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Labour Pledges to Repeal Lobbying Act

Labour Pledges to Repeal Lobbying Act

In their election manifesto in the run-up to the 8 June general election, Labour has pledged once more to repeal the Lobbying Act, claiming it has “gagged charities”. The wording repeats a promise which appeared in their 2015 Manifesto and states under the banner of “Extending Democracy”:

We will safeguard our democracy by repealing the Lobbying Act, which has gagged charities, and introduce a tougher statutory register of lobbyists.

The Lobbying Act currently requires charities to register to be regulated by the Electoral Commission if they plan to spend more than £20,000 in England or £10,000 in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland between now and polling day, where the expenditure can reasonably be regarded as intended to influence the electoral prospects of parties or candidates.

Labour’s pledge is therefore likely to prove popular amongst charities, many of whom have opted to err on the side of caution and avoid campaigning altogether. John Sauven, UK executive director of Greenpeace (who were fined £30,000 by the Electoral Commission for refusing to register as a “third-party campaigning organisation), likens the effect of the Act to a “democratic car crash… [which] weakens democracy and curtails free speech.”

The effect of the Lobbying Act on a charity’s ability to raise important issues is particularly concerning as Brexit looms large on the horizon. In a panel discussion at the annual conference of the Charity Finance Group on 18 May, Baroness Hayter (Labour’s Brexit spokesperson) reported that her desk is piled high with representations from a range of sectors but that she had not been hearing from the voluntary sector; she made a plea for charities to speak up on the possible impact of Brexit on them. Speaking on the same panel, Gina Miller reminded charities that the Lobbying Act does not bar charities from speaking out and warned that it is the charity sector that is going to have to pick up the pieces after leaving the EU.

Win or lose come 8 June, Labour’s pledge serves to highlight again the clear need for reform of the Lobbying Act whoever holds the keys to No 10.

Contact our charity law experts today

If you would like to learn more about the rules regarding political activities and campaigning by charities, please contact our charity law solicitors on 01895 207862 or email charities@ibblaw.co.uk.