Charities in Wales worry over lobbying bill impact

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionDavid Cornock reports on the reaction from charities in Wales to the new lobbying law

Charities in Wales have expressed concern that new rules on lobbying could make it harder to campaign.

The Transparency of Lobbying Bill also includes a cap on the money charities and unions can spend on funding election candidates.

Oxfam Cymru said it fears extending regulations could restrict policy debate up to a year before elections.

The UK government insisted reform was needed and that charities' ability to campaign would not be "constrained".

Lindsey Williams, from the Wales Council for Voluntary Action, said it was still unclear what effect some of the measures in the legislation would have.

"Normal policy work is charities engaging with government at all levels and with other influential bodies and generally trying to improve the lives of people or protect the environment for example," she told BBC Radio Wales.

"That's normal run of the mill work for charities.

"What's not clear is whether that is going to be affected by this new Bill. If it is then that could have the impact of silencing charities because no-one will want to run the risk of prosecution."

Julian Rosser, head of Oxfam Cymru, said the Bill represented a "real threat" to the quality of policy debate and charities' ability to campaign.

"Ministers' assurance that they do not intend to curb charities' ability to speak out on legitimate issues of concern is welcome," he said.

"But by extending election regulations to activities that are not intended to promote one party or another, the government would prevent charities and other campaigners from engaging effectively in policy debates for 12 months before a general election."

Mr Rosser said legal opinion suggested it could have a "chilling effect" on free speech.

The Royal British Legion and the Salvation Army are among other organisations warning that the Bill is too complex to follow.

'Stifle society'

At its core, the Bill creates a register of consultant lobbyists - those paid by others to try to influence UK government ministers.

But it will not apply to those who lobby ministers and officials in Cardiff Bay as the Welsh assembly's standards committee rejected the idea of a register earlier this year.

Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards said the legislation would potentially "stifle civic society".

He said: "In any functioning democracy, it's vital that you have campaign groups that are able to scrutinise government legislation and have the means to raise awareness about it and campaign against them.

"This Bill is a very narrow Bill. It doesn't tackle the corporate interests and the corruption of big money in politics.

"What it does is target charities and trade unionists and it's a disgrace to see the government bringing forward such a partisan Bill."

Commons Leader Andrew Lansley, who is taking the Bill through the House of Commons, disputes claims from Labour and Plaid Cymru that it was an attempt to "gag" government critics during election campaigns.

He argued that charities will only be affected if they campaign for particular candidates or parties.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites