Over the centuries the United Kingdom has been proud to
host the greatest charitable tradition in the world. Whether delivering public
services or campaigning for beneficiaries’ civil society makes for a stronger
What is of the most importance for our democratic
institutions is that we work and speak for the most vulnerable in our society.
Sometimes this voice is welcomed, at other times it's uncomfortable for
governments and we are criticised. But speaking truth to power is etched across
the hearts of charity CEOs.
This is an honourable history. Campaigning against
slavery in the 18th century or against cruelty to animals or children in the
19th or against smoking and world poverty in the 20th or fuel poverty and
homelessness in the 21st our role in highlighting wrongs and seeking change is
unquestionable. Just think of the brilliant campaigns in the 60s on
homelessness that led to changes in the law to outlaw Rachmanism. Or on racial
justice. Or the work of the development charities on making poverty history.
The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and
Trade Union Administration Bill, which is debated in the Commons next week,
could pose a real threat to our charities’ freedom to operate.
What I hear from members is that it this has united all
parts of civil society in condemning the proposed limits on charity
campaigning. Charities will now be regulated not only if they intend to
influence elections in favour of one party – as charity law already forbids –
but if the Electoral Commission decides their engagement with policies has an
(unintended) effect on people’s decision to vote. That's sinister.
The Cabinet Office stated, on 19 August, that the Bill
does not intend to obstruct charities in the pursuit of their objectives.
But lawyers tell us differently. And frankly I suspect
some of those behind this Bill do realise the effects and intend them. I'm told
it may even affect Blogs and heaven forfend they silence mine?
Our ability to influence policy making by political
parties makes for better policy and better laws. And it’s crucial to charities’
pursuit of their charitable objectives. Articulating the needs of disabled
people, or the homeless or demanding changes to energy or transport policy is
helpful to the political parties.
Before the last election ACEVO held a very successful
"Tory Summit", where we had a wide range of the opposition front
bench to talk to members about policy and their plans for Government. We held
similar sessions for the other 2 parties. It would be madness if we were not
able to do this again, or if the Parties then felt they had to approve the
"cost" of these (as would be required for expensive projects), which
would use up most of our spending limits in one go.
This could dull or even silence the voices of millions of
the UK’s most vulnerable people. And at election time that is precisely when
those voices should be raised. And listened to.
All political parties gain from a strong and well
articulated voice. This Bill is a classic case of a sledge hammer to crack a
nut. Of course we all want to limit private firms’ lobbying, when it is for
their profit not society’s. But it’s drafted in a way that will cause damage to
charities. Let’s get it changed. ACEVO will be working with members to help do