Charities Bill [Lords]

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New Clause 9

Appointment and payment of the Receiver and Manager
‘(1) In section 19(1) of the Charities Act 1993, at end insert “subject to a public tender exercise conducted in line with best practice from the Office of Government Commerce.”
(2) In section 19(6)(b) of the Charities Act 1993 (c. 10), after “the income of the charities concerned”, insert “subject to a public tender exercise and up to a sum agreed in such an exercise, any additional costs to be met by the Commission.”’.—[Martin Horwood.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 4, Noes 8.
Division No. 10]
Bottomley, Peter
Horwood, Martin
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Watkinson, Angela
Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Blackman, Liz
Flello, Mr. Robert
Goodman, Helen
Levitt, Tom
Michael, rh Alun
Miliband, Edward
Waltho, Lynda
Question accordingly negatived.

New Clause 10

Property in trusts from residuary legacies
‘(1) After section 36(5) of the Charities Act 1993 (c.10) insert—
“(5A) References to a “charity trustee” in this section mean a trustee of the relevant charity or any proper officer with delegated authority from trustees.”
(2) After section 36(9) of the 1993 Act insert—
“(9A) Requirements in subsection (3), above, do not apply to any property under the value of £500,000 or a sum afterwards determined by an order, a draft of which has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.”’.—[Martin Horwood.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Martin Horwood: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
The new clause was recommended by a learned friend, and I should be interested to hear the Minister’s response to it.
Edward Miliband: The new clause is about delegation, some of which I suspect has already taken place from Lord Phillips to the hon. Gentleman.
The first subsection of the new clause is unnecessary, because the law already allows charity trustees to delegate appropriately. The Charity Commission’s publication “The Essential Trustee: What You Need to Know” puts it like this:
“Trustees can generally delegate certain powers to agents or employees, but will and must always retain the ultimate responsibility for running the charity.”
In the context of section 36 of the 1993 Act, it means that in practice, trustees must personally make the initial decision to sell a property and the final decision to sell it on particular terms. In between, the trustees may and routinely do delegate the administration of the sale to their staff. That balance is right.
The second subsection of the new clause would remove important safeguards on sales of property worth less than £500,000. Since the hon. Gentleman appears to want to allow charities to sell their property without having it properly valued, one wonders how they will know how much it is worth in the first place. However, the serious point is that although he, as the beneficial owner of his own house, is free to sell it at whatever price he likes, the trustees of a charity do not have similar freedom. They must obtain and consider a written report from a qualified surveyor, and they are under a duty to dispose of their land only on the best terms.
The objection to the new clause is that essentially the duties on trustees to take expert advice and to sell only on the best terms reasonably obtainable should not be disapplied as the new clause suggests. They are important safeguards for the disposition of charity lands. However, I have a piece of good news. I understand the amendment’s deregulatory intent, and I undertake to review the regulations that set out what a surveyor’s report must contain. They were made in 1992 and may be seen as over-prescriptive, especially for smaller sales. Our review would aim to reduce the level of detailed prescription in the regulations.
Peter Bottomley: If the hon. Member for Cheltenham does not mind me saying so, the Minister is right. However, the Minister might want to include the exception—I am not sure how far it is covered by the 1992 provisions—that if a charity sells property to another charity, it does not have to get the best market price. It would be interesting to know whether some of the regulations under the Charities Act 1992 apply.
Edward Miliband: That process is already possible, but I shall consider the hon. Gentleman’s point. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Member for Cheltenham is happy-ish, and will withdraw his new clause.
Martin Horwood: I am interested in the Minister’s response. I was surprised by his response to the first part of the new clause, which talks about the power to delegate to a proper officer. Part of the problem is that properties can be disposed of once in a blue moon by some charities, but when properties are left as part of a legacy, as they frequently are, the requirement for the trustees always to take the decision can be extremely onerous. I have talked to charities that were under the impression that that was the requirement in law, but the Minister’s response appears to go against it. Nevertheless, if that is the legal situation, and he has put it on the record, they might well be reassured.
In the second half of the new clause, the value of £500,000 is only indicative. It then says,
“or a sum afterwards determined”
by the Secretary of State. It is a rare and generous example of me offering rather than withdrawing latitude to the Secretary of State. However, I am reassured by the Minister’s statement, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the new clause.
Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 11

Small charities: remittance of fees
‘(1) Where any fee or charge is payable to a local authority under any enactment, the local authority may draw up and operate a scheme of fee remittances for any class of small charities.
(2) “Small charity” in this section means any charity with a turnover of less than £100,000 per year.’.—[Mr. Turner.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Mr. Turner: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
I would be grateful if the Minister told me that the new clause complied with the Cheltenham principle, but I believe that it does not. It is intended to provide an additional power—although not, I emphasise, a duty—for local authorities to remit any fee that is payable to them by a charity, or to draw up and operate a scheme of remittances for such fees. I shall illustrate it, as one so often does, by reference to a local example.
The people who run the Chale show, an agricultural show on the Isle of Wight, found that under the new licensing regime they had to pay £1,000 for a licence. Because their expected gate now exceeds the threshold set out in the Isle of Wight Acts, they had to comply with the requirements of those Acts as well, which cost another £3,000.
3.15 pm
Peter Bottomley: Was the Isle of Wight Act pushed through by one of my hon. Friend’s predecessors, Mark Woodnutt, to stop an Isle of Wight pop festival after the three successful ones held about 30 years ago?
Mr. Turner: It was indeed. I should say that it has been amended twice since then, and the Isle of Wight has once again started holding extremely successful pop festivals, the most recent of which I did not attend because I could hear and enjoy it from my back garden. I attended the previous one and enjoyed it immensely. Some 60,000 people came this year, and I recommend the festivals to all hon. Members.
To get back to—
The Chairman: The new clause.
Mr. Turner: When I raised the matter with councillors and officers of the Isle of Wight council, they told me they had no power to remit any fee payable under the Licensing Act 2003. If that is untrue, I will be glad to hear it. It occurred to me that they may also find themselves without the power to remit fees payable under other Acts, and that we ought to give them that power. It would be entirely discretionary; we are not forcing any local authority to spend any more money than it is currently spending.
Peter Bottomley: May I give wholehearted support to my hon. Friend’s new clause? A number of examples can properly be used. For example, on Remembrance Sunday, when organisations including the Royal British Legion want a temporary interruption to traffic, a regulation requires them to apply for a full traffic management order, and a fee is involved. Another example is that of a village that is going to have a popular regatta and wants to ban traffic on a road. In the past, that was done by custom and practice, but the law has been tightened up so that people have to apply for a temporary road closure order.
Helen Goodman: I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue, which is close to my heart and on which we have tabled amendments to another Bill going through the House, namely the Compensation Bill, which will deal with much of the problem.
Peter Bottomley: The Minister may accept the new clause, in which case further debates will not be necessary. The new clause might for some reason need further modification, or the Government might need to co-ordinate—perhaps the Minister will want to talk to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government—to see whether giving the option suggested to local government would be acceptable across government. I know that it is acceptable to local government, which wants control over crucial charges. I strongly support the new clause.
Martin Horwood: I am delighted to have the opportunity at this late stage in our deliberations definitively and finally to restate the Cheltenham principle, which I believe is that if something such as the new clause might require the services of an extremely expensive lawyer to explain that it is not necessary, it might be worth putting it into legislation in the interests of clarity and transparency. If the officers of the Isle of Wight council are under the impression that it is necessary, it is worth supporting. I therefore support the new clause.
Martin Horwood: The exact wording used a long time ago was that an amendment that was
“harmless, but not entirely necessary”—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 4 July 2006; c. 26.]
should be put into legislation.
Edward Miliband: I stand corrected. The question is whether the new clause fulfils the Cheltenham or any other principle. Local authorities can waive fees and charges to small charities in certain cases. For example, under the Controlled Waste Regulations 1992, local authorities have the discretion to waive a charge for waste collection from premises occupied by a charity.
There may be a danger that the new clause would drive a coach and horses through lots of national charges applied by local authorities. Perhaps the hon. Member for Isle of Wight would not mind that, but it would be more than my job’s worth. Having said that, I shall look at the issue properly and see whether I can take on board some of the spirit of the new clause and do something in a generous and charitable way.
Mr. Turner: I am grateful for the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West. He mentioned regattas, and, implicitly, Sea View yacht club. I should mention that I am an honorary member of that club and, as such, a participant, although only from the land side, in the Sea View regatta from time to time.
I am pleased to hear that some fees for charities can be remitted and I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for agreeing to consider the matter. I hope that we shall draw up a definitive list, perhaps before Report, of those local authorities.
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