Tough new clauses will be added to the charities bill, Sir Stuart Etherington reveals

Chief of the NCVO Sir Stuart Etherington tells the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee that the clauses would enable the government to bring in statutory regulation for fundraising if necessary

Etherington at the session today
Etherington at the session today

Two new amendments to the charities bill will be proposed that would enable the government to introduce statutory regulation for fundraising if necessary and force charities to join the new fundraising regulator, Sir Stuart Etherington has said.

Etherington, who is chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and led the recent review of the self-regulation of fundraising, was questioned this morning by MPs on the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee as part of its inquiry into charity fundraising.

He said that Rob Wilson, the Minister for Civil Society, would propose that the clauses be added to the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill, which is currently making its way through parliament.

These would consist of a reserve power enabling the government to introduce statutory regulation if the recommendations made in Etherington's review did not work, he said, and another reserve power that would mandate organisations to join the new fundraising regulator, currently being established.

In response to Etherington’s review, the government announced last month that large charities, likely to be defined as those that spend £100,000 or more a year on public fundraising, "could be forced to sign up to a new fundraising watchdog".

Etherington said this morning that he expected the new system of regulation for fundraising – which he termed co-regulation – would cost between £2m and £2.5m to set up, whereas a statutory system of regulation would cost considerably more and would be a burden on the public purse.

He said that the Fundraising Preference Service he recommended, which would enable people to opt out of all charity telephone calls and direct mail, should be a service provided to the public and not a piece of statutory regulation.

Etherington said that once a chair had been appointed to the new regulator, it would be that person’s responsibility to appoint a board. He recommended that consumers be represented on the board, perhaps by a member of the Consumers' Association (now known as Which?).

Commenting in the recent challenges charities have faced, Etherington said he felt some organisations in the sector had lost sight of the fact that charities were really just a conduit between their supporters and their beneficiaries.

The Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin, who chairs the committee, responded by saying he was surprised Etherington took "such a narrow view of what a charity is".

Jenkin said that the children's charity the NSPCC was not a conduit: "It employs people and cares for them."

Asked whether he thought there should be a time limit on the terms of charity trustees, Etherington said there should be and he did not see a reason why such limits should not be enshrined in law – the NCVO, he said, considered three years plus three years to be an optimum duration.

Etherington denied that there had been a conflict of interest in his being appointed to lead the review of self-regulation, but noted: "There is an interesting question as to whether I was poacher turned gamekeeper."

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