Speech: William Shawcross remarks in the River Room, House of Lords

First, let me thank Baroness Stedman Scott for allowing us to come together in these beautiful surroundings. Debbie – it is much appreciated. The work of Tomorrow’s People is inspirational. Helping young people to become independent is the type of transformative work for which I have a great deal of respect. Beyond the palliative, Tomorrow’s People enables young jobseekers to exit the revolving door of poverty and I would like to pay tribute to their work.

I must also thank New Philanthropy Capital, and Dan in particular, for inviting me to speak this evening. NPC’s work is key to strengthening charity in this country. Whether helping charities individually through their consultancy work, or driving philanthropy up the political agenda in its capacity as a think tank, NPC bring much needed dynamism, vigour and professionalism to the charity movement. Helping donors ensure their gifts have the most effect as possible has never been more important and this is why NPC and its work is vital. On the Bill currently before Parliament, about which I will speak more later, I would like to applaud NPC for presenting the perspective of donors and the public. Thank you Dan.

We stand here at the close of a difficult year for charities. A few charities let themselves down in fundraising and poor governance has been exposed. They abused the trust of their donors. And worse, they failed their beneficiaries. The awful proceedings tarnished the reputation of one of the noblest parts of our national life. The British commitment to voluntary action and philanthropy marks us out as a nation. It is vital we, all of us, pause to recognise what charity has achieved in the last 12 months.

Behind the headlines, and perhaps despite them, the amount raised by charities has risen to a record level – now standing at some £69 billion.

A large contributor to this welcome total is the generosity of donors, large and small. From the millions of Britons who gave a few pounds to the Poppy Appeal, to the great philanthropists whose foundations and trusts are changing lives through research and education – we are a generous nation.

In an environment overlain with spending reductions, this achievement is remarkable. And what is more, for many beneficiaries, this is essential. For beyond the finances are the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of faces who have been helped.
If you will indulge me, I want to share with you just one example. I visit charities frequently and am always struck by the passion of those involved. This was typified by one charity I saw very recently.

Working in Afghanistan, this charity helps increase access to education. Their work with girls is particularly striking. There is no greater route out of poverty than knowledge and learning. Yet until not so long ago, in a country that has lived under the oppressions of war for 30 years, even this notion – of simple education – was a crime for women and girls.
Astonishingly, almost half of Afghanistan’s population are under 14 years old. The number of children in education, thankfully, has risen since 2001, from 1 million to nearly 9 million – 40 % of whom are girls. That is a huge success and one of which the Coalition should be proud.

This particular charity, Afghan Connection, has played a crucial part in this success story. It has funded the construction of 43 schools, serving more than 50,000 Afghan children. Twenty of these schools have been twinned with schools in the UK. There is also now a project supporting education in the remote Hindu Kush, where barely a single adult female can read or write.

The work exemplified by Afghan Connection shows why charity is so important. It is also demonstrates why the role of the Charity Commission is essential. For without the public’s trust and confidence in charities, donations will reduce and beneficiaries suffer.

That is why I was pleased that the House of Commons gave the Protection of Charities Bill its second reading today – happily it has received strong cross party support.

The Bill will close loopholes and enable the Commission to take robust but proportionate action where abuse occurs. It will ensure that charities and their beneficiaries are protected from individuals who are not fit to be trustees and will go some way to reassuring the public they can donate with confidence.

A number of safeguards are included in the Bill and the Commission is determined to always act firmly but fairly. We believe the Bill, as it stands, strikes that balance.
Research conducted by Populus shows that these measures are strongly supported by the public (83%) and charities (92%). This Bill will help the Commission protect charities, donors and, most importantly, beneficiaries. I hope its smooth journey through Parliament continues.

Today also saw the Commission take another step to strengthen public trust and confidence in charitable fundraising and address the short comings in governance exposed this summer. We have published new draft fundraising guidance which strongly sets out trustees duties. For although the Commission is not responsible for the regulation of fundraising, we do hold trustees to account. This draft guidance emphasises that trustees are ultimately responsible for their charity’s approach to fundraising.

In conjunction with the new system of self-regulation, now spearheaded by my friend, Lord Grade, I hope that charities take seriously this second chance. Their full cooperation with the new system is essential if they are to avoid the heavy, and costly, hand of state regulation.

Then there is the question of what the public can do to protect themselves and their donations. The Charity Commission will encourage the public to give safely this Christmas, to ensure donations and gestures of goodwill end up in the right hands. While the majority of Christmas fundraising appeals are genuine, unfortunately there are those will to take advantage of the spirit of giving at Christmas. I would encourage you all here to spread the word to your constituents, colleagues, friend and family – people should not be deterred from giving; instead, they should familiarise themselves with our safer giving tips.

Finally, let me end with this observation and message. Charity is a wonderful endeavour and draws out the finest sentiments in mankind: generosity; kindness; service of others; and self-sacrifice; a love for one’s neighbour. Fitting ideals to which we must aspire, especially at this time of year, as we mark the birthday – after all – of the Prince of Peace.

Thank you and Happy Christmas.

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