My Lords, before I address this amendment, I thank all those who have debated, scrutinised and kicked the tyres, so to speak, of this Bill, not just in Committee but also during its pre-legislative scrutiny. Although I know there may be points on which some of us may differ, the Bill before your Lordships today has greatly benefited from the wisdom, experience and insight that a number of your Lordships, sitting on all Benches, have brought to the debate. The fact that we have managed to agree on so much reflects the overwhelming wish of this House to ensure that charities continue to have the trust and confidence of the general public.
This group of amendments is focused on providing greater clarity in the Bill, and more modern language. The noble and Learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, who has been involved in this Bill since its publication in draft last year, raised these points in Committee.
These amendments address the old-fashioned language of “privy to”, replacing it with a much clearer form of words while maintaining the threshold for intervention at the same level. Being “privy to” something can comprise more than mere knowledge, and includes an element of concurrence, or agreement, as well. We believe that the new formulation captures that.
There are two elements to the new wording: first, that the person,
“knew of the misconduct or mismanagement”; and, secondly, that they,
“failed to take any reasonable step to oppose it”.
We believe that, together, both elements equate as closely as possible to “privy to” but are much clearer for the lay reader of the legislation. The amendments replace “privy to” throughout the Bill and the Charities Act 2011, except in one place in the Charities Act 2011, in Section 71. Here the context is quite different and privity does not appear to refer to anything more than just knowledge.
I apologise for the late tabling of Amendments 13A, 13B and 13C. I confess that there was an oversight on our part but we decided to table them late because without them we would have left “privy to” in one part of the Bill while addressing it in all others.
These amendments, while relatively minor changes, will improve the clarity of the Bill and make the law more understandable for the lay reader. I beg to move.
I am very grateful to the Minister and those who have been advising him for this group of amendments. As the Minister pointed out, it achieves much greater clarity than the rather old-fashioned word “privy”—being used as an adjective—did. It has been replaced by two very important verbs. The value of the clarity is that there are two sides to each of these clauses that one has to consider: the person who is being suspected of having engaged in the prohibited activity; and the commission itself, which has to police the activities of the person. Clarity is needed on both sides and the way in which the clauses have been reworded achieves that.
I congratulate the Minister on finding a better form of words than I think I was able to do—or indeed the Joint Committee was able to do when it was looking at the matter. The formula is much improved. I think I must bear some responsibility for not having searched through the whole Bill and traced all the various places in which “privy” was being used. I think we have now reached finality on that issue and for that, too, I am extremely grateful.
Amendment 1 agreed.
Moved by Lord Bridges of Headley
2: Clause 3, page 2, line 43, after “mismanagement,” insert—
“( ) that a particular person knew of the misconduct or mismanagement and failed to take any reasonable step to oppose it,”
Amendment 2 agreed.
Clause 4: Power to remove trustees etc following an inquiry
Amendments 3 and 4
Moved by Lord Bridges of Headley
3: Clause 4, page 3, line 31, leave out “or privy to”
4: Clause 4, page 3, line 32, after “mismanagement,” insert—
“( ) who knew of the misconduct or mismanagement and failed to take any reasonable step to oppose it,”
Amendments 3 and 4 agreed.
Clause 8: Power to direct property to be applied to another charity
Moved by Lord Bridges of Headley
5: Clause 8, page 6, line 41, leave out “In”
My Lords, this second group of amendments also responds to a point raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and I am grateful to him for bringing this to our attention as well.
Amendments 5 and 6 relate to Clause 8, which amends the Charity Commission’s power in Section 85 of the Charities Act 2011 to direct the application of charity property where the person holding it is unwilling to apply the property. The purpose of Clause 8 is to enable the commission to make an effective direction in cases where the person holding the charity property may be willing but is unable to apply it. The most common example of this problem was considered to be where financial institutions hold a charity’s property but are unable to comply with a commission direction to transfer that property because to do so would result in a breach of their contract with the charity.
I am conscious that we have gone back and forth on this issue. Our initial drafting sought to remove any obstacles by allowing the commission’s direction to overcome a contractual obligation owed to the charity. Importantly, Clause 8 continues to provide the specific statutory protection for a financial institution in cases where compliance with a Charity Commission direction in these circumstances might constitute a breach of its contract with a charity.
However, we have been made aware that there are other barriers that may make a person unable to comply with a commission direction of this type; for example, a person may be willing in principle to apply a property properly but lack the power to do so. Therefore, our new formulation in Amendment 6 clearly amends Clause 8 to reintroduce “unable” so that it is clear that the commission’s power to direct the application of charity property can be exercised where the person holding the property is either unwilling or unable to transfer it.
Again, this is a relatively modest amendment but it will, I believe, improve the effectiveness and practicality of this provision. I beg to move.
My Lords, here again I express my gratitude to the Minister for bringing this amendment forward. He has explained very precisely the value which can be seen in the introduction of the additional word. I know from communications with the Charity Commission that it is delighted that this amendment is being made. As I endeavoured to explain in Committee, the wording in the Bill when it was introduced left it with a problem, which has now been solved. On behalf of the commission, I am extremely grateful.
Amendment 5 agreed.
Moved by Lord Bridges of Headley
6: Clause 8, page 6, line 42, after “unwilling)” insert “is amended as follows.
(00)”) In subsection (1)(a), after “unwilling” insert “or unable”.
Amendment 6 agreed.
Moved by Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town
7: After Clause 8, insert the following new Clause—
“Conduct of charities: disposal of assets
The Charity Commission shall ensure that independent charities are not compelled to use or dispose of their assets in a way which is inconsistent with their charitable purposes.”
My Lords, Amendment 7 stands in my name and those of the right reverend the Prelate Bishop of Rochester and the noble Lords, Lord Kerslake and Lord Palmer of Childs Hill. The amendment is about the rights and the duties of independent charities which hold in trust various assets for their beneficiaries, both today and in perpetuity. Charitable law, which dates from Elizabethan times, developed to preserve and protect such assets, which are normally bequeathed or gifted for very specific charitable purposes. There are therefore rules covering the disposal of assets and the role and responsibilities of trustees, all with the same aim—to ensure that a charity’s resources are spent only on the purposes laid down in its trust deed and in compliance with fiduciary and charitable law. Amendment 7 essentially restates the existing legal position and aims to give comfort to charity trustees that they cannot, without a change in the law, be compelled to sell assets where it is contrary to their charitable purpose.
We are not against the right to buy. Indeed, it was only because of the then GLC, which gave 100% mortgages to single women, and on converted premises, that I was able to move from renting to buying. I have had a letter from the CLG Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, saying that her party supported home ownership, implying that my party does not, but I take no lessons from any other party on this. Right to buy has helped many, but so did MIRAS, better regulation of mortgages, the end of the pernicious mis-selling of endowment mortgages and the setting up of the estate agent ombudsmen—all of which took place, of course, under a Labour Government. Many other interventions help people get into the housing market, but we do not want the right to buy to be at the expense of the charitable aims of those charities which, for example, have been donated land, money or property for a specific purpose, whether it is to help house the elderly or rural workers or to rent to low-income families or other particular categories of beneficiary.
The National Housing Federation worries that forcing trustees to sell property, even if they are fully compensated financially, sets a dangerous precedent for government intervention in independent charities. It does not support giving government a role which should be the preserve of housing associations’ own charitable trustees. Similarly, the NCVO says:
“It would also contradict the rule according to which charities cannot dispose of assets … other than in pursuit of charitable objectives”— that is, the use of such assets,
“for charitable, rather than political or private benefit”.
There are other charitable concerns about the policy, such as whether any bequests could be invalidated in the circumstance of a forced sale. There are particular worries where a charity holds designated land that is required by the terms of a gift to be used to carry out the charity’s purposes and where such land cannot be replaced by other appropriate property or land. That could be the case where a charity holds a house once owned by a particular local figure or associated with a former convent or an almshouse sponsor.
Charities must also consider who else would be affected by the disposal, such as if the home forms part of a supported community for the elderly, the infirm or those with learning difficulties, where the whole is much more than a collection of residences. The sale of one or more of those units, where those not from that background move in, would have a considerable impact on the viability of the community and its shared values and resources. All that affects charities law, which is why this debate must take place on this Bill and not simply when the housing Bill finally comes to Parliament.
In terms of this Bill, the concern is that the Government want to interfere with the duties of charitable trustees to put their beneficiaries first and comply with their own trust deed. Many housing associations might sometimes welcome right to buy for their tenants where that accords with their charitable objectives. We support that. The problem, of course, is where it conflicts. The amendment seeks to prevent a charity being compelled to do something that is not in its best interest. In the letter of
Our amendment is about charities, many of whose tenants live in homes built with private charitable money. They are different from local authority tenants or tenants whose homes were built with some public money after 1974. Amendment 7 confirms the existing position that assets belonging to a charity must be used for that charity’s purpose. Sometimes, indeed, that will be by sale to raise money or replace stock. The amendment simply says that it is for the trustees of these independent organisations to decide that—not some outside body. I beg to move.
My Lords, I declare my interests as chair of Peabody and president of the Local Government Association. I speak in favour of this amendment in light of the Government’s stated intention to extend the right-to-buy policy to housing associations. I entirely support the Government’s aim to extend home ownership but have serious concerns about this proposed way of doing so.
Currently, tenants in housing association properties—unless their property was transferred from a local authority and therefore covered by a preserved right to buy—are able to purchase their properties only through right to acquire. That is limited to properties built or bought after
“ameliorate the condition of the poor and needy of this great metropolis, and to promote their comfort and happiness”.
His contribution was £500,000, equivalent to nearly £1 billion at today’s prices. By 1882, 3,500 properties had been constructed, including the Whitechapel estate in east London and the Wild Street estate in Covent Garden. By 1939, there were 8,000 properties. Today, Peabody is established by statute and has 28,000 properties, but its mission has remained essentially the same. In all of its 153 years, it has received public funding for only 40.
Given that the average value of a Peabody property is over £350,000, it is likely that, even with the discount, sales will be to the better-off residents. Experience from local authority sales though right to buy is that, over time, substantial numbers of the properties are sold off, so that one-third of the homes become buy-to-let properties at market rents. These can be as much as double social rents, and so not accessible to low-income families, as was originally intended. The Government’s intention is, rightly, to see one-for-one replacement but, again, local authority experience is that this is unlikely to be achieved, and certainly not at the pace of the sales or in the locations where the sales have occurred.
I have spoken extensively of Peabody, but since I first raised this issue I have been inundated by many people and organisations of all shapes and sizes with very similar concerns. For example, the Holt and Neighbourhood Housing Society was brought to my attention by Norfolk county councillor, Dr Marie Strong. This is what the chairman of that society has to say:
“The Society was funded in 1960 with land and finance by a local family because of concern for affordable local housing. Now, with the generosity of local people, the Society has 35 properties in Holt, Glandford and Letheringsett, managed by a committee of local volunteers. The aim is to provide affordable housing for local people in housing need. Not bound by local authority rules the properties are always allocated to local people which helps ensure a continuity of the community. The rents are around one-half to two-thirds market rent. The government proposal would be a gross violation of what was intended—that the properties would be let in perpetuity to local people”.
If the policy is pursued in its current form, it will be contrary to the charitable intent of Peabody and housing associations like it. It would also—this is the critical point—be a major disincentive to charitable benefactors such as George Peabody and the local family in Norfolk that I referred to, to donate their money or their land for good causes, if the Government can intervene and direct the sale of those assets for very different purposes.
One wonders what George Peabody would have made of this. In 1866, he said that his donation would,
“act more powerfully in future generations than in the present; it is intended to endure forever”.
Far from enduring for ever, the sequestration of property built with private philanthropic money would seriously undermine the charitable foundations and ongoing objectives of Peabody and other charitable housing associations like it. The amendment would protect charities from this, both now and in future.
My Lords, being on Report and bearing in mind all the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, I can keep my remarks to the minimum, although I agree with all that they have said—and I certainly support the amendment. My brief point is that we should put ourselves in the place of the charity itself, which in this case may be a housing association that is told by the Government that it has to sell off its properties at a discount, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, said, of up to £104,000 per property. That housing association has an ongoing business and ongoing logic of providing housing—not just the houses that it has already, such as in Peabody, but the houses that it might build for the future.
Let us put ourselves in the place of chief executives of housing associations asking their banks for finance to build more properties as registered social landlords. Any bank manager would look at them and say, “I would lend you the money, but how can you deal with the fact that the Government are going to take a proportion of those properties away by forcing you to sell them at a massive discount?”. No bank manager would lend. Therefore, if the Bill is not amended, it will take away not only housing associations’ assets but their ability to borrow and build more housing for people in need. Therefore, I heartily support this amendment and hope that when we get the housing Bill we will be able to go into this in great detail.
When I asked the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, how housing associations are going to build like for like when there are discounts of up to £104,000 she replied in this Chamber and in a letter that it is government policy. It is a government policy without any arithmetic. If that is the way the Government are going, they are headed for disaster.
I hesitate to rise on this occasion because I have a great deal of sympathy with what has been said so far. I was concerned when the pledge to sequester the assets of charities was made during the election, and I believe that it is very difficult to justify. However, this is not really the time or the place to debate that. Whether we like it or not—and as I made plain, I do not particularly like it—it was a government pledge. The Government have every right to introduce a Bill, just as we have every right to seek to amend that Bill, and if it is defeated in another place, I am not going to be heartbroken.
However, for us in this Bill to anticipate a crucial part of another Bill which has not yet come before us is not the right parliamentary approach. Colleagues in all parts of the House should signify their concerns and misgivings, just as the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, did in a notable maiden speech on the Queen’s Speech, and that is fine. It is good that colleagues should voice their concerns. We in this House have a reputation of which we are all proud and which I trust we will always deserve. It is for looking in minute detail at Bills that come before us to seek to amend them, for asking another place to think again and even for asking another place to think yet again.
This Bill, which in broad general terms has the support of colleagues in all parts of this House, is not the way to approach the crucial social issue which colleagues have touched upon this afternoon. I hope that, the subject having been aired, this amendment will be withdrawn. When we come to the housing Bill, that is the opportunity for all of us who have misgivings, if those misgivings are still justified, because we have not seen the final form of that Bill. It may be, and I very much hope it will be, that the Government will have taken on board many of the points that have been made in your Lordships’ House this afternoon and on other occasions. Now is not the time, now is not the place, this is not the Bill to tackle this extremely important social issue, and I hope that we do not proceed to a Division this afternoon.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, would have a case but for the fact that the Government are relying on charitable organisations to deal with the housing crisis. We are dealing here with the nub of the issue: the charitable status of organisations that are responsible—or, in many cases, have been given that responsibility—for building homes to house people in areas of stress.
I have spoken twice on this matter in the past month. On the first occasion I read to the House a letter from a Mr Bill Bewley in Keswick, the chairman of Keswick Community Housing Trust, expressing anger and concern on behalf of the trust in Keswick, which comprises an ecumenical gathering of people, including Catholics, Protestants, Quakers, Kings Church, Methodists and others, who all voluntarily, without remuneration, give their time to build houses in Keswick through a local charitable organisation, all motivated by the single objective of helping those in need in the Keswick area. What troubles them is that, having worked in this climate of charity for so long and made that effort, they are now being engaged to build even more in the town, with another project to come on stream in the next year or two, but they will find that they are obliged by law effectively to sell their properties at a subsidised rate.
That brings me to an accompanying issue, which is what happened in the Budget. We were told in the Budget that housing associations are going to be required over the next five years to reduce rents by 1% per annum. If you take into account that requirement, which I understand might apply to the charitable organisations that I am referring to, in conjunction with the provisions that we are talking about today, you can see why we are driving these organisations, comprising people whose only wish is to serve the public, into a position where they have to relinquish their property. That is why I hope that the Minister, who has been given much notice of this issue during the course of previous debates in Committee, will come to the Dispatch Box today and put all our minds at rest.
My Lords, I absolutely understand the force of the points that have been made by the noble Lord opposite, and particularly the impressive speech from the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, but I wonder whether the mechanism that this amendment seeks to use to solve the social problems that have been talked about is the right one. It would put a duty on the Charity Commission and expresses that duty in the widest possible terms without qualifying the charities being talked about, the nature of the compulsion that they face or what the assets are that are sought to be disposed of. It is not a targeted amendment in the sense of dealing specifically with the point about the right to buy and interference with the assets of charities in the social housing field; it is entirely general.
I have no remit for the Charity Commission, and I am not advocating anything on its behalf on instructions, but one advantage of the procedure that was used before the Bill was introduced into this House was the pre-legislative scrutiny through the Joint Committee. This issue was not raised in the course of the Joint Committee’s proceedings. That is a pity because among those who gave evidence were representatives of the Charity Commission itself, who had an opportunity to comment on the various amendments to the Bill that are being proposed and to suggest improvements, as indeed we are discussing first thing at this stage.
I do not know what the commission’s position is on this clause but I suspect that it would be extremely concerned about being faced with a duty in these very broad terms and its ability, given the resources that it has to deploy right across the charitable sector, to do what the amendment requires. So, without commenting on the underlying substance, I respectfully suggest that this is not the right mechanism, and that the wording of this amendment is certainly far too wide to address the particular problem that has been discussed so far.
My Lords, I will raise a question in relation to this amendment which has nothing to do, primarily, with the issue that has been raised, and which will come forward in another Bill. One of the problems for charities is that from time to time they are subject to compulsory acquisition. For example, if a charity owns property which is required for a road or something of that sort, the authority that has compulsory powers in relation to that will be able to acquire it. I am not clear that this amendment is consistent with that possibility, because the Charity Commissioners would find it impossible to block a compulsory acquisition if it was made within the terms of the particular statute which authorises the acquisition.
As your Lordships will know, there are many statutes which authorise compulsory acquisition. However, an important aspect of compulsory acquisition is that the acquiring authority has to pay the full value of what is required. I do not know what the Government’s proposals will be in relation to this other matter, but all I can say at the moment is that the amendment does not seem properly to recognise the possibility of charitable property being acquired by compulsory acquisition under one of the compulsory acquisition statutes. I would be glad if the noble Baroness would deal with that.
My Lords, I will raise a somewhat technocratic reason why the amendment could be very important. If government compels charitable housing associations to sell their assets—even if they are reimbursed by the Government—and then tells them how to spend the money they receive from selling their assets, these charities may become classified by the Office for National Statistics as “public bodies”. If government takes away the autonomy of charities and assumes the role of their boards or trustees in crucial decision-making, a line may be crossed. Already, government heavily regulates the activities of charitable housing associations and determines their income by instructing them on the rents that they must charge. In the event that government also tells them when to dispose of their assets and at what price, and subsequently instructs them on how to use the money, intentionally or not, the charitable housing associations could be deemed by the independent Office for National Statistics as public bodies.
Does that matter? I am afraid that it matters a lot. At present, only the grants these bodies receive from government count as public expenditure, so their borrowing from banks, building societies, et cetera, adds nothing to government debt. All that changes if housing associations are classified as public bodies.
The £60 billion they have already borrowed would be added to the national debt and all their new borrowing—around £4 billion this year—would be added to the Government’s annual deficit. So if compelling housing associations to sell their homes—and compelling them to use the proceeds, perhaps to replace the ones they have sold—leads to these bodies being classified as public bodies, government finances will take a huge hit. Government would then feel obliged to curtail drastically further borrowing by housing associations, which would stop them delivering the affordable homes that the nation so clearly needs. There are other reasons for not pursuing the latest right to buy sales policy, but this may be the one that causes the Treasury the greatest concern. This amendment would prevent government making a mistake that it could later regret deeply.
My Lords, at the moment I am training for a charity event and I spend quite a lot of time, mostly at weekends, cycling rounds the parks of south London and north Surrey. The existence of alms houses and charitable housing associations is a timely reminder of the importance that the charitable sector has always had in this field and of the extent to which the charitable housing sector has always been an irritant to government, both locally and nationally. There is something marvellous about preserving its values in concrete.
We should remind ourselves that this is the protection of charities Bill. It is principally concerned with the extent to which the Charity Commission has the power to act against charities and individual trustees to ensure that the general public continue to have faith and confidence in charities. The amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, may not be perfect for her intent, but the way that I read it is that she is seeking to get from the amendment and the discussion of it an undertaking that, should the Charity Commission be called upon to judge the performance of a charity or its trustees under the policy that is being brought in—as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, explained, it still being formulated—the test which the commission will apply is: did the trustees act in alignment with the charity’s objectives? Of course, those objectives may not change in ways that are consistent with government policy. That is simply what the noble Baroness is trying to get on the record. For that reason, although the wording may not be perfect, the intent behind the amendment is worthy of our support.
My Lords, the Government’s housing policy is in a mess, and I speak of the problems being faced by a number of good people who have so far done well from legislation. The right to buy was approved by everyone who was interested in wanting to give people an opportunity to get their foot on the property ladder. However, I remind the House of what has happened. The right to buy carries with it the right to sell. Over the last 30 years those who have bought their houses at a discount, having justified and verified their entitlement to it, have been glad to have the opportunity not only to buy but to sell. As a consequence, the whole policy has been warped and needs to be looked at in general. I shall give your Lordships an illustration.
There is a couple who operate in the Ashford area. The Guardian newspaper last year reported that they have amassed not just one or two properties but, by purchasing in the main ex-council houses, a portfolio of 1,000 properties. That situation, with people looking for an opportunity to make money, existed when I was the Member of Parliament for Edmonton. The bought their house and then rented it out. I hope to speak in tomorrow’s debate on the Budget and extend this argument. People should not kid themselves that the main beneficiaries of the purchase of council houses have been the people who occupied them at the time. The people quoted in the newspaper said that they were thinking of selling their portfolio. They already had an estimate of its value: through their empire having grown and grown, it was estimated to be worth £100 million.
The sad fact is that people paying exorbitant rents means that they may find themselves in a situation where they have difficulties. These people in Ashford say that, if the law allows them to seek an eviction, they will. The problem is that the money that this couple have been making out of their skill in managing property has caused a build-up of properties in that way. This may or may not be the right Bill in which to do it, but I hope that, when the dust dies down, a serious look will be taken at whether it is possible to curtail the building up of an empire built, in the main, on ex-council houses.
It is all very well for the person who sells the house at the time and the person who buys the house at the time, but nonsense situations, such as the one that I have outlined, mean that there is a good opportunity for the Minister and his colleagues to think again about what is happening. If they do not think again, they will allow empires to be built based, in the main, on the input of council and national money. These properties, originally as council houses, were wholly financed by the public sector. Now, that situation has changed.
I very much hope, without making a point, that the Minister has sufficient sense to realise that this is something that he ought to say kind words about in order to put a stop to this. If he does not, I think that he is in for trouble.
I find this very disturbing, in that I strongly oppose the sale of housing association homes. So many valid points have been put forward, but I am concerned about the points made that various other aspects in this amendment might not be quite right. I intend to support the amendment today, which is very unlike me because I am normally a very loyal Member of this side of the House. However, I accept the point that individuals have given their money. For us to take it over from them in order to hand it out, as we would virtually be doing, would be wrong.
I agree with so much that the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, just said about people buying houses, passing them on and their being turned into buy-to-let homes as commercial opportunities. That is worrying.
The point that perhaps concerns me most is what my noble friend Lord Mackay said about this law not being quite right and having other legal implications. Can the Minister assure me that, if this amendment is carried, he will make a commitment that by the time we get to Third Reading he will come back with further amendments to make this amendment work in the way we want it to? That is why I am supporting the amendment today. However, I understand that, technically, unless the Minister indicates that he will look at it again, he might not have the right to do that at Third Reading. We have to be aware of that technicality as well.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, made a very powerful point about the Minister considering the opinion of the House. Whether my noble friend will vote or not will be her judgment call.
The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, was absolutely right—this is the right amendment to the wrong Bill. The reason it is the wrong Bill is that we are actually back to front on this. I speak as chair of a housing association; I will be time-expired in the autumn. I remind the House that the bedroom tax is forcing up arrears; tenants’ incomes have been not only frozen but cut, given some of the Budget changes; votes will be reduced; the HCA grant no longer makes new build possible; and we are increasingly dependent, therefore, on arrangements with local authorities, private bodies or charitable bodies to get the land on which we can continue to build affordable homes. Given the proposal to add the right to buy, I am going to be spending a lot of the rest of this month trying to see whether a housing association such as mine will actually be around in a few years’ time. In fact, I think it will be gutted.
As I say, I hope I am wrong. I very much hope, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said, that the other place will make adjustments to the Bill. We all want to promote home ownership and the shared ownership that housing associations can build; that would be the best way forward. None the less, we should protect and ring-fence housing associations, which can make an unequalled contribution, particularly in rural areas, to the viability of communities and enable young people who have nowhere else to rent and can never afford to buy to stay in villages and small towns. My local authority has lost nearly 40% of its best stock—semi-detached houses, 12 to the acre, overlooking the park where the sun always shines. They have gone and we are left with maisonettes and walk-up flats. The properties that we sold have been recycled and are now occupied by three or four students—often creating some nuisance, I am afraid, for the next-door neighbours, but with great profits to the owners. That was never the intention.
We have a dilemma. If my noble friend is satisfied with the Minister’s reply and does not think it right to test the opinion of the House on whether such protection for charities should be foremost in our minds when considering the housing association Bill, we will have missed an opportunity. Our colleagues in the other place should take into account the worries and views of this House, expressed so powerfully by the noble
Lords, Lord Kerslake and Lord Best, and my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours. I do not usually use phrases like “sending a message” or “sending a signal” but we have an opportunity to say that, while we accept that this is not the right Bill to carry an amendment like this, the House is extremely concerned about the future viability of housing associations. Housing associations such as mine, which do not deal with stock transferred from local authorities, were charitable from the beginning. We may lose that stock and find that we do not exist as a charity in a few years’ time; and here, we have a Bill that is about charities.
I understand the well founded misgivings of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack—he may be right intellectually—and the concerns of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, with whom this issue can be discussed further. He is absolutely right to say that CPO powers have always been used, but they none the less have to be verified all the way up to ensure that they are being used appropriately. As a local authority leader I have, in the past, gone for CPO powers. However, with those reservations, we need today to say that we are worried about charities. We could say to the National Trust that we will take its assets to refurbish the Palace of Westminster. Why not? Dealing with a grade 1 listed building would be a perfectly legitimate use of the trust’s assets, but no one would go down that route. However, we are doing something similar to housing associations whose distinctive characteristic is that they are charities, and whose purpose, rationale, finances and viability may be deformed by proposals that are going to come our way.
In the light of everything that has been said—including the powerful remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack—if this House decides to accept my noble friend’s amendment and to say to the other place, “Think again before you go ahead with that Bill”, on this occasion, that is the right thing to do.
My Lords, if signals are to be sent, Hansard is the place in which they can be read. Ministers on our Front Bench are also very good at passing on the feeling of this House. If we were to pass this amendment, we would be placing a duty on the Charity Commission that it would never be able to perform. It only needs Parliament to make some decision or another for this amendment to become inoperable by the commission. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, said, the commission must be hoping that the amendment is not passed, because it would in no way be in its interests if it were.
My Lords, I declare my local authority interests, one of which is to represent the ward in which the mother of the noble Lord, Lord Graham, used to live, in a rather—at that point—grim housing association block. It was part of the Sutton’s estate, which has been transformed over recent years. It now provides extremely good and very popular housing, and there are other housing associations in the same small ward in my local authority, Newcastle. Anchor in particular has two or three developments. It is worrying that the Government’s arrant intention to nationalise with a view to privatising, which is effectively what their policies on social housing amount to, will impact on that provision.
The amendment does not address the issue of housing only. Other charities might well be caught by other developments of the kind the Government propose to bring forward in relation to housing. For example, one could envisage charities running medical services—hospitals, perhaps—being required to put those on the market and dispose of them to other organisations. There will be other examples. The National Trust is one; it is an interesting thought that your Lordships’ House and others might be saved by acting towards them as is apparently intended towards housing associations—I suspect that that is unlikely to happen. But there is a principle here which is wider than the important and topical principle of social housing, and could apply across a range of functions carried out by charities. For that reason, it is important for this House to consider the amendment seriously.
Some of the questions raised by the noble and learned Lords, Lord Hope and Lord Mackay, and the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, are valid: the wording of the amendment is perhaps not ideal. But it is not enough simply to say that Hansard will be read by Ministers at the other end and that is all there is to it. An amendment passed by this House would require fuller consideration than simply a reading of Hansard would be likely to engender. In any event, in the House of Commons it is possible to refine and improve the amendment to meet the points that the noble and learned Lords raised about the precise wording.
While we may well have an opportunity, unfortunately, of returning to this subject in the event of a specific measure coming from the Commons in relation to housing, it would be a sensible course to take to pass the amendment, particularly in view of the great concern expressed by the social housing movement. I bear in mind particularly the reference of the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, to the financing of future development, given that housing associations borrow against the value of their stock. If that is to be diminished, as it would be over time, it would obviously weaken them. But, as I have said, it is not the only case which gives rise to concern. On that basis, I hope that, if my noble friend decides to test the opinion of the House, your Lordships will support her, and encourage and facilitate a review of the position by the Government and the Commons.
My Lords, the House should not lose sight of the central purpose of this Bill, which is to make more effective—to improve—the regulatory powers of the Charity Commission and to enable the development of the social investment movement. This is the first in a series of amendments—including Amendment 17, on the right to right to make representations, and Amendment 19, on public benefit—that are outwith that purpose. I have heard all parts of the House rail and criticise Governments for bringing forth what they call Christmas tree Bills. If we are not careful, we are in danger of creating such a Bill here, because we are making amendments to the purposes of the Bill and the responsibilities of the Charities Commission that are quite outwith the original idea. Indeed, they are outside the remit that the Joint Committee, led by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, undertook.
We need to focus on the central issue: we need to give the Charity Commission the additional powers that the sector believes it should have and that the Charity Law Association and others generally believe are needed. If we go down the slippery slope of trying to add more bells and whistles to the Bill at this stage, we will be making a big mistake. I hope that the movers of the amendment will not wish to test the opinion of the House, because that could land us in position we do not want to be in.
My Lords, at the start of the debate, I said that I was delighted at the level of cross-party agreement on so much of this Bill. However, this is clearly one of the very few clauses and amendments on which we differ. I have obviously listened to the speeches that have been made this afternoon and read the debates with other points that have been raised by a number of noble Lords in recent weeks. Clearly, a number of noble Lords feel extremely strongly on this issue. We have heard passionate speeches from the noble Lords, Lord Kerslake, Lord Palmer and Lord Campbell-Savours, to name just three.
While I may disagree with some—and in some cases a little more than some—of what has been said, I obviously respect the arguments that have been made. As has been said by a number of noble Lords, I know that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will read this debate with not just interest but great care.
Noble Lords will be pleased to hear that I will not bombard them with statistics or facts to try to underpin the rationale behind the Government’s policy for right to buy—for which, as noble Lords all know, the Government secured a mandate at the general election. Neither, at the risk of aggravating and frustrating noble Lords still further, will I get into the detail of how that policy will work. I regret that I cannot do so and I will not insult noble Lords’ intelligence by trying to pretend that the right-to-buy policy has nothing to do with the charities sector—of course it does. But I ask noble Lords to consider the point has been made by a number of previous speakers—surely the time and place to debate the right-to-buy policy will be when the Housing Bill is before Parliament and the details of that policy are before this House.
Furthermore, many of us agree that although the Bill touches on the issue of other areas of law such as the financing of terrorist organisations, we should not in that case attempt to review counterterrorism legislation in the Bill. So, too, here and now is not the time to debate and decide on housing policy and how it interacts with the charities sector. Furthermore, I know that my noble friend Lady Williams of Trafford has an open door to any noble Lord who may wish to discuss this with her in the weeks and months ahead.
On the actual amendment, I beg to differ with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. It does not simply state the existing legal position. I will explain why. The law governing charitable assets is rooted in case law. As I am sure many noble Lords will agree, a real difficulty with creating a simple statutory provision for a large area of case law is that it will invariably fail to cover the many complexities that often arise, and it will be exceptionally difficult to find a satisfactory expression that would properly cover the explanation and nuanced analysis that is often afforded in judgments in case law. Moreover, there is a real danger of agreeing to a statutory provision that could give rise to unintended consequences.
The wording in the amendment that charities may not,
“use or dispose of their assets”, will cover property assets other than land, such as investments. This raises a whole separate issue with the duties that apply to a charity’s assets that are not land.
Furthermore, Charity Commission guidance on the disposal of land makes clear that such disposal must be in the best interests of the charity and in furtherance of the charitable purposes, or for the best price available, rather than be consistent with charitable purposes. These concepts have very different meanings, the latter being much wider in its potential application. Giving the Charity Commission a new and enhanced role in policing the disposal of charity assets is inconsistent with the current aim of helping the commission to focus on its core regulatory responsibilities. Requiring it to ensure that charities are not required to dispose of assets would be more than just an unwelcome distraction for the regulator.
As I mentioned in Committee, there is also the preserved right to buy in relation to housing associations, and the right to acquire. These existing rights could be undermined by this amendment.
I hope that noble Lords will see that the amendment proposed is problematic for a number of reasons. That being said, I repeat: I recognise that there are significant concerns about how the proposed policy to extend right to buy will be applied to charitable housing associations, but I would respectfully reiterate to your Lordships that the time and the place for that debate is the housing Bill. Finally, although we clearly disagree on this issue, I should like to repeat my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, for her co-operation on and contribution to many aspects of the Bill. I hope that, on reflection on this point, she will decide not to press the amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that and I thank all speakers who, on the substance, it seems to me, agreed with what we are trying to achieve. The difficulties are over whether this is the right Bill or the right wording, which basically says that the Charity Commission must make sure that,
“independent charities are not compelled to use or dispose of their assets in a way which is inconsistent with their charitable purposes”.
If the wording can be better than that—if it should be something such as the “best interests” of charities, as the Minister says—I will be very content, if the amendment is passed, to work with him at Third Reading to make the wording correct and acceptable to the Charity Commission and to the charity lawyers, who know far more about wording than I do.
On the issue, there are two things that I want to say. The first comes from what the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, said. This is a Bill about the protection of charities, and we are trying to protect charitable assets so that the money can be used for what the donors wanted when they bequeathed it. The idea of putting it on to the Charity Commission is that, basically, somebody has to protect charities from being compelled by someone else—not by their charitable trustees—to do something with the money that those who gave it did not intend.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, asked about compulsory purchase for a road. In a sense it is always the public sector that does that; it is nationalisation. The land is taken over so that a road can be built. I said in a meeting with the Minister that it was not normally his party that wanted to nationalise things, so I am interested that over charitable housing that is what the Government want. We are talking about a swathe of housing—not one or two in the way of a new train line—that over time will undoubtedly be held by the private sector.
My second issue is that we are not talking just about housing—albeit that we have heard about the Peabody, Keswick and Sutton housing associations. We are also talking about that wider big society. I used to work in alcohol misuse issues; we ran a lot of social care. It could be our assets, under another Bill, where the Government felt that they wanted to use them in a certain way that we as an independent charity, which had raised the money, did not want to do. We have heard about the National Trust—or indeed, it could be hospitals or hospices.
The issue is not just about housing, which is why it is not appropriate to leave it to a housing Bill. We want to state something very simply: where money has been donated to an independent charity for a particular purpose, the trustees must abide by their trustee duty to make sure that the assets are used there. That is something on which this House would like to take a view.
Clause 9: Automatic disqualification from being a trustee
Amendments 8 and 9
Moved by Lord Bridges of Headley
8: Clause 9, page 7, line 10, after “D” insert—
9: Clause 9, page 7, line 11, at end insert “;
(b) for “to which P was privy,” substitute “which P knew of and failed to take any reasonable step to oppose”.”
Amendments 8 and 9 agreed.
Moved by Lord Bridges of Headley
10: Clause 9, page 7, line 26, at end insert—
P is subject to the notification requirements of Part 2 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.”
Despite what has just happened, I must start by paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, for her pursuit of this cause. The very first time I met the noble Baroness, just minutes after my introduction, she highlighted this flaw in the Bill, with great charm but with her characteristic force of conviction. As I have said before, I am in complete agreement with her and other noble Lords in wanting to protect children and vulnerable adults from the risk of abuse in charities.
In Committee, the noble Baroness presented a compelling case for automatic disqualification to extend to sex offenders. I am pleased, therefore, to respond with Amendment 10, which will do just that. I was delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, put their names to this amendment. I think it goes to show the breadth of support for this measure. I just hope that the noble Baroness will not reprimand me for stealing her thunder.
Amendment 10 adds a new case, case K, to the criteria that give rise to automatic disqualification from charity trusteeship and senior management positions. Case K is a person who is subject to the notification requirements in Part 2 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, often referred to as being on the sex offenders register. Such a person is considered to require monitoring in order to manage the risk of sexual harm they may pose to the public. Our policy rationale is that they are unfit to be in a position of trust, controlling funds held and activities carried out for the public benefit, and should be disqualified from being a charity trustee or being in a senior management role within a charity unless and until they are no longer subject to notification requirements or are granted a waiver from the disqualification by the Charity Commission; for instance, the commission might consider it appropriate to grant a waiver to enable someone to take up a position in a charity that works with ex-offenders.
The unfitness results not just from the fact that it would damage public trust and confidence in charities if someone in that position were able to serve as a trustee or in a senior management role but because people in such roles may well have privileged access to children or vulnerable people, even if the charity is not routinely working with such groups; in other words, its trustees and employees would not necessarily be subject to Disclosure and Barring Service checks. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, gave a good example in Committee of a charity which provides a community hall that is used by Girl Guides or for children’s parties.
As I said in Committee, automatic disqualification of sex offenders does not in any way mean that charities can lower their guard. Charities must still have in place robust policies and procedures to safeguard their beneficiaries, and where charities are undertaking regulated activity they will still need to obtain Disclosure and Barring Service checks. But the amendment will, I am sure, result in greater protection of children and vulnerable adults from risk of abuse in charities. Given the number of historic cases that have come to light across all sectors of society, anything that reduces that risk is to be welcomed. I thank the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for their support, and I commend the amendment to the House.
My Lords, I have only two things to say: thank you and sorry. The Minister had only just taken off his red gown after being introduced when I got at him about this, and that does need an apology. I also want to thank him for engaging with us on this, for having got exactly the right amendment and for describing it far better than I could. I also think it shows the value of your Lordships’ House that, on an issue such as this that does not divide us politically, we have the same aims of protecting young people and we are able to work together to move this forward. My noble friend and I are very happy to support this amendment.
Amendment 10 agreed.
Clause 10: Power to disqualify from being a trustee
Amendments 11 to 13C
Moved by Lord Bridges of Headley
11: Clause 10, page 11, line 4, leave out “either”
12: Clause 10, page 11, line 5, leave out “or privy to”
13: Clause 10, page 11, line 6, after “mismanagement,” insert—
“( ) the person knew of the misconduct or mismanagement and failed to take any reasonable step to oppose it,”
13A: Clause 10, page 11, line 12, leave out “either”
13B: Clause 10, page 11, line 13, leave out “or privy to”
13C: Clause 10, page 11, line 14, after “mismanagement,” insert—
“( ) the person knew of the misconduct or mismanagement and failed to take any reasonable step to oppose it,”
Amendments 11 to 13C agreed.
Moved by Lord Bridges of Headley
14: After Clause 12, insert the following new Clause—
(1) Section 59 of the Charities Act 1992 (prohibition on certain fund-raising without agreement in prescribed form) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (6) for “such requirements” substitute “the requirement in subsection (7) and such other requirements (including any requirements supplementing subsections (7) and (8))”.
(3) After that subsection insert—
“(7) The requirement in this subsection is that the agreement must specify all of the following—
(a) any voluntary scheme for regulating fund-raising, or any voluntary standard of fund-raising, that the professional fund-raiser or commercial participator undertakes to be bound by for the purposes of the agreement;
(b) how the professional fund-raiser or commercial participator is to protect vulnerable people and other members of the public from behaviour within subsection (8) in the course of, or in connection with, the activities to which the agreement relates;
(c) arrangements enabling the charitable institution to monitor compliance with subsection (1) or (2) by reference to the agreement.
(8) The behaviour mentioned in subsection (7)(b) is—
(a) unreasonable intrusion on a person’s privacy;
(b) unreasonably persistent approaches for the purpose of soliciting or otherwise procuring money or other property;
(c) placing undue pressure on a person to give money or other property.”
(4) In the Charities Act 2011, after section 162 insert—
“162A Annual reports: fund-raising standards information
(1) If section 144(2) applies to a financial year of a charity, the annual report in respect of that year must include a statement of each of the following for that year—
(a) the approach taken by the charity to activities by the charity or by any person on behalf of the charity for the purpose of fund-raising, and in particular whether a professional fund-raiser or commercial participator carried on any of those activities;
(b) whether the charity or any person acting on behalf of the charity was subject to an undertaking to be bound by any voluntary scheme for regulating fund-raising, or any voluntary standard of fund-raising, in respect of activities on behalf of the charity, and, if so, what scheme or standard;
(c) any failure to comply with a scheme or standard mentioned under paragraph (b);
(d) whether the charity monitored activities carried on by any person on behalf of the charity for the purpose of fund-raising, and, if so, how it did so;
(e) the number of complaints received by the charity or a person acting on its behalf about activities by the charity or by a person on behalf of the charity for the purpose of fund-raising;
(f) what the charity has done to protect vulnerable people and other members of the public from behaviour within subsection (2) in the course of, or in connection with, such activities.
(2) The behaviour within this subsection is—
(a) unreasonable intrusion on a person’s privacy;
(b) unreasonably persistent approaches for the purpose of soliciting or otherwise procuring money or other property on behalf of the charity;
(c) placing undue pressure on a person to give money or other property.
(3) In this section—
(a) “commercial participator” and “professional fund-raiser” have the meaning given by section 58 of the Charities Act 1992 (control of fund-raising: interpretation);
(b) “fund-raising” means soliciting or otherwise procuring money or other property for charitable purposes.
(4) Section 58(6) and (7) of the Charities Act 1992 (references to soliciting money etc) apply for the purposes of this section as they apply for the purposes of Part 2 of that Act.””
My Lords, I am again grateful to the noble Baroness for tabling her amendments and for bringing this issue to the attention of the House. I will first speak to Amendment 14 tabled in my name.
When this issue was debated only a few weeks ago, I said that three questions needed to be answered: first, whether the standards fundraisers have set themselves are set high enough; secondly, whether the structures for self-regulation are the right ones; and thirdly, whether fundraisers and the charity trustees who oversee them accept the need for change to ensure that donors are treated with honesty, respect and decency. We now know rather more about all three issues, and on all three, more needs to be done to maintain and strengthen the public trust in charities—which is a key underlying aim of the entire Bill.
On the first, the news since that debate has been profoundly depressing. The revelations in the Daily Mail did what investigative journalism is supposed to do: shine a light on people who are treating others badly because they think no one is looking. I thank the newspaper for doing that. Of course, the stories in the Mail do not typify the majority of fundraisers, who are in the main thoroughly decent people doing a vital job, be it holding jumble sales, doing fun runs or hosting large charity events. However, allegations of inappropriate pressure being placed on those with dementia and of ludicrously self-serving interpretations of the law on data sharing have rightly angered broad swathes of the community, and many in the charity and fundraising sectors too.
I know that the fundraising sector has tried to respond and that the self-regulatory bodies are working on a number of proposals on issues such as cold calling, data sharing and regularity of contact. In part this has been in response to the challenge laid down by my honourable friend in the other place, the Minister for Civil Society, Rob Wilson, who has been working hard on this matter and has put in place some swift measures to bolster public confidence. He and I—and I think the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter—agree that this work needs to continue apace. But the answers the fundraising bodies have so far provided are piecemeal and do not comprise a convincing answer to the second question, which is whether the system as a whole is the right one. Indeed, I think few observers would argue that the system’s response under the stress of the last few weeks has made a compelling case that it is.
I therefore very much welcome the fact that Sir Stuart Etherington has accepted the Minister for Civil Society’s request to chair a cross-party panel to address just this question. I am delighted, too, that my noble friend Lord Leigh of Hurley, the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, have agreed to join that panel. The review will take a root and branch look at what is needed to ensure that we have a system that is fit for purpose and that supports public trust and confidence in charities. Sir Stuart has the licence to be bold and imaginative. His panel has set a brisk pace. It has met once and will report in late September. Its members have our full support.
The response of sector leaders to Sir Stuart’s findings will in part form the answer to the third question, of whether fundraisers and the charity trustees who oversee them accept and fully embrace the need for change. It is now quite clear that the leaders of some of our charities need to take much greater responsibility for the fundraising carried out in their name. We cannot have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach in the sector, where a charity’s CEO and trustees choose not to attend in any great depth to how their organisation engages the public when fundraising. The CEO’s responsibility for fundraising cannot end with simply demanding that the fundraising director brings the money in while he or she focuses exclusively on the charity’s mission in the field.
Our amendment seeks to address just this point in two ways. First, it would require third-party fundraising organisations, of the sort that featured so heavily in the recent Mail articles, to write their fundraising standards into their contracts with the charities that employ them. That would include how the fundraiser will protect vulnerable people and how the charity will monitor how standards are met. That way, all parties will be clear and upfront about what will be done in the charity’s name, and about their respective responsibilities.
Secondly, the amendment would require charities with incomes over £1 million to set out in their annual reports their approach to fundraising, whether they use paid third-party fundraisers and how they protect the wider public and vulnerable people in particular from undue pressure in their fundraising. Again, the point is to require the leadership of a charity to take responsibility for their fundraising practice and set it out for all to see. We know that this is only part of the picture and it is intended to complement a strengthened self-regulatory system, not to replace it. Furthermore, as in keeping with our entire approach, these measures seek to be proportionate and targeted to address the issues as we see them today.
I know, too, that the noble Baroness’s amendments are intended to ensure a well-regulated system, bringing in the valuable funds that serve beneficiaries while protecting the interests of the public who give that money. Clearly, the adequacy of the existing self-regulatory system—the elements of it and how they combine together—must be looked at afresh but state regulation is far from a panacea. We firmly believe that Sir Stuart’s panel should be given the chance to succeed and self-regulation to succeed with it. My concern is that the amendment pre-empts the review and in effect moves straight to statutory regulation, even as it cements one part of the existing self-regulatory landscape in place. I suggest we await Sir Stuart’s findings before we invest so heavily in the FRSB. As the noble Baroness said in Committee, the FRSB’s self-regulation system has so far “failed to work”.
As for the reserve power, that remains at Ministers’ disposal should self-regulation be found to be unworkable. However, I do not believe that we are yet at that point—I repeat, yet. Furthermore, statutory agencies such as the Information Commissioner and the Charity Commission are already permitted to intervene where there are serious abuses. I know that the former is investigating the GoGen allegations and has very significant sanctions at his disposal should serious wrongdoing be proved. I therefore continue to hope that the jolt the fundraising and charity sectors received in the last few weeks and the action we are taking will usher in an era of greater awareness and responsibility for fundraising within the sector.
I hope that on reflection the noble Baroness will not press her amendments. I thank the noble Lords,
Lord Watson and Lord Wallace, the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, and my noble friends Lord Hodgson and Lord Leigh for their contributions on this issue. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing this new amendment in such detail and making time available to explain its purpose to members of the Committee in meetings. I preface my remarks by returning to an observation I made at Second Reading about the alacrity with which some matters have been attended to. This is one of those occasions on which there is a great deal of haste which is perhaps not warranted and may not be helpful in trying to get to the root of the problem.
While the Minister wishes to commend the Daily Mail for its attention to this issue, I simply wish that the Daily Mail would turn its attention to the activities of many of the financial institutions of this country, not least the banks, in their treatment of people with Alzheimer’s, and other vulnerable adults. If it were to do that, it would rise in my estimation—not a difficult thing, I have to say. But if it genuinely cares about people who are vulnerable, rather than just wishing to have a go at charities, it will continue its campaign and look at the issue in a much wider way.
That said, everybody in the charity sector understands that that there is a problem—and the charitable sector has sought for some considerable time to deal with this issue. It has been a long-standing problem. I remember when I started working with charities 25 years ago, we were not dealing with the internet and there was not so much direct marketing, but there was direct marketing, and still the same complaints happened, although perhaps not to such a degree. I do not know whether noble Lords heard the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, on the “Today” programme a couple of weeks ago, addressing this exact issue. He was quite clear; he said that we did not need further legislation—that we have the legislation that we need.
The key issue is about the multiple use of donor lists by charities. We need to make sure that all charities are fully observant of existing data protection laws. We do not need the legislation. That said, the Government are to be commended on what they propose in this amendment. At the very least, it will cause the charitable sector to think long and hard about the regulation and guidance, which is what will really matter to charities’ daily activities. We should be in no doubt that charities have the right to continue to try to raise money, and they need to do so. It is not a question of whether they should—it is just how.
The Minister would expect on his first outing that an amendment of this nature would be subject to a number of queries and criticisms in your Lordships’ House. I would focus noble Lords’ attention on new subsection (8) in Section 59 of the Charities Act 1992, as proposed in the amendment. It talks about,
“unreasonable intrusion on a person’s privacy … unreasonably persistent approaches for the purpose of soliciting or otherwise procuring money or other property”, and,
“placing undue pressure on a person to give money or other property”.
That is fine—but who decides what the definitions are, and who decides whether the activities of a charity have been unreasonable or have placed “undue pressure” on someone? When it has been decided that a charity has acted inappropriately, who is responsible for administering what sanctions to a charity that is found to be deficient?
A further point that I would like the Minister to address is how having this legislation would help a member of the public to understand what they should do were they to be on the receiving end of “undue pressure”, or if they knew of somebody else on the receiving end of such pressure. How would they know what to do?
I draw noble Lords’ attention to subsection (1)(e) of new Section 162A of the Charities Act 2011, as proposed in the amendment. It deals with the annual reports on fundraising standards that charities are supposed to bring forward under this legislation. They have to talk about,
“the number of complaints received by the charity or a person acting on its behalf about activities by the charity or by a person on behalf of the charity for the purpose of fundraising”.
That is somewhat crude. The number of complaints means nothing unless it can be compared to some standard. Is it going to be compared to the number of complaints about other charities or what? It could be that a charity’s purpose is unpopular. It might be a drugs and alcohol charity. People may take exception to being contacted about that sort of issue. I would like to see a bit more fleshing out of exactly what we are expected to look at rather than crude numbers.
The Minister spoke about the commission which has been set up under the auspices of the NCVO, directed by Sir Stuart Etherington, and includes a number of Members of your Lordships’ House. Those of us who recently heard Sir Stuart speak on the sector at a large dinner will know that he is on a mission with this. The charitable sector knows that it has a problem. The problem has been gone over several times in the past few months by the Daily Mail for purposes which we can all imagine. The charitable sector wants to have a system which is as watertight as it can be to make sure that charities which are genuinely carrying out legitimate fundraising in an ethical manner can show that they are doing so and that we can weed out the very few organisations which are not.
My Lords, before I turn to the wording of this amendment, I say that in Committee the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, had to hear about the horrendous experience that Barclays Bank had just put my uncle though; he has Alzheimer’s. In response to her comments, I have today tabled a Question for Short Debate about how banks deal with vulnerable clients, so perhaps we can move together on that.
Unfortunately, other than on that, I take a different view on the amendments the Government have tabled. I thank the Minister for bringing forward these amendments. They are significant, and we warmly welcome them and the work set in hand with the committee he mentioned, whose recommendations we anticipate the second week in September. Looking round at the members, they will keep to that deadline, I am sure.
I, too, pay tribute to the Cooke family, who had to go through the inquest just last week, but who have been willing to share Olive Cooke’s experience of being bombarded with requests for charitable donations. I also join the Minister in congratulating the Daily Mail—coming from me, it may not like that—on its investigation and campaigning which revealed unacceptable practices, shortfalls in monitoring by the charities themselves and, as the Minister said, the weakness of the current self-regulation model.
It is perhaps odd that we have a regulator which does not regulate one vital bit of charitable activity, which is fundraising. This lies in the hands of a voluntary organisation, the Fundraising Standards Board, which works to a code adopted by the Institute of Fundraising. Three years ago, the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, gave it five years to get more into line, and it has not yet done so. The Fundraising Standards Board and the Institute of Fundraising have not done their work particularly well. Interestingly, the code does not outlaw nor even limit cold calling, or even require caller line identification. The Fundraising Standards Board, in addition to signing up only two-thirds of those who ought to belong, does not publicise itself, so no one knows to take complaints there, and it does not monitor compliance, or it would not have to have been Mrs Cooke’s family or the Daily Mail that did that job. Even when it threw out a professional fundraising company, it seems to have taken it back in under another name.
That all lets down the charity sector and the enormous generosity of Britain’s charitable donors. I also believe, as noble Lords will understand from our amendment, that it questions whether self-regulation can work in this sector. Hence our Amendment 16, which would require charities and professional fundraisers to belong to the standards board. We recognise that that would have enormous consequences should they be removed from membership for misbehaviour. The NSPCC, one of the charities let down by the professional fundraisers, itself favours compulsory membership of the Fundraising Standards Board as, in its words, the current self-regulation system is too weak. We also think that it is time that the Charity Commission’s reserve powers were brought into play. I am reassured by the Minister’s words that that can be done fairly quickly if the Minister feels it is necessary. So for the moment we want to put our amendment on hold, as we warmly welcome the Government’s own amendments and we await Sir Stuart Etherington’s report.
Government Amendment 14 achieves a number of things. First, and I hope the family can take the benefit from this, it can indeed be seen as Olive’s law; it will mean that something will be on the statute book as a consequence of her experience. Secondly, it puts into the Bill the essence of a code, describing as unacceptable:
“unreasonable intrusion on a person’s privacy … unreasonably persistent approaches for the purpose of soliciting or otherwise procuring money … placing undue pressure on a person to give money”.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, intimates, the Charity Commission may well have to flesh that out a bit, but having that in the Bill is excellent. It makes it clear that such behaviour is unacceptable with regard to vulnerable people but also, in the Government’s words, to the wider public. We particularly welcome that; it is important. Oxfam’s submission to us, for example, concentrates very much on the vulnerable, especially those with Alzheimer’s. However, we believe that all unethical methods need to be stamped out, regardless of the target, so we welcome the Government’s wording on that.
Thirdly, the Government’s amendment will force large charities to state whether they are members of the FRSB. We hope, along with the Government, that that will shame non-members and their trustees because the trustees have to sign off in their annual reports their approach to fundraising and any complaints received. Boards of trustees will no longer be able to be grateful for the income without asking too many questions, as the Minister said. Importantly, the Government have set up what we think is a pretty powerful group—I am looking around at its members in the Chamber today—and we look forward to it reporting back before Third Reading about whether Amendment 14 will indeed do the trick. We welcome the group, as do the NSPCC and Oxfam, which has also suspended its contract with commercial fundraisers, and we look forward to its recommendations.
Should the group suggest that further amendments are needed, we will be happy to work with the Government to facilitate this. We might therefore want to pursue our amendment or some other at Third Reading, depending on what the Government’s review group advises and the Government’s own response to that. We have yet to be persuaded that membership of the FRSB should not be mandatory, or that the Charity Commission’s reserve powers should not be brought into force. However, we are reassured by the Minister’s words on this.
For the moment, I thank the Minister, and indeed his colleague in the Commons, who found time to meet us to discuss this, and for coming forward with such a good amendment. We will be very happy to support it when it is put to the vote shortly.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Barker and Lady Hayter, for their words. As with many other issues that we have discussed and will discuss, this is clearly one where we have clear agreement on both the changes that are necessary and the change that we want to bring about. I stress that the amendments we are looking at today represent a start of measures that are targeted at where we know the real problems have arisen: in fundraising agencies and where charity trustees have failed to ensure proper oversight of their charity’s fundraising practices. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, just said, the review that Sir Stuart is conducting is now under way. If further legislation is needed, we will be able to consider that when the Bill goes to the other place. My honourable friend the Minister for Civil Society, Rob Wilson, has said that he will be happy to discuss the findings and recommendations on a cross-party basis; we will be happy to take that further.
As usual the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, made some forensic points on these clauses. I will attempt to answer them now, but if I fail to address them, I will be happy to pick them up with her after we have finished proceedings today. She asked who decides on the definition of “unreasonable”. In the first instance, the charity itself decides in setting the terms of its fundraising agreement, but ultimately the Charity Commission can intervene, using its existing powers, if the charity is not doing enough. That said—and this is an important point—the Charity Commission has already committed to updating its fundraising guidance later this year and will take these new requirements into account when it does so.
The second good question the noble Baroness asked was: what are the sanctions where charities are deficient? Here, it would be for the charity commission to decide where the charity fails to meet its obligations. The third question was: how will a member of the public know what to do if they feel that the charity is not meeting these new requirements? That is an extremely good point, and I can see that Sir Stuart’s review is absolutely key. We need to ensure that we focus on this issue from the point of view not just of the charity but of the public as well. Finally, as regards the number of complaints, that is another good point that we need to return to with Sir Stuart and in guidance, and I will make sure that is reflected by the Charity Commission.
To conclude, these amendments, coupled with the review being undertaken by Sir Stuart Etherington, give us a real opportunity to restore public trust and confidence in charity fundraising where, in the last few weeks, it has been found wanting.
Amendment 14 agreed.
Moved by Lord Lea of Crondall
15: After Clause 12, insert the following new Clause—
“Charity Commission annual report to refer to principles of best regulatory practice
(2) In paragraph 11(1)(c), after “16)” insert “including the extent to which, in its opinion, it acted in a proportionate, accountable, consistent, transparent and targeted manner (see section 16(4))”.”
My Lords, I will take just five minutes to move this amendment because I set out the reasoning at considerable length in Committee on
However, before I turn to those issues, perhaps the Minister will respond to a separate point that I made in Committee. The commission’s normal registration procedures can take a couple of years in what it considers to be a complicated case. They clearly do not match the requirements of a charity with a limited lifespan—in our case, of a little over one year. If ground-breaking fixed-term charities can in practice be arbitrarily ruled out for such reasons then it crosses the border between being simply an operational matter and a matter of public policy and the Government should address it. I would be grateful if the Minister will consider it before Third Reading.
I will now address the issue of the accountability of the Charity Commission, hence the reason for my proposed amendment to the present Act. My first bone of contention is the disingenuous way in which the commission went about blocking the application of the Hammarskjöld Inquiry Trust. This was purported to be—not exclusively, it said, but indispensably—on the grounds of the claimed lack of interest in the trust’s work on the part of the United Nations. This has indeed been the main bone of contention of the trustees as a body since we first made contact with the Charity Commission exactly three years ago. The Minister’s letter sidesteps the undisputed fact that the commission’s claim to that effect is now clearly seen to be plain wrong. As the Minister’s reply does not address that fact, I ask him once again whether he will take this opportunity to accept that that is so. If he wishes to deny it in the face of the pellucidly clear evidence now before us, on what grounds does he do so?
On the related matter of whether the commission was influenced by the Government or the intelligence services, the Minister’s letter simply reports that the,
“Commission records do not indicate”, that it had been “nobbled” in such a way. As Mandy Rice-Davies would undoubtedly have said, “Well, they wouldn’t, would they?”.
The second issue—one of global significance—is whether the British Government and our intelligence services, among those of other nations, perhaps I may add, including the United States National Security Agency, are or, even now, are not fully co-operating with the further investigations of the United Nations. In a letter to me dated
The UN panel concludes, inter alia, that there is strong evidence that a second plane was involved in some way in causing the crash of the Secretary-General’s plane in Ndola in September 1961. If true, that would have been known about by the people in the control tower at Ndola airport, who probably included members of the British and Rhodesian security services. They were certainly at the airport.
The UN Secretary-General is now recommending that this autumn the General Assembly should agree to him pursuing requests for specific information made available by the panel to certain member states and urging all member states to declassify any relevant documents, having regard to the fact that it is now more than 50 years since the event. This is not referred to in the Minister’s letter dated
My Lords, I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Lea, was obviously frustrated by the approach of the Charity Commission when he tried to register the Dag Hammarskjöld trust, and that his impression of the commission has been informed by and reflects that particular case. I must say that waiting several months for a response to a letter does not seem to be good customer service and I, too, would have been extremely frustrated.
For most charities with standard charitable purposes, the process for registration with the Charity Commission is quick and straightforward. In 2014-15, the commission registered over 4,600 charities. For organisations with purposes that are innovative or do not fall within previously recognised charitable purposes, the process of registration can indeed take longer. The law does not recognise wholly novel charitable purposes, but purposes can still be charitable if they are analogous to or within the spirit of charitable purposes specifically identified in the 2011 Act or if they were charitable purposes recognised by the common law before
I turn to the specific issue of the Dag Hammarskjöld trust. I do not know all and every detail of the case and it is right that I should not, as the commission is operationally independent. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Lea, said, I have written to him responding to some of the specific questions he raised in Committee about what the Government knew about the case. I apologise to the noble Lord, but I cannot at this Dispatch Box add to the detail that was in the letter sent to him. I regret that, but I absolutely cannot—it is a very detailed case.
On his amendment—which is really what we are debating—the Charity Commission already reports its performance against principles of best regulatory practice, usually framed in terms of proportionality. It does this in its annual report, in its annual Tackling Abuse and Mismanagement report and in stand-alone case reports. I hope your Lordships will forgive me for not repeating the detailed ways in which it does all this as I set it out in Committee at length. This amendment, by highlighting one particular aspect of Section 16, casts doubt on the extent to which the commission should report on other aspects of its general duties. It is, in that respect, undesirable.
Finally, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Lea, will reconsider the offer from the Charity Commission’s chairman to meet him and discuss this case. I fear that I have not been able to reassure the noble Lord that his amendment is not necessary—although I hope that I have done so. I assure him that his difficulty in trying to register the Dag Hammarskjöld trust was not representative of the norm.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. On the first point, he clearly does not feel that there is anything amiss with the accountability of the Charity Commission. I think he is hiding behind the phrase “operational matter”. When a matter of this importance is put before the House, and with the detail that I have presented, is it not incumbent on the Cabinet Office or the Minister and his officials to look further into it? In other circumstances or areas, one could call it a miscarriage of justice.
As to the question of co-operation regarding the unfinished business of the United Nations arising from the work of the Hammarskjöld Inquiry Trust, we will now have to await the findings of the Secretary-General as he presses the British and other Governments on their failure, to date, to release all relevant records to the UN. It will then be up to the United Nations, not me, to decide whether to point the finger at anyone.
There is one thing of which I am increasingly certain. Historians will take note of the high likelihood of the existence of a second plane and, similarly, of the high degree of suspicion that there was subsequently a cover-up by certain Governments, not excluding the British Government then and subsequently. In time-honoured words, history will be the judge. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment
Amendment 15 withdrawn.
Amendment 16 not moved.
Moved by Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town
17: After Clause 12, insert the following new Clause—
“Power to make representations
(1) A charity may undertake political campaigning or political activity in the context of supporting the delivery of its charitable purposes.
(2) A charity may campaign to ensure support for, or to oppose, a change in the law, policy or decisions of central government, local authorities or other public bodies.”
My Lords, the amendment also stands in the name of my noble friend Lord Watson. The House may wonder why we have had to table it, given that it is already law that charities have the right to make representations. In fact, they have the right to make representations to any part of government about policy, laws or their enforcement, provided that it is not their main business, it is to achieve their charitable aims and it is not party political. However, there are many who doubt the Government’s acceptance of this right and their willingness to hear from people who normally have no voice—those without power and influence in society.
Let me rehearse the evidence. The Prime Minister, very early on, stated that lobbying was the next big scandal waiting to happen, and he did not mean lobbying by charities but cash for access, paid-for commercial lobbying and big business influencing
Parliament or government. We applauded his insight and welcomed the coalition Government’s announcement of a statutory register of lobbyists. But what did we get? We got a wimp of a register that consisted of only consultant lobbyists and, as of last week, just 84 registered lobbying businesses. That is because, of course, in-house lobbyists, whether from airports, the defence industry, IT, food and drink, the energy sector or developers, do not have to register. More than that, the Bill that was actually introduced and since enacted covered, of all things, charities—those who speak out on behalf of their beneficiaries who, almost by definition, are the poorest in society, such as the ill, homeless and hungry in the world. It is these charities which must register with the Electoral Commission, whereas in-house, multimillion-pound lobbyists do not have to go on the register. For no reason at all, unions were also included. They must undergo a double audit to ensure that their membership records are accurate, despite there being no evidence that they are not and no complaints from the existing registrar.
If all that did not suggest that the Government wanted to gag the voices of the least powerful in society or those who they disagree, we got last week a whole new tranche of proposals to weaken the voice of workers. The Trade Union Bill is yet another attempt by the Government to stifle democratic scrutiny, protest and challenge. Indeed, it looks very much like another gagging Bill. In fact, it is worse; it even risks criminalising ordinary working people—from midwives to factory workers—if they challenge low pay or health and safety concerns. Not content with seeking to muzzle charities and restrict access to justice, the Bill smacks of trying to silence critics of the Government and their policy. All the while, big business can lobby.
We fear that the Government will do everything to help big business to lobby, ex-pats to vote and maybe fund political parties, but muzzle working people, their unions and political representatives, and beneficiaries of charities who have no one else to speak for them. For those reasons, we feel the need to assert again that charities have to right to speak out on behalf of their beneficiaries where this helps to achieve their charitable objectives.
As the Charities Aid Foundation said, this amendment reiterates existing law that charities are able to take part in political campaigning or activity as long as it is not party political. This is a principle worth reinforcing after the lobbying Act, which caused confusion for a number of charities, which are less clear about the legitimacy of their campaigning activity. The Charities Aid Foundation believes that the amendment is important in ensuring that charities are able to continue to fulfil their campaigning function and seek to achieve positive change that will help their beneficiaries. It states:
“The campaigning activities of charities might … lead to criticism of government or the policies of political parties, but ensuring that charities are able to continue their advocacy role is a critical part of … civil society”.
The CAF goes on:
“Many countries across the world look to the UK for guidance about the best way to allow civil society to thrive, and we must ensure the ability of charities to speak up for the voiceless remains a part of the remit of the UK’s charities”.
I could not have put it better. That is the reason for this amendment. I beg to move.
Last week, I gave a lecture on 50 years of the carers’ movement in which I argued that the fact that carers, their needs and their contribution are now so widely recognised is due almost entirely to the work of campaigning charities such as Carers UK, which have enabled the carer’s voice to grow strong and influential in bringing about policy change. Just to support what my noble friend Lady Hayter said about leading the world, I say that the carers’ movement is indeed an example to the whole world; it is in contact with emerging carers’ movements throughout the world and is a global influence.
I want to ensure that such organisations are confident in the legitimacy of their actions, whether it be campaigning for a change from which all will benefit or opposing a proposed change which is likely to disadvantage that client group. I know that it can be said there is nothing which currently inhibits such action on the part of charities and I believe that the Charity Commission may revise its so-called CC9 guidance to make sure that this is understood. However, like my noble friend, I believe that the passage of the lobbying Act has had the effect—I know that it was not the effect that was necessarily intended—of limiting campaigning by charities. We saw this clearly in the run-up to the general election, where charities did not have the strong voice that we normally expect at such times. It has made charities nervous; it has diminished their confidence. The insertion of the proposed new clause would go some way to remedying this situation and re-establishing that confidence. I emphasise that I want that confidence to be re-established not for the benefit of the charity but for that of the recipients of that charity’s services, by influencing policy in the way which is such a proud tradition in our country.
My Lords, in supporting the amendment, perhaps I may revert to a point which came up in Committee. It concerns what exactly we are to believe is the position under the present law.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, gave a long disquisition on party political support—which we knew was not charitable—but there are many examples of where the objection “this is political” is used against the registration of charities which in no sense are party political. The charity that I have been the chairman of is an example which your Lordships have heard about possibly to the point of tedium, but it demonstrates the fact that the dividing line at the moment is drawn in a place which the Government say is different from where it actually is drawn. It is drawn somewhere in the murky middle by arbitrary and subjective decision by the Charity Commission, which is dangerous for its credibility.
I have raised the example of an anti-EU charity putting out in a press release a narrative beginning, “In the latest outburst from the gauleiter of the European Commission, Mr Juncker”. As I pointed out, “gau” and “leiter” are two quite straightforward German words—“gau” means district and “leiter” means leader—and until 1933 there was nothing wrong with “gauleiter”. But ever since 1933, there has been a lot wrong with “gauleiter”. And so that is not political. How on earth can the Minister defend the arbitrariness and subjectivity of the commission when it pronounces that it objects to the Hammarskjöld inquiry commission on the grounds of it being “political” and says not a word about other charities which find favour with it?
My Lords, I spoke at some length on this issue in Committee and will therefore not try the patience of the House on Report by repeating all that. I simply say that, as somebody who has worked in the charitable field for quite a lot of my life—I have been chief executive of more than one charity; I have been an honorary officer and a trustee, and I am currently a trustee of one charity—there is an underlying issue here which is of profound importance.
Charities with great experience of front-line engagement have come to realise that they are sometimes aiding and abetting the problems which exacerbate the difficulties faced by those whom they are trying to help, because they are removing the unpalatable symptoms of what is wrong and disguising what is causing the problem. They have come to see that through the experience of their own work. There are many trustees and many staff in some of what I think everyone would on balance agree are the better, more experienced charities who have come to realise that they simply cannot go on doing this, because they are treating symptoms and settling for that, and that one of the most important things they can do in the service of those whom they seek to help is to advocate their situation and to seek the changes which will overcome the causes of the problems of those who are the victims, and that it would be dishonest to do anything else.
Personally, I find the way in which the law on charity has operated in recent years to be perfectly acceptable, and charities have responded to that very well by recognising that they have a duty to ensure that what they are advocating really does arise out of the experience of what they are doing. That is not just a matter of legal, moral responsibility; it is also one of effectiveness, because if they can be seen to be speaking out of real experience that is a very strong muscle in their campaigning.
However, we have to face the reality that there are those who have never been comfortable with this situation and there have been noises in recent years that people would like to curb the sector. That in my view would be disastrous and totally unacceptable and unfair to those who are really trying on our behalf, sometimes valiantly, courageously and bravely, to do the things that are necessary. From that standpoint, to have it explicitly stated in the Bill has great merit. I am therefore glad to see the amendment here and I hope that the House will find its way to endorsing it.
My Lords, I have no difficulty at all in accepting the premise of the amendment—and much that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, said—which states that charities should be free to campaign where that is an effective means of furthering their charitable aims. Speaking up for their beneficiaries, who may have no voice in the democratic debate, stands long in the tradition of the charitable sector. Yes, it may be uncomfortable for some to hear the hard truths that they are told, but that is democracy at work and freedom of speech in action.
Charities have always campaigned, which is as it should be in a free society, and charity campaigns have brought about much good, opening our eyes to issues others have overlooked, often resulting in beneficial changes to the law. Examples are legion and stretch back over generations, and long may that continue. My objection to the amendment is not therefore that what it says is wrong. Indeed, it is not even seeking to have the right to campaign reflected in law, for it already is enshrined in law, through case law, as the noble Baroness said. My concern is that seeking to compress that case law into an amendment in the Bill is difficult, to say the least, and would be likely to inadvertently shift the boundaries of what is permitted under the law in unanticipated and unhelpful ways.
As well as being fraught with difficulty, such an amendment is unnecessary. The implication of the case law is set out in Charity Commission guidance CC9 and, with very few exceptions, that guidance is well understood and observed. Unlike primary legislation, commission guidance can be updated, with proper consultation, to ensure that it remains congruent with case law and up to speed with developments such as the rise of social media.
The introduction of the Transparency of Lobbying Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act, to which a number of noble Lords referred, has recently made the relationship of the law and lobbying a matter of intense debate, and I can understand why. That Act is part of electoral law, and this is clearly not the time to rehearse that debate. However, the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, was one of many noble Lords who referred to the so-called chilling effect that it might have had at the last election, so I am pleased that my noble friend, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, has explicitly called for evidence from the voluntary sector and from noble Lords in his ongoing review of the third party campaigning rules that were updated by Part 2 of that Act. A clear view of the evidence about what impact the updated rules have, or have not, made in their first year is exactly what is needed on an issue that has aroused such strong feeling. The Charity Commission would obviously need to take account of my noble friend’s findings should it decide to review CC9. If there were any such review, the commission has committed to say so publicly and consult widely and wisely.
On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lea, the Charity Commission does indeed take action in cases where charities of all political persuasions are seen to have crossed the line. During the last election, a charity that was making a point that could be construed as being supportive of the Conservative Party was pulled up short. I therefore do not think it strictly true to say that it does not take action.
This Government welcome and support the campaigning role of charities, properly regulated and properly understood, and acknowledge the benefit that that brings to wider society. I hope that on that basis, and given what I have said to reassure the noble Baroness, she will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
The Minister has totally misunderstood the purport of my question, which I will repeat. It is clear that the dividing line about what is political has nothing to do with support for a political party. What the Minister just said is a red herring. Of course, things can be ruled out for direct or indirect support for the Labour Party or the Conservative Party. My point was this. That is not in practice the dividing line drawn by the commission, where party political support is ruled out and other matters are ruled in.
I am sorry if I displease the noble Lord still further this afternoon, but any concerns about inappropriate language or material on the part of a charity should be referred to the Charity Commission, which is the independent regulator and will assess those points on a case-by-case basis. The Charity Commission can and does investigate these sorts of concerns in accordance with its risk framework, which sets these things out. I am sorry if the noble Lord dislikes that answer, but that is it.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Judd, who ran Oxfam, and my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley. If my memory is right, the Cabinet Office made Carers UK charity of the year this year, so I am sure that the Minister will have heard particularly from her on that. The Cabinet Office made a great choice.
I thank the Minister. I very much welcome his endorsement of the premise behind this. He gets what we are about. I welcome what he said about the Government listening carefully to the wise words that we know we will have from the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson. We await his report. Having on record his acknowledgement of the role that advocacy can play on behalf of those without voices is to be welcomed. We look forward to that report—no pressure there, then—from the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, but for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 17 withdrawn.