The Government announcement stating that grants will have an exclusion to stop money being used for “lobbying” has a worrying edge to it. The exact phrase that will be inserted into grant agreements refers to activity ‘intended to influence or attempt to influence’. But my concern is how will it be determined (and who will determine) when such activity is ‘lobbying’ and when is it sound feedback and advocacy that will benefit the public through Government policy?
Charities often deal with the weakest and most vulnerable people in society. They deal with thorny issues where there is no “market”, no other support mechanism. So some charities not only help those who have been left out of the system but also raise their issues with those in power. They can be the voice for those who have no voice.
Whilst no one would want to see taxpayers money being misused, surely the issue is about two main elements: transparency of the charity and susceptibility to persuasion of MPs. Charities should state clearly how much money they spend, and how it is spent, and the funders can then decide whether to fund or not. I don’t know a great deal about the dark corridors populated by the lobbyist, but if their case is sound then it is up to the lobbyist to make the case. If it is not sound they should be dismissed and the MPs in question will ignore the approach. There are many cases where advocacy has changed the lives of people for the better. Do we want those voices silenced?
We should not seek to silence the voice of some of the most poorly supported in society, but rather be more transparent about how money is spent – and hope our MPs can ignore the siren call of the unjust lobbyist.
Update – Weds 10th February: NAVCA has expressed concern about the government’s planned anti-lobbying legislation at ‘NAVCA fears gagging clauses will hit the most vulnerable‘, and tonight’s edition of The Moral Maze is devoted to this subject: The Moral Maze, Wednesday 10th Feb 8pm.