The government has said it is “pausing on implementation” of the anti-advocacy clause, which will restrict organisations that receive taxpayers' money from lobbying government.
Matthew Hancock, minister for the Cabinet Office, was responding to a question this morning at Cabinet Office Questions. He said that they were pausing on the clause, but that they remained committed to it.
SNP MP Patrick Grady called the policy “a mess”, and urged the government to urgently review the entire clause, or “at least commit to an on-going review so freedom of speech of charities and other organisations is not undermined”.
Hancock responded: “We’ve said we are reviewing representations and will take a decision on the form of the clause, and we are pausing on implementation. We are committed on this, that taxpayers' money is used for the cause which it is intended, and not wasted on government lobbying government.”
The new clause is set to be introduced on 1 May. Charities have previously written to the Prime Minister outlining concerns and NCVO and Acevo put out a joint statement reiterating their concerns ahead of the Lords' discussion.
Last week the government indicated that it will exempt researchers and academics from the anti-advocacy clause in grant contracts, but not charities.
A statement put out by the Cabinet Office this morning said that the government "is continuing to consider the comments of all interested parties, ahead of the introduction into grant agreements of the clause".
It said: "As we set out on 19 April, we are continuing to consider the comments of all interested parties, ahead of the introduction into grant agreements of the clause aimed at protecting taxpayers’ money from being wasted on government lobbying government.
"We will review any representations and take a decision on the form of the clause following that."
The government 'succeeded in uniting the whole sector against it'
Tommy Shepperd, another SNP MP, said the government had succeeded in uniting the whole sector against it.
He said: “This government has succeeded in uniting the entirety of the British voluntary sector against it. Including household names like GirlGuides, Mencap and Oxfam. Its actions in trying to repress debate and discussion are reminiscent of a totalitarian political culture.
“I want to ask the minister this - if voluntary organisations come across systemic child abuse and female genital mutilation they should remain silent and not seek to influence a change which would make these practices outlawed?”
Hancock responded by saying that this is not the case, and maintained that the policy is reasonable.
Sector bodies respond
In a joint statement, NCVO, Acevo and Social Enterprise UK responded to Hancock's comments, calling for the "full and immediate withdrawal" of the policy.
The statement said: "Following correspondence with the Cabinet Office, we are pleased to see that the government has ‘paused on implementation’ of its anti-lobbying clause.
"We continue to call for the full and immediate withdrawal of this policy. The clause, as it stands, goes much further than it says on the tin and will deter many charities and social enterprises from making representations to government and parliament.
"We look forward to hearing more from government on how they will proceed – in particular we have asked them to consider a formal consultation with the charity sector and other affected bodies.
"We also require urgent clarification of how this pause will apply to those organisations that already have grant agreements containing the anti-lobbying clause."