A group of MPs have tabled a parliamentary motion calling on the government to "urgently reconsider" plans to introduce a new anti-lobbying clause into grant agreements with charities.
Earlier this month, the Cabinet Office announced that a new clause would be inserted into all new or renewed central government grant agreements from 1 May preventing such funds from being used to lobby or attempt to influence parliament, local government or political parties.
By midday on Thursday, the early day motion, tabled last night, had been signed by 15 MPs from the Scottish National Party, the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas, Plaid Cymru’s Jonathan Edwards, Alasdair McDonnell of the Social Democratic and Labour Party and the independent MP Michelle Thomson.
The motion says the signatories note the new clause with "serious concern" and they share fears expressed in a letter by the heads of more than 130 charities who wrote to Prime Minister David Cameron earlier this month asking him to reconsider.
The motion warns that the clause could "have a far broader impact than originally intended", highlighting concerns about "the impact the clause may have on the ability of voluntary organisations to bring real-world experience of service users and evidence-based expertise into the public policy debate".
It says the clause could result in grant-funded voluntary organisations being prohibited from speaking to MPs about developments in their local areas, suggesting policy or legislation improvements or meeting ministers to discuss broader issues and evidence from their programmes.
The clause could also prevent charities from responding to government consultations, or even from giving evidence if called by a select committee, the motion warns.
"The proposals leave the government vulnerable to accusations of stifling criticism and informed debate about the consequences of its policies," the motion says. It calls on the government to "urgently reconsider" its plans.
Asked to comment on the motion, Matthew Hancock, Minister for the Cabinet Office, said in a statement that the clause was common sense and would protect freedom of speech, but would prevent taxpayers having to foot the bill for campaigning.
"Taxpayers’ money must be spent on improving people’s lives and spreading opportunities, not wasted on the farce of government lobbying government," he said. "The public sector never lobbies for lower taxes and less state spending, and it’s a zero-sum game if Peter is robbed to pay Paul."