amendment was tabled by Hayter to say that charities "may not, and may not be compelled to, use or dispose of their assets in a way which is inconsistent with their charitable purposes". She explained that this would protect charities’ assets in the face of government plans to extend the right to buy to housing association tenants. A number of Lords added their concerns about this issue, leading Bridges to promise to raise the issue with Brandon Lewis, the housing minister.