UK’s charity sector outraged by governments rejection of amendments to the Lobbying Act

It is disappointing to say the least that having been assured by Cabinet Office Minister Chris Skidmore that the Government is pro-charity and keen to involve the sector in the democratic process we now learn that the Government will not be implementing any of the conservative peer Lord Hodgson’s recommended reforms of the Lobbying Act, reforms that would have reduced restrictions on campaigning. 

The recommendations within the Lord Hodgson review were broadly welcomed and received endorsement by the cross party Lords Select Committee on Charities and many charities across the country including VONNE. There is a strong sense that the minister has failed to take heed of the general cross party view that these recommendations were reasonable and considered in nature and would go a long way towards addressing concerns expressed by the charity sector about the loss of key rights of charities to advocate for the causes and people they represent and the introduction of significant restrictions on how we work with our funders and partners.  

VONNE will continue to collaborate and support our colleagues across the sector working at national level such as Bond, NCVO, CAF, NAVCA, the Small Charities Coalition and more, to ensure that the Government works with the Electoral Commission to make it very clear that charities are free to speak out on behalf of the causes and people they support.  

To this end we are sharing this joint press release written by Bond, NCVO and ACEVO.

UK’s charity sector outraged by governments rejection of amendments to the Lobbying Act

In a statement today the Cabinet Office has said it will make no changes to the Lobbying Act. Charity bodies are concerned this amounts to a blanket rejection of recommendations made by a government-commissioned review, led by the Conservative peer Lord Hodgson.

This comes just weeks after over 100 charities sent a letter to Tracey Crouch strengthening calls on the minister responsible for the policy, Chris Skidmore, to overhaul the Act. Charities working to help the most vulnerable people in the UK and globally have repeatedly called for Lord Hodgson’s recommendations to be implemented. 

The charities and campaign groups who signed the letter represented a wide range of domestic and global issues including health, social care, global poverty, human rights, environment, and vulnerable groups. Organisations signatory to the letter included Greenpeace, Deafblind UK, Girlguiding and Action for Children.

Tamsyn Barton, chief executive of Bond, said:

"It is absolutely deplorable that the UK Government is on the one hand attending the Communities of Democracy gathering in Washington to discuss the importance of civic space, whilst at the same time refusing to take any of the recommendations made for reform of a flawed piece of legislation which is diminishing civic space in the UK. How are charities supposed to speak up for the most vulnerable and marginalised people in society, both here and globally, when they are at risk of being penalised by the Lobbying Act? The Government is legislating the sector into silence at a time when our voices are needed the most. This is a terrible day for British democracy.”

Vicky Browning, chief executive of ACEVO said: 

“Charity leaders will be dismayed by the Cabinet Office's decision to ignore wholesale Lord Hodgson’s recommendations to reduce campaigning restrictions. This decision is in direct contradiction with the views of not only Lord Hodgson but the cross-party Lords Select Committee on charities and over 100 charity leaders from across the country."

"Lord Hodgson insisted that his reforms would ensure the clarity and definition of campaigning boundaries. Without them, the Lobbying Act's restrictions remain deeply intimidating. If these restrictions remain in place they risk dampening the confidence and ability of charities to speak out about the biggest social, political and economic changes this country has seen for over half a century.

“The prime minister has time and again stressed the importance of civil society to our country. In making this decision, Cabinet Office minister Chris Skidmore has also said he wants to convey a clear message that the government is not anti-charity or against civil society being involved in the democratic process. However at the moment actions are speaking much louder than words." 

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of NCVO, said: 

“The failure of the Cabinet Office to address this issue is unacceptable. The government made a clear commitment to reviewing the impact of this law, and to now reject any changes out of hand can only weaken the voice of those that charities serve. These reasonable and considered recommendations were recently endorsed by politicians from all parties in the House of Lords, and the government must reconsider.”

Ben Russell, Director of Communications at CAF, said: 

“CAF has consistently warned that the Lobbying Act is preventing charities from fulfilling their vital role in a democracy and risks a chilling effect on charities. These proposed reforms would have mitigated some of its worst effects, and the Government’s refusal to implement them is very disappointing.

It’s essential that the Government now works with the Electoral Commission to make it very clear that charities are free to speak out on behalf of the causes and people they support.”