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Charities

Volume 496: debated on Tuesday 1 September 2009

To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office what guidance the Charity Commission has issued on whether registered charities may (a) register as third parties with the Electoral Commission and (b) engage in political campaigning during a regulated election period. (287264)

The information requested falls within the responsibility of the Charity Commission. I have asked the Commission to reply.

Letter from Andrew Hind, dated July 2009:

As the Chief Executive of the Charity Commission, I have been asked to respond to your written Parliamentary Question on what guidance the Charity Commission has issued on whether registered charities may (a) register as third parties with the Electoral Commission, and (b) engage in political campaigning during an election period.

Charity law on campaigning and political activity is set out in our published guidance ‘Speaking Out—Guidance on Campaigning and Political Activity by Charities’ (CC9) and ‘Charities and Elections’ which are available on our website at www.charitycommission.gov.uk. This guidance makes clear that a charity can carry out campaigning and political activity as a means of furthering or supporting its charitable purpose, but that under charity law a charity must never carry out party political activity.

On part (a) of your question regarding the issue of a charity's registration as a third party with the Electoral Commission, our guidance signposts charities to the Electoral Commission and to the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. We do not provide detailed guidance ourselves. Charities must not support or oppose any party political campaign, candidate or manifesto. Therefore we do not envisage circumstances where it would be necessary for a charity to register with the Electoral Commission as a third party. We would be concerned about any charity that was recognised in this way, and would certainly want to explore this further with them.

As to part (b), the Commission's guidance on political campaigning during an election period makes clear that the principles for a charity engaging in any campaigning or political activity continue to apply. The key principle of charity law in terms of elections is that charities must be, and be seen to be, independent from party politics. We therefore urge charities to think carefully about what activities they engage in during this period, and how they might be perceived.

We are currently in the process of arranging to meet with the Electoral Commission to discuss further the issue of third party registration. Please do not hesitate to get in touch if you have other questions. I hope this is helpful.