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 Jo Stevens Jo Stevens Llafur, Canol Caerdydd 5:15, 5 Ionawr 2016

It is a pleasure to serve again under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I wish all members of the Committee a happy new year.

I have a small number of points about clause 10. No amendments were tabled by the Opposition—the main substance of the clause is sensible and uncontroversial—but, as someone who worked previously as a criminal defence lawyer, I have some concerns about the process for obtaining a waiver to the automatic disqualification from being a charity trustee or holding a senior management position, and the impact on charities working in the field of rehabilitating ex-offenders.

At a time when the prison population continues to grow and the fragmentation of the probation service, post-privatisation, is seeing some private providers cutting jobs in probation by more than 40%, the rehabilitation of ex-offenders is more important than ever, and the pressure on charities working in this strand of the sector will be increasing all the time. Rehabilitation and reducing reoffending rates must remain a priority for the Government, and the work that charities such as the Prison Reform Trust and Unlock do—alongside incredibly hard-working and committed probation practitioners, who are under enormous pressure—is critical to this. Those charities have expressed concern about the waiver process and the impact it will have. I share many of those concerns.

As the Secretary of State for Justice has stated, we should not judge individuals by the worst moment in their lives. Instead of seeking to narrow opportunities for ex-offenders to reintegrate and contribute to society, we should be supporting their efforts to contribute to civil society, both through paid employment in the voluntary sector and as volunteers. The Committee may know that many charities that work to rehabilitate people with criminal records employ ex-offenders, either as trustees or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar has pointed out, in senior management positions, because at the heart of the voluntary sector is the principle of working with service users, rather than doing things to them. This is no less important with people in the criminal justice system than with any other group. Any unnecessary barriers to the recruitment of people with convictions as trustees or into senior positions is, perhaps understandably, seen by charities working in this sector as a direct threat to their core mission.

I was struck by what the Staffordshire and West Midlands Community Rehabilitation Company said in its written evidence:

“Many of the people that we work with have no work history or any way of getting a reference through ‘normal’ employment routes but one of the areas that they can gain experience is by working with charities, particularly those that are service user led. If the Charities Bill makes it difficult or impossible for people with convictions to act as Trustees or paid employees of these organisations, and others, then it would be shutting down an opportunity for someone trying to re-establish themselves in society from getting a foot on the ladder. Working as a Trustee for example can give a person with a conviction(s) a sense of purpose, it can help them improve their confidence, increase their social circle, give them an opportunity to develop new skills, provide an opportunity to get a reference, to develop a work ethic, to feel that they are valued and can make an important contribution. All of these things are crucial to rehabilitation and desistance and if these opportunities are restricted or removed completely it makes the job of rehabilitating people more difficult.”

There are 1,750 voluntary sector organisations whose main client group are people in the criminal justice system, as well as a further 4,900 organisations that support them as part of their work. The Government have acknowledged the potential for waivers to be issued in cases where an appropriate individual seeks to be a trustee of, or a senior manager in, an ex-offender charity. The Minister has helpfully provided those statistics, although it is a very small number. The Government have said that they will ask the Charity Commission to review the waiver process and to consult charities.

Will the Minister tell us when the consultation is likely to take place? Is it the working group he has just mentioned? Has its work already started? When is the commission likely to issue its new guidance and the information requirements that it will be asking applicants to provide when they apply for a waiver? I have one further question, and I would be grateful if he answered it either today or in writing. Extending the waiver process to senior management positions will, of course, place additional burdens on the Charity Commission. What additional resources will be provided to the commission to meet the extra demands brought about by the inevitable increase—we are not yet clear how great it will be—in applications for waivers?