The recipients of government grants can continue to discuss the findings of publicly funded research with the government, parliament or in the media, a parliamentary secretary at the Cabinet Office told the House of Lords yesterday.
The Cabinet Office announced in Febuary that a 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.
The clause has elicited strong opposition from charities, with more than 150 writing to Matthew Hancock, a minister at the Cabinet Office, about their concerns.
In a debate on the anti-lobbying clause in government grant agreements, Lord Bridges of Headley, a parliamentary secretary at the Cabinet Office, said the clause was not about curbing freedom of speech and that grant recipients could, for example, speak to the media or write press articles "so long as that does not incur costs to the public purse".
He told the Lords that "grant recipients can continue to discuss the findings of publicly funded research with government or parliament, whether that be by giving evidence or in an advisory capacity".
"As regards curbing freedom of speech by charities, that is not the case. Let me remind your lordships that charities make up only 7 per cent of grant spend," Bridges told the house. "Charities can continue to use any other funds to lobby government. Indeed, in the Department for Communities and Local Government, where this clause has been in place for the past 18 months, Shelter, which has been receiving a grant from the DCLG, has continued to lobby this house and the other place on the contents of the housing bill, for example."
Asked by Lord Wigley, a Plaid Cymru peer, whether he accepted that charities were "fearful of voicing their opinion in the context of the referendum on the European question", Bridges cited the recent charity commission guidance on the EU referendum as evidence that charities could speak when it was "in the interests of the charity".
The Earl of Clancarty, a crossbench peer, asked whether the minister believed that a healthy and open society "not only allows but actively encourages the use of public money given out as grants to question the status quo, to challenge the government over policy when felt necessary and, indeed, to make constructive recommendations for new policy".
Clancarty added that the clause "will damage democracy and should be scrapped".