The NCVO has changed its position on the lobbying register, and now says charities should not be compelled to be on it.
The umbrella body’s chief executive Sir Stuart Etherington will tell delegates at a Hansard Society event tonight that the government’s final proposal for the register has been watered down so much in the face of feedback by private-sector interests, that the NCVO no longer thinks charities should be subject to it.
Ahead of tonight’s speech, Sir Stuart told civilsociety.co.uk that when the initial plans for the register were first proposed, it was intended to apply to internal lobbyists as well as external ones, and the NCVO felt it would be unfair if charities were not also covered by it. “You couldn’t have one rule for us and one for everyone else,” he said.
But the latest draft, now out for consultation, no longer requires internal private-sector lobbyists to register. If this is the course of action that the government adopts then the NCVO says that charities should not be captured by it.
"Basically it’s so weak now there’s no point in us joining it," he said. "This register brings the private sector up to the level of charities and in-house lobbyists level of transparency, by making clear who they represent - but the proposals do not add anything additional for charities."
He will tell delegates tonight that the key point is the purpose of the register. "If the purpose is merely to ensure transparency for multi-client agencies there is no rationale for charities to be part of it," he will say. "If the purpose of the register is to inform the public of who is influencing policy, then in-house lobbyists, including charities, should be included."
The change of heart brings NCVO into line with the position advocated by Bates Wells & Braithwaite lawyer Rosamund McCarthy last week. McCarthy argued that charities are already transparent in their dealings with ministers and that requiring them to join such a register would dissuade many from interacting with government.
Four criteria for inclusion
The NCVO has set out four criteria which it says must be met if charities are to be subject to a statutory register. These are:
Universality – the system should apply to all lobbyists, regardless of sector.
Legislative footprint – the most useful part of future legislation would be to identify the issues lobbied on. This would enable the public to understand how policy has evolved through discussion with external parties.
A code of conduct – this should set out clear expectations outlining how outside interests should interact with government. This would act as a powerful nudge, driving standards up across the board.
Proportionate - any system should be proportionate, inexpensive and easy to administer.