Ministers will meet today with charity chiefs to allay concerns about perceived constraints on their ability to lobby government contained in the Lobbying Bill.
A deputation from National Council of Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) are set to hold talks in Whitehall with leader of the House of Commons, Andrew Lansley, deputy leader Tom Brake and Chloe Smith – who is minister for political and constitutional reform at the Cabinet Office.
Third sector bodies – including the Royal British Legion, Oxfam, and the Salvation Army - have expressed fears the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill could make them liable for criminal charges when speaking out on public matters.
Last week the Electoral Commission, which would be responsible for monitoring the rules told MPs in a briefing that even if it advised charities on what they could do, they could not offer guidance with certainty as their views would be open to challenge.
Speaking ahead of today’s talks, Karl Wilding, director of public policy at NCVO, said the Bill would put charities and community groups ‘into a position where no one has any idea what the rules are, but may nevertheless face criminal prosecution for getting them wrong’.
‘I would like the government to give serious consideration to putting its proposals on hold,’ said Mr Wilding.
‘This would give them the chance to consult properly on a solution that addresses concerns about undue influence in politics without the risk of sweeping every charity and community group in the country into a deeply burdensome bureaucratic regime,' Mr Wilding added.
Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith said: ‘My fellow ministers and I are very happy to listen to the concerns and ideas of organisations affected by this legislation, but I hope to be able to put the NCVO's minds to rest that we do not intend to capture a huge swathe of their membership who are not already registered as third party campaigners.
‘At the 2010 General Election, very few charities were registered as third parties. Provided they continue to campaign as most of them always have - that is, they are not promoting the electoral success or otherwise enhancing the standing of parties/candidates - charities will not be affected by this legislation,’ Ms Smith added.