The pavement crusader

Brighton MP David Lepper would prefer a chugging ban, but is happy to give self-regulation a chance.

David Lepper has certainly attracted attention with his opposition to face-to-face fundraising. The Labour MP for Brighton Pavilion has called for a mandatory code of conduct for street fundraisers and has been accused of causing a decline of more than 50 per cent in chugging in Brighton in the past two years by making continual complaints (Third Sector, 15 November).

His criticism of the Public Fundraising Regulatory Authority and what he sees as its inability to control chuggers' behaviour in his constituency has also featured in the pages of the Sunday Mirror. He repeated his views on a recent BBC Radio Five Live debate. The PFRA hit back, accusing him of mounting a lone crusade: chief executive Mick Aldridge has said that Lepper has problems with face-to-face that do not arise elsewhere. But Lepper is undeterred, admitting he would like to see an outright ban on face-to-face.

"If I had my way, chugging wouldn't happen," he says. "My fundamental ethical objection is to the business of catching people on the spur of the moment and taking what should be closely guarded information - bank account details - in the street."

He is, however, a realist and concedes that chugging is probably here to stay. "I accept that some people seem willing to commit money in this way and that charities must attract new types of donor," he says. "And I understand research shows that it's a good way to fundraise. If that is the case, however, charities should get behind a proper regulatory system."

In practice, it's not chugging Lepper wants to stop; it's what he describes as chuggers' "breath-taking rudeness". His position is informed not just by complaints from his own constituents but also by personal experience.

He says his constituents are harassed by rude, intrusive and aggressive chugging techniques. He cites his own observation of a chugger's recent behaviour. "She was standing in the middle of the pavement, arms spread out, feet astride and a golf umbrella rolled up in one hand blocking people as they went past," he says. "I don't find that acceptable."

He's puzzled as to why charities are loath to accept that chuggers behave badly, and rejects the argument that there's no evidence the public don't like face-to-face. "That's living in a dream world," he says. "People want to complain, but they don't know who to complain to. From the number of articles and letters I see on the issue, it's clear there is a problem."

He backs his argument with a string of letters published in his local paper. They describe incidents of rudeness bordering on abuse and shoppers pursued and obstructed.

Lepper says many MPs privately agree with him, pointing out that Torbay's Liberal Democrat MP, Adrian Sanders, put forward an early day motion in January 2005 urging those dealing with the PFRA to recognise that the body is an association rather than an authority.

But is he a lone voice when it comes to speaking out publicly? "Maybe I shout louder than others, but that doesn't mean other constituencies don't have problems," he says.

Lepper hopes that requirements in the Charities Act for the Charity Commission to certify fundraising organisations as fit to collect direct debits and for local councils to issue permits will be enough to tackle aggressive and rude fundraisers.

He welcomes the advent of the Fundraising Standards Board, but says he will continue to speak out if he receives complaints. "We are into a wait-and-see period with self-regulation," he says. "And I will certainly be pointing my constituents in the direction of the FSB when they complain to me about rude chuggers."

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