Charities Bill [HL]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:59 pm on 12th October 2005.

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Photo of Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Spokespersons In the Lords, (Assisted By Shadow Law Officers), Spokespersons In the Lords, (Also Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland - Not In Shadow Cabinet) 4:59 pm, 12th October 2005

My Lords, with this amendment we return to a familiar topic that we presaged a few moments ago in the debate on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips; that is, the independence of the Charity Commission. In moving this amendment I do not wish to appear to be looking a gift horse in the mouth, so I wish to place firmly on record my appreciation for the changes that the Government have already made on this issue, in particular the insertion of the new subsection (4) in new Section 1A (in Clause 6), which reads:

"In the exercise of its functions the Commission shall not be subject to the direction or control of any Minister of the Crown or other government department".

However, notwithstanding that, the provisions of paragraph 5 of Schedule 1 on page 77 continue to give me cause for concern, in particular subparagraph (3) which reads:

"The appointment of other staff requires the approval of that Minister as to their terms and conditions of service".

It does not take a genius to work out that a future government of whatever political colour could use this measure to shape the staffing of the commission, and thus influence the commission's attitude and approach on key charitable and perhaps political issues.

When we debated this matter previously in Committee on 28 June the Minister said,

"Senior Civil Service pay and grade structures are determined by the Cabinet Office, but departments including the Charity Commission have flexibility to make their own arrangements for determining individuals' pay by reference to performance. Therefore, except for a small number of its most senior staff, the Charity Commission already effectively has control over the terms and conditions of service of staff within it . . . The commission has discretion in how its total pay budget is divided up. It also agrees its arrangements annually with the Treasury to ensure that they are broadly in line with other departments. Paragraph 5(2) and (3) of Schedule 1 does not mean that the Minister for the Civil Service or officials at the Cabinet Office acting on his behalf have to approve the detailed terms and conditions of service of either the chief executive or Charity Commission staff in general. In practice, for the Charity Commission as for other departments, they approve only the broad framework within which detailed decisions on terms and conditions are taken by departments themselves".—[Hansard, 28/6/05; col. 174.]

Those words are all very fine although the use of the qualifications "effectively" and "in practice" leave me with a slight concern. However, the Bill as presently drafted simply does not tally with what the Minister says. It states:

"The appointment of other staff requires the approval of that Minister as to their terms and conditions of service".

In my previous amendments on this topic which we discussed in Committee on 28 June, I sought to leave out the whole of paragraph 5—the "staff" paragraph of Schedule 1. I accept that that was too blunt an instrument. Therefore, today I ask the Government to accept this amendment, which tackles only the pay and rations of staff other than the chief executive—the latter's terms of service will still require direct approval as provided for in the Bill as presently drafted.

I note that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, has a perhaps more silkily phrased amendment addressing this point, which was no doubt drawn up as a result of his legal experience. I should be happy to support that but I am convinced that unless we amend paragraph 5 of Schedule 1 along the lines that both the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, and I have in mind, we run the risk of fatally compromising the independence of the Charity Commission—something which I believe no one in this House wishes to see happen. I beg to move.