Power to remove disqualified trustee

Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:15 am on 15 December 2015.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

Clause 5 would insert into the Charities Act 2011 a new section 79A to enable the commission to remove a disqualified charity trustee if they continue to remain in their position once disqualified.

The clause aims to close a loophole in the current legislation. The Charity Commission does deal with cases where a trustee knows that he is disqualified, but that he does not commit a criminal offence unless he “acts” as a trustee and so remains on the charity’s books as a trustee, but maintains that he does not “act” as one.

Under the law as it stands, in those circumstances the commission sometimes has to put pressure on disqualified individuals to step down from their trustee position. An example of where that may be necessary is where a trustee is disqualified by virtue of bankruptcy pursuant to section 178 of the Charities Act 2011. However, disqualification does not automatically remove the person from the position of trustee. Similarly, the charity’s governing document does not remove the individual either. In those circumstances, the commission or trustee body has to try to secure the resignation of the individual.

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Labour, Hove

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

I will finish this paragraph and then give way.

The individual might refuse to co-operate and not resign, which means that the trustees may not be able to operate quorately or appoint new trustees. If the disqualified individual continues to maintain their position, that will open them up to potential criminal and civil liability, but that does not help the charity to move forward. This new power would enable the commission to remove the disqualified trustee in order to allow the charity to continue to function.

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Labour, Hove

I apologise for interrupting the Minister mid-flow; I thought he had reached the end of the paragraph. Perhaps those drafting his speeches are putting too much into one sentence.

I agree wholeheartedly with the intentions behind the clause. Will the Minister inform the Committee how frequently it is expected the powers will be used? It strikes me as being a rare occurrence that somebody would be declared bankrupt and yet not voluntarily stand down from a charity. I do not know of any such case.

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

I know that my officials like to pack a lot into my speeches, so they have longer paragraphs. Obviously it is important that we have proportionality. This is the sort of issue that arises dozens of times a year, so it is a regular occurrence and we need to take action to try to control and eradicate it.

Another example might be where a charity trustee is disqualified by virtue of having been convicted of theft. The person refused to resign his position, which was problematic for the charity because it affected their quorum for business and decision-making purposes and there was no power to remove a trustee within the charity’s constitution. The trustee board is already at its maximum size and is unable to act further. This new power would allow the commission to remove the trustee so that the charity can continue to operate quickly and safely.

The commission has estimated that the power would be used dozens of times each year to remove people who were refusing to stand down even when they had been told they were disqualified. This indicates that there is an issue to deal with. It is important to equip the commission with powers to take steps to remove a disqualified trustee from their role quickly and effectively. The new power was welcomed by the Joint Committee on the draft Bill and I commend it to the Committee.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I thank the Minister for that full and thorough explanation. As trustees of charities—which many members of the Committee are—many of us feel it is important to fulfil our duties fully and with confidence, should a fellow trustee board member not fulfil their duties and be disqualified as a result. The Charity Commission’s standards for disqualification are high—it has set the bar at a good level. We wholeheartedly support the clause because we think it is in the best interests of trustees around the country. They want the integrity of their boards protected, and it is important that those who have been disqualified can be removed, because trustees often do not have the ability to do so themselves. The clause gives more powers to the Charity Commission, but we wholeheartedly support them and we know it will use them wisely.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 5 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Sarah Newton.)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.