An amendment that would have removed charities from the Lobbying Bill and the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA) was torpedoed by the Charity Commission in a key debate in the House of Lords on Wednesday night.
Earlier in the week support for the move had been building within the Lords for the amendment tabled by Lord Phillips of Sudbury, the leading charity law expert and Liberal Democrat peer.
However, the wind was taken out of his sails by an eleventh hour letter to Lords from the Charity Commission, in which they reiterated their opposition to any exemption, claiming it was not in the best interest of public trust and confidence in charity.
The charity Directory of Social Change and others have been campaigning for the exemption for months on the grounds that the Lobbying Bill represents not just a threat to charities’ legitimate campaigning, but a case of needless and costly regulatory duplication…
Jay Kennedy, director of policy and research at the Directory of Social Change, said: “We don’t agree with the Charity Commission’s arguments – in fact we’re completely stunned by some of their points which seem to imply they aren’t capable of properly regulating the charity sector’s campaigning”.
The major disappointment of the day, however, was on the cross-party attempt to exclude charities from the ambit of this legislation. Charities are very heavily regulated by charity law and cannot really campaign in a way that would “promote or procure the electoral success of a party or candidate” in any event. So worrying them with this legislation helps no one, and has simply concerned our natural allies. Shirley Williams and I attempted to encourage support for a simple charity exemption but Labour’s decision at the last minute to back the government against charities meant there was no chance of winning a vote. Garbled guidance from the Charity Commission was also quoted extensively and unhelpfully. We are still actively pursuing this to see if, at the 11th hour, a charity exemption could be won.