In a statement today the Cabinet Office has said it will make no changes to the Lobbying Act. Charity bodies are concerned this amounts to a blanket rejection of recommendations made by a government-commissioned review, led by the Conservative peer Lord Hodgson.
This comes just weeks after over 100 charities sent a letter to Tracey Crouch strengthening calls on the minister responsible for the policy, Chris Skidmore, to overhaul the Act. Charities working to help the most vulnerable people in the UK and globally have repeatedly called for Lord Hodgson’s recommendations to be implemented.
The charities and campaign groups who signed the letter represented a wide range of domestic and global issues including health, social care, global poverty, human rights, environment, and vulnerable groups. Organisations signatory to the letter included Greenpeace, Deafblind UK, Girlguiding and Action for Children.
Tamsyn Barton, chief executive of Bond, said:
“It is absolutely deplorable that the UK Government is on the one hand attending the Communities of Democracy gathering in Washington to discuss the importance of civic space, whilst at the same time refusing to take any of the recommendations made for reform of a flawed piece of legislation which is diminishing civic space in the UK. How are charities supposed to speak up for the most vulnerable and marginalised people in society, both here and globally, when they are at risk of being penalised by the Lobbying Act? The Government is legislating the sector into silence at a time when our voices are needed the most. This is a terrible day for British democracy.”
Vicky Browning, chief executive of ACEVO said:
“Charity leaders will be dismayed by the Cabinet Office's decision to ignore wholesale Lord Hodgson’s recommendations to reduce campaigning restrictions. This decision is in direct contradiction with the views of not only Lord Hodgson but the cross-party Lords Select Committee on charities and over 100 charity leaders from across the country."
"Lord Hodgson insisted that his reforms would ensure the clarity and definition of campaigning boundaries. Without them, the Lobbying Act's restrictions remain deeply intimidating. If these restrictions remain in place they risk dampening the confidence and ability of charities to speak out about the biggest social, political and economic changes this country has seen for over half a century.
“The prime minister has time and again stressed the importance of civil society to our country. In making this decision, Cabinet Office minister Chris Skidmore has also said he wants to convey a clear message that the government is not anti-charity or against civil society being involved in the democratic process. However at the moment actions are speaking much louder than words."
Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of NCVO, said:
“The failure of the Cabinet Office to address this issue is unacceptable. The government made a clear commitment to reviewing the impact of this law, and to now reject any changes out of hand can only weaken the voice of those that charities serve. These reasonable and considered recommendations were recently endorsed by politicians from all parties in the House of Lords, and the government must reconsider.”
Ben Russell, Director of Communications at CAF, said:
“CAF has consistently warned that the Lobbying Act is preventing charities from fulfilling their vital role in a democracy and risks a chilling effect on charities. These proposed reforms would have mitigated some of its worst effects, and the Government’s refusal to implement them is very disappointing.
It’s essential that the Government now works with the Electoral Commission to make it very clear that charities are free to speak out on behalf of the causes and people they support.”
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
2. A copy of the letter and the full list of 124 signatories can be found here.
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.”
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 or firstname.lastname@example.org