Power to make representations

Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:45 am on 7 January 2016.

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‘(1) A charity may undertake political campaigning or political activity in the context of supporting the delivery of its charitable purposes.

(2) A charity may campaign to ensure support for, or to oppose, a change in the law, policy or decisions of central government, local authorities or other public bodies.’.—

This New Clause would enshrine in legislation the right of charities to undertake political campaigning activity.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause would enshrine in legislation the right of charities to undertake political campaigning activity. We are clear that this is a direct attempt to challenge the unfair and poorly applied Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014—the gagging Act, as it is commonly known.

Campaigning is an important part of democracy and civil society. One of the fundamental principles of a thriving and healthy democracy is that individuals and organisations can speak out about the issues they care about. Charities, in particular, have a long-established role in educating and informing the public, campaigning and securing positive social change throughout our history and, crucially, holding the state to account. It is the sign of a mature and confident democracy that we allow dissent and ensure that we have wide-ranging and representative public debate. Charities not only have the right to campaign, but are often best placed to provide important insights that can inform and improve policy making. They are so often the ones on the frontline seeing the gaps in provision, the duplication of services, inefficiency and waste, and indeed spotting the best ways of solving problems.

Many charities can often make a bigger impact with their limited resources through campaigning than through service delivery alone. Campaigning often saves taxpayers’ money in the long term as issues can be addressed at their roots, rather than having to address their costly aftermath. For example, is it better to care for victims of crime in the aftermath of an event or to help prevent crimes in the first place? It is good to help care for patients with long-term conditions such as cancer, but is it not better to push for more effective treatments, awareness of symptoms and support for diagnosis?

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

Will the hon. Lady explain how the legislation stops such things happening at present? I have seen nothing to suggest that that is the case.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I thank the Minister for his intervention but, as I will say, the sector has made it clear that it feels stifled, particularly in the lead up to general elections, when there are serious debates about the future of Government policy. That is what this new clause seeks to prevent.

The lobbying rules affect charities because of their non-partisan campaigning activity. Organisations can campaign for changes to law or policy where such a change would support their charitable objectives. Although under charity law campaigning cannot be the continuing or sole activity of a charity, it is an entirely legitimate activity for charities to pursue. Under the current rules of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, some of that activity is already regulated by the Electoral Commission when an organisation has been deemed to produce election material. For many charities and voluntary organisations, raising awareness of the issues affecting the people and causes they support is a routine and important part of their work and central to their charitable objectives.

In a letter leading up to the general election last year, more than 160 signatories from the charitable sector, including Save the Children, the Salvation Army, Oxfam, Greenpeace, Age UK and Amnesty International, said that the legislation should be scrapped and that it is having a “chilling effect” on charities’ work.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Conservative, Tonbridge and Malling

One of the things the hon. Lady is talking about is the identification of political campaigning, particularly in the run-up to an election, and I understand why she feels that charities should have the right to campaign on issues about which they feel passionately. However, I am uncomfortable that taxpayer-funded bodies, which, let us face it, is exactly what charities are—the tax break means that the taxpayer is paying for this—are paying for a revolving door of special advisers and press advisers from political parties, notably one political party, to come back, take Government money and lobby the Government. I find it absolutely extraordinary that we are asking the British public to pay to be lobbied on their own behalf. It is very odd.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

That logic refutes the need for any special advisers, who are of course paid by the public purse to implement a political manifesto.

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Labour, Hove

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is ample charitable law stating that charities exist to serve their beneficiaries? They do not exist to serve special advisers or any other part of society; they exist to support their beneficiaries. That is the beginning, the middle and the end of the story as far as charities are concerned.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is their full purpose, and they should feel entirely able to stand up and challenge the Government of the day, whoever they may be, and any political party if they feel that their policy does not support their charitable objectives.

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Labour, Ilford North

Some of the remarks made this morning do a disservice to many Conservative councillors and Members of Parliament. I can even think of Government special advisers with whom I have worked in the voluntary sector as paid staff, and they all did a very good job in the voluntary sector and are doing reasonably well in government.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and he is right to pay that tribute. There is often a political motivation behind such proposals that resents the fact that a party, once it is in power, has to accept that people will challenge it and hold it to account.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick Conservative, Newark

I draw the hon. Lady’s attention to the one case that I am aware of when a charity has been criticised for not being politically neutral during the general election. That was the Badger Trust. It is not a charity that I am particularly familiar with, but the Charity Commission said that there was a risk of its political neutrality being called into question. The example it gave was that Dominic Dyer, its chief executive officer, organised rallies in the lead-up to and during the general election, and emailed all its supporters, using the charity’s computer system, in advance of the Labour party’s manifesto launch on rural communities, saying that he had contributed to it and asking supporters to attend the launch event and support it—or words to that effect. Does the hon. Lady think that is right? Surely not.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that suggestion. I wonder whether he would have had the same concerns had that been done for his political party. Surely consultation is a positive thing. If a charity’s aims and objectives are welcomed and taken forward by a political party, it is surely right for it to welcome that success for its charitable objectives and its efforts to have influence, shape policy and change society. That is something to be welcomed, and the hon. Gentleman is on a difficult line with that.

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

Is the hon. Lady really arguing that it is okay for a charity to email its members and ask them to attend a party political launch event? Can I just be clear on that?

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I think that is perfectly acceptable, if people want to go to any party political event and offer their views. They may go to it and disagree with the party and challenge it. As far as I am concerned, we are in danger of separating politics from the realities of campaigning and policy making. Politics has to be open and accessible and must not exist in a vacuum. Many people are deeply involved in politics, from councillors and MPs to activists; there is not a small box for people to sit in because they are in one category but not another.

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Labour, Hove

Does my hon. Friend agree that there are many ways to achieve social change? One is to go into communities and work with individuals on the frontline, and another is to change public policy. An individual using the front-line method can change hundreds of people’s lives, but changing public policy can change millions of lives for the better. Is not it right that charities should seek to bring about front-line change and involve themselves in public policy simultaneously?

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I agree that that is part of their core objectives and part of what they have done for centuries. I am happy to support that.

Photo of Jo Churchill Jo Churchill Conservative, Bury St Edmunds

I was a campaigner before I came to this place, and it sits uneasily with me that any organisation that deems itself to be a charity should align itself with a political party in that way. The policy for cancer patients is totally the responsibility of all our parties, in my view, so for someone to take their position in a charity and use it by way of promotion is wrong.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I totally disagree with the hon. Lady. That example, for me, is not aligning with a political party. I do not see it as an issue if someone who has influenced thinking—influenced a manifesto that will influence policy change—encourages people to go and have a debate at an event.

rose—

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I will make some progress, if I may, because we are trying to finish our proceedings this morning.

Charities themselves set out some concerns, including the fact that the scope of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 was very broad. They were concerned that legitimate, day-to-day activities of charities and voluntary organisations engaging with public policy would be caught by the rules. That means that a number of regulated charities, voluntary organisations and other groups will be substantially affected.

They felt that the Act as a whole is incredibly complex and unclear and that it might be difficult for charities and other voluntary groups to understand whether any of their activities would be caught, giving rise to a risk of discouraging campaigning activity. They also felt that it gave substantial discretion to the Electoral Commission, creating an unnecessarily burdensome regulatory regime, and that it might leave some charities, voluntary organisations and the Electoral Commission open to legal challenge.

Legal opinion provided to the National Council for Voluntary Organisations by election law experts suggested that the rules are so complex and unclear that they are

“likely to have a chilling effect on freedom of expression, putting small organisations and their trustees and directors in fear of criminal penalty if they speak out on matters of public interest and concern”.

I want to set out some further reaction from the sector to the 2014 Act. Julia Unwin, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said:

“It is my view that the provisions of the Bill, if enacted, could reduce significantly the effectiveness of the endowed foundation I lead, make it difficult for us to achieve our purpose, and divert charitable funds to responding to legal challenge in a way that is wholly inappropriate”.

The Royal British Legion called it “sloppy”. Mike Wild, chief executive of Macc, said:

“Community organisations from informal voluntary groups to large national and international charities need to be able to challenge politicians, ask difficult questions and say what they are seeing happening in communities around them. The ambiguities in this Act will leave many organisations uncertain over what they are allowed to say and when.”

Photo of Jeremy Lefroy Jeremy Lefroy Conservative, Stafford 12:00, 7 January 2016

I sat through the debates on the 2014 Act in the last Parliament and think that I know it fairly well. I will make two points. First, I have taken part in three general election campaigns, and I would say that the last one was no different from any other with regard to the representations put forward, particularly on the health service, which was of particular interest to my constituents. Secondly, since the general election I have not received one single representation from any charity about a so-called “chilling effect” on their work during the election campaign.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

On the second point, perhaps they have given up hope and they may have some despair. We have certainly had a lot of support and encouragement from the sector in taking these proceedings forward. Charities have asked us to continue to press the Government on this issue and to review it. We came under a lot of pressure, and our manifesto stated that if we had won in May we would have revoked the measure.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick Conservative, Newark

I have done some research into that just briefly over the past few days, and the only example I could find is the one about the Badger Trust, which I think most reasonable people would agree is an example of inappropriate behaviour by a charity. Can the hon. Member give us some examples of charities whose activities during the general election campaign were inappropriately curtailed as a result of the 2014 Act?

rose—

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I will respond to the hon. Gentleman’s point and to the previous point before taking the next intervention. There has been a commission report. I appreciate that the hon. Member for Stafford takes the view that there was no difference in the last election, but there is evidence to suggest that charities felt that the Act has impeded the way they behave. I will talk about that further a bit later, if I may, but I will take the next intervention now.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Conservative, Tonbridge and Malling

The hon. Member is being extremely generous in giving way. Forgive me, but I come back to the simple point that the taxation element of this is really important. Regarding the element that comes from the taxpayer—the 25%, the gift aid, or whatever it happens to be—that break is money taken by force. Let us not forget what it is; tax is money taken by force. It is not a charitable gift and it is not an extra donation; it is money taken by force from people across our nation, and it is absolutely essential that we do not force people to support one political party or another. It is up to people themselves, because it is a free association and a free choice to support a political party, a campaign or perhaps an issue. However, she seems to be calling for charities to be enabled to use that money for political lobbying, which has to be wrong.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I do not understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, because gift aid is made automatically to charities that people may or may not support. A taxpayer may be paying gift aid to a charity whose aims and objectives they may not support. That is the logic.

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Labour, Hove

May I invite my hon. Friend just to clarify one point? We are talking—are we not?—about charities having the ability to support individual policies. They are not being invited or allowed to support political parties.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

My hon. Friend makes a really important point. This measure is not about party political campaigning; it is about lobbying and putting pressure on the Government, and on all political parties—[Interruption.]

Order.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I can only respond to one comment at a time, and I am trying to be as generous as I can. This measure is not about party political campaigning; it is about campaigning on issues and trying to influence every political party of the day by appropriate means. We think that is fair.

rose—

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I am going to make some progress; I am sorry. We are going to run out of time.

As I said in response to the comments of the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling, charities’ fears have been realised. The Act did stop charities from campaigning—they say so themselves—and caused unnecessary cost and confusion, according to a report by the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement, which looked into its effect on last year’s general election. Drawing on evidence from UK charities and campaign groups, the commission found that charities were faced with confusion about the

“ambiguity of the definition of regulated activity”.

As a result of that, the commission says,

“many activities aimed at raising awareness and generating discussion ahead of the election have not taken place”.

A representative of the World Wildlife Fund told the commission:

“I think the Act has created an atmosphere of caution within parts of our sector. It has also wasted time in terms of analysis of it, explaining it to trustees, staff etc. It is not…a piece of legislation we need.”

An anonymous large non-governmental organisation told the commission:

“The Act meant we didn’t undertake some of the activities we planned. Also, joint campaigning was tough as many organisations were very nervous about the Act and (therefore) watered down their activities, meaning our ability to campaign in the run-up to the election was severely hampered.”

Greenpeace told the commission that it had intended to participate in a “cross-NGO campaign”, but that all but a couple of organisations ended up not participating due to the general election period, leaving Greenpeace without enough partners to run the campaign. The Salvation Army said that although it was not traditionally a campaigning charity and therefore not in danger of exceeding the top limit, it was still wary of supporting causes that

“could be considered coalition campaigning because we felt the administrative cost would be excessive and we couldn’t control the level of spending”.

The report stated that 12.5% of the organisations surveyed reported taking no part in coalition campaigning because of the Act, while a further 12.5% substantially reduced and 31% slightly reduced their involvement in coalition campaigning. The commission also stated that it had seen

“no evidence to substantiate the claim that the Lobbying Act was needed to avert undue influence on elections”.

I am afraid the lobbying legislation looks to many in the sector too much like a deliberate and shameless act by a Government scared to debate their record or to be open to scrutiny and challenge by the third sector. A Government who seek a big society and a strong civil society must not be afraid of one of the most fundamental aspects of such a society: freedom of speech and to hold the Government of the day to account.

Photo of Wendy Morton Wendy Morton Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way, because she has taken a lot of interventions. We need to remind ourselves that charities already make representations to Government on behalf of the public and of the many valuable causes that people promote and hold dear. Does she not agree that the new clause would risk fundamentally undermining that very relationship of trust, which we are seeking to strengthen in the Bill? Charities often value their independence from Government and politics.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I disagreed with everything until the hon. Lady’s last point. Charities totally value their independence. Previous legislation has sought to stifle their independence and to prevent proper challenge and scrutiny of Government in the build-up to an election, but the new clause seeks to protect that.

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Labour, Hove

Does my hon. Friend agree that what would damage the trust of people who give so much to charities and of beneficiaries is to see Government discussing and making policies for an area that concerns them directly while the charity stays mute because it is not allowed by law to intervene or even talk publicly about that area?

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. When people support a charity—whatever the issue, whether it is cancer treatment or supporting the elderly to have a dignified older age—they want to see it making a difference, and that is in everything, from campaigning and having a loud voice nationally to seeking to secure changes to our society.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I am going to make some progress, if I may—I apologise to the hon. Gentleman.

The new clause seeks to prevent what the shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend Mr Watson, described last month as

“a fundamentally illiberal Government that railroads proposals through Parliament without debate and seeks to limit scrutiny whenever and wherever possible”.

It is the same mind-set that regards

“the FOI Act…as an irritant and the Human Rights Act…as nothing but an inconvenience” and where

“squeezing the finances of the political parties who oppose you becomes not just acceptable but desirable.”

The lobbying Act was a part of that fundamentally illiberal approach and an attempt to gag charities. It came from the same fear of public scrutiny and accountability. The new clause seeks to protect that important freedom.

In 2010, the coalition agreement promised that the Government would

“throw open the doors of public bodies, to enable the public to hold politicians and public bodies to account.”

How much, it seems, has changed, yet the Government still seek to ensure that charities are accountable—and rightly so. From today’s papers we can see that they are considering extending the Freedom of Information Act to charities that deliver public services. I would be happy to extend the Bill process if the Government wish to table further amendments to that end, so that we may have that discussion. Transparency, accountability and freedom to challenge must work both ways.

Photo of Alan Mak Alan Mak Conservative, Havant

The hon. Member for Hove talked about the public’s expectations when they engage with or contribute to charities. Surely the public’s expectation is that charities will focus on their community work and their help for vulnerable groups, rather than on party politicking. The new clause would blur the clear line that we have now.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

This is not about party politicking. Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that an organisation such as Shelter should simply stick to providing advice to Members and not seek to challenge the Government and politicians of all sides, holding them to account? That is what we are seeking to protect.

The Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement also found that voluntary groups embroiled in Government contracts regularly face threats to remain silent on key Government policies. Many neglect to speak out on issues plaguing society for fear of losing funding or inviting other unwelcome sanctions. The health of our democracy depends on people’s right to campaign on the issues they care about. The lobbying Act was an attack on our democracy. It hits charities and campaigners and limits their right to fight for important causes while allowing professional lobbies to escape scrutiny. It has left expert organisations that have a vital contribution to make to public debate unsure whether they are allowed to speak out. Governments should not be afraid of criticism or lively debate. As the old saying goes, politics is too important to leave to politicians. We seek to protect this right of charities to have a loud and respected voice in our democracy. I commend the new clause to the Committee.

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Labour, Ilford North

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hamilton. I add my voice to those congratulating you on your new role in the shadow foreign affairs team. I am sure your experience will be greatly appreciated throughout the whole House.

I confess to feeling some responsibility for this discussion. The question we should always ask when debating any potential law is: what is the problem we are trying to fix? I understand the problem the new clause is trying to address. It is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar described, the chilling effect that was undoubtedly caused by the gagging law passed by the previous Parliament. I will talk about that chilling effect shortly, but it is worth remembering why that gagging law was passed in the first place. It was, of course, because some very foolish Liberal Democrat MPs and a few Conservatives made the decision prior to the 2010 general election to sign a pledge in a Committee Room down the corridor with me, as president of the National Union of Students, that clearly stated, “I will vote against any increase in tuition fees and will campaign for a fairer funding system.”

The irony was that, prior to the general election, I was hauled in by members of the Liberal Democrat party leadership, who subsequently joined the Cabinet, to explain why the NUS had gone so soft and was not demanding abolition of all fees in line with Liberal Democrat policy. That would have been laughable in itself, given subsequent events, were it not for the fact that previously, as leader of the NUS, I was dragged up to a particularly dreary Liberal Democrat spring conference at Harrogate expecting to endorse its new graduate tax policy as the “Labour” president of the NUS. Of course, it was never a party political role—[Laughter]—but nevertheless, there I was, ready to endorse the Liberal Democrat graduate tax policy, which never came to fruition.

That is an important example because, even as president of the National Union of Students, which is arguably one of the most small “p” political charities where candidates stand on political tickets—I was elected as a Labour president of the NUS—there was never any doubt in my mind about who I was accountable to and who I served. I was elected first and foremost—in fact, only—to serve students. If that meant going up to a wet and windy Liberal Democrat spring conference to stand alongside its leader and endorse a policy that, sadly, did not come to pass, I was prepared to do it.

In the same way, I told Lord Mandelson, when he was Business Secretary, that unless there was student representation on the Browne review, he would find me and 100 other student union presidents outside the Business Department holding up signs saying, “Students let down by Labour”. The point is that, whoever is in government, if sometimes they take decisions that impact on beneficiaries or communities that we serve under the auspices of our charitable objectives, we must have the muscle to hold their feet to the fire.

That happens today to Labour politicians up and down the country, whether it is the Labour-led Welsh Assembly Government or Labour in local government. Look at the work that the Refugee and Migrant Forum of Essex and London does. It threatened to take the Government to court over their terrible “go home” vans and was prepared to turn up at its local Labour council to say it must do more to support refugees and migrants.

The Ilford Salvation Army does a load of great work on homelessness, and I want it not just to provide for homeless people with direct provision, but to turn up at the door of their local councillors or Members of Parliament asking them to explain why public policy is having a detrimental impact on those people and how it needs to change.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Conservative, Tonbridge and Malling

The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful case for the ability of charities to explain themselves, and I fully support that. Will he point to the part of the Bill or any element of it which prevents that and therefore creates the need for the words “political campaigning”, not just campaigning on issues?

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Labour, Ilford North 12:15, 7 January 2016

We are debating new clause 2. Members can see it but, for the benefit of those watching, let me point out that I do not see any reference in it to party political campaigning. It would simply enshrine in legislation the right of charities to undertake political activity. That is important, because a chilling effect followed the gagging law, which had a number of practical implications. For example, charities spent ridiculous amounts of time with spreadsheets trying to calculate their national spend versus constituency spend, and whether they were close to the spending limits and whether that would affect their collaboration with other charities.

I thought the Conservatives were the party that wanted to scrap red tape, yet they have generated a whole load of red tape for voluntary sector organisations whose funds would be better spent on helping their beneficiaries through either direct service provision or lobbying and campaigning. Students unions at the last general election were afraid to hold hustings events. Of course they should do that—it is nonsense that they should not hold those events. The gagging law had a chilling impact.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Conservative, Tonbridge and Malling

The hon. Gentleman is being extremely generous in giving way. I do not know about his hustings events, but most of mine were held in churches, which are almost by definition charities. The number of charities that were afraid to hold hustings in my community was zero, so I am baffled as to why he feels that some were afraid about that.

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Labour, Ilford North

I am simply citing the representations I have had from my old colleagues at the National Union of Students about the impacts of the gagging law. It is important to put that forward. I was the head of a charity at not one but two general elections. First, I was president of my university’s students union back in 2004, where our “Get out the vote” campaign in Cambridge undoubtedly contributed to the loss of an excellent Labour MP, in the form of Anne Campbell—she had abstained on the Second Reading of the Higher Education Act 2004, which I am sure contributed to that. Secondly, during the 2010 general election, I was president of the NUS.

At that time, charities were well constrained from party political activity and endorsing political parties, and there is unlikely to be a single charity campaigner in the country who cannot cite CC9 of the Charity Commission’s guidance chapter and verse, which is clear about the restrictions on charities in party political campaigning. The gagging law passed in the previous Parliament was a solution in need of a problem. There were no previous problems; it was just that the Liberal Democrats got scared of the consequences. Alas, even the gagging law could not save them.

Finally, on the general attitude to the voluntary sector’s political representation and campaigning, too many Members of Parliament seem to be happy to turn up and have photographs with guide dogs at party conferences, pop along to their local Barnardo’s outreach and have photographs with service users and be there for photographs, leaflets and press releases, yet when it comes to being confronted with the consequences of the decisions this place has made under successive Governments, they do not like the hard truths.

We need to think about the voluntary sector’s reach and its broad focus on speaking up for and serving the most disadvantaged in our society—people who do not know how to find their way into the corridors of power. Incidentally, those in the sector are not like the many commercial organisations that have also had significant amounts of public money, but which can none the less exercise their muscle in Committees, in the corridors in this place and on the Floor of the House. These are charities that speak up for some of the most dispossessed and disadvantaged in our society, and when they say that the gagging law has had a chilling effect, it is incumbent on us to listen and to take this simple, uncontroversial measure to ensure that every charity knows that they are empowered to make political representations to speak truth to power on behalf of their beneficiaries.

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

Let me begin by putting things right and congratulating the hon. Member for Cardiff Central on her promotion to shadow Justice Minister, which is something I should have said earlier. My heartiest congratulations to her. Things have warmed up a bit in the Committee this morning. I am glad to see that pulses are racing and faces are reddening: that is a good sign for healthy debate in Parliament.

I happily repeat for the Committee’s benefit what I said in our first sitting, as well as many other times in public: I support charities’ right to speak up for their beneficiaries, whether I, as the Minister with responsibility, or the Government like it or not. I cannot be clearer than that. Charity law already permits charities to undertake non-party political campaigning that furthers the charity’s purposes and that the trustees consider to be an effective use of its resources. That can legitimately involve campaigning to change the law or a policy, and non-party political campaigning to support such a change. That is absolutely clear. Charities must not support a particular political party. That is established by case law. It is defined widely, and it includes a charity promoting a political party event to its members. A charity cannot be used as a vehicle for the expression of the political views of its trustees or staff members.

Perhaps the hon. Member for Redcar got mixed up in what she was trying to say earlier, but she has the chance to put it right. It is clear that what she was suggesting is outside the law. If the Badger Trust were promoting an event for all political parties, that would be different, but promoting one party above another is clearly outside the rules and the definitions.

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Labour, Ilford North

Is the Minister seriously saying that there are not charities up and down the country that have put on events hosting senior politicians of all parties and invited beneficiaries? Is he saying that charities should not do that?

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

It is astonishing how easily the hon. Gentleman gets the wrong end of the stick. I was clear that it is permitted if it is all parties, not one party. He said that that those charities invite Members of all parties to events, and that is the important distinction. If, as the Badger Trust did, a charity emailed its members to invite them to one political party’s event, that would be considered a very close association with one political party. If it did the same for all political parties, as the hon. Gentleman said without understanding the implications of that, that would be okay.

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Labour, Ilford North

I cannot speak with authority about that specific case, but with the notable exception of big set-piece events, such as the Citizens UK events that were attended by the party leaders, we do not seriously expect the Prime Minister to turn up to an event hosted by a national charity and find people such as Natalie Bennett, Nigel Farage and all sorts of other people who will never have his job standing alongside him being given equal weight. Which other random parties should appear with the Prime Minister at charity events?

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

I think we are straying into the realms of electoral law rather than charity law, and I am sure you do not want us to stray too far in that direction, Mr. Hamilton. The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 applies to all third-party organisations campaigning for a particular electoral outcome. It does not specifically target charities or prevent them from campaigning to further their charitable purposes. The Charity Commission’s guidance CC9 makes that absolutely clear.

The Hodgson review, which is under way and will report in the next couple of months, will look at all those issues and consider in detail all the representations that are made to it. I think the Opposition should have waited for the review to see the detail of the representations made and whether there is evidence that things are going wrong and that the so-called chilling effect is taking place.

There is no bar to charities or student unions holding husting events, provided they do so in a balanced, even-handed way that furthers the charity’s purposes. Like many other Members, I am sure, I attended the student union debate in my constituency. I am very surprised that any student union was worried about putting on an even-handed debate, open to all parties.

The Charity Commission’s guidance is clear and comprehensive. Unlike primary legislation, guidance can be relatively easily updated, with proper consultation to ensure that it reflects current case law and other developments, such as the rise of social media. In recent years, there have been cases where charities, inevitably, have strayed on to the edges in what they are doing in social media. The guidance on that is obviously fairly new, and it is important that it is there.

I would say simply that the new clause is unnecessary, unless the hon. Member for Redcar and her colleagues are arguing that charities should be able to engage in party politics, in which case I very strongly object. What we heard about the Badger Trust emailing its members asking them to go to a single party political event and sort of supporting the manifesto elements that had been introduced would fall into the category of party political activity. We should keep charities and party politics completely separate. Where charities engage in non-party political activity, they should take extra care to protect their independence and to ensure that they do not give the impression of being politically partisan in any way, and that is the category that would apply with regard to the Badger Trust.

It is right that we have an independent regulator in the form of the Charity Commission to investigate concerns where charities may have overstepped the mark of what is acceptable, and some have done that in social media in the last couple of years. Where the dividing line between charitable and political becomes blurred and charities come to be seen as politically biased or aligned with a particular party, there is a real risk of public trust and confidence in charities being degraded. One of the charities’ strengths is their independence and their ability to stand outside politics, and I would really hate to see that undermined by the new clause.

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

In the last Parliament, before I was an MP, I had a little back and forth with a charity known as the New Schools Network, which was set up by a former special adviser to the present Secretary of State for Justice deliberately to implement Government education policy on free schools. To me, there is a clear clash there between charitable status and implementing a particular political party’s policy stance, but this Government have made no effort to address that. Given that that was a clear breach and that the Charity Commission actually had to investigate the charity in question, I do not feel that the Minister’s point about making sure that charities are separate from party political activity stands.

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

As far as I am aware, there was no finding of any inappropriate party political activity against the New Schools Network. People can make complaints about all sorts of things, but whether those are found to have any evidential base is quite another thing. There are lots of examples of think-thanks and other organisations that are charities that want to put forward new ideas in the educational sphere, and as long as they have an educational purpose and they stay outside party politics, there is absolutely no reason why they should not do that. Just because, in the early days of the new free school network, the Labour party opposed free schools, that does not mean that that particular organisation did not have the right to exist. The fact that the Labour party did not like what it was saying is neither here nor there; it had a right to express its views freely, as I and others here—[Interruption.] As long as they are not party political—I have made that absolutely clear.

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

The New Schools Network is not a party political organisation. I think that that is best left there.

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Labour, Hove

The Minister talks about the importance of independence and the fact that beneficiaries need to see charities being independent-minded. They absolutely do, but does he not accept that to be independent, charities need to be able to choose the terms on which they engage with public policy? It is interesting that Sir Peter Bottomley, who sits on the Government Benches, has invited Donald Trump to his constituency because he thinks it will be an important statement of free speech in our country. Is it not strange that we live in a world where Donald Trump and billionaires are invited here to demonstrate the principle of freedom of speech, while we are discussing charities’ freedom of speech being inhibited in the run-up to a general election, when the voices of the disempowered are needed the most?

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office 12:30, 7 January 2016

I simply do not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation of the law as it stands, because charities can and do campaign on policy and political issues today. Members of my party are particularly charitable people, although they are not charities themselves, and if, on the basis of promoting freedom of speech, they want to invite people to come and speak in their constituency, they should be free to do so.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Conservative, Tonbridge and Malling

Speakers on both sides of the Committee have been extremely generous in giving way, so I will be as brief as I can. Will the Minister identify that there is a difference between executing Government policy, such as free schools, and lobbying to achieve political party aims? They are two separate things. Will he also identify that there is a difference between freedom of speech for individuals, which we all enjoy in these islands, thank God, and have done for many hundreds of years, and the freedom of organisations that receive taxpayers’ money—money taken by force, I remind the Committee —to lobby in a different way? The two are necessarily different.

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

My hon. Friend makes the points powerfully. He has returned a number of times to a point that is relevant and of huge public interest: charities should not use Government funding for political activity. That should be clear from the terms and conditions attached to any Government funding of a particular charity. For political activity, charities can use other funding, such as voluntary donations or earned income from trading. I understand what he says, and I have set out clearly the Government’s view .

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Labour, Hove

The hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling makes an important point. Empowered individuals absolutely have the right to speak for themselves, as does any citizen of this country. The problem we have is that some citizens in this country do not have the ability to be heard or to voice their concerns—the disempowered people, who are often hidden away from general discussion and from public policy. That is why civil society organisations need the power to speak vocally on behalf of the people who do not represent themselves equally in a democracy. Does the Minister not agree?

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

Once again, I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman’s question. At the outset, I said clearly that charities should be able to speak truth to power. That is absolutely fine—

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Labour, Hove

Not during an election.

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

Whatever time of year it is. The hon. Gentleman singles out elections. We have Lord Hodgson looking at this. The Charity Commission has looked at the incidents that took place during elections. So far, I have seen no evidence of any chilling effect, and I await Lord Hodgson’s report to support the hon. Gentleman’s case.

Attempting to put into statute a provision of case law risks changing the boundaries of what is permitted. It just is not feasible to encapsulate all the nuances of case law in a simple single statutory provision. We have already explored those risks in the context of clause 9 and the protection of charity assets, and it would be no different here.

It is not clear whether new clause 2 would permit charities to support political parties, for example, by allowing charities to undertake political campaigning without defining exactly what that means. Given our earlier conversation about the Badger Trust, I think even the hon. Member for Redcar is not clear about what constitutes political campaigning and what does not. The new clause is just one example of where a well meaning attempt to codify case law in a statutory provision can go badly wrong, resulting in potentially significant unintended consequences.

There is also a risk that the new clause would permit charities to overstep the current mark in another way: under the law as it stands, charities cannot engage in campaigning to such an extent that it calls into question their charitable status. If the only thing the organisation does is non-party political campaigning, one would question whether it is an organisation with political rather than charitable purposes. That is already encompassed in case law, but it is not clear to me whether new clause 2 would encompass that restriction, potentially opening up charitable status to political organisations. That would clearly damage public trust in charities, which I am sure the hon. Lady does not intend.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Conservative, Tonbridge and Malling

Forgive me for intervening once more, but on that point, does the Minister believe that it would be wise for charities to identify how much they spend on their core activity and how much on campaigning?

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

My hon. Friend raises a question of enormous public interest. Only last year the Charity Commission looked at whether charities should be required to submit details of their campaigning spend as part of their annual return process, details of which would have been published on the register of charities. The commission concluded that such a requirement would create a significant amount of work for charities and decided not to include that in the annual return for 2015. However, the commission did note the huge level of public interest in the issue and said it would look at the matter again. I welcome that and encourage the commission to keep the matter under review. I hope that clearly answers my hon. Friend’s question.

Even in the unlikely event that the boundaries of law were not shifted by an attempt at statutory definition, one would still expect legal challenges to test whether the law had in fact changed, by design or otherwise. There is further risk in putting this in the Bill since it would risk politicising charities’ right to campaign. Ministers, rather than the independent regulator and the courts, would be responsible for the provision, which could leave it open to political interference over time.

I hope the Committee will agree that one advantage of case law provision is that it is in the hands of an independent regulator and the courts and is not subject to ministerial intervention. As I said, my noble Friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts is currently reviewing evidence of the impact of 2014 Act on charities and other organisations in the run-up to the election. I understand his report is expected reasonably soon, and I look forward to seeing the findings and whether there are lessons to be learned.

I also point the Committee to the Charity Commission’s recent publication of the cases it investigated in the run-up to the 2015 general election. From looking at those cases, one gets a good impression of the independent regulator properly exercising its regulatory role in this area in a very proportionate way.

I hope that I have given the reassurances that Opposition Members seek about charities’ right to speak out for their beneficiaries, while cautioning against the dangers of statutory provision, and hope they will not press the new clause.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I thank the Minister for his explanation, although he has not convinced us—he will be surprised to hear that. We will not press the new clause to a vote now because we want to return to it on Report. I am sure hon. Members look forward, as I do, to further discussion on the Floor of the House.

I was struck by the Minister’s passionate defence of the independence of the charitable sector and his desire to protect it from the overbearing oppression of political campaigning forced on it by the new clause. I would love to know how many charities begged and pleaded with the previous Government to bring in the gagging Bill to protect them from overbearing political parties forcing them to campaign. In fact, the feeling from the sector was quite the opposite: they were asking for independence from being gagged and being told they could not campaign. I fundamentally disagree with the Minister’s claim that he is trying to protect the sector’s independence. Its independence to speak with its true voice and commitment is what the new clause is about.

I hope I am not naïve in saying this, but for me the basis of politics is to try to make a difference and to find solutions to problems. So many of the aims and objectives that we in this room all share are completely concurrent with those of the charitable sector, so it is inevitable that on many of the issues we try to address and change, charities will feel just as strongly and passionately as we do. They will try to influence us because we are in a position of power to make decisions.

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

I would appreciate it if the hon. Lady gave me three quick evidence-based examples of charities being stopped from pursuing issues on behalf of their beneficiaries. I hope that her party has given examples to Lord Hodgson to show where that has already happened. It would help me and other Conservative Members to understand.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I gave examples during my speech. I will be happy to resurrect them on Third reading and to submit them. Going back to the point about the independence of student unions, a university in my area cancelled a hustings because it was extremely cautious. It had sought expensive legal advice and did not proceed because it was not sure that it was sufficiently meeting its charitable status in the number of people and different parties it was inviting. That is a clear example from my constituency.

The 2014 Act is a classic incumbency piece of legislation from a political party that has gone far from its roots and become immersed and entrenched in Government, pulling up the drawbridge and becoming separate from the ideals that drive politicians and the sector. I believe that it is incumbent on all political parties, but particularly in Opposition, to listen right through to the day of a general election to the challenges that civil society sets out to us, its problems with the policies we make and how it exposes to us the challenges facing society. We do not have all the answers, but it is important that, as I said, right up to the day of a general election we continue to listen. That Act had, as the sector has identified, a clear effect on its ability to do that.

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

The indignation of Conservative Members that this would not apply if charities were acting in this way toward their own party is a little hard to swallow when, as my hon. Friend said, the Government are attempting to weaken FOI. I note that the Minister did not respond to that point. I hope he will intervene and correct me. This year, the Government, including his own Department, failed for the first time in 50 years to publish Cabinet papers due to the National Archives and failed to come to the House to explain why. I hope the Minister will intervene and correct me on both points, or provide a timetable for action.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I thank my hon. Friend because she is absolutely right. Every political party comes into Government with the best ideals—we heard from the coalition that they would be the most open, transparent and accountable Government ever. Suddenly the fear sets in, and when they start to hear from the public things they do not like it is easy to pull up the drawbridge. We are seeing that with a range of measures from the Government.

Turning briefly to badgers—we have heard a lot about them today; I am very fond of them. I have not seen the email, but despite what Government Members have said, I am still struggling to understand the issue—[Interruption.] The Minister sighs in despair. I will try to explain and perhaps he will show some tolerance for those of us who are struggling to keep up.

If a charity has aims and objectives such as saving badgers, it might write to all political parties setting out what it would like to see in their manifestos, setting out its aims, ambitions and aspirations. One of those political parties might write back saying, “Fantastic; we love badgers too. We want to put that in our manifesto and to have an event to launch it. We want it to be part of our rural ambitions.” Would it not be understandable if that charity engaged with that political party, attended events, and discussed, debated and challenged that manifesto to promote its cause?

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

The Minister shakes his head, but I do not know why that is unacceptable. I admit that I do not know the individual case, so I cannot comment on the specifics, but judging by what has been set out, I do not have a fundamental problem with a charity that emails its members to advise them to go to a political event. It could advise them to go to three party events—if another party had accepted its views on badgers, it would have done the same thing with that party. This is about putting badgers first—badgers before politics.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick Conservative, Newark 12:45, 7 January 2016

The hon. Lady is being generous in giving way. The reason why it is concerning is not about party politics; it is about faith and trust in charities. In my constituency, 60% of the electorate voted Conservative, I am pleased to say, but I am sure that many of my constituents who voted Conservative share her passionate support for badgers and, if they were members or supporters of the Badger Trust, would have been disappointed to see it explicitly support one political party. The statistics about lack of trust in charities suggest that of those people who say that they do not have faith in charities or that their faith in them has been diminished, the number who cite partisan and party political campaigning by charities as a reason has tripled in the past three years. Is the hon. Lady not concerned about that?

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I do not recognise that evidence, because what has come to us indicates quite the opposite.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

Please do. To go back to the hon. Gentleman’s point, I am delighted for his sake—if not for ours—that so many of his constituents voted Conservative, but if many of them care passionately about badgers and see such measures in the Labour manifesto and not the Conservative manifesto, surely they can challenge that party’s views, because views can be changed. There will always be things that a political party stands for that we will disagree with—I am sure that many of us on both sides of the Committee feel that. Things are not set in stone and this measure does not seem inflexible and against the grain. I am happy to explore that case in more detail, but I remain to be convinced.

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

In the spirit of co-operation that we have had in the Committee, perhaps I can help the hon. Lady. The Charity Commission will send her a copy of its report on the Badger Trust so that she can see the details of the case. I hope that will help inform her for Third Reading and Report.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I very much appreciate that, but, on the principle set out, I do not see an explicit problem with a charity emailing its members about attending a meeting of a political party. That is my baseline, but I look forward to hearing more about that case, because I cannot make a decision without seeing all the details.

I want to make another comparison. Many charities attend political party conferences to lobby, influence and try to shape political thinking. Many of them will say, “Actually, we can’t afford to go to every party conference,” so they may go to only one, whether that of the party in government or in opposition or the party that most shares its views on whatever its issue of the day is—I will not say badgers again. Is it at odds with its political neutrality if it attends just one party conference to try to influence and shape thinking? Those are difficult issues for charities to think about.

Photo of Jo Churchill Jo Churchill Conservative, Bury St Edmunds

Those charities are making commercial decisions about how they can best influence the landscape. That comes back to the element of trust; that when someone donates, they are donating to the cause and not to a political party. A problem would come about if I were donating to a charity that was explicitly promoting a political party via a policy. I would defend to the death any charity’s right to be at every party’s conference and to put its points forward. What is being proposed would allow people, via the back door, to support one party over another, and that is not right.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

It would not; it would just allow charities the opportunity to be free from restrictions and to able to influence political parties in the way they think best, which is what the hon. Lady was trying to defend.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick Conservative, Newark

I promise that this is my last intervention on the hon. Lady on this point. We should be careful what we wish for here. In the United States, the blurring of the line between philanthropy and politics is much greater than in this country. In fact, it has been legal for charities to support parties and candidates for only 50 years in the US, where we see wealthy philanthropists setting up charities with blurred objectives. We should all defend against that passionately.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I totally agree, but I am not aware that we were in the same situation as America before the hon. Gentleman’s Government introduced this Bill. I do not share his view that our revoking these powers would provoke that kind of situation. As I said at the beginning, we are trying to defend the independence and voice of the charitable sector and to enable charities to speak truth to power without fear or favour and to shape and influence their view on what would build a better society, in accordance with their charitable aims and, hopefully, with the views of many in the Committee. We will not be pressing the new clause to a vote, but we will return to the matter at a later stage. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 3