Thursday, 26 February 2015

Semolina pudding, Angela and the Charity Commission

It's a long time since I ate a semolina pudding! But Monday I was having lunch with Baroness Angela Smith in the House of Lords. Angela was the last third sector Minister before the coalition took over and appointed Nick Hurd. But she had the rank of Minister of State - the coalition demoted the role I'm afraid. Angela was also my parents' MP when she was in the Commons, so we like to keep in touch. She continues to take a huge interest in the third sector and is one the Commissioners on the Low Commission on better regulation (they have a meeting on Friday).

Last night was a fun and somewhat poignant leaving party for Anne Longfield who is leaving 4Children after 27 years to become the Children's Commissioner. Anne has been a superb CEO and a long time member of ACEVO. The distinguished guest list was a testament to her success. Why, I even bumped into Cherie Blair (literally, as I was reaching for my coat!). Harriet Harman emerged from her bus and many doyens of the children's sector were there to pay tribute.

And whilst reflecting on the Charity Commission I was pleased to see the report of the joint Commons/Lords committee on the draft Protection of Charites Bill. Some sensible points - and a clear recognition that if the Commission are given more powers to issue Statutory warnings and to disqualify people from being trustees, there must be safeguards. And a strong recommendation on the need to support humanitarian work.

Commenting to the press I said the Charity Commission must be prepared to protect, defend and champion the sector and if these powers help them in that crucial aim then we support them. However the evidence does suggest that many of the Commission’s existing powers were sufficient and indeed the Commission have not made the best use of the powers already at their disposal. That is why we welcome the recommendation of safeguards to keep the Commission to task.

Another important point was the role of charities in helping to rehabilitate former offenders by engaging them in community life. This is a key moral purpose in our work and, save for exceptional circumstances, we do not want or need government or the regulator getting in the way. We welcome the report’s call for this role to be protected.

We support the amended list of offences that may disqualify people from becoming charity trustees, but it is important that the Government are not over zealous in the application of the power to disqualify. It would be a grave error for those who have been cautioned rather than convicted of such offences to be excluded from involvement in charitable activity.

Lastly, my evidence to the Committee highlighted the unintended consequences of tough regulatory legislation when it creates difficulties for charities that provide aid in warzones. I’m pleased the Committee agree. It is absolutely right that humanitarian charities are given help and guidance to allow them to operate freely in war zones, and I have called on the Charity Commission to create such guidance without delay.

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