A Charity Commission for Wales ... and more

Yesterday, Plaid Cymru called for the establishment of a dedicated Charity Commission for Wales. The timing was a little cringeworthy, making it look rather like the AWEMA scandal was a bandwagon to be jumped on. AWEMA is just one of several thousand charities in Wales, and I don't think we need to change the way charities are regulated in Wales just because of one of them was rotten. Our approach needs to be coherent and principled rather than run the risk of being seen as opportunistic.

Both Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own bodies: the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator and the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland. So the question to ask is why Wales should be in a different position. Cheryl Gillan's Wales Office is quoted in the Western Mail as giving this reason:

"Wales shares the same legal jurisdiction as England, so establishing a separate Welsh Charity Commission would lead to unnecessary duplication, bureaucracy, inconsistency and confusion, particularly for the large number of charities that operate throughout England and Wales."

Western Mail, 5 March 2012

But would it? Let's look at it more closely.

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It might interest people to know that the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland has only recently some into existence as the result of the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) in 2008. Prior to this, charities in the Six Counties did not need to be registered, and indeed could not be registered as charities. The only way their existence as charities could be officially recognized was through their tax status.

This was hardly a good state of affairs; but as registration of charities is considered necessary, why set up a new and separate Charity Commission for Northern Ireland rather than bring the Six Counties under the wing of the Charity Commission for England and Wales? There must be a large number of charities that operate across Wales, England and Northern Ireland, so if we follow Cheryl Gillan's reasoning it would surely have been more consistent and less confusing to do that than to set up a completely separate commission, even though there are obviously costs involved in terms of duplication and bureaucracy. In the case of Northern Ireland, the greater benefits of a separate commission in terms of local knowledge, greater transparency and more direct accountability were obviously seen to outweigh those disadvantages. Wouldn't the same be just as true for Wales?

Besides that, a separate Charity Commission for Wales would also be consistent with the Tories' proclaimed commitment to "nothing less than radical decentralization". So it would appear that the only substantive objection to setting up a separate Charity Commission that the Wales Office has left is the matter of Wales and England being part of the same legal jurisdiction.

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Now I'm not at all convinced that this really is an obstacle. There are already several separate regulatory bodies for Wales even though we are part of the same legal jurisdiction as England; for example the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales, the Care Council for Wales, the Healthcare Inspectorate Wales and the General Teaching Council for Wales. There really shouldn't be a problem adding the regulation of charities to this list, especially because many of them tend to work in areas which are already devolved to Wales and because many of them will receive some funding through either the Welsh government or Welsh local authorities.

But perhaps it might be better to put the issue the other way round and say that once a separate legal jurisdiction for Wales has been recognized, then not only the Charity Commission but all similar organizations should be reconstituted as separate Welsh and English bodies.

There is certainly momentum for Wales to become a separate legal jurisdiction. Carwyn Jones has been arguing strongly for it since immediately after the referendum on primary lawmaking powers, for example here; and the Assembly itself (not to be confused with the Welsh Government) launched a parallel consultation on the issue last December, details of which are here. The Scoping Paper on that page provides a short and easy to digest outline of the issues involved. The 357 pages of submitted evidence takes rather more determination to get through.

As I see it, a separate legal jurisdiction for Wales is already emerging. It is more a question of recognizing that a divergence between the law that applies in Wales and the law that applies in England has been happening slowly for some decades, has increased since the Assembly was established, and will now accelerate as the result of the Assembly becoming a legislature with primary lawmaking powers. It therefore makes sense for the administration of justice to be devolved to the Assembly in just the same way as it is already devolved in Scotland and Northern Ireland. In practical terms this is what being a separate legal jurisdiction entails. In itself, it is not a particularly big step to take, but getting it will remove many of the previous objections to Wales getting a devolution settlement that is broadly equivalent to that of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

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Which brings us back to the point about a Charity Commission for Wales. We know full well that despite the Conservative party's declared commitment to decentralization, the Wales Office has the same knee-jerk reaction to any call to devolve more areas of responsibility to Wales: they will always come up with a reason not to do it. So let's play them at their own game. Even though I think it's bogus, let's accept that their reason for not having a Charity Commission for Wales is simply because we do not have a separate legal jurisdiction in Wales. But when we do get that, as I think is inevitable, there will be no reason left for refusing not only to let us have this, but for the same logic not to apply to all the other regulatory bodies which are currently constituted on an England and Wales basis.

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8 comments:

Anonymous said...

It is about time that all bodies which operate on a 'EnglandandWales' basis are reconstituted as separate organisations, and apart form various governmnet and quasi-government bodies this also includes (in no particular order):
- The England and Wales Cricket Board
- The Green Party
- The Catholic Church
- The Freemasons
- RNLI
- National Trust

Please feel free to add to list .....

Penddu

Alwyn ap Huw said...

On a note of pedantry Penddu the RNLI doesn’t work on an England and Wales basis, it is one of the few (if not the only) charities that works on a British Isles basis, with 36 lifeboat stations in the Republic of Ireland!

Anonymous said...

Has anyone else noticed a change in tone from the "Welsh" Conservatives since Nick Bourne left? Rubbish on S4C, rubbish on a Welsh legal jurisdiction, weak submission to the Silk Commission, calling for English policies to be copied...

Anonymous said...

Alwyn ap Huw;
Interesting! I didn't know that... makes sense though... perhaps things like S&R should also be put on a British Isles basis.

MH:
I disagree, AWEMA could well be a disaster for Labour if we are able to keep the momentum going. I feel that Plaid should go out, search some more 'charities' which may be in an AWEMA like position (and believe me, there are MANY... it is the ONE issue I think devolution has failed upon [EU funding etc]). Keep up the momentum.

As for a separate Charity Commission the 'one charity law in E&W' I think is quite a valid argument against it. However perhaps a Welsh division of it should be created to deal with Wales.

Anon;
In fairness to the Catholic Church - they have created many 'Welsh' streams to things such as All Wales meetings and so forth. The question is: are there enough Catholics in Wales for it to be justified to go on its own? As I believe even a big catholic country like San Marino hasn't got it's own system.

Anonymous said...

The problem with AWEMA is that it was run by a labour member, and protected from scrutiny by the labour government. How many other so called charities and third sector bodies are the same? this only came to light when bloggers started making a noise and the lottery withdrew its funding. a welsh charity commission will by appointed by the assembly and will also be stuffed with labour stooges with backgrounds in the charity industry or the unions meaning that it will never investigate any future awema type scandals.

Owen said...

If we are going to have things thrust on us on an EnglandandWales basis then perhaps it should go the other way too.

For example I'm sure there are plenty of Welsh-speakers in the England part EnglandandWales who need to have their interests looked after. Perhaps Cheryl should press for the expansion of the authority of the future Welsh Language Commissioner to take this into account. Should end some inconsistency then, surely. Welcome to London, Croeso i Llundain, capital of EnglandandWales.

Jac o' the North said...

I want to see Wales recognised, and separate, in all fields; but as is pointed out above, a Welsh Charity Commission could be stuffed with Labour apparatchiks and people with a background in the third sector.

I have often thought, given the unhealthy dominance of the Labour Party in Wales, it would make sense to hire people for some top posts from outside the country. Obviously not England because the same Labour Party operates there; but English-speaking countries around the world.

Anonymous said...

My apologies re RNLI - It was Trinity House I was thinking about...

Penddu

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