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Friday, 28 February 2014

Third Sector report on yesterday's Lord's debate

Government might consider giving Charity Commission more resources, peer says

By Sam Burne James, Third Sector Online, 28 February 2014

House of Lords

House of Lords

Lord Wallace of Saltaire, the Cabinet Office spokesman in the Lords, says the matter would be looked at if the regulator made a strong case

Lord Wallace of Saltaire, the Cabinet Office spokesman in the House of Lords, has said the government would look "very carefully" at giving theCharity Commission more resources if a "strong and positive case" could be made.

During a House of Lords grand committee debate on the Charity Commission in Westminster yesterday, several lords, including the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Phillips of Sudbury and the Labour peer Baroness Pitkeathley, suggested that the regulator needed to be given additional resources.

In response, Wallace, a Liberal Democrat, said: "Reading through the various reports and the evidence given, it is quite clear to me that if the new Charity Commission board and chief executive can make a strong and positive case for additional resources, the government will look at it very carefully.

He said that whether "some element of charging for larger charities" was included in any package would be for further debate, "but we recognise that resources are now extremely stretched and that the clear regulation we need requires to be strengthened".

The Conservative peer Baroness Berridge said there was not "anything objectionable" in suggestions that the commission could charge for its services.

Berridge, who spent much of her speech describingalleged abuses in the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, also said that in terms of the commission’s funding "clearly £137 per charity is not sufficient".

The debate had been called by the Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Barker, calling for "ways in which we can rebuild confidence in the Charity Commission’s regulation of charities".

She said that the recent Public Accounts Committee report, which was highly critical of the regulator, contained "rather unclear and unhelpful" suggestions.

Barker said the government should provide guidance on the commission’s relationship with other regulators, including HM Revenue & Customs, which she said was shown in the PAC report to be clearly at fault over the Cup Trust tax-avoidance affair.

"The onus should be on other regulators, and the Charity Commission should be a specialist back-up point," she said.

The two organisations have already committed to closer collaboration on a joint registration process.

Lord Best, a crossbench peer, suggested that a charities ombudsman be set up in order to relieve pressure on the commission by dealing with "everyday service disputes".

A spokeswoman for the commission said the regulator was pleased that the debate "acknowledged the wide range of functions that the commission is required to fulfil, while also recognising the significant funding pressures it is currently facing".

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