14 September 2017

Over 100 of the UK’s charities and campaigners have strengthened calls on the government to overhaul the Lobbying Act.

In a letter to Tracey Crouch, the incoming Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Sport and Civil Society, the charities said:

“While we recognise that regulation is necessary to ensure that no one individual or organisation can exert undue influence at an election, the Lobbying Act has had a disproportionate impact on civil society campaigning. We are concerned that it caused many organisations, often representing our society's most marginalised and vulnerable people, not to engage in the run up to the recent general election, and resulted in important voices being lost from public debate.

Charities and non-partisan campaign groups have spent significant time attempting to understand the legislation and how to comply. However, many of the rules are vague and confusing, especially for smaller organisations. While some organisations have sought legal advice to help them interpret the legislation, this can be expensive and simply not an option for many. The rules on joint campaigning are also a concern for smaller charities, and have made organisations more hesitant to collaborate.”

The charities and campaign groups that are signatory to the letter represent a wide range of domestic and global issues including health, social care, global poverty, human rights, environment, and vulnerable groups. Organisations who have signed the letter include Greenpeace, ARTICLE 19, Deafblind UK, Girlguiding, WWF, Action for Children, RSPB and Save the Children.

The Lobbying Act has been criticised for deterring charities from raising pressing domestic welfare and global issues during election periods for the past three years. Charities working to help the most vulnerable people in the UK and globally have repeatedly called for the recommendations of a government-commissioned review1, led by the Conservative peer Lord Hodgson, to be implemented.

Tamsyn Barton, chief executive of Bond, said: 

“We have seen a huge rise in the number of charities and campaigners speaking out against the Lobbying Act, particularly in the context of the recent snap election. However, their voice will continue to be silenced on a whole range of issues affecting the people they are trying to help, whether it be discrimination and inequality, or climate change, unless our repeated calls for the Lobbying Act to be overhauled get a response.” 

“Tracey Crouch’s appointment provides hope that something will be done to address this draconian piece of legislation. The incoming minister has worked with the sector before and values the vital contribution charities make to a healthy, democratic society.” 

Julie Bentley, chief executive of Girlguiding said: 

“At a time when girls and young women are faced with so many challenges and pressures, Girlguiding provides a safe platform for them to have their voices heard on issues that are important to them and empowers girls to make change happen. It is vital that girls’ voices are heard by decision-makers who can break down these barriers to girls reaching their full potential. We are concerned that the confusion and lack of clarity around the Lobbying Act as it stands could hinder this process. All of societyloses out when the voices of those affected by issues are silenced from the debate around solutions, at the very time that decision-makers are listening most intently. We call on the government to revise this legislation to ensure all is being done to make girls’ lives safer, fairer and equal.”

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said:

“At the last general election, the UK was in an unprecedented period where uncertainties about post-Brexit Britain touched nearly every facet of our society, our environment, our governance and our role in the world. It was a crucial time to hear the multitude of voices in civil society as we collectively sought to shape what comes next. Greenpeace refused to register for the Lobbying Act because we felt the issues we campaign on – climate change, air pollution, ocean plastic, wildlife protection – are too important to be muzzled by an act that attempts to silence our voice at such a critical point. The right of civil society to campaign and make their voice heard should be the fabric of any vibrant democracy.”

Thomas Hughes, executive director of ARTICLE 19 said: 

“The UK Lobbying Act runs counter to numerous aspects of freedom of expression and the right to information.  The ability of CSOs to express and exchange ideas with those in power, and to propose solutions to challenging problems, enables civil society as a whole to affect change and demand accountability. This role must be enhanced and protected rather than restricted.”

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of NCVO, said:

“Charities’ campaigning is vitally important to policy development and political debate, and is a strength of our democracy. Through their campaigning, charities speak up for the people and causes they represent, they raise awareness on important issues and inform the debate with their expertise.

“Many charities still have significant confusion about what they are able to do under the Lobbying Act, and the range of organisations signing this letter demonstrates the amount of concern about how this is silencing charities. The reforms to the Lobbying Act that we are asking for would provide much neededclarity, and ensure charities can campaign with confidence and make their voices heard.”

ENDS

Bond is the UK network for organisations working in international development. Bond unites and supports a diverse network of over 450 civil society organisations and allies to help eradicate global poverty, inequality and injustice.

Notes to Editors

1. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/507954/2904969_Cm_9205_Accessible_v0.4.pdf 

2. A copy of the letter and the full list of 124 signatories can be found here

3. The Lobbying Act 2014 provides a set of rules to govern people and organisations that publicly campaign on issues in the run up to elections but are not standing as a political party or candidate. The rules seek to ensure that no one individual or organisation can have an undue influence over an election.

The Lobbying Act was initially intended to tackle corporate lobbying and stop wealthy pressure groups and individuals from influencing election results, but in practice, it has had a disproportionate impact on British charities. More information can be found in Bond’s Lobbying Act media briefing: Bond Lobbying Act media briefing.docx

4. Spokespeople are available on request. For further information or interviews please contact Maryam Mohsin on 07555 336029 / mmohsin@bond.org.uk