18: After Clause 12, insert the following new Clause—
“Damages for torts by trustees or their employeesDamages for torts by trustees of unincorporated charities or their employees
(1) The Charities Act 2011 is amended as follows.
(2) After section 284 (when and how section 282 resolution takes effect) insert—
“284A Damages for torts by trustees or their employees
(1) This section applies where—
(a) a trustee of an unincorporated charity is liable in tort by reason of his conduct in his capacity as a trustee of that charity; or(b) a person employed by a trustee or trustees of an unincorporated charity is liable in tort by reason of his conduct in the course of that employment.(2) Where this section applies, a person entitled to damages for the tort shall be entitled to recover those damages from the assets of the charity.
(3) Subsection (2) shall not affect the liability of any trustee, employee, or any other person.
(4) Where a claim is made under subsection (2), the provisions of the Civil Liability (Contribution) Act 1978 shall apply as if the charity had legal personality.
(5) Where a claim is made under subsection (2), or a contribution is claimed from the assets of a charity under subsection (4), the charity may be named as a party and may be represented by its trustees or such other person as may be appointed by the court in any legal proceedings.””
My Lords, this amendment also stands in the name of my noble friend Lord Bew. There is a little link with the discussion we have just had. The noble Lord, Lord King, mentioned the need to cut off the sources of funding that go to terrorists. This amendment is not just about terrorism—far from it, although it would have the side-effect that he has just mentioned if a charity were involved in such activities. It enables the victims of mistreatment by a charity to recover damages from the assets of the charity, not just from the trustees themselves. It by no means removes any responsibility or liability from the trustees personally: that remains. But sometimes when there is a victim—for example, of sexual abuse taking place at a charitable school which is not incorporated—the victim may need and deserve more damages than the personal trustee has at his disposal. It is only right, therefore, to go against the assets of the charity. The amendment would end the disparity between incorporated and unincorporated charities.
Charities, as we have heard frequently today, are not just about helping the poor, underprivileged and disabled. They are moving into the realms of big business. There are many areas now covered by charities, some of which operate without being incorporated: indeed, there is no requirement for them to do so. They include student unions, communes, Scouts, clubs and after-school activities. It is possible for there to be damage. We have heard a great deal about charities that harass the public when they are collecting funds. At the moment, only innocent trustees can be indemnified where there is a claim against them, but they remain liable. The amendment would in no way destroy the personal commitment that trustees feel towards the charity they are supporting.
Injured civilians currently have too little recourse against unincorporated charities that do them harm, some of which may be connected with terrorism. The remedies under the existing law are not adequate where the trustees of an unincorporated charity do not have sufficient personal assets and were themselves involved in the wrongdoing or were reckless or negligent and so are not entitled to be indemnified by the charity. While those creating or running a charity may be free to choose the legal structure, the victims are not, and this amendment is ultimately about protecting victims.
The position of a wholly innocent trustee would be ameliorated by the amendment. Instead of the victim having to claim against the trustee and the trustee having to claim against the charity under an indemnity, the victim would be able to claim against the charity directly and the charity will not claim a contribution from a wholly innocent trustee. This is a benefit, not a disadvantage, of the amendment. The amendment would apply where a trustee of an unincorporated charity is liable in tort by reason of his conduct in his capacity as a trustee of a charity, or a person employed by a trustee or trustees is liable by reason of his conduct in the course of that employment. It is just like a company which is liable when a director commits a tort in his capacity as a director of the company or an employee of the company commits a tort in the course of his employment by the company. This applies whether or not the act is ultra vires. This is elementary law.
We are calling for this law to be made more helpful to victims, without in any way disturbing the responsibility that trustees, rightly, bear. In the past, victims of sexual abuse by Scout masters have successfully claimed damages from the Scout Association, because it happens to be incorporated by royal charter. The victims can claim damages from the organisation itself, but many local Scout associations are unincorporated, and there are dozens of them. Victims of sexual abuse, if it were to happen in the course of the activities of these associations, may well find it difficult, or impossible, to recover substantial compensation. It is not right that the availability of a remedy for the victim of such abuse should depend on whether the particular Scout association happened to be incorporated.
A religious organisation may be established as an unincorporated charity. Former adherents may claim that it has been run as a cult and seek compensation for being imprisoned and deprived of their property by duress or fraud. The organisation may have substantial assets, since adherents are encouraged to donate generously, but the trustees may have no personal assets—so the claims by the victims are valid but completely worthless, because the trustees have nothing. They cannot demand that the trustees be indemnified out of the assets held on charitable trust since the trustees are themselves involved in the wrongdoing, in breach of trust.
In sum, this amendment will help victims and will bring to an end a difference between the incorporated and the unincorporated charity that has no justification. I beg to move.
My Lords, this amendment is in my name as well as that of my noble friend Lady Deech. Since we moved this amendment in Committee on 1 July, the issue has in some ways become sharper because of widespread reporting in the press of the harassment of donors by those working for charities. The issue of the circumstances that might arise where a victim is unable to seek compensation from a charity has become sharper than it was even a very short time ago.
That said, I wish to reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, and others that we are well aware that the charitable sector is fundamentally a source of great good in our society, and we are very concerned that anything that we propose today does not in any way reduce the legitimate freedom of activity of our charities. It is very important to keep this in mind and to try to get the balance right. The essential difficulty here, to which my noble friend Lady Deech referred, is the difference in status between incorporated and unincorporated charities—those in the latter category are now in the great majority. She gave the example of the Scout Association, which is a good one, where issues of sexual exploitation were able to be raised against the national Scout Association because it was an incorporated charity. However, it is a much more difficult and complex matter to do that against local bodies.
It seems to me very difficult to justify this anomaly. The comparator is with company law, and my noble friend Lady Deech convincingly made the case that the comparator is not really operating in the way that one would expect in the case of unincorporated charities. We are arguing for the rectification of an anomaly, as my noble friend Lady Deech said, in the interests above all of victims.
The Minister has been very kind to us and we have had helpful discussions about this matter. I was listening to the discussion of an earlier amendment, when the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, suggested that this amendment would not be welcomed by the Charity Commission. It would be helpful if we could have some sense of the Charity Commission’s view about the practicalities of this amendment, if that is at all possible—but I support the amendment at this point.
My Lords, I made my views about this amendment known in Committee, and they have not changed. I listened very carefully to what the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, said, and she said one thing that made me believe that this amendment is wrong. She said:
“It is just like a company”.
Well, no, it is not. Charities are distinctly different in law, which is why there are different charitable formats. The noble Baroness said that the majority of charities would be incorporated, but that is not so: approximately 50% of the charities in this country are very small and most of them are not even registered with the Charity Commission. The unincorporated association format is there specifically to enable people who wish to come together for charitable purposes to do so to a standard of operating which is regulated by the Charity Commission in most cases. But they are not held to exactly the same standards as an incorporated association.
The noble Baroness and I often come at things from completely opposite sides, and I disagree with her on this. One reason why the unincorporated association is a valuable framework that is worth retaining for charities is that in the sorts of cases that she raised, it is trustees who have done wrong who are personally liable for what has happened, but the purpose and the assets of the charity remain valid. The effect of this would be to obliterate a whole level of charitable activity; the noble Baroness will, in effect, rip the heart out of a lot of community good up and down the land.
One thing I am not sure about, and the one thing that the noble Baroness did not tell us about in her introduction, is the scale of the problem she is seeking to address. If there is evidence that this is a widespread problem, she has a case, but it needs to be made in a different way; there needs to be a thoroughgoing investigation, which would settle for all time whether or not unincorporated associations, in their present form, should continue or not. I would like to see that done in a thorough and considered way and not on the basis of this debate and this amendment.
My Lords, the noble Baroness has made a very important point. It is conceivable that we should discuss whether these two forms of charity—the incorporated and the unincorporated—might no longer be entirely fitting for the circumstances of the day. We could discuss wholesale reform, but it seems to me that approaching that in a particular and narrow way is not the right way to do it. Law is not best made that way, not least because if you do it in that piecemeal manner, you can end up with something that is much worse than what you started off with. The law of unintended consequences is very powerful in these circumstances.
The second thing I would say to your Lordships is that Britain has a remarkable reputation around the world for charity, as we have often said in debates. But we have to remember that this is not something that has come about recently; it has happened over a very long period of time. It has resulted in, I have to say, a rather untidy system—there is no doubt about that. There are various different ways of looking at this, and sometimes people want to tidy it up. Perhaps one of the system’s strengths is the fact that there are so many different sorts of charities and so many different groups of people doing things in a slightly different way. With the Charity Commission, we have tried to set some reasonable standards and to ensure that there are very clear reference points.
We have tried hard to do that in a way that corrals people as little as possible. New charities often arise because people feel strongly about something that they have a personal relationship with: something happens, somebody they know has been hurt, they are concerned and they say, “I must do something about that”. Personally, I am a huge supporter of that. When one is canvassing, it always seems the worst thing when you bang on a door and someone says, “Somebody ought to do something about that”. My response is always, “Why don’t you do something about it? It is no good talking about somebody else”. Charities often arise because people say, “I want to do something about it”. That is a really important part of it.
My worry here is therefore, secondly, that we are not just approaching a complex business from a particular, narrow direction but also that we are adding yet again to the complications that face people when they want to turn a spontaneous reaction into a more permanent form. Of course, that leads to duplication of charities and I know that there is a real problem there. However, it is a good, healthy and encourageable part of humanity that people want to do something themselves about a matter they feel strongly about. I fear that if we went down this route without thinking very hard about it, we would—as the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, rightly said—put into the small charities some real concerns.
Thirdly, I would have to be much more convinced about the propriety of putting at risk the funds of a charity given for a particular purpose because of the activities of a particular trustee—which would be the result of the amendment. I can imagine amendments that would not produce that response. I can imagine changing the law in a way that might help to solve the problem that the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, put before the House. However, this amendment does not do that and could put a whole lot of other things into serious default.
The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, is right that to bring forward so complex an amendment in a debate of this kind without having some idea of the size of the problem, or the nature of the different parts of it, is not the way to deal with it. If you do not know how big the problem is, you do not know how dangerous it is to make the change. If it is a huge problem, you may want to risk the change, but if the problem is much more limited, you will probably want to say to yourself, “This is better left to a more mature and serious consideration, and there should be a much bigger one about the legal distinctions between incorporation and unincorporation”.
I support this amendment. My noble friend Lord Deben spoke of an implicit goodness on the part of those people who set up a charity and want to do something good. I understand that entirely but we are faced here with a different problem, unfortunately, of individuals who may wish to hide behind what seems to be a charity for wholly inappropriate purposes. While they are personally liable for things that may go wrong, those people might vanish into the distance and not be there to compensate those who have suffered badly as a result of charitable money being misused. Unfortunately, at the moment it is difficult to bring an action against an unincorporated association. If a trustee acts outside his powers, it is by no means easy to bring such an action. This amendment would make it easier for those who have suffered, where charitable money has been used for wrongful purposes, to look to the charity. It would make it less easy for those who misused that money to be able to hide in the way that perhaps at the moment they can.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and the noble Lord, Lord Bew, for their thoughtful explanations of this amendment and for sparing the time to discuss this issue with me privately. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, and my noble friends Lord Deben and Lord Gold, for their contributions. When we discussed this in Committee I made several points that noble Lords will be glad to know I will not repeat in great detail now as this can be quite a complex matter—as noble Lords will have gathered. I will stick to the principal points.
If an individual or entity commences litigation against an unincorporated charity, usually all the trustees of that charity would be named as parties. That is because an unincorporated charity has no separate legal identity—the point that others made. This would include proceedings for tortious liability against a charity trustee in his or her capacity as a trustee of that charity, or an employee in the course of his or her employment. If damages were awarded against the trustees, the trustees ordinarily would be entitled—if they acted properly and reasonably—to indemnify themselves from the assets of the unincorporated charity under the charity’s governing document. However, they could be jointly and severally liable for any shortfall where the charity’s assets are insufficient to meet the level of damages awarded.
In that respect, a person who sues an unincorporated charity can be in a stronger position than a person who sues an incorporated charity, where the directors’ liability can be limited, as they could seek redress from the assets of the charity and the personal assets of the trustees. For an incorporated charity, in the absence of any charity assets there is limited redress against the directors and members. Also, the unincorporated charity is in the same position as other unincorporated associations—for example, many trade associations. A trade association could make a flawed recommendation to its members that resulted in tortious liability.
It is important to restate that liability should not automatically attach to the charitable association’s assets, as the amendment seems to propose. In all cases, it should be for the court to establish where liability should lie, based on the facts of the case and the charity’s governing document. There may be other unintended consequences resulting from the amendment which we would also want to avoid.
In our view, damages may be met from the assets of the charity, whether it is incorporated or not, under the law as it stands. However, I recognise that a number of people have raised concerns over how the law operates in this area. As I said, I met the noble Lord, Lord Bew, the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and my noble friend Lord Gold to discuss the nature of these problems. In response to their thoughtful contributions today, while I cannot give any commitments about amendments to the Bill, I will and certainly do commit to look at this issue in more detail over the summer, and in particular to reflect on whether there is a lacuna in the law as it stands that puts victims of unincorporated charities at a significant disadvantage. I will obviously keep the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, the noble Lord, Lord Bew, and my noble friend Lord Gold informed as to my deliberations. I am happy to keep others who spoke on this amendment informed, too. I fully understand that this is a complex area. We do not wish to rush into it.
I understand that the Charity Commission shares a number of the concerns raised and it would be happy to write to the noble Lord, Lord Bew, in more detail on this point as our deliberations progress. I am sure that the Charity Commission would be happy to meet with the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and other noble Lords should they so wish. With all that said and in mind, I hope that the noble Baroness will not press her amendment.
I am grateful to the Minister for his conversations with us and for the very valuable suggestion of bringing in the Charity Commission to get evidence, which is very hard to collect in this field. However, I would like to correct a misunderstanding that seemed to flow around the House. This amendment would not incorporate charities, nor do I recollect saying that most charities were incorporated.
It does no such thing to the charity structure, but would simply enable the victims to access the assets of the charity where the trustee himself or herself does not have enough. In that sense, it would simplify the running of the charity and its structure. As the Minister said, assets will be used in any case, so there is no question of somehow continuing the preservation of a charity’s assets when wrong has been done to a victim. However, given that we need to consult the Charity Commission on that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment for now.
Amendment 18 withdrawn.
19: After Clause 12, insert the following new Clause—
“Independent schools’ facilities: public benefit
In section 4 of the Charities Act 2011 (the public benefit requirement), after subsection (4) insert—“(5) Independent schools which are charities must engage actively with local communities and state schools with a view to sharing resources and facilities.
(6) The Charity Commission must publish guidance setting out the minimum that independent schools which are charities must do to comply with the duty in subsection (5).””
My Lords, we return to a simplified version of amendments which the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and I moved in Committee. Between the two stages there have been a number of discussions with the Minister, for which I thank him, and with the Independent Schools Council along with others. I must apologise to some of those with whom I was attempting to negotiate for much of Thursday and Friday morning, in that I happened to choose one of the few places in Oxfordshire where you cannot get mobile phone reception.
The context is clear: the rise in quality in resources and facilities at most—though of course not all—independent schools, which arises from their ability to raise fees and fundraise, along with endowments that many of them have, is in contrast with the decline in the resources and facilities of state schools, including their playing fields, music and drama facilities and specialised coaching and teaching of specialised subjects, which is unlikely to be reversed under this Government, since they are committed to shrinking government spending further, including on education. The second part of the context is the charitable purposes of independent schools, which are often rooted in their founding purposes in education for local communities. I am well aware that the Charity Tribunal in 2011 said that purposes can change, and indeed have changed—although they have not entirely been discarded. We discussed this earlier, with the question of housing associations. A housing association that changes itself into something entirely different would have its charitable status questioned. I remind noble Lords that the ruling of the Charity Commission says that schools can choose how they demonstrate public benefit, not that they can disregard public benefit.
The third part of the context is the increased awareness within the educational world of the importance of resilience and self-confidence as wider elements in education, although, unfortunately—and the Independent Schools Council made this point to me—Ofsted no longer pays any attention in assessing state schools to the wider elements of education that encourage resilience and self-confidence. There is a consensus on how important these things are to individual development. Best practice in the independent schools sector recognises this, and there are a number of excellent examples of partnership between independent schools and the local communities—and their schools—in which they are embedded. There are some examples of less good practice, however, which is why the amendment talks about engaging “actively”. One of the weakest points, in the statement agreed between the Independent Schools Council and the Charity Commission, is to say that there will be a new website through which state schools will have a facility to request involvement in partnership activities. We want independent schools to go out to find, explore, pursue and develop partnerships with their local communities and state schools.
The strongest point of the ISC and Charity Commission is the commitment to a research report, 12 months from the introduction of these changes, which will review data from the annual reports of charitable schools as well as the aggregated data that the ISC collects through its census. At present, the details of how that research project is developed will be agreed between the Charity Commission and the ISC.
We are all conscious of the problems of defining public benefit. The NCVO advice on this amendment repeats that too strict a definition of public benefit gets one into enormous problems—and I am looking at the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, who has said this to me, and many others, many times. But the Charity Commission must monitor that public benefit of some sort is provided. If the Minister is to say that the Charity Commission is not capable of doing that at present, many of us would say that the Charity Commission have been severely constrained in recent years. Faced with a Government who are cutting public expenditure, this very important third sector may need more effective regulation as we have to depend on it more and more.
We hope that we can avoid going down the road to a further statutory definition of public benefit. What the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and I wanted to achieve through this process was a strong nudge to the independent schools sector to move in the right direction. It will help us not to divide in this House if the Minister can give us a number of strong reassurances—first, to make it clear to independent schools that they are expected to pursue and develop partnerships, not just to wait and see whether anyone applies. They should see this as part of the social responsibility that all charities should shoulder. Secondly, we should engage with the ISC and the Charity Commission on the terms of the research project to be conducted over the next 12 months and not leave the definition entirely to them. Thirdly, it is important to report to Parliament on the outcome of this research and arrange for it to be debated either through an Oral Statement or otherwise in government time.
I hope that that gives the Minister sufficient space to take us forward, not necessarily to any form of mandatory obligation but certainly to say that we have moved independent schools towards the active partnership with their local communities and schools that we all want.
My Lords, I shall speak to the amendment on the important question of the relationship between independent schools’ charitable status and public benefit and the need for all schools, particularly those with charitable status, to work together with state schools and neighbourhood communities in their vicinity. I intend to concentrate my remarks on the dual use of sports facilities and coaching expertise, although the principles behind my support for progress towards closer educational partnerships extend to all the charitable objectives set out by Parliament in the Charities Act.
In moving a probing amendment in Committee, my intention was to consider the merits and disadvantages in moving from the flexibility of the current system to a more prescriptive approach, reflected in the amendment that we are considering today, which requires all independent schools to engage with local communities, particularly regarding the dual use of sports and arts facilities. A considerable benefit of Committee for me was the opportunity that it provided to delve deeper into proposed legislation and learn significant lessons from the in-depth experience found in this House and outside.
Following Committee, like the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, I have taken the opportunity to meet the Charity Commission, the Independent Schools Council and the Minister to consider how we can make further progress to promote engagement with all independent schools in receipt of charitable status that have the facilities and coaching expertise to engage with local communities and state schools to mutual advantage. I am particularly grateful to my noble friend the Minister, who has upheld his open-door policy to any Member of your Lordships’ House on this Bill.
I spoke in Committee about good practice and cited Tonbridge School as a leading case study of good practice in this country. Under the leadership of Tim Haynes, the head, the school has engaged with 27 primary schools in its vicinity. The reaction from children, parents and the local community can best be described as fulsome praise. His initiative has gone further than engagement through sport, with the subjects of music, drama, dance, chess, art, design, IT, creative writing, science, history, maths, modern languages and classical studies all featuring as part of that engagement. Above all, all independent schools, such as Tonbridge School, in showcasing their facilities, should look to work also with governing bodies of sport, local clubs and those responsible in the primary schools for the school sport premium. That comes with £8,000 for schools with 17 or more pupils, plus an additional £5 per pupil, which could be very useful to fund insurance, transport and related costs incurred as a result of these initiatives.
To be successful, this must be a two-way process. Over the past few days, the Charity Commission has confirmed that it will relaunch and publicise the examples for schools of how to provide benefit for people who cannot afford their fees in its existing guidance, Public Benefit: Running a Charity, by sharing sports facilities. In a significant step forward, it will give new examples relating to sharing sports facilities, arts and music in the guidance Public Benefit: Reporting and in the example trustees’ annual report for “Anytown School”. A significant improvement in good practice should be achieved.
The problem I have with mandatory requirements is the one-size-fits-all approach. For example, many prep schools have to work to capacity to survive financially, even with charitable status. Some do not own their own sports facilities, others share and some are in need of significant upgrading. What is needed is for each school not only to follow best practice but, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, stated, for the Charity Commission to publicise it through its channels so that each school can tailor its public benefit accordingly and the House can debate the outcome.
The Charity Commission responded positively to the suggestion of a research report, in which I have more faith than the noble Lord, Lord Wallace. According to its guidelines, that report has to be published 12 months from the introduction of these changes. That research should provide us with a comprehensive picture of the extent of partnerships and enable this House to consider whether legislative steps are necessary, for example, when the next education Bill comes before us during this Parliament.
While there are challenges for independent schools with charitable status, the broader question we should also be debating applies not only to all independent schools but to the state sector, whether well-endowed with sports facilities or not. One of the greatest challenges we face in designing a long overdue and effective sports policy is the oft-quoted statistic about the percentage of our Olympic medallists from the independent sector. That reflects the need to do all we can, far more than at the moment, to identify talented youngsters in all our schools and provide ladders of opportunity for them to climb from primary school to podium.
In response to pressure from all sides of the House on this Bill, the Independent Schools Council has agreed to act by building a new website, Schools Together. The site is currently under development and should be ready to receive information from schools in the autumn term. It was not even on the agenda before Committee. I hope the site will be launched as soon as possible in the autumn. It must be two-way. The site absolutely needs to summarise what is on offer at all independent schools with charitable status and to include a facility for state schools to get involved in partnership activities. From the conversations I have had, I believe that independent schools will reach out to their community in this way by providing information and contact details of their partnership co-ordinators. State schools will be asked to request involvement in partnership activities. Since this is clearly the intent of all who have contributed to this debate at various stages, there should be no reason why all schools do not engage constructively. Once again, if the combined new commitments of the Charity Commission and the Independent Schools Council do not bear fruit in the way the House and the Minister have indicated, we should be able to produce legislative change through a wider education Bill.
I believe that these initiatives represent more than a nudge in the right direction. They are very significant steps forward and would not have happened had there not been the level of interest expressed in your Lordships’ House from all parties. They are tailor-made for the differences between schools and they avoid the cost and administration that a one-size-fits-all legislative approach would deliver. I believe that what I have sought to address constitutes a very strong example of how cross-party support for the interests of sport and recreation, including the arts and curricular subjects, for all children coupled with the promulgation of best practice can be and has been achieved. That is a rare outcome of negotiation between Committee and Report. I fully appreciate the strength of opinion expressed and I share it, but I believe that the changes we have been offered are far reaching and deserve support. I also believe they are for real. There is genuine consensus on this issue among all interested parties. I believe the approach offered will prove to all concerned that the proposed package will achieve even more with the good will of all involved than a one-size-fits-all amendment would deliver. For these reasons, I hope the amendment will not be pressed to a vote and that we can build on these important initiatives and regularly hold all those involved to account when it comes to the outcome of the research project and the website in a year’s time.
My Lords, I am loath to interrupt the noble Lord, except I think he is bringing matters to a conclusion. I want to express my congratulations to the previous Government on putting some steel into the Charity Commission in the process of recalling to independent schools what their charitable status means and what it takes to live up to the—in many cases—very clear opinions of their original benefactors. That process gathered considerable momentum, and many protests, under the previous Government, and I am delighted to see that it is continuing under this Government with cross-party support. It is enormously important that we find a way of reducing the exclusivity and divisions in our current system and that we find ways of reuniting it. On the side of this debate—I know it is not central to it—I very much hope that this Government will take seriously the proposals developed for the reintegration of independent schools and the state system. Some key schools, such as Westminster and St Paul’s, have expressed a willingness to engage. If we can get to a system where the independent schools have a role looking after foreigners and the thick sons of the rich, then we will have achieved a lot for this country.
My Lords, we had a long debate on this and I do not intend to detain the House long. This amendment is, at first sight, exceptionally attractive. Who can object to close engagement? The issue before us tonight is whether this is best achieved by the relative inflexibility of statute or the more flexible approach that can be achieved by guidance. My concern about this and the proceedings during our debate in Committee is that this is a Pandora’s box which, once opened, runs in all sorts of directions.
The issue of public benefit came centre stage because of the changes quite reasonably introduced by the previous Labour Government. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, sat through many hours as the Minister in charge. The decision on the way the public benefit test should be set was agreed as being the least worst option, being via the independent Charity Commission, and making sure that the Charity Commission was free from political interference was written into the Bill. Once you move away from that decision, you need to be very careful about where you end up. The debates we had in Committee on 6 July started with an amendment from my noble friend Lord Moynihan about sport. He was followed by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, on music and arts. At the end of the debate the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, winding up for the Opposition, said:
“Amendments 23A and 23B provide a start by identifying at least three areas”.
She also said:
“Furthermore, we believe that the Local Government Act 1988 should be amended so that private schools’ business rate relief becomes conditional on passing that new standard”.—[Official Report, 6/7/15; col. GC27.]
So we moved quite a long way in the course of one single debate. There is a perfectly respectable argument that nearly 10 years after the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, and I discussed this in the Moses Room there should be a review of what constitutes public benefit. However, as I have explained, this is a big topic with many implications and unforeseen and indeed unforeseeable consequences. In my view, it needs to be looked at thoroughly in the round, not tacked on to a Bill that is concerned with improving the regulation of the charity sector and enhancing the development of the social investment movement. As the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, referred to in his remarks, that is a view with which the NCVO agrees.
My review of the sector revealed gaps in the Charity Commission regulatory powers that the Bill will remedy. It is that on which we should be focusing, not trying to find other issues that may cause difficulties and unforeseen consequences. I very much hope that the mover of the amendment will not put it to a Division tonight.
My Lords, I have a small point to make. I declare an interest as chairman of a foundation school, Reed’s School, founded 200 years ago for the orphans of city clerks. It became a member of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference 60 years ago, maintains the foundation and has a considerable outreach, particularly to schools in east London, in parallel, in many ways, with Tonbridge School.
The school is a member of the HMC but, significantly, also of the Society of Heads, the conference of smaller schools, many of which would probably be in the 7% that is accepted as falling behind in the standards of public benefit. Many of these schools—my noble friend Lord Moynihan has made a passing reference to this—are struggling to keep their heads above water, and they simply do not have the resources to undergo the public benefit that is required.
This has been a very hot topic between the Charity Commission and all the governing associations, the various heads and governors, for 10 years now. In Committee I voiced my opposition to the word “minimum”; I felt that that was an unnecessarily prescriptive word on a matter that depends so largely on mutual recognition between the two sectors. I suggest that Clause 1 is already in the Bill, as the Minister said in Committee, and the bar for the second new subsection will have to be so low as to have to embrace the schools that are struggling. We are then into the one-size-fits-all category, which has been mentioned by a number of noble Lords. I suggest that the way forward is this continual dialogue between the Charity Commission and these various bodies. Let us not forget that peer pressure within these bodies will likely play a large part.
My Lords, I speak in support of the principles of this amendment. I urge the Minister to spend more time in the summer considering the excellent concessions that my noble friend Lord Moynihan and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, have managed to achieve. In the past, as has been documented, a high proportion of our medal winners and test series winners—is this perhaps a moment when we should hold a minute’s silence for the England men’s cricket team?—and of the successes and indeed the membership of those teams has come from the public school sector. We should consider the amendments seriously; we can give the opportunities to those at grass-roots level who never get the chance to play on decent facilities. We can build from the grass roots more successful national teams, in which we take such pride.
It is not so much about winning medals and various series, but it should be a matter of good governance for independent schools that are charities. You could almost change the meaning of CSR from corporate social responsibility to charitable social responsibility. We should give those who have never had the chance to play sport on quality facilities a chance to move forward and reap the accolades that many of those from public schools have achieved. I am not in favour of statutory legislation to ensure that this happens but hope that independent schools can find it in their hearts to share their facilities with the community, and that the Government will accept the guidance of the Charity Commission to give all youngsters a sporting chance, not just those who have the backing of deep pockets and privilege.
My Lords, I begin by declaring, or rather repeating, my interests as a former general secretary of the Independent Schools Council and the current president of the Independent Schools Association, one of the constituent bodies of the council. When I spoke in Committee, I sought to emphasise above all the diversity and variety of independent schools. Diverse and varied though they may be, there are some things that ISC schools as a whole have in common: they are fully committed to working with their communities and state schools. The determination to contribute to and share in the life of their local communities and state schools arises naturally from the charitable ethos and purposes of ISC schools. That point was firmly underlined in the manifesto that the ISC published earlier this year as its contribution to the education debate as the election approached. The manifesto stated that,
“the mission of all schools, whether state or independent, is to educate children to achieve their full potential. Any barriers real or perceived between the two sectors are counterproductive”.
The manifesto went on to give a clear pledge:
“Partnerships between the independent and maintained sectors are an established part of the educational landscape … We propose that … Best practice and current activity is collated and shared to encourage greater participation”.
To that end, the ISC is now involved in detailed discussions with the Charity Commission and, as we have heard, is preparing a large website entitled Schools Together, to be launched later this year, which will set out in greater detail all that is being done now and encourage the rapid expansion of further partnership activity in all possible areas.
The first part of the amendment states:
“Independent schools which are charities must engage actively with local communities and state schools with a view to sharing resources and facilities”.
This pushes at an open door. The issue before us is how the goal, in which we are all united, should best be achieved. Because independent schools vary so greatly in size, resources and facilities, what they can do to carry forward sharing and partnership will inevitably vary too. Think, for example, of the many small schools, particularly those in rural areas or on confined urban sites, one of which I visited a few days ago in order to present the annual prizes. The school has some 200 pupils. It has no playing fields but opens its gym to the local community. It has established a number of means-tested bursaries and has just raised £8,000 for the NSPCC.
I stress the lack of uniformity within the independent sector. Where uniformity does not exist, surely flexibility is imperative. It is for that reason that I believe it would be inappropriate to require the Charity Commission to publish guidance setting out the minimum that independent schools that are charities must do, as the second part of the amendment proposes. To be fair and equitable, the Charity Commission would have to lay down a minimum for each of the ISC’s 1,267 member schools, taking the varying circumstances of each one into account. That is clearly impractical. There is also a point of principle at issue here. All charities are required to provide public benefit. Would it be right to single out independent schools alone for binding guidance on minimum standards?
There is a better way, which was outlined by my noble friend Lord Moynihan and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. The Independent Schools Council is firmly committed to that better way. The preparation of new guidance by the Charity Commission is likely to include illustrative examples of sports, arts and music partnerships to encourage more independent schools to engage in such partnerships, and there is more information to be gathered and shared with the Charity Commission. A research report has been agreed in principle.
There is also scope for the ISC website Working Together—to which I and other noble Lords have referred—to give additional impetus to collaborative projects by including this facility through which state schools themselves could make direct applications for involvement in partnership activities. I attach great importance to this initiative, which deserves all-party backing and support, perhaps by means of endorsements by every party leader which could appear prominently on this website.
No one has more experience in this vital area, where so much good work is already being done and so much more can be achieved, than my colleague Deborah Leek-Bailey, chair of the Independent/State School Partnership Forum, which is backed and actively supported by the Department for Education. She said recently:
“I applaud any action by government which encourages independent schools to extend their provision to pupils within their local communities but it is important to remember that charities are independent and their trustees need to be able to make decisions in the best interests of the charity, taking into account their individual circumstances. It is vital that we do more to raise standards in the teaching of sport, music, languages, the arts, in state schools but I believe that far more can be achieved by highlighting the benefits of engagement and so spreading them very widely indeed”.
Is it not through such an approach, backed and reinforced by new non-statutory guidance from the Charity Commission and other measures, that steady progress can be made for the benefit of all three partners—local communities, state schools and independent schools themselves—in this vital area? They all need to be willing partners. Compulsion is inappropriate both in principle and in practice.
My Lords, I have the greatest respect for the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, especially on sport-related matters, so it was a little disappointing to hear him repeat the suggestion made in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, which he stated again this evening: that the amendment seeks a one-size fits all solution. That is absolutely not the case. Precisely because of the sort of reasons the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, just outlined, schools vary greatly in size; therefore, what they can be reasonably expected to do in terms of community engagement will also vary. If a large private school has state-of-the-art sports facilities, it may reasonably be expected to invite pupils from state schools to use them—not just the pitches and courts, but coaching from the staff. In all probability a smaller school would have much less extensive facilities, so it might be appropriate for that school to send one or more coaches out to local state schools to engage directly with them. The same would be true of the assistance with learning issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, be it Mandarin or music tuition using instruments perhaps not available in local state schools. To be most effective, the approach would necessarily vary, but it is entirely unacceptable for any school to say, “We cannot do anything because we’re simply too small or too remote”.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, referred to the “agreement” reached between the Charity Commission and the ISC. Unknown to anyone else, secret meetings have been taking place while the Bill has been progressing through your Lordships’ House; indeed, only yesterday we became privy—if I may use that contentious term in the context of the Bill—to the outcome. This private agreement was finalised without any discussions with representatives of state schools or local government education authorities; nor were some noble Lords whose names appear on the amendment consulted or even informed, which would have been courteous, if nothing else. Is it not bizarre, to put it no more strongly, to allow the umbrella body for private schools to help write the rules by which it will be judged? Perhaps the Minister can answer that point.
The agreement could result in some limited progress, but it means private schools being allowed to retain an entirely voluntary approach. The ISC says it hopes that the agreement demonstrates that the body is taking steps towards further encouraging engagement between independent schools, state schools and local communities. I suppose it does, but the key word is “encouraging”. Up to now, encouraging has brought us only to the point where the noble Lords, Lord Moynihan and Lord Wallace of Saltaire, felt compelled to spell out in their contributions in Committee why much more needed to be done and why they believed that statutory backing was needed to make it happen.
Further, the website that various noble Lords referred to this evening, Schools Together, which will go online later this year, will merely “request” that member schools provide contact details of the co-ordinators of partnership work at their schools, finishing with the telling statement, “such information to be provided voluntarily”. So there are get-outs at each end, and it seems that the ISC clearly has no intention of forcing its members to do anything they do not want to do. It is difficult to imagine a weaker form of wording, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, said himself.
We also learn that the Charity Commission is to commission a research report 12 months from the introduction of the agreement. Crucially, it seems that only the commission and the ISC will have detailed discussions around the terms of this research project in advance. Again, there will be no input from the state schools this is meant to assist. Will the Minister insist that state schools and local authorities be involved in the discussions relating to this research report? I very much hope that he will acknowledge the importance of that happening.
In Committee, the Minister said:
“Most of the Bill is about giving the Charity Commission the tools it needs to do its job”.—[Official Report, 6/7/15; col. GC17.]
The talks we have heard about between the Charity Commission and the ISC apparently suggest that both organisations were intent on avoiding compulsion in any form. If, as has been suggested, one of the reasons why the Charity Commission did not want that to happen was that it does not feel it has the necessary resources to enforce it, I suggest that that is not a reason of any substance. We were told the same about compulsory registration with the Fundraising Standards Board, and it is just not good enough. If that is the case, the Government are preventing the Bill bringing about meaningful change in these two areas, contrary to what the Minister said, because they will not give the Charity Commission the tools—that is, the resources, which I suppose are largely financial—to do its job effectively.
Currently the onus is on state schools to apply for support, and the agreement would maintain that position. If, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, said, this amendment is carried, private schools will have to be proactive and seek out nearby state schools and say, “How can we help you share our facilities and our expertise?”. It would put the responsibility on charities, which gain from charitable status, to go out and abide by the terms of that status by sharing their resources. How can that be seen as objectionable? Private schools would have to report on their success with such outreach initiatives, enabling the Charity Commission to check that they were observing the terms of public benefit effectively. Currently, as has been said, schools mark their own homework on their charitable work, which the figures show is not sufficient. Surely that is not acceptable.
It is important to have a strong regulator to ensure that standards in public trust and confidence are maintained, and enforcing the public benefit requirement is surely a key part of this. The amendment does that, and I welcome the fact that these important issues have been debated by noble Lords this evening.
My Lords, I start by saying that I remain strongly in sympathy with the aims of the noble Lords whose names are down on this amendment. Before I address the amendment, I will make a general observation. Charitable status confers on charities a number of benefits, and that is right. Charities deserve our support in fulfilling their purposes. However, those benefits come with responsibilities, which trustees must ensure their charity fulfils. A core purpose of the Charity Commission, helped by this Bill, is to ensure that every charity fulfils those responsibilities and obligations. How they do so is up to them, but do so they must. I repeat: every charity must fulfil them, no matter what they do. It is important that law and regulations be applied and enforced without favour or prejudice to any one sector of the charitable world. There must be no light touch or heavy hand towards schools with charitable status as opposed to religious groups, or towards animal charities as opposed to environmental charities. They all—I repeat, all—must abide by the law and fulfil their obligations.
With that in mind, I turn to the issue raised by the amendment. To fulfil their charitable purpose, many schools have forged partnerships with state schools, enabling the latter to share private schools’ facilities. This has brought huge benefits, as a number of your Lordships have mentioned. It has widened access to first-class sports facilities, for example, and extended the use of music and drama facilities which might otherwise be unavailable to local state schools. Such partnerships are to be strongly encouraged. I agree with noble Lords that, while there are many terrific examples—and these should be applauded—we could certainly see a lot more of them. A strong nudge to those who have not yet given genuine consideration to the potential for such partnerships to further their charitable aims would surely be widely welcomed.
Where I differ with the amendment is not, therefore, in the aim but in the approach, for it proposes not a nudge but a legislative requirement which would severely limit the charitable purposes that charities which are independent schools can pursue, and I cannot agree that that is the best way forward. There are some important issues of principle here. First, the amendment would single out charitable schools in legislation. As has been mentioned, no other type of charity is treated in this way. Secondly, it would single out only one way in which schools could demonstrate public benefit. Again, no other charity is treated in this way in legislation.
In practice, charitable independent schools can demonstrate their benefit, and satisfy the “public benefit requirement” for the purposes of the Charities Act 2011, in a wide range of ways, including through bursaries—one-third of ISC school pupils receive help with fees—outreach teaching or sponsorship of an academy. Other options include sharing their curriculum or putting on summer schools for state pupils and so on. An important principle of charity law is in operation here. The law places the decision on which approach, or combination of approaches, the charity should take in the hands of the charity’s trustees. That is how it should be, and it should not be for government or the regulator to interfere. Setting particular duties or minimum standards around one particular form of public benefit by one particular type of charity would set a dangerous precedent. I am sure there are those who might like to see particular duties placed upon religious charities, for example, and others who might take a different approach to NGOs from the one they would take to domestic charities, and so on.
Given what I said at the very start, I think it is clear that this is very dangerous territory to get into. Furthermore, it is contrary to the spirit of charity law, which has been tested in the Upper Tribunal. Public benefit must be real and not tokenistic, but it is not for the Charity Commission to dictate to schools, or to any other type of charity, the type or amount of provision they make. That should be a matter for the trustees of the charity concerned, taking into account the circumstances of their charity.
Alongside that are issues of practicality. Some schools’ circumstances may mean that it is not appropriate for them to share facilities. Some may not have sports or arts facilities or expertise that they can share, or local state schools may simply not need their drama facilities. Overriding the discretion and judgment of trustees, who are acting in the interests of the community as a whole, as to what is the most practical option in their area seems an odd thing to do if genuine local partnership is what we are aiming at.
As well as impinging on the discretion of trustees, making this a matter of law and regulation impinges on the discretion of the regulator, the Charity Commission. Of course, where the commission doubts that an independent school really is serving the public benefit, it can already step in, but it should be allowed to make that judgment in the round and not be required to give special attention to any one particular means of fulfilling a school’s charitable mission. In some cases, I fear that a statutory approach could be positively counterproductive.
As I have said, I am greatly in favour of encouraging more partnerships for the purposes of sharing facilities, but I am not keen to champion that ahead of, for instance, academic partnerships. Singling out one form of public benefit for special treatment in law rather implies a hierarchy in which this particular approach is elevated above others. I am all in favour of nudging schools towards the sharing of facilities, but inadvertently nudging them away from other means of helping the education of others could be counterproductive.
There is another unintended outcome which would, I fear, be very likely if we were to move to legislation, and that is the loss of good will among the very community we are hoping to influence. I have been quite struck by the significant good will from the independent schools sector in relation to partnerships with state schools of this sort. The ISC has made it clear to me that it is in fact very keen to do more to promote best practice in sharing facilities and expertise—for example, in sports, music and the arts. This enthusiasm has, I am delighted to say, been translated into action through a very welcome dialogue with the Charity Commission, which recognises the spirit of and intention behind the amendment. As has been mentioned, this dialogue has resulted in a package of measures, agreed by the two organisations, which will provide just the “nudge” that I think we are all looking for
The package contains three sorts of measures, of which the first is guidance. The Charity Commission will relaunch its existing guidance entitled Public Benefit: Running a Charity, publicising for schools examples of how to provide benefit for people who cannot afford their fees. This includes examples of sharing sporting facilities. It will also give new examples relating to the sharing of sports, arts and music facilities in its wider Public Benefit: Reporting guidance and in its example of a good trustees’ annual report for schools. The Charity Commission will commit to ensuring that the guidance links to more examples of what constitutes good practice for independent schools to satisfy the public benefit test, which will include encouraging schools to pursue and develop partnerships. I am pleased that the ISC will publicise the relaunched guidance among all its members. In keeping with what I have said, any additions made to the guidance will be examples of good practice and will not introduce any new mandatory requirements.
The second part of the package is research. There are many claims about the extent of the sharing of facilities between schools, and we should base further debate more solidly on a better understanding of what is actually the case. As has been said, the Charity Commission will therefore commission a research report 12 months from the introduction of the revised guidance that I have spoken of. This is likely to be built upon data from the annual reports from charitable schools, as well as aggregated data that the ISC collects through its census. The terms will be worked up by the commission and the ISC together, and I am sure that the commission would be happy to meet the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, my noble friend Lord Moynihan and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, or the noble Lord, Lord Watson, to discuss this. The commission will publish the research and a copy will be placed in the House’s Library, and I would be happy to make a commitment to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, about a debate on its findings.
Finally, the ISC is in the early stages of developing a web resource which enables local schools to request involvement in partnership activities. The ISC will request that member schools, on a voluntary basis, provide contact details of the co-ordinators of partnership work at their schools.
This is a substantial package, and it is a voluntary one between the ISC and the independent regulator. I think it is clear that this is to be applauded and encouraged. Over the summer the Charity Commission would be happy to discuss these measures with the noble Lords who have put their names to the amendment. I think it is also clear that moving to legislation would undermine such good will and co-operation as has been seen over the last few weeks. The Charity Commission and the ISC have said that they will continue to engage with interested Peers as their work progresses in the months ahead.
I finish with my overriding point. I share the noble Lord’s aims and sentiments. Where we differ—but I hope not enormously—is on the means. The package of measures I have just outlined sits well with the overall approach of the Bill. The measures are targeted, proportionate and balanced. They seek to underscore trustees’ obligations and responsibilities, and, crucially, to foster partnership. I hope that on that basis the noble Lord feels able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, this has been an important debate and a number of noble Lords, as well as the Minister, have said important things about what we need. I recognise that a number of noble Lords on the Conservative Benches have close links with the independent schools community. I trust that everything that has been said will be taken back and pursued further. I particularly welcome the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, that we expect a positive response to all that has been said. If necessary when the research report comes out, if good progress and significant movement has not been achieved, we will clearly have to move further again.
We all recognise that charitable status is a privilege and that public benefit has to be part of the response to that privilege. We all also recognise that public benefit is very difficult to define and that there are many other areas, including religious groups, where public benefit can sometimes be extremely contentious. That is an issue to which we may well return during the course of this Parliament.
The research project is key, and I welcome the Minister’s response that we will be able to debate that report when it returns and see how thorough it has been and what it shows. On that basis, I am willing to withdraw my amendment. I am a liberal, not a socialist: I prefer co-operation and partnership to compulsion and the imposition of penalties. I would not vote for Jeremy Corbyn as my party leader. I want to see a strong and diverse charitable sector, including many schools founded as charities serving different purposes. However, it is also clear that schools that have been founded as charities have to pursue charitable purposes and demonstrate public benefit. That is what we have been calling for. On that basis, and on the basis that this discussion will continue with many of us on all sides of the House actively engaged, I am willing to withdraw the amendment.
Some Lords objected to the request for leave to withdraw the amendment, so it was not granted.
Division on Amendment 19.
Clause 13: Power to make social investments
20: Clause 13, page 16, line 19, leave out “both” and insert “primarily”
My Lords, we move on to the issue of social investment, one which we spent considerable time deliberating in Grand Committee. During those discussions, the Minister repeatedly used the phrase, “dancing on the head of a pin”. I am not much of a dancer, and I return to this not to rehearse the arguments that we had then but for what I think is a really important reason. As we said in Grand Committee, this is the first time that social investment has ever been defined in law. The extent to which trustees are acting properly if they make an investment on which they will not receive a financial return is a question on which, as we heard in Grand Committee, there are a number of different points of view. I simply want us once again to go around the question of the difference between financially motivated investment which happens to be in line with the charity’s social purpose and consciously, explicitly socially motivated investment. The reason for doing so is risk. There is a strong possibility, at least for the first few years of any such investment, that there will be, at best, no return and there may even be losses. It is crucial that we protect in law the trustees who are making such investments.
The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, and I made the point in Grand Committee that the definition of social investment in the Bill does not reflect the definition given by the Law Commission. The Law Commission’s definition of social investment includes “avoiding financial liability at a future date”. It was, therefore, somewhat difficult for the noble Lord and I to learn during Grand Committee that the Law Commission had helped with the Bill’s drafting. The Law Commission’s definition does not require there to be a positive financial return. That is what it said in its initial report on social investment. However, the Bill includes financial return in the definition. At new Section 292A(5), it defines financial return as,
“if its outcome is better for the charity in financial terms than expending the whole of the funds or other property in question”.
The amendments in this group would add “equal to”. The amendments would allow trustees to make an investment on which there would be simply a social return. There may be a financial return—as opposed to a definite loss, which would be what a grant would amount to—but there may not be. We on these Benches think it important to make that distinction.
The definition in the Bill fails to differentiate between financially motivated investment and consciously, explicitly social investment. That is why we have tabled the amendments, which are slightly different from those which were tabled in Grand Committee. They would require trustees to be open in their investment policy about the fact that they were making social investments, not seeking to make a financial gain but directly trying to achieve a social purpose. As long as they did that and were not harming the capital assets of the charity by completely depleting them, we think that broad definition of social investment would get us to a point where trustees, who are very risk averse under existing law, could begin to develop the whole social investment market. That is what this Government, like the previous Government, have said that they wish to do, but which has so far been constrained by law. That is the reason behind Amendment 20 and all the other amendments in the group. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall be exceptionally brief. I hope that my noble friend will be able to reassure us when we come to the next group that government amendments largely cover the points that the noble Baroness has made in her amendments, all of which are very worth while. We may be able to probe a bit further to ensure that we are getting where we think we are on that group, rather than at this point, but her amendments are interesting.
My Lords, given that this is the first time that social investment has been defined in statute, perhaps it was not surprising that considerable time was spent in Committee in pursuit of its meaning. I am not certain that we nailed it down effectively. Indeed, some, including Social Enterprise UK, continue to argue that the Bill fails to differentiate between financially motivated investment which also happens to be in line with the charity’s social purpose and consciously or explicitly socially motivated investment.
All investment has some kind of social impact and much financial investment produces positive social returns. In Committee, the Minister avoided giving a clear answer as to how social investment is to be differentiated from financially motivated investment; rather, he pointed to the Charity Commission and the courts making such judgments. Only time will tell whether that proves to be the case. For that reason, it is to be welcomed that the Bill will be reviewed after a period of three rather than five years. In the mean time, the amendments in this group offer some clarity in the Bill’s provisions on social investment and we are content to offer them our support.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, for tabling Amendments 20 to 24. Taking time to consider the definition of social investment used in the Bill has been a valuable exercise and I have no doubt that we are all much the wiser for it.
I will deal with the amendments in turn, but I should make it clear that the Law Commission recommended these powers, the Law Commission drafted these clauses, and the Law Commission has been consulted on the amendments. So I am not sure that I totally agree that the Bill does not accurately reflect the Law Commission’s recommendations.
Amendments 20 and 21 would change the definition of social investment such that directly furthering the charity’s purposes must be the primary consideration over achieving financial return. The range of social investments covered by the Bill would be restricted only to those where directly furthering the charity’s purposes is the primary aim. It would thus exclude those investments where achieving a financial return is the primary aim, as well as introduce a definitional issue around how to determine which of the two purposes is primary.
This is contrary to the intention of the Bill, which deliberately aims for a wide definition of social investment where neither the furtherance of the charity’s purposes nor the financial return should be required to take precedence. Some social investments place emphasis on charitable purpose, some on financial return; in other cases, the trustees will be motivated by financial return and furtherance of purposes in equal measure. None of these cases should be excluded from the statutory definition of social investment and from the scope of the new power; all investments right along the spectrum should be included. To hold one above the other would potentially restrict the breadth of investments that fall under the power thereby making it less likely to be used. In order to maintain as wide a scope as possible for the power’s use, so that the power may have the largest possible impact, it is important that the definition of social investment remains suitably inclusive.
As to Amendments 22 and 23, let me state for the sake of clarity that the definition of social investment used in the Bill covers anything short of a total loss of funds. It includes both a neutral and a negative return, short of such total loss. In this way, repayment of any part of the capital invested would be a “financial return” within the definition. The amendments seek to include cases where the expected financial return may be equal to, rather than greater than, a total loss of the investment. This would move us firmly into grant-making territory and mean that grants and other spending, where there is no expected financial return, would fall under the category of social investment. I do not think that this would be a desirable change to the Bill.
The third and final amendment in this group would delete new Section 292A(6), which is a necessary counterpart to the definition of an act of charity used in new Section 292A(4)(b). These parts of the clause are, I recognise, a little cumbersome, but they are necessary to deal with the so-called Rosemary Simmons problem, a case which was raised during the Law Commission consultation. It makes clear that giving a guarantee can count as a social investment despite the fact that money is only put at risk and not actually paid over. As such, it is a necessary inclusion to cover the full breadth of potential social investments. Deleting this subsection would leave the Bill deficient.
The noble Baroness will be aware that the Government have put proper time and effort into getting a definition of social investment that is fit for purpose. As she said, we have been dancing on the head of a pin for some time. I will address this at greater length when I cover government Amendments 25 and 29, referred to by my noble friend Lord Hodgson. I hope on this basis that the noble Baroness will be content not to press her amendments.
I thank the Minister for that answer. I think that we are edging closer to a common position. If my amendments have helped to achieve that, that is worth while. I particularly welcomed the Minister’s statements about my Amendment 22. At this stage, I will curtail this discussion and be delighted to take part in the discussion on the next group of amendments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 20 withdrawn.
Amendments 21 to 24 not moved.
25: Clause 13, page 16, line 36, at end insert—
“( ) The fact that a relevant act may also have results other than those mentioned in subsection (2)(a) and (b) does not prevent the carrying out of that act being regarded as the making of a social investment.”
My Lords, it is to government amendments to Clause 13, relating to the definition of social investment, that I now turn. It is the dancing on the head of a pin that I promised to undertake, which was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, and follows our fruitful debate in Committee and my meeting with my noble friend Lord Hodgson and the noble Baroness.
Noble Lords will recall that I described the power of social investment as being deliberately drafted to be as wide as possible while retaining the distinctiveness of the “social” element, so that the power covers a spectrum from transactions that are mostly intended to further charitable purposes but involve some return of capital, to those that are primarily financial but have a small mission benefit.
There are two poles at the extremes of the spectrum. At one end there are social investments that look much like grants, with very little expected return of capital. At the other end, there are social investments that look very similar to traditional financial investments but have a small role in furthering charitable purpose—and one which is deliberately sought. Social investments must combine some aspect of each pole, but the nature of the combination is entirely flexible.
I also took the opportunity to make it clear that the Bill does intend to include mixed motive investment within the definition of social investment. That said, I have remained open to your Lordships’ suggestions that the Bill could be clearer on this point. This is of particular importance given the intent of this legislation to be expressly permissive and to encourage the uptake of social investment by charities. Thus I reiterate that in relation to the power of social investment: first; there is no minimum degree of mission benefit before the social investment power is engaged; secondly, it is the combination of the mission benefit and the financial return which may cause trustees to consider a social investment to be in the interests of a charity; and, thirdly, a charity’s purposes need not be advanced on an exclusive basis—there may be other unrelated outcomes that are features of the transaction as a whole but are not part of the charitable mission of the specific charity investor and are not part of their reason for investing.
For the record and for completeness, the Law Commission recommendation paper which forms the basis of Clause 13 states that,
“we consider that the definition should make clear that insofar as a social investment is justified by its expected mission benefit: (1) only the charity’s objects are relevant; other benefits which do not fall within the charity’s purposes are irrelevant (even if they may be charitable purposes for another charity); (2) for a charity with multiple purposes, a social investment need not further each one of those purposes; and (3) the charity’s social investment must be expected to cause the mission benefit that is relied on to justify the social investment. However, insofar as a social investment is justified by its expected financial return, it need not be used exclusively and directly to further the charity’s purposes”.
It may be worth me unpacking this further by way of an example. A charity might have the care of horses as its charitable purpose. It may wish to invest in a horse and donkey social enterprise, which provides joint facilities for both. The social enterprise may also expect to make a financial return, perhaps from charging visitors. It is entirely right that, having weighed the benefits to horses along with the expected risk-adjusted financial return, the horse charity is able to invest in the horse and donkey social enterprise. So long as the trustees have satisfied themselves that the combination of expected financial return and mission benefit in relation to horses is appropriate, this is covered under the social investment power. For the avoidance of doubt, this would also be the case for a horse and zebra charity investing in the horse and donkey social enterprise.
To put this in a more generic formulation, the social investment power will enable charities with wide charitable objects to invest in a wide range of social enterprises on an unrestricted basis, and by way of equity or debt or a combination of the two, or indeed through any other suitable financial instrument. With this in mind, and following discussions with the Law Commission and others, we have decided to amend the definition used by the Bill in a way that will make this even clearer, and to put it beyond any doubt in relation to matters of interpretation that could be raised some years hence. This explains Amendments 25 and 29.
I hope that this meets with the approval of the noble Lords who raised concerns in this area. I recognise that it may not go as far as some may like, but it is as far as we feel able to go without raising the spectre of private benefit. The Bill does not change the law on private benefit, which was deliberately excluded from the scope of the Law Commission review. However, for the record, the Law Commission recommendation paper states that,
“there was broad agreement that the law relating to private benefit does not generally prevent charities from making social investments … It does not seem to us that it is an obstacle, if properly understood, to social investment done with the aim of furthering a charity’s purposes”.
I trust that my laying out of the definition and the thinking behind it in some detail has served to make the case clear.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, for Amendments 30 and 31. It is, of course, important for charity trustees to be prudent and to think about the long-term management of their charity’s assets, whether they are making a social investment or engaged in any other activity. This month, the Charity Commission published its revised guidance, The Essential Trustee, (CC3), which says, for example, that trustees must,
“make balanced and adequately informed decisions, thinking about the long term as well as the short term”,
and that they,
“must act responsibly, reasonably and honestly. This is sometimes called the duty of prudence. Prudence is about exercising sound judgement”.
Trustees are therefore already subject to duties that cover the points made by the noble Lord’s amendment.
The purpose of Section 292C is to set out certain duties that apply specifically to social investment, not to codify the entirety of trustees’ duties when making social investments. In addition to these duties, trustees will of course also be subject to the duties imposed by the general law, including the law of prudence. The specific duties in 292C also modify the duties imposed by the Trustee Act so that they are tailored to social investment. Just as the Trustee Act does not include an express duty to consider prudence and the long-term management of a charity’s assets, nor should the social investment duties.
The Law Commission’s recommendation was that the trustees should be satisfied that a social investment is in the charity’s interests, having regard to the two limbs of the definition in Section 292A: namely, furthering purposes and the financial aim. The wording of the government amendment deliberately refers back to those two limbs of the definition; it does not need to do more than that.
Finally, the long-term management of a charity’s assets will not always be a relevant consideration when making a social investment. It would be relevant if a charity is using its investment assets to make a social investment, but this will not always be the case. A charity might use its disposable income to make a social investment. For example, if a charity’s endowment produces an income of £10,000 to be spent this year, the charity might decide to use £2,000 of that to make a social investment that is expected to further the charity’s purposes and might result in a payment of, say, £500. That might not be a prudent long-term management of that £2,000 as an asset, but it is an excellent use of the charity’s funds and the possibility of getting £500 back is better than simply giving £2,000 away. I fear that the wording of the noble Lord’s amendment might suggest, even if it is not intended to, that such a social investment is not permitted, and I hope that he will be content not to press it. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 30 and 31, which are amendments to government Amendment 29. In doing so, I remind the House of my involvement in the charity sector and in financial investing. I am grateful to the Minister for government Amendment 29, which I support. I sense that I may be swimming against the tide here, but I hope that he will feel able to reconsider his approach to the text by adding what we have suggested in the amendments tabled in my name and that of my noble and learned friend Lord Hope of Craighead.
The Minister’s amendment highlights the need for trustees to consider a social investment in respect of two factors: the charity’s purposes and the financial return. I am sure he is right in that. No financial return is not, in my definition at least, an investment. The missing element in our view is to consider how a social investment fits into the pattern of overall investments and the long-term plan for the charity’s assets as a whole, not just considering the investment in isolation, which I think Amendment 29 seems to imply.
Some might say that prudence and long-term planning are motherhood and apple pie because they are self-evident. However, the Bill is breaking new ground. It invites trustees to engage with a new type and class of investment. These are welcome additions to the investment universe, but they are different from and less regulated than mainstream financial investments. Furthermore, these investments are likely to be presented in different ways, separately, and by different people. I hope that the Minister will agree that, first, the wording we suggest does not place any barriers in the way of social investing, or certainly none that a worthwhile social investment could reasonably object to. Secondly, they provide a context to such investments, and given that this is a new area of investing, a reasonable sense check that trustees should observe when making or considering them.
My Lords, I am in the unusual position of having heard the Minister’s reply before we move our amendments, so I know what he is saying. Perhaps I may say in support of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, to which I have also put my name, that what we are trying to do is refine the exercise which the Minister is himself engaged upon. For myself, I very much welcome government Amendment 29.
The starting point for this is to look back to new Section 292C(2)(c), where the charity trustees are asked to,
“satisfy themselves that it is in the interests of the charity to make the social investment”.
It was because that in itself seemed rather bald that we suggested in Committee that the phraseology should be expanded upon to give further guidance to the charity trustees. The noble Lord has very properly expanded on that, but our point is that it does not go quite far enough. It tells the trustees that they should have regard to the benefit that they expect the social investment to achieve for the charity, stating,
“(by directly furthering the charity’s purposes and achieving a financial return)”.
That is a specific and immediate task; namely, looking at the information and the task before the charity trustees at the moment. The problem may be that if a step is taken today, it may undermine or at least put at risk the assets of the charity in the longer term. It is to try to balance these two things out—the way things seem today as against how they might seem in two or three years’ time—that we are making this additional suggestion.
The Minister has said that he is not persuaded, but I wonder whether he would be kind enough to at least think again about whether he might give some little step in our direction to balance out these two things. Long-term management of the assets is obviously essential to the charity if it is to remain alive, and it is to balance out the immediate task with the long-term future that we suggest the wording should be expanded further.
I rise briefly to thank my noble friend for the trouble that he has taken over this. The sector said to me: “These are the three things we’d like him to say”, and I am glad to say that he has nailed all three issues, so I thank him very much for that. It greatly reassures us and clarifies the situation, which was somewhat obscure when we left the Moses Room a couple of weeks ago.
One hesitates to take on a legal brain like that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, or indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, but new Section 292C(2)(c), where the trustees,
“satisfy themselves that it is in the interests of the charity to make the social investment”,
is good enough. If you go beyond that, you will put in an additional inhibition about making a social investment.
The trustees have a duty. They have responsibilities and obligations, and there will be legal consequences if they fail to follow them. I hope that the Minister will continue to resist that further inhibition, which does not add much and has the chilling effect of lawyers saying, “Either way you need to have particular regard, if you’re going to make social investments”. I think that that is a mistake as we are trying to slowly and carefully see the emergence of this new movement. I thank my noble friend for his three reassurances.
My Lords, on the first day of this month in Committee, I said:
“It is important for the Bill to be as clear as possible and I hope the Minister … will give an undertaking to bring forward his own re-wording to improve this section on Report. We have a singular aim: to make this section of the Bill as effective as possible. It would be in the interests of everybody, not least the charities themselves, for the wording to be tightened up”.—[Official Report, 1/7/15; col. GC 191.]
The section was on the meaning of social investment, so it is pleasing that the Minister has heeded my words and has indeed strengthened the Bill both in terms of the government amendments in this group and in the group that follows. I thank him for that.
We also believe that the two amendments in the names of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, would enhance this clause, but the Minister has already set out his stall on these matters, so there is not much more that I can say on that.
My Lords, first, I apologise for getting carried away with excitement so that I gave my answer before the noble Lord had even posed the question. It is a novel way, especially for the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, who knows far more about most of these matters than me.
I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Watson, and my noble friend said about the need for simplicity and clarity in these matters. I also think we all agree that this is a new area of the law and we need to proceed carefully, cautiously and make sure that what we are doing meets the needs of the sector and that we do not land up in a world with unintended consequences.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, who asked whether I would consider what he had to say on the amendment, I am perfectly happy to reflect further but I am sorry to say that I can absolutely make no commitment on this matter. I point out, as the noble Lord, Lord Watson, said, that the next review of the Charities Act will be not in five years but before that. That decision has been made for the specific reason that this one area of the law, like many others, merits further consideration at that point. I am sure that well before that we will want to consider all those points on how the law is settling down and bedding in. I very much hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, will be part of that discussion and those deliberations. I am sorry I cannot meet what they want right now but I certainly assure them that we will be beating a path to their door, even if they are not coming to ours, to ask for their views.
Amendment 25 agreed.
26: Clause 13, page 16, line 37, after “that” insert “carrying out”
Amendment 26 agreed.
27: Clause 13, page 17, leave out lines 17 to 21 and insert—
“(4) This section and section 292C do not apply in relation to—
(a) charities established by, or whose purposes and functions are set out in, legislation;(b) charities established by Royal Charter;but they apply in relation to all other charities, whether established before or after this section comes into force.(5) In subsection (4) “legislation” means—
(a) an Act of Parliament or an Act or Measure of the National Assembly for Wales; or(b) subordinate legislation (within the meaning of the Interpretation Act 1978) made under such an Act or Measure.”
My Lords, these amendments are about the royal charter charities, so they are very different. We had so far been dealing with social investments and the definition of that. This group is about the special position of royal charter charities. I am not sure that it will detain us very long, but nevertheless it is a different topic and they have been separated by the Bill team into two different groups.
My Lords, if I am right, I will address Amendments 26 and 28, which relate to very minor improvements to language, adding an active grammatical formulation and a specific rather than generic identifier respectively. I trust that they will not require further explanation.
The amendment to new Section 292B(4) improves the wording of the specification around the exclusion of charities established by legislation or by royal charter. They have been excluded from the social investment power because of the differences in governance structure. The amendments here simply offer an improved form of wording to reflect this.
The addition of new Section 292B(5) is needed to explain better the territorial extent of the subsection on charities established by legislation, as set out in new Section 292B(4). It clarifies that the exclusion relates specifically to charities established by, or whose functions are set out in, legislation or secondary legislation authorised by Acts of Parliament or measures of the Welsh Assembly. I expect that these measures will not trouble noble Lords unduly, being of a rather technical nature without policy implications.
My Lords, it was very helpful of the noble Lord to give us that explanation of Amendments 26 and 28, which, as he said, were minor and technical, but they set out the geographical differences of certain charities. That was very helpful. I invite the noble Lord to address Amendment 27, which deals with charities established by royal charter. Noble Lords would find that helpful.
My Lords, forgive me. I thought that I had addressed that in what I have just said but, clearly, I have not. As far as I understand it, I thought that the amendment as set out relates to what I have just addressed as regards the wording of the specification around the exclusion of charities established by legislation or by royal charter. I thought that I had just explained that to the noble Baroness, but I hope she will forgive me if she wishes to be clearer about the purpose of her amendment. My apologies, I am not entirely clear why we are in this situation.
Amendment 27 agreed.
28: Clause 13, page 17, line 24, leave out “this Part” and insert “section 292B”
Amendment 28 agreed.
29: Clause 13, page 17, line 33, at end insert “, having regard to the benefit they expect it to achieve for the charity (by directly furthering the charity’s purposes and achieving a financial return)”
Amendments 30 and 31 (to Amendment 29) not moved.
Amendment 29 agreed.
32: Clause 13, page 18, line 3, at end insert—
“292D Marketing of social investments
(1) Any financial promotion which is communicated by a charity shall not be subject to the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Financial Promotion) Order 2005.
(2) The Treasury may by regulations set out rules for the communication of financial promotions by charities.
(3) In making any such regulations, the Treasury shall have regard to—
(a) the desirability of creating rules which are proportionate to the nature, scale and capacity of different charities and which are easy to understand and follow;(b) the desirability of creating rules which support the growth, development and financing of charities and which are enabling and facilitative;(c) the desirability of facilitating, where appropriate, direct investment on the part of consumers into charities, including charities which operate locally to the consumer;(d) the desirability of consistency of approach in the regulatory treatment of communications made by different forms of charities;(e) the differing expectations that consumers may have in relation to different kinds of investment or other transaction and, in particular, the fact that many when investing in charities do so for a variety of non-financial reasons; and (f) the desirability, where appropriate, of the Financial Conduct Authority exercising its functions in a way that recognises differences in the nature of, and objectives of, charities as compared to other organisations which are subject to the requirements of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000.”
My Lords, the horses are heading for the stables so I will be brief. I have retabled this amendment, which seeks to update the financial promotion rules to allow the emergence of a class of social investor comprising people who wish to support a particular cause dear to their hearts, or perhaps near to their home, but would like to invest—that is, they might/could get their money back as opposed to giving it irrevocably. My noble friend—and, indeed, the House—has heard me say too often that I consider it counterintuitive that I can give money to a scheme but cannot invest in exactly the same scheme.
Most social investments are quite small in size, suitable for private investment but not suitable for the full panoply of an offer to the public, and are not cost effective. Currently, the financial promotion rules make no distinction to cover the emerging social investment market.
I absolutely accept—I turn to the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, at this point—the need for the new rules to be carefully drafted. Social investment, as we all agree, is a new and emerging activity. It must not overpromise and individuals need to understand the risks. However, the issue remains—as the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, said at col. 9 of Grand Committee Hansard of 6 July—a “hot potato” being passed between the Treasury and the Cabinet Office.
Those of us who have followed this issue for some time have experienced extreme frustration. Each time a statutory bus comes past, the conductor tells us, “This is not the right one for you, guv, wait for the next one”. We are still waiting at the bus stop. In replying to the debate in Committee, my noble friend said:
“In addition to looking at suggestions, including in this amendment and what has been said in the debate, the Treasury will explore whether there are other non-legislative ways of mitigating burdens or costs to social investment offerings. … as I said, I am meeting my right honourable friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury to discuss them”.—[Official Report, 6/7/15; col. GC 13.]
I accept that this Bill is focused on improving charity regulation and on social investment, but it is not the right place for an amendment to the financial promotion rules. However, in the light of his comments on 6 July, can my noble friend tell us when our bus might arrive?
My Lords, first, I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, and others for my slight confusion over the previous amendment. I seem now to be a bus or a bus conductor—I am not sure which—but I hope to bring a smile to my noble friend Lord Hodgson’s lips.
As my noble friend says, the amendment aims to insert a new section into the Charities Act to exempt charities from the FCA’s financial promotion rules and to give the Treasury a power to create a new regulatory regime for charities marketing financial promotions, taking this out of the hands of the FCA. This amendment was tabled by noble Lords in Committee. I repeat what I said then: I understand that the effect of the financial promotion regime is an important issue for charities and social enterprises looking to raise funds from the public in this particular way. I also understand that my noble friend’s amendment is prompted by concerns around the appropriateness of these rules for charities that want to raise investment funds from members of the public, just as they might ask for donations.
The amendment suggests that the Treasury should become the regulator, and may be probing in that respect—indeed, I am sure it is. However, I believe that the model of independent expert regulation by the FCA is the right one. That said, it is of course in all our interests that any regulation is proportionate, consistent and clear. As my noble friend knows well, the Government are supportive of social investment and very keen to ensure that regulation is proportionate for the charities and social enterprises involved and, crucially, for the consumers who want to invest in these products. Indeed, very valuable changes were made to the remit of the FCA in 2012 to give it duties to have regard to the desirability of sustainable economic growth and to the differing needs of different types of organisations it regulates, including those of charities and social enterprises. None the less, I am aware of the ongoing concerns about regulatory approaches to retail social investment, and the Government are committed to doing anything they can to remove any unnecessary burdens, while of course not eroding consumer protection or the integrity of the financial system.
As my noble friend said, following Committee, I met my honourable friends the Economic Secretary to the Treasury and the Minister for Civil Society to discuss the issues around financial promotions and social investments that were raised by my noble friend Lord Hodgson in Grand Committee and supported by a number of other noble Lords. We agreed that the model of independent expert regulation by the FCA is the right one and that consumer protection must be paramount. It is therefore important to ensure that the current regime supports social investment rather than looking to shift responsibility to the Treasury. We also agreed that the Treasury and the Cabinet Office will write jointly to the FCA to consider regulatory approaches to how members of the public make social investments, with a specific focus on the financial promotion rules.
As I mentioned in Committee, the Government and the FCA have been working with the sector to consider evidence about the effectiveness of the regime, and this work will continue. The important issues raised in these debates will of course be considered as part of these discussions with industry and the FCA. I believe we are making progress and, as I said, my honourable friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury will be writing to my noble friend, as well as the other noble Lords who raised this important issue, to update them on progress. In the light of this, I hope my noble friend will think that a bus may have at last arrived and will understand that work is ongoing in this area. On that basis, I invite him to withdraw his amendment.
Amendment 32 withdrawn.
33: After Clause 13, insert the following new Clause—
“Appeals and applications to Charity Appeal Tribunal
(1) The Charities Act 2011 is amended as follows.
(2) For section 319 (appeals: general) substitute—
“319 Appeals: general
(1) Except in the case of a reviewable matter (see section 322) an appeal may be brought to the Tribunal against any decision, order or direction made by the Commission or any decision on the part of the Commission not to make any decision, order or direction.
(2) Such an appeal may be brought by the following—
(a) the Attorney General;(b) the charity trustees of the charity subject to the relevant decision, order or direction;(c) (if a body corporate) the charity subject to the relevant decision, order or direction;(d) any other person who is the subject of the relevant decision, order or direction or who is significantly interested in and affected by the relevant decision, order or direction.(3) The Commission is to be the respondent to such an appeal.
(4) In determining such an appeal the Tribunal—
(a) must consider afresh the legal decision, order, direction or decision not to act (as the case may be), and(b) may take into account evidence which is not available to the Commission.(5) The Tribunal may—
(a) dismiss the appeal; or(b) if it allows the appeal, exercise any of the following powers—(i) to quash (in whole or in part) the decision, order, direction and (if appropriate) remit the matter to the Commission;(ii) to substitute for the decision, order or direction any other decision, order or direction which could have been made or given by the Commission;(iii) to add to the decision, order or direction anything which could have been contained in a decision, order or direction of the Commission;(iv) to give such direction to the Commission as it considers appropriate; and(v) where appropriate, to make any decision, order or direction which the Commission could have made.”(3) For section 321(2) substitute—
“(2) Such an application may be brought by—
(a) the Attorney General;(b) the charity trustees of the charity subject to the relevant reviewable matter;(c) (if a body corporate) the charity subject to the relevant reviewable matter;(d) any other person who is the subject of the relevant reviewable matter or who is significantly interested in and affected by the relevant reviewable matter.” (4) For section 323 (remission of matters to Commission) substitute—
“323 Remission of matters to Commission
The reference in section 319(5)(i) to “remit a matter to the Commission” means the power to remit the matter—(a) generally, or(b) for determination in accordance with a finding made or direction given by the Tribunal.”(5) Omit section 324 (power to amend provisions relating to appeals and applications to Tribunal).
(6) Omit Schedule 6 (appeals and applications to Tribunal).”
My Lords, I am going for a third major prize now. I have retabled this amendment, which proposes a wholesale redrafting of Schedule 6 to the 2011 Act.
As I said before, this may sound a rather technical matter but, as I explained in Committee, it has a very important purpose: to improve access to justice for charities, especially smaller ones. The last Labour Government set up the Charity Tribunal in the 2006 Act, which was a very good development. Prior to that, only the High Court could provide a means of redress for small charities, which was expensive and slow. Charities, especially smaller charities, had no option but to submit to the directions and decisions of the Charity Commission. However, what was a good idea and gave with one hand took away with another. Schedule 6 is 10 pages long and complex in that it says what can be appealed against, who can bring the appeal and what the remedy is. It is difficult for charities and many charities’ lawyers to understand. The evidence to my review was that the sector found it complex and difficult to follow. My amendment is designed to sweep these complexities away.
In response to the amendment in Committee, my noble friend said:
“I am not sure that everyone shares my noble friend Lord Hodgson’s viewpoint on the difficulty of interpreting Schedule 6 to the Charities Act 2011. There are some who are attracted to the structure of Schedule 6 and find it easy to navigate. It allows one to look up a particular provision and quickly see who can appeal and what decisions are available to the tribunal. It is not something that has been raised with the Government as causing particular difficulty, other than by my noble friend”.—[Official Report, 6/7/15; col. GC 17.]
That stung me into action, and I decided that I was going to find out all about it. I have done some more research and discovered three things. First, there is a widely supported view that Schedule 6 is too complex and difficult to navigate. That supports my case for reform. Secondly, my amendment is too widely drafted as regards standing—that is, who may make an appeal. By way of example, many of the appeals that have been lodged to date in the tribunal in relation to schemes have been brought not by the charity trustees who had sought the proposed scheme themselves but by third parties objecting to the scheme, such as local residents objecting to a scheme in relation to parkland or parents at a school objecting to a scheme for the school. There have also been some politically motivated complaints. As a result, I have to accept the weakness of my amendment as drafted. Finally, and most importantly, my research revealed that my noble friend already has some powers to improve the operation of Schedule 6 without resort to primary legislation. Under Section 324 of the 2011 Act, entitled, “Power to amend provisions relating to appeals and applications to Tribunal”, my noble friend can act to improve the way the schedule operates.
If I accept that my amendment cannot do the business as presently drafted, all I am asking my noble friend to do tonight is to accept that there is a consensus among charity lawyers that Schedule 6 is absurdly complicated and not consistent in its principles and application and to say that he will initiate a review of the operation of Schedule 6 with the objectives of obtaining: first, a clear, generally applicable definition of a decision, including a non-decision; secondly, a clear principle of locus standi, which could and should include limitations based on remoteness from the decision’s effect; thirdly, recognition that the tribunal was intended to provide a straightforward basis of objective appeal against a regulator making decisions of direct impact, which justifies something beyond the judicial review principle; and fourthly, a logical staging through the Charity Commission’s internal review process to the tribunal as a next level. He can then use his Section 324 powers to introduce whatever interim improvements are possible until the next bus comes along to enable statutory improvements to be made.
It is easy to pass this off as a very technical matter, but access to justice is a very important principle and this undertaking to have a review would lead to improvements to that access for the charity sector. I beg to move.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Hodgson has fought the corner of rationalising Charity Tribunal appeal rights for many years. Every time he gets knocked down, he gets straight back up and continues to fight from the blue corner. I applaud his persistence.
In principle, the Government have maintained a consistent position that they are not averse to rationalising the rights of appeal and review to the Charity Tribunal set out in Schedule 6, as my noble friend pointed out, but—it is an important “but”—we would not want to create new appeal rights where none currently exists that would add to the tribunal’s caseload. Neither would we want to expose the Charity Commission to challenge where it decides not to take action and where an appeal right does not currently exist. Creating rights of appeal where the Charity Commission decides not to take action could well result in an unmanageable workload of cases for the Charity Commission, diverting its resources. It would also effectively enable the tribunal to direct the use of the commission’s powers and resources. As I said before, we consider that the balance is about right under Schedule 6 as it stands in terms of what decisions can be appealed.
In terms of who can appeal, my noble friend Lord Hodgson made some fair points about legal standing to bring an appeal. For many appeal rights, the legal standing in relation to the Charity Tribunal is widely drawn, encompassing,
“any other person who is or may be affected by the decision”.
That is very wide compared to most other jurisdictions. However, it recognises that charities exist for the public benefit and that the regulator’s decisions about a charity can have a significant impact on people who would not normally be able to bring an appeal. I accept my noble friend’s point that some people find Schedule 6 clunky and difficult to use, but I am not sure how it could be condensed into a simple provision without inadvertently making the sorts of changes that we want to avoid.
The Government have agreed with many of my noble friend Lord Hodgson’s recommendations over the years. We find that he is usually right. I am sorry to say that this is a rare case where we will have to part company and agree to disagree on some of his points. I hope my noble friend will not be too disappointed to learn that I will not commit to any amendments on this subject. I am happy to reflect on the points that he raised—they were detailed points and I will not simply wave them away right now—and will listen if he thinks we can make improvements to Schedule 6 through the power to do so in secondary legislation. Again, I should be clear that I make no promises. As I already said, we do not want to introduce new appeal rights. I thank my noble friend for all he continues to contribute to this debate. While I cannot agree to his amendment, I very much hope that we can continue to have conversations about this matter.
I am grateful to my noble friend for his extensive response and kind remarks. I understand that my amendment is faulty. I have no wish to press it to a Division. That would be entirely wrong as it does not work. I just hope that at some point we can look at how Schedule 6 works and see whether there are ways that it can be made clearer, and if that can be done by secondary legislation. It would be wonderful if we could do that. If we have to come back to consider it another day then so be it. For tonight, I seek leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 33 withdrawn.
Clause 14: Reviews of the operation of this Act
34: Clause 14, page 18, line 19, after “donations,” insert—
“( ) the relationship between grant-making and social investment,”
My Lords, we come to the last group of amendments on the list of groupings, although the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, may be somewhat upset if we do not cover Amendments 36 and 37 on the Marshalled List.
Clause 14 deals with reviews of the operation of this Bill. I think the review clause was drafted before the new clauses on social investment were added to the Bill. The original substance of the review was about the main purposes of the original Bill—that is, in Clause 14(1),
“public confidence in charities … the level of charitable donations, and … people’s willingness to volunteer”.
That is entirely right. But there is nothing in the substance of this review about the matters of social investment which we have been discussing.
My Amendment 34 simply asks that in the review of the Act the relationship between grant-making and social investment be reviewed, because if the new powers to make social investment work as the Government envisage they will, my assumption is that there should be an effect on grant-making, which should be reduced. To put it another way, the total amount of income to the charitable sector should change. The composition of the income should change, too, not least in the balance between the amount of grant-making and the amount of investment.
It is important that if this House and another place pass legislation, we should look at its effects. Rather in the spirit of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, I say that if a bus comes along then you should jump on it in case it is a while before another one comes. I want to add this purpose, which is now reflected in the Bill, into the review. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am in the surprising and mildly embarrassing position of having to say to the Minister that I am glad that he did not take me at my word when we dealt with reviews in Committee. I have studied the Hansard and, under what was then Amendment 29, I sought the first review to be completed within three years. However, I am quoted—so I believe that I would have said it—as saying that,
“it would be in charities’ best interests to initiate the review after three years”.—[Official Report, 6/7/15; col. GC 36.]
The Minister has now come along with an amendment that says that the first review must begin “within 3 years”. I certainly welcome that. I was looking for a completion in three years, but I took on board the Minister’s comments in Committee when he said that the system would have to get up and running and the commissioner would need to take people on and put them in the proper positions, with all the various arrangements that have to be put in place, such as internal guidance. On that basis, he has made a very reasonable offer. In terms of what I actually intended, he has come halfway towards meeting me. Where I come from, that is called a score draw—and, on this occasion, I am prepared to settle for that.
I would be supportive of the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, because it adds an important issue that we should take into consideration, after all that was said about social investment earlier.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, for explaining the rationale behind her amendment and to the noble Lord, Lord Watson, for what he just said.
Clause 14 currently makes provision for the operation of the Act to be reviewed by the Minister at least every five years, in line with government policy. We agreed a requirement for the review to include specific consideration of certain matters based on requirements in the statutory review provision of the Charities Act 2006, but that should not be considered as limiting the scope of any review of this legislation.
As noble Lords know, this Bill makes only a modest contribution to the growth of the social investment market, by clarifying charity trustees’ social investment powers and duties. At the moment, charitable foundations hold some £80 billion in assets, of which less than £100 million is invested as social investment. While we certainly hope that more charities will consider the total impact that social investment can deliver, I expect that it will be an incremental growth rather than a sudden swing of the pendulum.
That said, I do not believe that a statutory review requirement to consider a specific aspect of social investment and its interaction with grant-making would achieve much that is not already being done more frequently by many parties, not just the Government, and with much broader scope. I am reluctant to say so, but I do not accept the rationale for Amendment 34.
As the noble Lord, Lord Watson, said, I have sympathy, as I demonstrated in Committee, with several of his arguments for bringing forward the first review from five years to three. I do so not least because of the measures being introduced on social investment, because of the point the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, made about the disqualification power, and because of the issue of fundraising more generally and ensuring that we continue to maintain the public’s trust and confidence in charities as a whole.
As the noble Lord said, my concern was that if we said the review would have to report within three years, that would be seen as too soon, particularly when one factors in the time it would take to prepare guidance and commence provisions, and for the review itself. That is why I have come back with government Amendment 35 which requires the first review to begin within three years and to report within four years. This strikes me as a sensible compromise which I hope noble Lords will support.
My Lords, I am disappointed that the significant change to the substance and purpose of the Bill made by the insertion of the new clauses on social investment will not form part of the review of the Act. I do not have a problem with the timing of the review; I welcome the fact that it will be sooner than it would otherwise have been.
I do not understand the Government’s reluctance to subject the new proposals on social investment to the scrutiny which will be applied to the rest of the Bill. Like others in this House, I am keen that we take every opportunity to try to increase social investment. Over the past 20 years, social investment has been very slow, despite the support of successive Governments. Therefore, it is a shame that we pass over an opportunity to look at how this first attempt to put a definition into legislation is working and its impact on the funding of the sector. Reluctantly, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 34 withdrawn.
Amendments 35 and 36
35: Clause 14, page 18, line 23, leave out from “apart” to end of line 24 and insert—
“( ) The first review must begin within 3 years after this Act is passed, and the report of that review must be published within 4 years after this Act is passed.”
36: line 1, after “Amend” insert “the Charities Act 1992 and”
Amendments 35 and 36 agreed.
Amendment 37 not moved.
House adjourned at 9.08 pm.