Government should not give cash to charities that lobby for law changes, says think tank researcher

Christopher Snowdon of the Institute of Economic Affairs tells Public Administration Select Committee that such charities are doing the legwork of government

Christopher Snowdon
Christopher Snowdon

Government should not give grants to charities to lobby for changes in the law, a parliamentary select committee has heard.

Christopher Snowdon, a research fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs, was giving evidence this morning to the Public Administration Select Committee as part of its inquiry into charitable regulation.

He said that although he felt it was acceptable for charities to do any amount of political lobbying, and to receive tax relief on donations to do so, they should not be allowed to lobby government or the public if the money they received came from the government itself.

Snowdon, who earlier this year wrote a report into political lobbying called Sock Puppets: How the government lobbies itself and why, told MPs that he objected to charities "campaigning among the general public and representing themselves as grass-roots groups when they really represent the government in power".

Snowdon gave examples including charities such as Alcohol Concern and Friends of the Earth, which he said had taken government money to lobby government itself, and the public, on behalf of government.

"The great campaigning successes of the centuries – anti-slavery and votes for women – all of these were pursued by genuine civil society based on voluntary donations," he said. "They did not come about because the government decided to rig the system using public money."

He said that rather than lobby for unpopular ideas itself, government could pay charities to lobby on its behalf.

"Whenever there’s an attempt to raise our taxes or restrict our liberties, it’s a charity doing the legwork," he said.

But Paul Flynn, Labour MP for Newport West, called Snowdon’s views "a diatribe of bile and prejudice" and said that charities were competing against vested commercial interests with "bottomless pockets". "In that situation, it’s entirely reasonable that a benign government should give the charities a helping hand," he said.

"The endemic cowardice of politicians of all parties means they won’t move forward without a comfort blanket of public support."

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