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In order for the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland to take on its functions and begin registering charities, it needs the basic information that HMRC holds on organisations in Northern Ireland which have been recognised as charities for tax purposes. While charity law is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland, taxation is not. Matters relating to charity taxation and tax reliefs are reserved to the United Kingdom Government in Westminster, and operational responsibility falls to HMRC. This is why the provisions establishing the information-sharing gateway between HMRC and the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland were not included in the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008 and why the power to make these regulations was, instead, included in the Charities Act 2006.

The regulations will allow HMRC to share information with the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland for the purpose of enabling or assisting it to discharge any of its functions. The power in Section 72 of the Charities Act 2006 under which these regulations are made is very narrow; in effect, it requires the information gateway between HMRC and the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland to mirror the provisions of that which already exists between HMRC and the Charity Commission for England and Wales in Section 10A of the Charities Act 1993. This means that the information shared by HMRC is subject to an automatic prohibition against onward disclosure unless such onward disclosure is explicitly authorised by HMRC. Unlawful disclosure is an offence, although a defence is provided where the disclosure was reasonably believed to be lawful or where the information had already lawfully been made available in the public domain.

These features are the same as in the information-sharing provisions which apply to HMRC staff in Section 18 of the Commissioners of Revenue and Customs Act 2005 and the information gateway which has been established between HMRC and the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator.

The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland and HMRC have been working together and have developed a memorandum of understanding covering the practical arrangements for sharing information and for working

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together in the future. This is expected to be approved next month. Once the information gateway is in place, HMRC will provide the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland with contact details for all Northern Ireland charities registered for tax purposes. This will be an electronic exchange of information with due regard for information security. These data will be used by the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland to contact charities in Northern Ireland inviting them to register with the commission. In future, there is expected to be a two-way flow of information between the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland and HMRC-for example, about charities that appear to be engaging in non-charitable activities or incurring non-charitable expenditure-to assist each of those bodies in exercising their functions.

The mission of the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland is to introduce a regulatory framework for the charitable sector in Northern Ireland in line with developments in the rest of the UK and Ireland. This will provide a structure and process through which charities can demonstrate their contribution to society, the public can be assured regarding how charities are spending any donations and government can assist in the better governance of the charitable sector.

These regulations may represent a small and technical step in the modernisation of charity law and regulation in Northern Ireland but they will allow the new regulator to get on with its job and will enable charities in Northern Ireland to be officially recognised and regulated as charities in the same way that charities in England, Wales and Scotland are currently. I therefore commend these regulations to the Committee.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: My Lords, I welcome the Minister's words. As she pointed out, we have to be aware that an overhaul of the system in Northern Ireland is taking place. I understand that until now there has been no register of charities. Given that the Minister for Social Development, Margaret Ritchie, announced the appointment of the six commissioners-in particular the chief commissioner, Tom McGrath-on 1 June last year, these are early days. We are seeing the introduction of a regulatory framework for the charitable sector in Northern Ireland, which has always been accepted as an exceedingly valuable dimension of the work that is carried on there.

However, the Northern Ireland Charity Commission has only recently been established. In fact, when one checks the internet, there is but a temporary information page, which I accessed a short time ago. There is an ongoing consultation on public benefit guidance that has sought the views of employees, trustees, volunteers and members of the public, mainly in meetings last September and October. Comments were invited by 27 November, and I imagine the work continues in assessing the responses. Therefore my first question is: how does this all fit into the timetable which is now envisaged in this key year-2010-in the evolution of the new charity commission? Secondly, to what extent are there similar provisions in England, Wales and Scotland? The Minister said that there is a comparison to be made. Are we in fact judging like with like and to what extent are these powers identical to those powers that already exist?

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Thirdly, the consultation on public benefit guidance may well affect the attitude of those involved in the administration of the 7,500 HMRC-recognised charities operating in Northern Ireland. Therefore, is it not premature to ask the HMRC to supply this information before one even knows what is to be the test of public benefit? We are now looking at the birth of a new system: to what extent is this information necessary as the new regulators look forward to setting up a reasonably democratic and identifiable system of registration for the first time? It would be helpful if the Minister could answer such questions.

We know from our debates on Section 72 of the Charities Act 2006 that the disclosure of information under that section would apply only when the body was established. When will that occur? I know that the six commissioners were announced less than a year ago, but to what extent does the Minister regard the system as evolving, or is it already fixed in mind? Provided that it mirrors the restrictions on the disclosure of such information to and from other UK charity regulators, I cannot see any objection to the powers, which are obviously part and parcel of the need to ensure an adequate system. Those of us with knowledge of the charitable sector are already aware of the tremendous bureaucracy involved in it whereas there used not to be any at all; there was hardly any form-filling. I am sure that I speak for all noble Lords in saying that I do not want the charitable sector, which forms such a vital part of life in Northern Ireland, to be overburdened by regulatory requirements and intensive bureaucracy. I am looking for reassurances from the Minister. However, otherwise, one of course welcomes and accepts the need for the regulations.

Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the regulations. I echo what has just been said. When I was in Northern Ireland, I was quite staggered by the imaginativeness, bravery and ingenuity that the charitable sector had to show in order to help Northern Ireland and itself survive during the Troubles. It is good that we are now getting back to a better framework, but I, too, hope that it will not inhibit the remarkable activities of the charitable sector in Northern Ireland.

We on these Benches support the order, but I have three questions. I am pleased that it is intended that the memorandum of understanding between HMRC and the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland will be compliant with both the Human Rights Act and the Data Protection Act, but will the Minister assure us that both parties are seeking the advice of the Information Commissioner in drawing on the memorandum of understanding?

Secondly, will the noble Baroness give us any detail on how information will be shared between the two parties? Will she assure us that it will be transmitted securely? Given the track record of government departments over the past 10 years or so it is not easy to give that reassurance, but what procedures will be in place to ensure individuals' privacy? How can we be sure that such sensitive information will not go astray?

Thirdly, charity law is devolved in Northern Ireland and we would not in any way seek to interfere with the Assembly's relationship with the Charity Commission

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for Northern Ireland; however, we believe that there should be a new attitude of respect towards data protection and data security. How can the Government ensure that this culture of respect is developed and applied, not only within government departments but within organisations that report to Parliament and the devolved Administration, such as the CCNI?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their comments, which I welcome. I endorse the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, who was impressed by what he saw in Northern Ireland as far as the charitable sector is concerned. I also endorse the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, that we do not want the charitable sector to be overburdened by regulatory requirements and that we live in a new, modern and transparent age where people want to know where their donations are going, what will happen to them and whether charities are regulated properly. It is important that that is the case.

A number of questions were put to me. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, asked about the provisions for Northern Ireland's information gateway and whether they are equivalent to those in Scotland, England and Wales. I hope I can reassure him that the gateway between Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs and the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland must mirror that which exists between Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs and the Charity Commission for England and Wales. I will write to the noble Lord on Scotland as I do not have that detail.

The regulations in front of us ensure that the interplay between Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs and the charitable sector in all parts of the UK is the same. That is the case as far as England and Wales is concerned, and I will write to him on Scotland.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: I thank the Minister for that reassurance that we are dealing with identical situations. Can she reassure us also that the exchange of information is working well and that if there are any lessons to be learnt from the way in which it has proceeded in England and Wales, they will be taken on board as HMRC considers the best way to communicate with the new authority in Northern Ireland?

5.30 pm

Baroness Crawley: I hope I can give the noble Lord that reassurance. The experience so far has been very positive. We will of course monitor the situation and make sure that we learn any lessons from that experience. I am assured by my officials that the experience is positive and that we have not come across any significant problems.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, also asked about the timetable for the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland. Revised public benefit guidance is to be published in April 2010, which is only a month away. Once transfer of data has taken place, registration will commence on a phased basis during 2010-11. The noble Lord pressed me on whether we were almost there or up and running. On the journey we are taking, we are almost there. Once these regulations go through, registration can commence, on a phased basis,

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during 2010-11-otherwise the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland will have no access to the basic details of the 7,000-plus charities that it very much needs.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: I am grateful to the Minister for that response. How will it proceed? As I understand it, it will be up to those organisations which feel they are providing public benefit to make application and, when those applications are received, no doubt they will be adjudicated upon by the new regulator. To what extent will the information flowing from the HMRC come in before, during or after the consideration of the applications that are being made? That is my point on the timetable and it would be helpful if the Minister could outline how it is going to happen.

Baroness Crawley: The registration has to take place first. This will be basic information-taxation reference numbers, names, addresses and so on. The charities can then be contacted by the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland because it will have their addresses and basic information in front of it. After that, there will be a phased exchange of information between the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, including whether there are question marks about certain charities and so on. So it will be registration first, then contacting the charities and then starting the exchange of information.

The noble Lord asked about the timetable, which I have gone through with him. The noble Lord, Lord Clifton, asked about the risk of loss of personal information and referred to past experiences in this field. Both the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs will ensure that information is disclosed in a secure, efficient and proportionate manner. I understand that a secure e-mail is being set up and that all the information will be passed electronically. As soon as these regulations are agreed, we will be ready to go.

The staff at the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland will be civil servants, so there is that security. Those who will be able to use this information gateway are at present undergoing mandatory information security training, which will conclude by the end of this month.

Underpinning all this, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, knows, is the fact that it is a criminal offence for any unlawful disclosure of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs information, which, on conviction, could result in a prison sentence of up to two years. We feel that we have robust systems in place to cope with the transfer of this amount of information.

The noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, asked about sharing data with the Information Commissioner. That will be the case-that information will be shared with the commissioner.

I think that I have answered all the questions put to me but I shall check Hansard to see whether I have.

Lord Smith of Clifton: I was not asking about sharing, but whether advice would be taken from the Information Commissioner in going ahead.

Baroness Crawley: Yes, we will be very happy to take the advice of the Information Commissioner.

Motion agreed.

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Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 (Controlled Activity and Miscellaneous Provisions) Regulations 2010

Copy of the Order
Copy of the Report

Considered in Grand Committee

5.36 pm

Moved By Baroness Morgan of Drefelin

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Baroness Morgan of Drefelin): My Lords, I shall also speak to the second and third Motions in my name. These orders help to implement the vetting and barring scheme under the 2006 Act. Two are from the Department for Children, Schools and Families and one is from the Ministry of Justice.

The 2006 Act reforms arrangements for safeguarding children and vulnerable adults from the risk of harm by workers with significant access. The scheme covers two categories of work: regulated and controlled activity. Regulated activity is most of the scheme, covering specified settings, activities or posts, such as work in schools, caring for children, or treating the sick. Controlled activity covers fewer posts, mainly in further education or health, outside regulated activity. These do not involve activities such as caring, but give an opportunity for contact with, or access to, sensitive records about vulnerable people.

The scheme creates different safeguarding measures for each category. The first order narrows the circumstances where work is regulated activity and so an individual must register with the Independent Safeguarding Authority, or ISA, as we now refer to it. The controlled activity regulations introduce a narrow arrangement to exist only while we roll out the scheme. It closes a safeguarding gap by requiring employers, before employing individuals in controlled activity, to check whether they are barred from regulated activity. The third instrument, amending the exceptions order under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, enables the arrangement created by the controlled activity regulations.

The first order narrows the scope of regulated and controlled activity, which partly depends on work being intensive, so that work is only intensive if it takes place on more than three days in a 30-day period. Previously we specified work on more than two days. This implements a recommendation by Sir Roger Singleton, accepted by the Government in December. The order also adds to regulated activity a small number of specialised categories, which cover relatively few people, and lets the ISA share information with the police in Scotland and Northern Ireland to help us to join up safeguarding across the UK.

The controlled activity regulations create interim arrangements to prevent the risk of certain employers appointing people without knowing whether they are

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barred. The regulations require employers to ascertain whether individuals are barred from regulated activity before letting them start a controlled activity in England. Welsh Ministers have laid before the Assembly draft regulations making provision for Wales. Modifications to the Police Act in the regulations that we are debating cover England and Wales, and support both sets of regulations.

Regulations 2 and 3 state when an employer may permit an individual to engage in controlled activity. They apply only to permitting an individual to start controlled activity after the regulations come into force, and the scheme will provide a new checking service for this. If the person is barred, the Criminal Records Bureau will issue an enhanced criminal record certificate as usual. If the person is not barred, and if entry into controlled activity is the only reason for the application, the CRB will issue only a notification, with "not barred" being the response.

We aim to avoid an individual starting in controlled activity without an employer knowing of a bar from regulated activity. While the law does not prevent a barred individual applying for controlled activity in England, we want to enable any employer choosing whether to employ in such cases to be aware of the applicant's status and history.

The purpose of issuing only a notification where there is no bar is to balance providing information for safeguarding vulnerable groups with keeping the information disclosed proportionate. Notifications will state "not barred" without disclosing any cautions or convictions. This is in keeping with the Government's aim of supporting rehabilitation of offenders by limiting how far rights to CRB disclosures are extended to workers. We intend this requirement to last until we replace it either by permanent requirements for workers in controlled activity generally to be ISA-registered, which we plan for 2015, or by any alternative arrangements that emerge from a review of controlled activity recommended by Sir Roger Singleton, on which we plan to consult shortly.

This is an interim arrangement. It is light-touch, with no criminal penalties for non-compliance. Its purpose is to give legal backing for making checks that responsible employers want to and should make. If Parliament approves these regulations, they should come into force on 1 April, subject to final confirmation of operational readiness. The CRB is about to consult on a fee for the checks. We expect nearly all employers to receive a "not barred" notification, which will cost less to produce. Therefore, the fee should be under £10, which is much less than the cost of "ordinary" disclosures.

I apologise for a minor error in the drafting, which will be corrected before the regulations are made. Regulation 9(6) refers to a regulation in a previous order. It should refer to an article. The regulations make minor changes to when the ISA must automatically bar a person, adding any Channel Island or Isle of Man offences that equate to England and Wales offences. Finally, they make minor amendments to tidy up the treatment of a few Scotland and Northern Ireland offences.

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The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 provides for certain convictions, after a period of time has elapsed, to be deemed as "spent". Ex-offenders are not required to disclose their spent convictions for most purposes-for example, when applying for most employment or for insurance-in order to aid their resettlement into society. However, we have to balance rehabilitation with the need to protect members of society from people who pose a risk to them. To that end, the exceptions order exempts particular employers, bodies and proceedings from the general provisions. As a result, sensitive areas of activity, such as work with vulnerable groups where there are particular opportunities to abuse trust and cause harm, are excluded from the Act's regime by the exceptions order, and the employer is entitled to a CRB check containing details of spent convictions. This allows employers to make a fully informed decision on whether an individual may safely be offered a post in that area of employment.

5.45 pm

The controlled activity regulations propose to entitle an employer to an enhanced CRB check if an individual has been barred by the ISA. Therefore, a very limited amendment to the exceptions order, to exclude that situation from the Act, is necessary to underpin this narrow scheme. It gives employers the chance to do that check. Permitting disclosure of spent convictions in these circumstances does not mean that an individual is necessarily prevented from working in controlled activity. Rather, it ensures that the employer is fully aware of the history of that person and can choose to put appropriate safeguards in place if they offer employment.

The other provision in the exceptions order relates to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. In 2009, this House passed an amendment to extend the exceptions order to cover the Channel Islands as part of the process of extending the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act to the islands. Following this amendment, Isle of Man Ministers requested that a similar provision be made for them, so that they might also be protected by the vetting arrangements being introduced in England and Wales and to prevent any possibility of those who are barred from working here moving to the Isle of Man to avoid detection.

In order for those working on the island to be subject to vetting by the ISA, and for their employers to be able to obtain CRB disclosures, it is necessary that they are covered by the exceptions order. For the sake of clarity and logic, the provision aligns Channel Island and Isle of Man provision. However, it makes no substantive change to the law in relation to the Channel Islands as made by this House in the 2009 amendment. The provision as it appears in the draft order has been agreed to by the relevant authorities. I hope that noble Lords agree that the instruments take useful steps towards underpinning the Government's commitment to safeguarding vulnerable groups in our society. I beg to move.

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