Regulation with Rosie: Being independent in Parliament

The Charity Commission's Rosie Chapman on being independent in Parliament.

Every year, charities commit significant resources to attending party conferences. It's all about access and opportunity - the chance to bump into a minister or shadow frontbencher can prove incredibly useful. But access to parliamentarians during the rest of the year has come under scrutiny with the ongoing debate about parliamentary passes, initiated by the Public Accounts Select Committee's inquiry into lobbying earlier this year.

Charities are urged to demonstrate transparency and accountability in ways not always expected of other sectors. But the process by which parliamentary passes are given isn't subject to the same type of scrutiny and, inevitably, this can lead to perceptions of political bias. Many commercial lobbyists have concluded that the benefits of pass-holding are outweighed by the reputational damage done and have opted for industry codes of practice that forbid it.

The lifeblood of charities is public trust and confidence, so it falls to them to make good any perceived shortfall in transparency. Parliamentary passes give organisations fast-track access to the corridors of power, making it easier to get into meetings at Westminster. Clearly indicating that you are attending as a representative of your charity, rather than of the parliamentarian in whose name you hold the pass, is a crucial and visible way of maintaining your charity's independence.

A charity with parliamentary patrons might also have secured a pass in its patron's name. Again, when writing to other organisations, it needs to be clear it is doing so in the charity's capacity, not in its patron's.

Trustees have a responsibility to maintain genuine independence from political parties and politicians alike - regardless of how generous they might be with their parliamentary passes.

- Rosie Chapman is executive director of policy and effectiveness at the commission.

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