This week the Cabinet Office announced a “pause” on the proposal to restrict the ability of charities to speak out on certain matters if the charity is funded by government, the so-called anti-advocacy clause. This is to be welcomed. I wrote about this attempt to gag charities earlier in the year.
I was also one of 138 charity chief executives who wrote to David Cameron on this matter. This “pause” is a good thing and has been welcomed by many, including Acevo (which represents charity chief executives), the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, and Social Enterprise UK. They put out a joint statement:
“Following correspondence with the Cabinet Office, we are pleased to see that the government has ‘paused on implementation’ of its anti-lobbying clause.
“We continue to call for the full and immediate withdrawal of this policy. The clause, as it stands, goes much further than it says on the tin and will deter many charities and social enterprises from making representations to government and parliament.
“We look forward to hearing more from government on how they will proceed – in particular we have asked them to consider a formal consultation with the charity sector and other affected bodies.
“We also require urgent clarification of how this pause will apply to those organisations that already have grant agreements containing the anti-lobbying clause.”
I am aware that today there are reports of police surveillance of elected politicians. One of Brighton’s MPs, Caroline Lucas, was recorded by counter-terrorism police as having attended “a pre-advertised protest” to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the suffragettes rushing parliament and that she “gave a speech”.
Our society has many problems, not least the threat of real terrorism. What on earth is the state doing monitoring members of parliament and trying to gag charities wishing to speak out on behalf of their beneficiaries? It doesn’t reflect well on those in power and this “pause” is a reflection that they are realising that the anti-advocacy clause hasn’t been properly thought through.
I wonder whether by writing this my card will be marked (again).