Draft Protection of Charities Bill - Joint Committee on the Draft Protection of Charities Bill Contents


Summary

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The regulation of charities is a subject which has attracted heated political debate within Parliament and in the outside world. This debate can sometimes go to the heart of what a charity should be and indeed to the proper role of the state in such matters. The charity sector is large, very diverse and, to an overwhelming extent, run by and dependent on well-intentioned people whose aim is to help others. The majority of these people, especially in smaller charities, are volunteers.

The Government's Draft Protection of Charities Bill, which is the subject of this report, is relatively narrow in its objects. It seeks to equip the Charity Commission, which regulates the sector in England and Wales, with new powers to protect charities from individuals whose trusteeship of the charities would be damaging to them. The draft Bill would do this by providing new criteria for the automatic and discretionary disqualification of individuals from acting as trustees, by giving the Commission a number of new investigation and inquiry powers and by giving it the new power to issue a statutory warning.

The timing of a pre-legislative scrutiny exercise in the months before a General Election brought its own challenges for the work of the Committee and it remains to be seen what form any Bill would take in the new Parliament. The recommendations we make, including the provision of necessary safeguards on the power to issue a statutory warning, would improve the effectiveness of the Bill and ensure that the Commission uses its powers appropriately.

In producing the draft Bill, the Government has acted on a series of requests from the Charity Commission itself for these new powers which, the Commission contends, would help it to deal more effectively with its regulatory burden in the past. The Commission asked for a number of additional powers which, after consultation with the sector and others, the Government did not pursue in the draft Bill it published in November 2014.

There was therefore perhaps an unusual measure of consensus between Government, the Commission, and the sector it regulates behind many of the proposals put to us for pre-legislative scrutiny. This report considers and makes recommendations on each provision in turn, as well as offering comment on those proposals which were not pursued. It also briefly examines the policy context to the work of the Charity Commission, which forms much of the background to the case for and against the Bill. In doing so, it examines the concerns raised about the impact of anti-terrorism legislation on the charity sector and recommends that the Government brings forward new legislation to ensure that genuine humanitarian efforts in conflict zones are not hindered by the 'chilling effect' of laws designed to counter terrorism.



 
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Prepared 25 February 2015