Charities call for quick government action on Lobbying Act

A coalition of leading charities says that it is vital that the Lobbying Act is reformed immediately after confusion about it during the 2017 election campaign deterred many from raising issues.

The Act has been widely criticised by charities who say its provisions on 'non-party campaigners' stifle their advocacy role. The charities have called for the recommendations of a government-commissioned review to be implemented. Lord Hodgson’s 2016 review proposed around 30 changes to reform the Act and achieve a better balance for non-party campaigners.

The Conservative peer’s proposals were backed by the cross-party House of Lords Select Committee on Charities. However, the government has yet to respond to his report.

Now six organisations collectively representing tens of thousands of UK charities have co-signed a letter to the government calling an urgent meeting to work out how to implement Lord Hodgson’s recommendations in full. They say this will provide urgent clarity.

Sent directly to Damian Green, the new Minister for the Cabinet Office, the letter has been organised by Bond, the UK membership organisation for charities associated with international development.

Other signatories are the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), ACEVO, the Charities Aid Foundation, the Small Charities Coalition and the National Association for Voluntary and Community Action.

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of NCVO, said:

We all agree that Lord Hodgson’s recommendations are sensible and should be applied in full. Given the changing policy climate created by the general election result, it is important to raise this issue with the minister as soon as possible.

There is clear cross-party and sector support for the changes Lord Hodgson suggests. Adoption of them will be an important first step for the new government, to show it is listening to charities, which are crucial to building a stronger economy and society.

Tamsyn Barton, chief executive at Bond, said:

With a hung parliament, there is a possibility that another general election could be called earlier than expected and not in five years’ time, as stated under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act. Does this mean that charities should still be working within the confines of the Lobbying Act to avoid falling foul when it is applied retrospectively?

The government must urgently revise the Lobbying Act to give charities the confidence they need to speak out for the vulnerable voices they represent ­– especially amid political uncertainty.

Vicky Browning, chief executive of ACEVO, said:

Charity leaders have also told me that compliance with this ambiguous legislation has significant costs attached, particularly in terms of time, labour and money, which distracts and detracts from their activities.

It is important that the new government now enacts the recommendations of its own review of the act.

John Barrett, chief executive of Small Charities Coalition, said:

Many small charities were put off campaigning this election by regulations. Despite the majority of small charities falling below the threshold of the Lobbying Act, the legislation has still created unintended caution and anxiety for members wishing to speak up about their causes during the election period.

It has also created disproportionate audit trails for those required to show compliance.

It is vital that we see urgent reforms to ensure the voices of these vital organisations are heard in the future.

Dr John Low, chief executive of CAF, said:

The election campaign has unveiled the true impact of the Lobbying Act, with the “chilling effect” that charities warned of, sadly casting a shadow over their engagement in the campaign.

Implementing Lord Hodgson’s recommendations in full would mitigate some of the most damaging effects of this misguided piece of legislation, and we join other leading charities in calling on the Government to act.

Whether that alone improves the climate for advocacy remains to be seen, however, and CAF believes that the Government should consider simply exempting charities from the Act to preserve their ability to give a voice to those that need it the most.

Neil Cleeveley, Chief Executive of NAVCA, said:

Speaking truth to power is a vital role that charities have always performed. It not only gives people a voice but also makes for better law-making.

The Act has made it harder for charities to speak out and so it is important that we come together to make them confident in their campaigning.

Notes

Download the letter (pdf, 182KB)

For further information, please contact Stephanie Clark, senior external relations officer at NCVO.

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