Charities have important role in shaping government policy, Brooks Newmark tells MPs

At Cabinet Office questions in the House of Commons, the Minister for Civil Society heard the concerns of some Tories about charity campaigning

Brooks Newmark
Brooks Newmark

Brooks Newmark, the Minister for Civil Society, told parliament yesterday that charities "play an important role in shaping government policy".

His words came in response to fellow Conservative MPs who had expressed concerns about the sector’s campaigning role.

Charlie Elphicke, the Conservative MP for Dover and Deal, asked Newmark during Cabinet Office questions to say "what assessment he has made of the scope of the Charity Commission guidance on campaigning and political activity; and if he will make a statement".

Elphicke also asked whether Newmark agreed "that it would be right to return to the Charity Commission guidance of 2004, which ensured that charities focused on social justice and helping people in need on the front line, not on big marketing budgets and playing party politics?"

Christopher Pincher, the Conservative MP for Tamworth, said that the commission’s guidelines were "giving so many people so much concern".

Newmark said: "It has long been the case that the law and Charity Commission guidance prohibits charities from party political campaigning and activities. I believe that that is the right position."

He added that the commission had "no immediate plans" to amend the guidance, and that charities played "an important role in shaping government policy".

Susan Elan Jones, the Labour MP for Clwyd South, asked Newmark to further "affirm the right of charities to undertake political campaigning in line with their charitable objectives". She said: "If he cannot say that loud and clear, could he please get back to his knitting?"

Newmark said in response: "I was expecting a question along those lines, so I have stitched together a response for her. Charities, with all their expertise, have long been at the forefront of helping to tackle some of the country’s biggest social challenges and have an important role to play in helping shape government policy, but they must stay out of party politics, which has been a long-standing requirement of charity law."

Ian Lavery, the Labour MP for Wansbeck, said: "Over the past few weeks it has been absolutely embarrassing to see a number of Conservative MPs come out of the woodwork and attack some of this country’s best charities."

In response, Newmark said: "The only point I have been making is that they should steer clear of party politics. Campaigning is absolutely right and they must continue to do that."

Elphicke’s question came a week after Newmark was criticised for comments he made at a conference that charities should not become involved in politics and should "stick to their knitting". He was later forced to clarify that he meant party politics.

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