September 7 2013 - Christian Aid remains deeply concerned that despite claims that concessions will be made, the proposed Lobbying Bill could still place huge and complex demands on charities if they are not to fall foul of the law at election time.
Late yesterday Commons leader Andrew Lansley said the Government would drop plans to change the way campaign spending in the run up to an election by organisations other than political parties would be defined.
Only spending which could ‘reasonably be regarded as intended to promote or procure electoral success’ would be subject to control.
However, Barry Johnston, Christian Aid’s senior political adviser, said today the proposed concession did not address the broader concerns of the charitable sector.
‘The Minister doesn’t seem to grasp the fact that we are already heavily regulated by the Charity Commission about what we can and can’t say politically, not just during the run up to an election, but at all times. We fully understand that as charities, we cannot be party political.
‘Indeed, part of our value is that we remain outside the party political arena. But our ability to speak out on issues such as poverty, tax justice and climate change could still be gravely compromised.
‘As it still stands, the Bill could lower the threshold of spending by all organisations, including charities, for an entire year before an election, in various ways – such as at the hustings, in the holding of public talks, and on adverts calling on all parties to adopt certain policies.
‘Once past a set threshold, an organisation could have to register as a ‘third party’ which would bring with it hugely onerous reporting requirements including, once Parliament has been dissolved, weekly accounting of monies spent organisation wide.’
For Christian Aid, that would mean different thresholds for campaigning work across England, Scotland and Wales, and would be a major undertaking given the way in which staff split their time across different functions. Coalition working would bring further difficulties.
‘We remain gravely concerned at the haste with which this legislation is being pushed through, the lack of proper consultation and parliamentary scrutiny, and the potential for huge uncertainty in the regulatory environment for campaigning,’ added Mr Johnston.
‘We urge the Minister to accept the recommendations of the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform committee that the part of the bill covering charities be delayed for six months to enable proper consultation to take place with organisations that will be affected. Bad law-making makes bad laws.’
Notes to editors:
1. Christian Aid works in some of the world's poorest communities in around 50 countries at any one time. We act where there is great need, regardless of religion, helping people to live a full life, free from poverty. We provide urgent, practical and effective assistance in tackling the root causes of poverty as well as its effects.
2. Christian Aid’s core belief is that the world can and must be changed so that poverty is ended: this is what we stand for. Everything we do is about ending poverty and injustice: swiftly, effectively, sustainably. Our strategy document Partnership for Change (http://www.christianaid.org.uk/images/partnership-for-change-summary.pdf) explains how we set about this task.
3. Christian Aid is a member of the ACT Alliance, a global coalition of more than 130 churches and church-related organisations that work together in humanitarian assistance, advocacy and development. Further details at http://actalliance.org
4. Follow Christian Aid's newswire on Twitter: http://twitter.com/caid_newswire
5. For more information about the work of Christian Aid visit http://www.christianaid.org.uk