Labour peer went 'beyond legitimate scrutiny', says William Shawcross

The chair of the Charity Commission complains that Lord Foulkes engaged in personal criticism while challenging him on diversity in board appointments during a select committee hearing

William Shawcross
William Shawcross

William Shawcross, chair of the Charity Commission, has accused the Labour peer Lord Foulkes of going "beyond legitimate scrutiny" while raising questions about the commission board’s diversity.

Shawcross said he had been left feeling personally criticised by the peer when he appeared in front of the Lords Select Committee on Charities, of which Foulkes is a member, in December, and by Foulkes’s subsequent comments in the House of Lords.

In a heated exchange during the 6 December hearing, Foulkes asked Shawcross whether attempts had been made to attract black and minority ethnic people when appointing three new board members this year, and said the commission did not seem to have worked very hard to do so.

He also asked whether it would be unfair to describe the board as a fairly right-wing, upper-middle-class, white, middle-aged group of people from the south-east of England, and whether any members of the board were members of the Henry Jackson Society, a right-wing think tank of which Shawcross was a council member before he joined the commission.

The following week, in the House of Lords, Foulkes described the commission as "an elite body run by Mr Shawcross and his cronies" and said that "something ought to be done about it".

Shawcross responded in written evidence to the committee, submitted on 20 December, saying he found Foulkes’s comments "surprising and disappointing as these seem to me to have gone beyond legitimate scrutiny into personal criticism".

He said: "I completely refute Lord Foulkes’s personal accusations against me. I have worked for four years to improve the commission's transparency and reputation as a regulator and thus to serve the charity sector better."

He did not say what he felt Foulkes was accusing him of, but said he had actively encouraged diversity on the board and among staff at the commission and, along with Paula Sussex, the commission chief executive, had increased the percentage of women and disabled staff within the organisation.

Shawcross was a member of the selection panel that appointed Laurie Benson, Paul Mason and Catherine Quinn to the commission board in November.

In his written evidence, Shawcross said: "The diversity of applications for the posts was disappointing. All candidates were considered very carefully against the skill set required, regardless of their ethnicity."

He said he knew none of the new board members before the appointments process began.

He says: "The issue of achieving greater diversity on boards is not limited to the commission or to the charity sector.

"This is an issue across the whole of government, within parliament and wider society. I will encourage my successor to continue to encourage greater diversity on the board and within the commission, alongside achieving the right skill set and experience profile."

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