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Political Activity (Charity Commission Guidance)

Volume 585: debated on Wednesday 10 September 2014

2. What assessment he has made of the scope of the Charity Commission guidance on campaigning and political activity; and if he will make a statement. (905294)

Charities play an important role in shaping Government policy. Indeed, Departments are working on the development and implementation of many our policies. However, it has long been the case that the law and Charity Commission guidance prohibits charities from party political campaigning and activities. I believe that that is the right position.

Does the Minister nevertheless agree that it would be right to return to the Charity Commission guidance of 2004, which ensured that charities focused on social justice and helping people in need on the front line, not on big marketing budgets and playing party politics?

The Charity Commission’s guidance is clear about what charities can and cannot do and reflects the commission’s view of the underlying law. The guidance was last reviewed in 2009. The Charity Commission has said that it keeps all its guidance under review to ensure that it remains relevant and up to date, but it has no immediate plans to amend its guidance on campaigning and political activity.

Since 1921 the Royal British Legion has undertaken political campaigns for the benefit of military veterans and their families. Will the charities Minister please affirm the right of charities to undertake political campaigning in line with their charitable objectives? If he cannot say that loud and clear, could he please get back to his knitting?

I take the hon. Lady’s point and I was expecting a question along those lines, so I have stitched together a response for her. Charities, with all their expertise, have long been at the forefront of helping to tackle some of the country’s biggest social challenges and have an important role to play in helping shape a Government policy, but they must stay out of party politics, which has been a long-standing requirement by charity law—[Interruption.] Is the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), who is chuntering, saying that her party seeks to change the law?

I am grateful to the Minister for his response and to my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) for tabling the question. Was it not the Leader of the Opposition who, when in government, commissioned the report that changed the Charity Commission guidelines, which are giving so many people so much concern?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, but I want to stick to the main point. Charities have enormous expertise and can contribute to shaping Government policy. I want to make it clear that political campaigning by charities is absolutely right, but it is important that they steer clear of party politics.

Over the past few weeks it has been absolutely embarrassing to see a number of Conservative MPs come out of the woodwork and attack some of this country’s best charities. Would it not be better for the Minister and his team to get behind those charities and allow them to comment and campaign on issues relating to their work?

As I have made clear time and again, and as somebody who has spent more than 30 years of his life in the voluntary and charity sector, I say that it is absolutely right that charities have the right to campaign on the issues that they feel strongly about. The only point I have been making is that they should steer clear of party politics. Campaigning is absolutely right and they must continue to do that.