Charities minister Rob Wilson says his Labour shadow is 'alarmist' over lobbying act

During a debate with Lisa Nandy at the Third Sector-NPC High Impact Conference in London, Wilson says nothing in the act stops charities from campaigning

Rob Wilson
Rob Wilson

Rob Wilson, the Minister for Civil Society, has accused his Labour shadow of being "alarmist" over the effect of the lobbying act on charities.

Speaking at the Third Sector-NPC High Impact Conference in London this morning, Wilson, who took up the role last month after the resignation of Brooks Newmark, said there was nothing in the act to stop charities from campaigning.

"But lines need to be drawn and it's the job of commission to do so," Wilson said. Many charities were experts in political campaigning but the commission must patrol it, he said.

Wilson was responding to comments made by his Labour counterpart, Lisa Nandy, in what was termed a "heated debate" and a "bit of a spat" on Twitter posts by conference delegates .

Nandy said that the lobbying act would have a negative effect on the sector, which would censor itself for fear of getting in trouble.

Having reiterated Labour’s pledge to repeal the act if her party gained power next year, she said it was sensible to make a distinction between political and party political campaigning, but that it was difficult for charities to know what they were allowed to do because the rules were not clear.

"Charities have a duty to speak out for the people they help," she said. "We've swung too far away from this."

Making the point that lobbying had to be properly scrutinised and transparent, Wilson made reference to the campaigning group 38 Degrees, which he said had been involved in a new and different form of campaigning in constituencies.

This prompted Nandy to ask if the act had been directly aimed at this group.

"Sorry, I thought there was a chairman to this debate. Are you taking over?" responded Wilson. "I think it’s important to have transparency across all areas of government and all sectors that government inter-relates with. That’s why this act is important – when you have organisations such as 38 Degrees conducting slightly different styles of campaign than the sector is used to, it’s important that that transparency is there."

Earlier this year, the Conservative MP for Worthing West, Sir Peter Bottomley, criticised 38 Degrees, saying its approach to influencing MPs’ views on the lobbying bill was "stupid" and counter-productive.

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