Still too many questions around non-party campaigning rules

As some of you will have read in my previous post about the Transparency of Lobbying Bill, over the last couple of weeks we have been seriously concerned about the proposed changes to the non-party campaigning rules.

Following a meeting with Cabinet Office officials, many of our questions about how the Bill will catch charities, voluntary organisations and community groups remain unanswered. There is too much ambiguity and uncertainty surrounding this part of the Bill, which does not bode well for any legislation.

We have therefore written a a letter to Chloe Smith MP (PDF), highlighting the potential impact of the changes and expressing our concerns.

As you can see from the letter, we have received support from a broad range of organisations. It’s important for us to show that this affects all sort of charities, so in the run-up to the second reading of the Bill on 3 September we are continuing to collect signatures. If you would like to add your organisation to the list of supporters please email me or write a comment here below.

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Elizabeth Chamberlain Elizabeth has been in NCVO’s policy team since 2008, as the expert on charity law and regulation. Her policy interests also include charity campaigning, the sector’s independence, transparency, and accountability.

35 Responses to Still too many questions around non-party campaigning rules

  1. Bernard Rees says:

    The Transparency of Lobbying Bill is an attempt to stifle the public expression of views except by political parties. Its provisions ignore the fact that much useful and effective lobbying bringing changes for the better is carried out, not from motives of political advantage, but from convictions of the urgent need for changes, changes to which all political parties should be invited to subscribe. This is the basis of lobbying campaigns by charitable groups in the UK. The Bill threatens this campaigning with suppression as a criminal activity at the very times when it can be most effective, when political parties can be at their most receptive. Provision must be made for the continued campaigning for social benefit as a democratic right and as the means to provide effective advocacy for those who cannot do so themselves. Defending and enshrining such activities is the mark of a mature democracy. Taking them away by using the the threat of criminality is a sign of fearful, partisan small-mindedness, appropriate behaviour perhaps for dictatorships like Russia, Syria and Zimbabwe but deserving no place in the politics of the UK.

    • Liza Dresner says:

      I agree wtih every word of Bernard Ress’s comments. The autism bill, as an example, would not have happened had there not been a huge and very successful lobbying campaign by the NAS and supported by smaller organisations. Idividuals cannot do this alone and MP’s cannot be expected to be expert in all fields. They need to be helped to understand the issues that affect the most vulnerable who cannot or do not speak for themselves. Domestic Violence legislation is another area where those affected are unlikely to be popping in to see their MP’s to ensure protective legislation, FGM yet issue where campaigning, lobbying and advocating has made a huge and very important change. This is part of the democratic process and must be defended.

      • Adrian Whyatt says:

        If organisations want to lobby politically then they should be non-charitable. It is perfectly easy (in fact far easier than setting up a charity) to set up a not-for-profit non-charitable unincorporated voluntary association (NFPNCUVA). This can always set up a charitable offshoot if it so decides. NFPNCUVAs have no political restrictions on them and are not accountable to the charities commission, but only, on a very long leash and very theoretically, must register with the HMRC, giving bank account details, etc.

        Examples are Stop the War (which has considered setting up a charitable educational wing), Liberty, Amnesty International and Greenpeace.

        Disabled people want rights, not charity. The most effective organisation historically has been the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN) – NOT A CHARITY. And more recently, with many DANNERS involved, DPAC (Disabled People Against the Cuts).

        The DAN position (and almost certainly the DPAC one) is that disabled people never asked organisations not controlled by them or set up by them to talk for them or represent them. They should shut up and shut down.

        We, at LARM take the more nuanced view that they should be democratised and should have to say, in every statement just who controls them and in what percentage. And that this must be reflected by law in the media.

        It took autistic people many years to get onto the board of the NAS and we have never been in the majority.

        Nor in any senior position on the Board (Chair, Vice-Chair, Treasurer, Secretary).

        Nor has anyone on the autistic spectrum ever been employed as CEO or on any senior position in the NAS.

        We, on the spectrum, represent only about 2% of the NAS membership, which has always been dominated by the non-autistic parents of autistic children (and to a lesser extent, of those who have now become the parents of adults).

        The Autism Bill was passed without the involvement or consent of any organisations entirely run and controlled by autistic people (APOs). It has been woefully ineffective and does not contain within it key requirements (e.g. mandatory and universal low arousal environments, sensory and metabolic screening, sensory integration therapy, the involvement and consent of APOs), though we lobbied for this.

        Nor any robust enforcement methods.

        Though we have managed to get some of these details into the detailed implementation of the Autism Strategy.

        All contrary to the UN Disability Convention which the UK has signed and ratified (including the Optional Protocol).

        We also oppose all tax breaks for charities. The money should go (billions of pounds, e.g. through matched giving) instead to empower user-led and controlled campaigning organisations such as ourselves and on greater transparency.

        Nothing About Us Without Us! Nothing About Autism Without Autistic People and our representative organisations.

        We welcome all attempts to create transparency amongst lobbyists and to limit the political activities of charities.

        If you want to be political, set up a NFPNCUVA instead.

        You can then, as we did, hold a debate about which political candidates to support, for example, for the Mayor of London election.

        Yours sincerely

        Adrian Whyatt, Vice-Chair, London Autistic Rights Movement (LARM) and NAS Councillor since 2003 (the latter in a personal capacity)

        • KW says:

          However this bill will apply to your organisation as well as to charities.

          The NCVO letter has been signed by a number of NGOs which are NOT charities precisely because they want to campaign politically (e.g. Greenpeace). This is because this bill will affect anyone that campaigns on anything that can be construed as political whether they are a charity or not.

    • Neal Heard says:

      We are a small Bradford based charity which works around community development and involving people who use services in how these services improve & develop. We also support the local Disabled People’s Forum, which raises & campaigns around issues affecting disabled people. A particular concern is that charity trustees will adopt a risk adverse attitude to campaigning issues,as they are potentially breaching criminal law. The participation of often marginalised people in public affairs is threatened by this bill

  2. ruth savery says:

    I am involved with more than one local charity and am concerned that our rights to lobby peacefully could be at risk

  3. AH says:

    This another serious attack on our democratic rights. If we are not allowed to have direct contact/campaigning then our ‘democracy’ is reduced to a farcical (non representative) ‘vote’ every few years. Take this bill through and hand our democracy to big business with the power to grease the relevant palms, then ask yourselves afterwards why voters are apathetic. Worldwide defenders of democracy, we are not.

    PS – I am now so genuinely concerned about successive government attempts to stifle our democratic rights to freedom of speech and the right to hold our governments to account that I do not feel comfortable sharing my name or contact details.

  4. I feel that any system which stifles free speech about issues which are not party political is a suppression of freedom of speech. Charities large or small do not need to be shackled by catch all legislation such as reported

  5. Revd. Alex Armstrong says:

    At best the legislation as planned is oversight of its impact. At worst the impact is enormous to lobbying charities which are rightly non-political. Lobbying Groups such as “38 Degrees” have been very successful on behalf of many across the spectrum of UK demographics – 1.2 million voters signing up to over 10 million signatures on petitions that are for the common good. I am a co-opted member of a Local Area Partnership, precisely so I can influence local decision making. Two extremes as examples of tying the hands of non-political influence should the lobbying bill go through as it stands. I (hope) cannot believe that that is what is intended and strongly support correction of the bill as it stands.

  6. Paul Regan says:

    I am entirely in favour of limiting the right of commercial profit making organisations from being able to spend unlimited amounts of money lobbying for their private interests. But this Bill will also catch voluntary and faith organisations which lobby on a non partisan basis for the public interest. This would undermine the very basis of democratic participation – the exact opposite of what I thought all political parties want – namely, to get more public participation in the public realm. Unless changes are made this will be a disaster.

  7. Lynne Regent says:

    I agree with the concerns expressed above.

  8. Matthew Brearley says:

    It is shameful that because of a few greedy Members of Parliament Charities should be hamstrung in this way. I support Elizabeth Chamberlain and share her concerns.

  9. Nicholas Tranter says:

    As a Priest I know that faith groups of all denominations, have lobbied parliament over all sorts of issues that are socially significant – especially when it comes to defending the interests of the most vulnerable members of society. I cannot understand why politicians would want to inhibit their freedom of action but I find it impossible to put any sort of trust in the honesty of their motives.

  10. John Thurston says:

    “The Law of Unintended Consequences” springs to mind.

    The original objective to catch the big fish was no doubt admirable – but once again the draftsmen will catch allsorts of minnows who will be frightened to fulfil one of their purposes, that is to act as advocates for causes they seek to promote.

    If it is enacted as it stands it will be a case of “Act in Haste and Repent at Leisure”

  11. Ros C says:

    We have a right to voice our concerns and I whole hearted support the above comments.

  12. I share your concerns – it is vital that non-political party lobbying should not be fettered – this is our basic right to freedom of speech which Chloe Smith is apparently attermpting to curb.

  13. Mark Gladwin says:

    As a trustee of three charities, all working and campaigning in different ways for children’s rights to play, I totally support the concerns expressed by NCVO, 38 Degrees and many other civil society organisations about the likely noxious impact of this proposed legislation. This bill will not succeed in eradicating the really sinister, behind-the-scenes, self-interested lobbying that we are all concerned about, and that it purports to target; but it will, unless fundamentally amended, succeed in stifling legitimate democratic campaigning and in penalising dissent. Please carry on the campaign.

  14. Dee says:

    As a youth participation leader, I support young adults to have a voice and influence decision making through campaigning and lobbying either on independent issues or in conjunction with charitable organisations. If this right is taken away from us, then we are effectively being silenced. With no freedom of speech, no voice and no influence; we are stepping further and further away from a democratic society in which the people are key.

  15. John Melhuish says:

    I support Elizabeth Chamberlain fully in relation to the Bill as published.
    Either the wording is poorly drafted or it is a blatant attempt to stifle public comment on vital issues. This is potentially a gross attack on democracy in the UK and must be resisted.

  16. Deborah Mitchell says:

    Given these very serious concerns, which I entirely support, is it possible to have a clause to ensure that the bill should not have this effect on charities or campaigning groups or other VCSE/third sector organisations? After all that trumpeting of civil society……

  17. We are deeply concerned about the likely effect of these proposals upon charities like our own that exist to promote/lobby for improvements in Disabled people’s equality, human rights and their entitlement to independence, choice and control of their own support needs.

    At the moment we are challenging the current government’s policies but we were equally busy under the previous government.

    If this Bill passes in its current form, as an organisation that campaigns and lobbies at a local and national level we will barely be able to fulfil our charitable objectives. We have an elected Mayor, a local Council, a Police and Crime Commissioner, a EuroMP and a UK MP to lobby, all with different elections. To have to avoid each and everyone of them, for a whole year, makes a nonsense of the government’s claimed support for a ‘Big Society’ and the Voice and Influence of local communities.

    Please reconsider your proposals and work with organisations like NCVO to prevent inadvertently undermining the ability of many charities to do their job.

  18. I agree with the “The Law of Unintended Consequences” comment.

    It is necessary to limit the right of commercial profit making organisations from being able to spend unlimited amounts of money lobbying for their private interests. But this Bill will also affect voluntary organisations that lobby on a non partisan basis for a number of safeguarding and welfare issues. Charities which provide a voice for vulnerable groups need to be allowed to fulfil one of their main mission statements, which is to act as advocates for their beneficiaries.

    Reply

  19. Andrew Heron says:

    Another attack on democracy in this country – it’s interesting that we’re still willing to consider the possibility that this is poor drafting, history suggests otherwise.

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  21. John Wilson says:

    I found this item through the 38degrees.org.uk website, which I’ve also already used to email Chloe Smith last Friday. But I doubt that she’ll bother to reply to a pleb.

    But this is just another example of how UK Governments, who this week claimed that they wanted to bomb Syria, whilst still allegedly complying with International Law, are actually ignoring the International Bill of Human Rights as the have done for decades. But to quote my message to her:-
    “The only people who should ever have had the right to Lobby Parliament are individual human beings exercising their rights under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration and International Covenant, and Article 22 of the latter,which is included in The International Bill of Human Rights.” and “So unless ‘lobbyists’ are only representing the rights of individuals, who may have collectively joined with others to do so, then they have no rights to lobby Parliament at all. Nor should MP’s have the right to take money from Corporations or others to represent their Business interests.”

    So this proposed law needs to be challenged on principles which every UK Government claims to uphold, when in fact even the judiciary ignore International Law when making decisions against individuals, to whom these rights belong.

  22. John Wilson says:

    I found this item through the 38degrees.org.uk website, which I’ve also already used to email Chloe Smith last Friday. But I doubt that she’ll bother to reply to a pleb.

    But this is just another example of how UK Governments, who this week claimed that they wanted to bomb Syria, whilst still allegedly complying with International Law, are actually ignoring the International Bill of Human Rights as the have done for decades.

    But to quote my message to her:-
    “The only people who should ever have had the right to Lobby Parliament are individual human beings, exercising their rights under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration and International Covenant, and Article 22 of the latter,which is included in The International Bill of Human Rights.” and “So unless ‘lobbyists’ are only representing the rights of individuals, who may have collectively joined with others to do so, then they have no rights to lobby Parliament at all. Nor should MP’s have the right to take money from Corporations or others to represent their Business interests.”

    So this proposed law needs to be challenged on principles which every UK Government claims to uphold, when in fact even the judiciary ignore International Law when making decisions against individuals, to whom these rights belong.

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  24. brian fletcher says:

    If people are not going to be allowed to speak through groups such as 38degrees,etc. A collective voice to express their feeling and frustrations, to MPs, regardless of their political position. Then I don’t want to think about how they may express their views.
    This country and its parliament, has and I hope always will be, at least in the main, a democracy. The people have a right to speak and this bill aims to prevent that even if for a said period it is still wrong, and if they succeed what will the next step be. That’s worrying…

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  26. Richard Miles says:

    Another concern is that politicians, in seeking to be elected or re-elected, may add popular local or wider campaigns that have been run by charities or others to their own manifestos, thus politicising them and immediately debarring the originators of the campaigns from continuing with their lobbying.
    And given that elections happen almost every year in one part of the country or another, this act could stifle free, collective speech once and for all.

    Is this really what the Government wants? I wasn’t reassured hearing Andrew Lansley’s reassurances on the Today programme this morning; it sounded too much like echoes of his reassurances about the NHS!

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  28. I am Secretary of one charity strongly supported by trade unions and a Trustee of another charity campaigning on young people’s issues.

    Since 2010 a new authoritarianism has emerged in government. Much of this has been directed against young people. remember the kittling of students standing up against loans, remember the treatment of those involved in the rioting, and what about the large scale but more silent demolition of youth services and the complete dismissal of the responsible and effective lobbying of thousands of youth groups to save their resources?

    We should remind ourselves too that there has been no mandate for any of the measures the government has taken against our public services, industries, the infrastructure of the voluntary sector and the restrictions on access to justice.

    There is no mandate either for this bill and I believe TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady has been very measured in describing this as a chilling shift to dictatorship.

    The NCVO should also be congratulated for its representation on this matter.

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  30. Terry Davies says:

    Does the current situation mean that NHS can now be dismantled gradually. Tory party funding can be provided by companies during the years they are in power but not during the period of a year before the election. Further privatisation of the NHS can occur without effective listening to the voice of the people due to the legislation being brought forward during a period of a year before an election. There will be restricted campaigning and unpopular legislation can be retained until this period when there will be limited opposition. Conceivably we can end up with the election being fixed and funding of private companies can occur without listening to protests from Taxpayers? what do you think? Is the UK heading towards a dictatorship?

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