The inside track: March 2019

Our latest update on what’s going on in Westminster that might impact charities includes the latest on Brexit, a bill to give trustees time off, and what the Independent Group means for charities.

Parliament

Charity trustees (time off for duties) bill

Last week, Susan Elan Jones, chair of the APPG on Charities and Volunteering, presented a ten minute rule bill on providing for time off work for trustees, similar to that available to a range of roles including magistrates and school governors.

The bill was not opposed by anyone, so will now go forward for second reading on 22 March. However, unless the government support the bill it is unlikely to secure enough time in parliament for it to be taken forward into legislation before the end of the parliamentary session.

Brexit and the meaningful vote

Despite Theresa May’s dash to Strasbourg, the concessions she secured were not enough to persuade parliament to back the government’s Brexit deal. While some Conservative MPs were persuaded to back the deal, it was still voted down by 149 votes.

Parliament then rejected leaving without a deal, and have now backed asking the EU for an extension, which the prime minister will now request. This could potentially be more complicated than had previously been assumed as the EU have made clear they want to see what the UK plan to do with the extra time, though it’s generally expected that they will be able to come to agreement.

There will also be another attempt to pass the existing deal before a formal request for an extension is made. At the moment it looks unlikely to pass, but the government is hoping that the prospect of a long extension, and a remain-leaning parliament asserting itself, could win over Brexit supporters who’ve previously voted against.

NCVO’s Brexit lead Ben Westerman has looked at the main options facing MPs in the weeks ahead.

People news

Sarah Newton has resigned as minister for disabled people to vote against the UK leaving the EU without a deal. A number of her fellow ministers abstained on the vote, including four cabinet ministers, but have been able to keep their jobs.

New independent MPs

A series of MPs have in the last month resigned the whips of their parties. Luciana Berger, Chuka Umunna, Mike Gapes, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Gavin Shuker and Ann Coffey resigned the Labour whip to form the Independent Group (TIG), and were subsequently joined by Labour MP Joan Ryan and Conservatives Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston. Ian Austin MP has also resigned the Labour whip, but has not joined TIG.

Recall petition in Peterborough

After Fiona Onasanya’s appeal against her conviction was rejected, a recall petition has been initiated in Peterborough. If the petition collects 6,967 signatures, equivalent to 10% of the electorate, a by-election will be held, and is being supported by both the Labour party and Conservatives. A recall petition against North Antrim MP Ian Paisley Jr narrowly failed last year.

Ms Onasanya has now been released from prison.

Select committees

Labour’s moves to remove two defectors, Ian Austin and Mike Gapes, from the Foreign Affairs Committee have been thwarted for now. They will now have to secure time to debate the motion, after MPs objected. While committee chairs are now elected by the whole house, members of committees are elected only by MPs from their own party, based on the make-up of the Commons, so Labour have moved to replace those who have now left. Though any change to committee places is likely to be approved if put to a vote, Hannah White from the Institute for Government has blogged on why backbenchers should think twice about such moves.

Less controversially, Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards has replaced his party’s Westminster leader Liz Saville Roberts on the Welsh Affairs Committee.

What does TIG mean for charities?

Charities will be thinking about how they can engage with the new grouping. Pete Moorey has written an excellent blog on the challenges of charities looking to build relations with TIG as it becomes a new party.

But it’s also worth thinking about how they might change parliament for campaigners. The most obvious thing to note is that three votes (albeit not always reliable ones) have come out of the government’s column, so it will be even harder for them to carve out majorities for anything they try to do. While winning votes may still prove difficult with an even more fragmented opposition, we have seen on several occasions that when Conservative backbenchers raise concerns, policies often change, so opportunities are there if you are able to find MPs looking to engage beyond Brexit.

It’s worth remembering however that Labour-TIG relations are somewhere between complicated and hostile, and it won’t always be easy for them to work together. That might not make much of a difference, but is worth considering when it comes to tabling amendments.

NCVO can help you to navigate Westminster and Whitehall

Make sure your voice is heard by those making the decisions. We can provide a range of advice, support and training, contact chris.walker@ncvo.org.uk for details.

If you’re looking for campaigning training, our new training website now has all of our courses in one place.

Our new course, Introduction to public affairs is on 8 April. It’s designed to give an overview of public affairs in charities for people who are new to the job, expanding their role into public affairs activities, or would like a refresher of the key principles.

We’ll also be running our Influencing select committees course on 26 April, helping charities to make the most of their engagement with committees, and ensuring they are well-placed to write compelling submissions and prepare senior staff to give evidence.

Our next Influencing parliament course will be on 8 July. As Brexit continues to limit parliamentary and government time for other matters, it’s even more important that you make effective use of the tactics available to influence through parliament.

Brexit updates

As we get closer to the Article 50 deadline, it’s worth being aware of some of the resources available. The government has published a short checklist to help charities to plan. We’ve also produced a factsheet for charities to help them prepare for the impact of Brexit.

If you want to keep in touch with the latest Brexit news, it’s also worth following these:

 

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Chris Walker Chris is NCVO’s public affairs manager, focusing on parliamentary work. He started his career working for several MPs in Parliament, and has also worked in public affairs and policy roles for the Federation of Small Businesses.

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