Charities' ressure on MPs criticised

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Indy Politics
Charities must not run campaigns aimed at putting public pressure on MPs over the way they have voted, the Charity Commission said yesterday as it issued guidelines on political activity.

They must also not provide pro forma letters with which supporters can bombard MPs or the Government, nor must they present slanted or inaccurate data in attempts to influence public opinion or government, the commission said.

It makes clear that charities can become involved in campaigning and in a wide range of political activities which stop short of party politics, even though campaigning 'can arouse strong feelings'.

They can seek to influence government policy, legislation and public opinion through 'well-founded, reasoned argument based on research or direct experience,' the guidelines state.

Richard Fries, the chief charity commissioner, said that charities, while they cannot be political bodies, 'have a right, indeed perhaps a duty, to contribute to public discussion, even political discussion, so long as it is on a basis which reflects their experience and is in line with the objects of their charitable trust'.

The guidelines yesterday won a warm welcome from charities who have until the end of June to comment on them. Oxfam declared them to be 'much clearer and more positive about how and when charities can campaign and engage in other political activities' than the previous, decade-old guidelines.

The National Council of Voluntary Organisations also described them as 'a vast improvement' - but said it might challenge the ruling that MPs' voting records cannot be exposed as a means of applying pressure on them.

Such votes were a matter of public record, it said, although it could think of no charity, as opposed to non-charitable organisations, that had adopted such tactics.

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