With the General Election over, the public debate about the Lobbying Act has subsided and the restrictions it placed on campaigners have been temporarily lifted.
But the Act sent charities reeling during the campaign, the pernicious impact of its stifling threat to freedom of speech is still being felt and confusion caused by poor Electoral Commission guidance is still having an impact.
Despite advice to campaigners from umbrella bodies to continue business as usual, it’s clear that not all charities were in a position to keep calm and carry on.
A recent event organised, in part by the Harries Commission, to gather evidence of the impact of the Act, heard how charities have wasted thousands of pounds and hundreds of hours of staff time on compliance with the Act.
The event heard how campaigners, especially smaller organisations or those with older volunteers, felt terrified of the Act and ceased their campaigning. There is even evidence that some charity staff had to resign to continue their campaigning activities during the election.
The “chilling effect” of the Act which charities warned about were not imaginary.
And the Gagging Law, to give the Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 its more popular name, hasn’t finished with its threat to freedom of speech.
The Electoral Commission issued another update [sign up for these here] reminding campaigners that the Act will apply in Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish, London and local elections in May 2016.
The PRCA Charity and Not-For-Profit group will do its part in providing evidence and suggesting practical reforms of the Act through the official Hodgson Review, but charity campaigners (unlike businesses and other organisations that are also covered by the Lobbying Act) have further fights on their hands.
There is talk of a review of “CC9” – the Charity Commission’s clause that enables charities to engage in campaigning to further their charitable objectives. Charity leaders are worried that this review, combined with the Charity Commission’s perceived lack of political impartiality, will see further attempts to limit charities ability to campaign.
And with the Met Police trying to force people to pay to protest, and concerns that anti-extremist legislation is becoming so broad in definition it could catch careless campaigners under its “domestic extremists” label, the threats to charities ability to effectively communicate may only just be beginning.
If you would like the PRCA Charity and Not-For-Profit group to raise your comments in its submission to the Harries Commission and Hodgson Review please get in touch with me on Twitter.