Automatic disqualification from being a trustee

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

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 5:15, 5 Ionawr 2016

We agree with the Minister on clause 10 and will not suggest amendments to it. It sets out important new powers to disqualify individuals from being a charity trustee. However, there are still some concerns in the sector and among individuals, and we think it is important to explore them at this stage of the Bill’s journey.

First, it is important to reiterate that many charity trustees and senior management staff give many hours of time with passion, commitment and dedication, and do a sterling job, often working in difficult circumstances with some of the most vulnerable people. We want to encourage more people to get involved in the charitable sector as trustees and employees, and we want to ensure that there are no barriers for those who seek to do so.

We also do not want to exclude those who have had difficult experiences in their lives or have received charitable care in times of need and have so much of their own experience to offer. We recognise that service users and former service users can offer the sort of advice, insight and support that others cannot and that their involvement in charities and the voluntary sector is invaluable.

Moreover, charities can often succeed in areas of public service where the traditional sector cannot, such as in building relationships with those who have for too long had a failed relationship with the state, and can often build relationships with peers who have experienced similar situations. This is important and should be encouraged. However, I do not believe the clause will prevent the positive role that, for example, ex-offenders can play in the charitable sector, although it is important that this is kept under review and that the Charity Commission continues to take a positive approach to applications for waivers. I was encouraged by the statistics set out by the Minister.

This clause extends the criteria for automatic disqualification from acting as a charity trustee and adds a range of unspent criminal offences—I emphasise “unspent” because this is important—to those that lead to automatic disqualification, including money laundering, bribery and terrorism-related offences. There will be a ministerial power to add or remove an offence from the list subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, and we welcome that positive approach to parliamentary debate.

As a result of an amendment agreed on Report in the other place, which we fully support, being on the sex offenders register would also trigger automatic disqualification. We support that amendment because a person on that register is considered to require monitoring to manage the risk of sexual harm to the public. It is therefore appropriate that they are deemed not fit to be in that position of trust, controlling funds and activities carried out for the public benefit, and that they 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 disqualification by the Charity Commission. For example, 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, particularly sexual ex-offenders.

In 2015, we spent a lot of time discussing the crisis in the charitable sector due to damaging loss of public trust and confidence. If someone on the sex offenders register were able to serve as a trustee or in a senior management role, that could further undermine public trust and respect in the public domain. More importantly, people in such roles may well have privileged access to children or vulnerable people, even if the charity does not routinely work with such groups. In other words, its trustees and employees would not necessarily be subject to disclosure and barring service checks. There have been too many historic situations where people in positions of power have abused that power and not been challenged due to their position. To me, that is more significant and potentially damaging than financial misdemeanour and it is right that we maintain this provision.

The Minister referred to concerns about charities involved in terrorism. Again, we do not propose to challenge this. We believe these are important proposals, particularly in the light of the number of references in the inquiries that the Charity Commission has undertaken, but there must be support for charities in protecting themselves in such situations. Many charities do vital work in areas of conflict overseas and are faith-related charities. It is important that their role is not diminished and that they receive due support from the Charity Commission and are not perceived negatively without due cause.

We support the clause but some issues remain to be ironed out, not least further understanding and mitigation of its impact on charities working in the criminal justice sector which help to support and promote the rehabilitation of offenders and which employ ex-offenders or—as with the excellent charity Unlock, for example—aim to have at least 50% of trustees with some experience of living with a criminal record. While these provisions pertain to unspent convictions, we have some questions that we hope the Minister will answer.

How many people employed in the charitable sector does the Minister expect to be affected by the extension of the disqualification framework to senior management positions? What assessment has been made of the impact of the new disqualification framework on former offenders employed in the charitable sector, including on their career prospects and long-term rehabilitation and resettlement? What assessment has been made of the impact of the legislation on charities that work with former offenders who are employed by community rehabilitation companies as part of the Government’s transforming rehabilitation reforms? I look forward to the Minister’s response.