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Government Grant Agreements

Volume 608: debated on Wednesday 27 April 2016

3. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of an anti-lobbying clause in Government grant agreements on the ability of charities to scrutinise Government policy. (904716)

6. What assessment he has made of the compatibility of the proposed anti-lobbying clause in Government funding agreements with the terms of the Government’s compact with civil society organisations relating to campaigning. (904719)

As set out earlier this month, we are continuing to work on this issue with charities, universities and others. The principle is clear: taxpayers’ money should not be wasted on Government lobbying Government.

Will the Minister not admit that this policy is a mess? The Government have been forced into a U-turn by research scientists, so the clause will not apply to them. Will he undertake urgently to review the operation of the entire clause and, at the very least, commit to an ongoing review so that we can be sure that the freedom of speech of charities and other organisations is not undermined?

As we have said, we are reviewing representations and we will take a decision on the form of the clause. We are pausing on implementation, but we are committed to ensuring that taxpayers’ money is used for the good causes for which it is intended and not wasted on Government lobbying Government.

Six years after the Government promised to crack down on lobbyists, the big corporate lobbyists are free to lobby, in secret and anonymously, but the worthy charities are having their lives made a misery by new bureaucracy. Why do the Government consistently dabble in the shallows, worrying the minnows, while the big, fat salmon swim by unhindered?

I am an enormous supporter of the work of charities, but I find it extraordinary that the hon. Gentleman seems to be a supporter of lobbyists using money only when it comes from taxpayers. I think that taxpayers’ money should be put to better use.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that when our constituents give money to charity, they expect it to be used directly to help those disadvantaged people whom the charity claims to help, and that if they wanted it to be used for political lobbying, they would have made a donation to a political party?

Does my right hon. Friend agree that when people donate money, they want that money to be spent on the services provided by the charity, and that most people in this country would be shocked at the amount of money spent on administration and lobbying?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, which is that charities play an enormous role in alleviating suffering, improving good causes and strengthening our communities. Let us make sure that when money is donated to a charity—as it is by many of us, possibly everyone, in this House and many people around the country—it is spent on the good causes for which it is intended.

The Government have succeeded in uniting the entire British voluntary sector against them, including household names such as the girl guides, Mencap and Oxfam. Indeed, their actions in trying to suppress debate and discussion are reminiscent of a totalitarian political culture. If voluntary organisations come across systemic child abuse or practices such as female genital mutilation, are you really saying that they should remain silent and not seek to influence Government, when a change in the law could outlaw such practices?

And nor are we. It is an absurd suggestion. The principle that taxpayers’ money should not be used to lobby Government is perfectly reasonable and one that most people support.

A leading board member of the Charity Commission has written an essay calling for the UK to leave the EU. That comes after the Charity Commission tried to clamp down on charities engaging in the EU debate. Is the Minister able to explain why the Charity Commission rule on campaigning appears to be, “Do as I say, not as I do”? I welcomed his clarification that charity voices should and could be heard on the issues that affect them, but it flies in the face of the Charity Commission’s recent gagging clauses. Will the Minister confirm that charities are now allowed to speak out, but only if they agree with him?