Charity leaders call on parties to amend campaigning rules

Signed by 18 representatives of charities, the letter says the lobbying act should be revised and grant and contract agreements should not contain anti-lobbying clauses

A number of charity leaders have called upon the leaders of the major political parties to amend campaigning rules so voluntary sector organisations are not stifled.

A letter signed by representatives of 18 charities, including the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, the charity leaders body Acevo, the Small Charities Coalition and the housing charity Shelter, asks political leaders to revise the lobbying act significantly and ensure grant and contract agreements do not contain anti-lobbying clauses.

"Over recent years, restrictions have been placed on the ability of civil society groups to speak out and the UK has joined a list of 12 European countries in which civic space is now rated as ‘narrowed’," the letter says.

"It is essential that this freedom to campaign is restored. The UK can only be a beacon to the rest of the world if it respects civil society’s right (and sometimes duty) to campaign."

The letter calls on political leaders to "create an enabling environment for civil society advocacy and campaigning in the UK".

It asks for five specific measures, including that the lobbying act be amended along the lines suggested by the Conservative peer Lord Hodgson in his review of the legislation.

Hodgson’s review, which was completed in 2016, called for lobbying legislation to be softened so it would include only activity intended to influence how the public votes.

The letter from charity leaders says the next government should ensure the Charity Commission and the Electoral Commission "are working to enable a regulatory environment which supports the rights of civil society organisations to campaign".

It also asks that all government departments involve civil society organisations throughout the policy-making process and the next government commits to "uphold the right to protest".

The letter says: "Civil society and charity campaigning is central to our democracy, amplifying the voices of those who are marginalised and holding the powerful to account.

"It has been the driving force behind many of our great social reforms, both here in the UK and overseas. It has contributed to policy and legislative changes that have saved lives and made them better; a legacy that we are and should continue to be rightly proud of."

It concludes: "We hope you will continue to champion the important role of civil society within our democracy."

The full list of signatories

Stephanie Draper, chief executive, Bond

Paul Parker, recording clerk, Quakers in Britain

Vicky Browning, chief executive, Acevo

Sara Llewellin, chief executive, Barrow Cadbury Trust

Adeela Warley, chief executive, CharityComms

Neil Jameson, emeritus director, CitizensUK

Sarah Green, director, End Violence Against Women Coalition

Dave Timms, head of political affairs, Friends of the Earth

Frances Crook, chief executive, the Howard League for Penal Reform

Martha Spurrier, director, Liberty

Paul Streets, chief executive, Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales

Karl Wildling, chief executive, NCVO

Andy Gregg, chief executive, Race on the Agenda

Sue Tibballs, chief executive, Sheila McKechnie Foundation

Polly Neate, chief executive, Shelter

Rita Chadha, chief executive, Small Charities Coalition

Alex Runswick, director, Unlock Democracy

Asad Rehman, executive director, War on Want

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