Over 100 charity leaders have written to Tracey Crouch, minister for civil society, urging her to make changes to the Lobbying Act.
The letter, which has been signed by representatives from 122 charities, warns that the Lobbying Act as it stands discouraged charities from campaigning during the recent general election.
Charities argue that the Lobbying Act has had a “disproportionate” impact on the sector. They say they want the recommendations to reform the act made by Lord Hodgson to be implemented as soon as possible.
In the letter to Crouch, charities say that: “The Lobbying Act is a confusing and burdensome piece of legislation that weakens our democracy, rather than strengthens it.”
They warn that rules are “vague and confusing” which has particularly discouraged smaller charities, who cannot afford legal advice, from campaigning.
“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,” the letter said. “We are concerned that it caused many organisations not to engage in the run up to the recent general election, and resulted in some important voices being lost from public debate.”
Signatories to the letter include Greenpeace UK, NCVO, Acevo, the Charities Aid Foundation, Charity Finance Group, Children England, Christian Aid, Navca, Social Enterprise UK and WCVA.
The Lobbying Act was introduced in 2014 and Hodgson was appointed to review how it worked after the 2015 General Election.
Hodgson’s review, which was completed in March 2016, recommended a number of major changes including scrapping the “purpose test” which means that any activity which appears intended to influence elections could be caught by the act. Charities are concerned that they have to guess how the Electoral Commission might interpret their activities, rather than simply being able to say that their campaigning was not intended to be political.
Other recommendations include reducing the regulated period from one year to four months.
His conclusions were backed by the House of Lords Committee on Charities.
Shortly after the election in June six membership bodies wrote to Damian Green, minister for the Cabinet Office, calling for urgent reform of the act.
Bond, the representative body for international development charities, has now co-ordinated a letter to Crouch urging her to “work with your colleagues in the Cabinet Office to ensure sufficient parliamentary time is devoted to allow revisions to be made”.
‘Crouch’s appointment offers hope’
Charities have been asking the government to reform the act since it was introduced and now hope that a new minister means “something will be done”.
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.”
Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of NCVO, added: “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 needed clarity, and ensure charities can campaign with confidence and make their voices heard.”
The letter can be read in full here.