Records of disqualification and removal

Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 7:00 pm ar 5 Ionawr 2016.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

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

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

I welcome you to the Committee, Mr Hamilton. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.

Clause 12 extends the duty of the Charity Commission to keep a publicly accessible register of people who have been removed from office by either the commission or the High Court. The register includes the name of the removed trustee, their address at the time of removal, the date when the order was made and the name of the charity concerned. It contains details of individuals who are disqualified only because they have been removed by the commission or the court; it does not contain details of those disqualified for reasons such as an unspent criminal conviction or bankruptcy.

The register can be searched by name on www.gov.uk. It is an offence to act as a trustee while disqualified, so all charities should have a vetting procedure in place to check that new and existing trustees are eligible to act, and checking the Charity Commission’s register of removed trustees is a good way to do that. It is also good practice for trustee boards to ask prospective trustees to confirm in writing that they are not disqualified. The Charity Commission provides a model declaration form that charities can download from the aforementioned website.

Under clause 12, the register of removed trustees would be extended to include details of persons who are subject to disqualification orders made under clause 11 and those disqualified trustees removed from office by the commission under clause 5.

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

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hamilton. I welcome you to the Committee.

The Opposition support clause 12. We have tabled no amendments to it because it is an important measure in ensuring public scrutiny and accountability regarding the decisions taken by the commission and the court, along with the circumstances surrounding, and any learning that might come from, them. The clause provides that the commission must maintain a publicly accessible register of persons who have been removed from office by the commission or the High Court, and extends the register to include details of persons subject to a disqualification order.

My only question at this stage is whether the Minister envisages any scenarios in which it would not be appropriate to take that action. The clause states that “the register must include”, but the Minister mentioned exemptions in the case of bankruptcy and so on. Given that addresses and other details will be publicised, might he envisage a scenario in which, for reasons of public or individual protection, or any other reason, someone would not be included in the register?

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

I will give some thought to that question, but the commission already processes a vast amount of information in accordance with a number of legal obligations, including data protection legislation. It is important to mention that, because there might be concerns about publicly available information being in some way misused.

The commission currently maintains, in accordance with its statutory duties, including data protection considerations, a register of 164,000 charities. The commission fully accepts its responsibility to protect individuals from any unauthorised and unreasonable case for disclosure of personal information, while balancing that with legitimate considerations. The commission is overseen in its management of personal data by the Information Commissioner’s Office, as are all public bodies. I will write to the hon. Lady in answer to her question.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 12 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 13

Participation in corporate decisions while disqualified

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

The provision is relatively straightforward and I hope to be able to provide the Committee with a quick and short explanation.

Trustees do not need to be natural persons; they can be legal persons. That means it is possible for a corporate body to be a trustee of a charity. This gives rise to a loophole relating to disqualified trustees. As the law currently stands, a disqualified trustee is not prevented from acting as an officer of a corporate body—where that corporate body is a charity trustee—and participating in decisions about the management and administration of the charity. This can potentially be used to circumvent disqualification. Clause 13 enables us to put this matter right. It prohibits disqualified individuals from participating in decisions about the administration of a charity where they are an officer of a corporate body and that corporate body is a charity trustee. It also extends the civil and criminal sanctions that apply where a disqualified individual acts as a trustee. It is a common-sense provision and I commend it to the Committee.

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

I support the Minister’s view on the provision. It is technical, but important. The clause inserts into the Charities Act 2011 new section 184A, which sets out that where a person is disqualified either under section 178 or new section 181A of the Charities Act 2011, which we have discussed in some detail in Committee, and where they are an officer of a corporate body that is a charity trustee, the provision prohibits that person from participating in decisions relating to the charity’s administration. We think it is absolutely right that we abide by the decision that the Charity Commission has made and that the person is not able to continue to participate through that loophole.

It is right that new section 184A extends the existing criminal and civil sanctions to apply to officers who participate in decisions relating to a charity’s administration when they have been disqualified from being charity trustees, and we therefore support the provision.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 13 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 14