“‘Chilling’ Lobbying Act stifles democracy, write charities to party chiefs”

“Charities have been forced to change their key messages to the public during the general election because of the “chilling” effect of the controversial Lobbying Act, a group of leading UK organisations has warned.

Democratic debate on some of the biggest issues in the election campaign has been stifled by the law, a group of more than 50 charities writes in a letter sent to the main party leaders on Monday night.

“Voices are being lost at this crucial time, and our democracy is poorer for it,” they said. Their concerns echo those of many charities, particularly in the field of social care, which told the Guardian they were unable to raise vital concerns over, and experiences of, the impacts of current and future policies.

Charities say ‘gag law’ stops them speaking out on Tory social care plans
The Lobbying Act restricts what non-governmental organisations can say in the year before a general election. Billed as a brake on corporate lobbying as well as NGOs when it was brought in, its provisions have fallen harder on the non-profit sector, leading to an independent commission and the House of Lords recommending amendments.

In their letter, more than 50 UK charities called for the urgent reform of the controversial legislation, which they said was having a “chilling effect” on debates over policy ahead of Thursday’s snap election. They warned that charities were “weighed down by an unreasonable and unfair law which restricts our ability to contribute fully to a democratic society”. …

Theresa May’s decision to call a snap general election caused particular consternation because it means all charities’ communications in the preceding year fall under the rules retrospectively. When the act was introduced under the coalition, charities were reassured by ministers that parliamentary elections would be on a five-year cycle, giving them time to formulate and publicise key messages ahead of the formal start of any election campaign.

A review by the Conservative peer Lord Hodgson found that “the right balance” had not been struck in the act “as presently drafted”, and a House of Lords committee found the rules “threaten the vital advocacy role of charities”.

Labour and the Green party have called for the legislation to be repealed, while the Liberal Democrats and the SNP have urged reform. Baroness Parminter, the Lib Dem peer, said the act was “pernicious” and was having a chilling effect on democratic debate.

Within the next few days, the UN special rapporteur will present what is expected to be a critical review of the act and its impact.”