Stronger Charities for a Stronger Society (Charities Committee Report) - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:17 pm on 16th January 2018.

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Photo of Lord Grade of Yarmouth Lord Grade of Yarmouth Conservative 4:17 pm, 16th January 2018

My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my interests as set out in the register, most particularly as chair of the Fundraising Regulator. I am still a trustee of Band Aid and Live Aid. I am also involved with the Samaritans in a formal way, and with many more charities as well.

This is an extraordinary report. It is very practical and sensible, as we would expect from the committee that was put together to look at these issues. Whatever the Government’s response to it point by point, one of the great values of the report will be for the trustees of charities to read it and to identify some of the issues that they should be thinking of but might not be thinking of and prioritising. That will be of huge value in the years to come. Regardless of how many of the recommendations the Government are willing to accept, I think we will look back at this report as a road map.

There have been quite a number of references to partnership. I have to chuckle when I hear discussions of partnership in the public sector. I remember going to a conference of chief police officers where one chief constable stood up and said that his definition of partnership was the sublimation of mutual loathing in search of further funding. That has stuck with me, so I blanch a bit when I hear the word “partnership”, but it is obviously important.

I will confine myself to a couple of points. As chairman of the Fundraising Regulator, I know there has been a lot of fear about what it was going to do and how it might upset the fundraising abilities of the charitable sector. I arrived from the starting point of being totally overwhelmed in admiration for the British public’s generosity and good will. Having lived through the rise of Children in Need, Comic Relief, ChildLine and many other things, I am staggered by how wonderfully generous the British public are. The job of the Fundraising Regulator is essentially to safeguard that good will and make sure that where there is bad behaviour, we can correct it and give the public confidence that their good will is well founded and looked after. That is our job. We are full of admiration for the work that the charities do and we work very hard to allay their fears that we are there to stop them raising money. That is not the object of the exercise—quite the contrary.

Recommendations 41 and 42 of the report, in respect of the Charity Commission, come down to funding. I am deeply concerned that the funding of the commission is an urgent matter. The responsibilities placed on the Charity Commission today are enormous. There is huge public scrutiny and huge opportunities, particularly online, for abuse and fraud and so on. There is mismanagement and bad governance in places. The Charity Commission is expected to deal with all this, but on the present funding arrangement it is impossible. We have expectations of the commission which go way beyond its resources.

Talk to any charity and it will always say that it has great respect for the Charity Commission, but that it takes ages to get an answer from it. That is not surprising, as it is so underfunded. It is a matter of grave urgency for the Government to settle this. I am not particularly in favour of charities paying for the regulator or of taking money out of the charitable sector in order to pay for regulation. The Government have huge expectations of this statutory body and should make urgent arrangements to have a settlement with it that reflects the responsibility that it has.

I have huge admiration for the retiring chairman, William Shawcross, and all that he has done, most particularly his concentration on reminding trustees of their responsibilities. Having been a trustee for many charities over the years, I sum that up as asking the question which needs to be answered sometimes—why are we doing so well? How is all this money coming in? Are we raising it ethically and so on? The responsibilities of trustees are really important and I congratulate the Charity Commission on its emphasis on that.

There is one item that is perhaps not covered in the otherwise excellent report. I hope the Government will continue to encourage the pay platforms through which people donate to charities to be more transparent. There is good dialogue going on with the pay platforms, and we are making progress, but it is important that all the pay platforms—whether it is Virgin Money, BT, PayPal or whichever—tell us how much they are charging so donors can make their own decisions. We need greater transparency. I think the sector is moving in that direction and I hope the Government will continue to encourage that.

Coming back to the Charity Commission, since we all understand that the process of appointing the next chairman has been completed, I can see no reason why we cannot have the decision. Could my noble friend the Minister give us some idea of when we can expect a decision on that particular issue? I congratulate the committee on an excellent report. I shall make sure that the whole board and all the staff of the Fundraising Regulator have it as their bedside reading.