Snap guide to this session’s Government legislation 8) Charities Bill

15 Aug

The Bills announced in each session’s Queen’s Speech are the fulcrum of the Parliamentary year.  But they are easily lost sight of, separately and wholly, as the political cycle moves – and a mass of other news and events crowd them out.

So during the coming months, ConservativeHome will run a brief guide, on most Sunday mornings, to each Bill from this year’s Speech: what it is, whether it’s new, its main strengths and weaknesses – and whether it’s expected sooner or later.

8. Charities Bill

Most of the seven Bills that we’ve written about to date have been contentious.  But there are in each Queen’s Speech a few Bills that are essentially tidying-up exercises.  This is a classic of the kind.

The Bill “implements recommendations from the Law Commission’s 2017 Technical Issues in Charity Law Report. It will simplify a number of relevant processes to help charities consolidate and restructure, for example by making it easier for charities to amend governing documents, dispose of land or carry out mergers”.

Responsible department

Like many other relatively uncontroversial pieces of legislation, this Bill has kicked off in the Lords – and the Culture Department is in charge. Baroness Barran, the Lords Minister, will take charge of steering it through.

Once the Bill reaches the Commons, the Minister whose portfolio is the least incompatible with the Bill is Caroline Dinenage, one of the Department’s two Ministers of State, but other Ministers may pitch in.

Carried over or a new Bill?

New.

Expected when?

Currently under consideration.

Arguments for

The basic case for the Bill is that there’s little point in asking such bodies as the Law Commission to undertake reviews if governments then don’t respond to them.  It produced a report in 2017 called Technical Issues in Charity Law which “addresses a variety of technical issues in the law governing charities.

The Bill does so mainly by amending the Charities Act 2011, though it also amends other legislation, including the Universities and College Estates Act 1925 and the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996.  Ministers claim that “the reforms will save charities time and money, notably legal costs” a “remove or reform unnecessary or overly bureaucratic processes”.

Arguments against

None in principle seem to have been raised to date, though there may well be devils in the details.  The National Council for Voluntary Organisations says “the Bill has been warmly welcomed by the sector” for the flexibility it aims to bring to charity organisation, and “there are a raft of scenarios where charities could see red tape cut”.

Those zealous for free speech should note that “the Charity Commission’s powers will be expanded to allow the regulator to remove misleading or offensive names being registered as charities”.  The Bill will enable governing documents to be updated more easily, land disposal to be speeded up, charities to have greater endowment flexibility and be able to pay trustees for goods provided.

Politics

As a Law Commission Bill it is expected to be considered by a special public bill committee, which may help its progress through the parliamentary process, as it can bypass the second reading and committee stages.  The procedure “allows the Bills to be considered and scrutinised despite the pressures of Parliamentary time”.

It’s a statement of the obvious that charities have cross-party support, but Conservatives with an enthusiasm for Big Society-type politics will have a particular interest in the Bill – as will MPs who might seek to hang  amendments on to the Bill, for example perhaps in relation to the sales limit on charity lotteries.

Controversy rating: 1/10

We would mark the Bill even lower if we could, though we may be mistaken to do so.  It could be that there is some element in the small print of the legislation that leaps out to bite the Government.  But more laws than one might think are carried through Parliament on the back of cross-party co-operation, and this will be one of them.