Automatic disqualification from being a trustee

Part of Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:15 pm on 5 January 2016.

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Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office 5:15, 5 January 2016

I thank the hon. Member for Redcar for supporting this clause. It is difficult to know where to begin, but I will try to address as many of the questions raised by hon. Members as possible.

I will begin with the questions raised by the hon. Member for Cardiff Central, who seems to be arguing that extending the disqualification provisions might undermine the work of some rehabilitation charities. I disagree with that because, as I said earlier, it is right that the commission looks beyond the benefits to the individual and considers the much wider risks and benefits not only to the charity directly concerned, but to the reputation of charities across the board. The proposed disqualification powers protect charities from individuals who present a known risk, which is the important thing. These are, in the main, people who present a known risk, which is why these powers and this safety net are important.

The hon. Member for Redcar asked how many people would be affected by the extension of the automatic disqualification. The truth is that we do not know the exact number of current trustees, chief executives or chief finance officers who could be affected by the extension of automatic disqualification, but our best estimate is that the number of people affected could be in the low hundreds. Compared with the number of people working in the charitable sector, it is a fairly small proportion, but as I said earlier, we will be giving those individuals a long period of time to make adjustments either by applying for a waiver or by resigning their position, if that is what they need to do.

On the question about non-governmental organisations and wider counter-terrorism legislation, I recognise that that is a concern for some charities operating in some of the more difficult areas of the world. We need to develop a clear understanding of NGOs’ concerns and to see examples of where such issues occur. Several Departments, including the Home Office, DFID and the Treasury, have been engaging with NGOs to try to understand their concerns and to ensure that such concerns are covered in the guidance wherever possible.

Important guidance is already out there for NGOs operating in areas around the world where extremism and terrorism are problems. For example, the Government published some guidance in November 2015 to help the NGOs, led by Oxfam, that were asking for it. However, we are not aware of any legitimate NGO worker who has been convicted in the UK under counter-terrorism legislation, so it is important to recognise that, although such concerns exist, nobody has yet suffered as a result.

I welcome the hon. Lady’s support for automatic disqualification and the reference to the Terrorist Asset-Freezing etc. Act 2010, because the measures are highly targeted. The latest consolidated list of those designated under the UK’s terrorist asset-freezing legislation, which is published on gov.uk, contains 18 individuals, but 248 individuals are designated under the Al-Qaida (Asset-Freezing) Regulations 2011, all but two of whom are currently located outside the UK. If a matter is serious enough to designate an individual under the legislation, it is impossible to see how such a person could be considered fit to serve as a charity trustee or a senior manager.

There was some discussion about the adding of people to the sex offenders register, which was strongly supported across the House of Lords, including, as the hon. Lady will know, by her Front-Bench team. Indeed, I think they even added their names to the amendment.

To develop the answer to the question asked by the hon. Member for Ilford North, the Charity Commission has granted 90% of waiver applications over a broader period than the six years that I was discussing. In fact, I can tell him that the commission has granted more waivers in relation to other disqualification criteria, such as undischarged bankrupts. Between 2007 and 2014, 39 waivers were granted and two applications were rejected, which is more than 90%.

The hon. Member for Cardiff Central asked about working with service users. The Bill does not prevent disqualified individuals from volunteering or being employed by charities; it just prevents them from serving in the positions of trustee, CEO and CFO.

The Charity Commission has set up a working group to review its current staff guidance, the process of issuing waivers and how information about waivers is communicated to those who are disqualified. As part of that process, the group is working with rehabilitation charities such as Unlock, which the hon. Member for Redcar mentioned. The group will also review the commission’s published information on the subject to ensure that it is consistent with the conclusions.

To respond to the question about what additional resources will be available for the Charity Commission, the simple answer is none. The commission asked for the provisions, which it considers will add to the protection of charities from abuse, but many of its additional powers should make it more efficient and enable it to do more with its current resources. I think that covers all Opposition Members’ questions.