Automatic disqualification from being a trustee

Part of Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 5:00 pm ar 5 Ionawr 2016.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office 5:00, 5 Ionawr 2016

Six waivers were granted between 2008 and 2014. Every application for a waiver in that period—six out of six—was granted.

The waiver provisions are important as they enable disqualified individuals who can show that they have turned over a new leaf to take up positions of responsibility in the charity sector. Of course, there is nothing to prevent disqualified individuals from volunteering or working for the charity in other roles, subject to disclosure and barring service checks where necessary.

As I said on Second Reading, waiver applications will be considered on a case-by-case basis. The Charity Commission will take into account the nature and seriousness of the conduct that resulted in the conviction and consequential disqualification. The commission has said that it will also take into account the type of charity concerned. In particular, it already accepts that charities working to rehabilitate offenders will often be able to make a compelling case for a waiver. The experience of someone with an unspent conviction might well be vital to the trustee body’s understanding of its aims and how best to pursue them. The commission will also take into account evidence that the person no longer represented any particular risk to charity. For example, if someone had a lifetime disqualification from an unspent conviction —say, 30 years ago—they might be able to show clearly that they had long since turned their life around. An application for a waiver would usually require the support of the charity’s trustees. A decision of the Charity Commission not to grant a waiver could be appealed to the charity tribunal, which would consider the matter afresh.

It is right that the Charity Commission looks beyond the benefits for the individual and considers the risk and benefits involved not only for any charity directly concerned, but for charities generally. The proposed disqualification powers will protect charities from individuals who present a known risk, while providing for the rehabilitation of offenders and a way back into charity trusteeship on a case-by-case basis. That strikes me as a fair and proportionate system.

As I have just told the hon. Member for Ilford North, in the past four years there have been six applications to the Charity Commission for a waiver from disqualification where the disqualification resulted from an unspent criminal conviction. All those applications were granted. I know that charities involved in rehabilitation have expressed some concern about the provisions, and I am keen to discuss with them how we can support charities involving ex-offenders through the waiver process while protecting the charity sector from known risks.

The commission has set up a working group to review its current staff guidance and the process of issuing waivers, as well as how information about waivers is communicated to those disqualified, so as to make it as clear and simple as possible. That has already involved rehabilitation charities, such as Unlock, and will continue to do so. The working group will also review the commission’s published information on this subject to ensure that it is consistent with its conclusions.

The Charity Commission’s starting position is that the principles underpinning the legislation mean that disqualification should continue until it expires, unless a compelling case can be made for a waiver. As I have said, the commission will also take into account the type of charity concerned, such as those involved in rehabilitation, and evidence that the person no longer represents a risk to charity—for example, demonstrating a good track record from volunteering in other roles. We do not think a significant number of people will be affected by these changes, but some people who are currently trustees or senior managers may be caught by the extension of the disqualification provisions.

We will make sure that sufficient notice is given to charities—at least six to 12 months—before the provisions are brought into force. This will enable any individuals who may be affected to consider their options and either to apply for a waiver or to resign their position. There will also be a review of legislation, which must start within three years, to assess the impact of these provisions.

All in all, I think the clause as it stands has the balance about right and I commend it to the Committee.