Manifesto commitment pledges to remove sections of the act affecting charities' right to campaign
Political parties want to repeal Westminster’s controversial Lobbying Act - in a move that is being hailed by Scotland’s third sector.
The act, dubbed the gagging clause, was introduced in 2014 and imposes restrictions on the amount of money charities and campaign groups can spend on political activities in the build up to an election.
Last month Greenpeace was fined £30,000 by the Electoral Commission, the first to be charged under the legislation.
The SNP has promised to use all powers it has to remove specific sections of the Act but not its entirety.
It says the act unfairly restricts campaigning and has curtailed charities from speaking out.
Meanwhile, the Labour Party has committed to scrapping the Act in its entirety.
The SNP's committment to scrapping parts of the Act is contained in its general election manifesto, which will be published this week.
It it, depute leader Angus Robertson writes: “Lobbying of government is an issue that the SNP takes very seriously – and it is only right that we have protections in place that prevent people from being able to buy access to power, and from being able to buy policies that line their pockets.
“However, under the Tories, we have seen legitimate campaigning by charities and third sector organisations curtailed, with groups being gagged and facing restrictions on their ability to inform and promote policies that can make a real difference to those they campaign for.
“The SNP will always stand up for the rights of charities to lobby government – and we will work in this parliament to end the restrictions that the Tories have used to gag campaigning organisations.”
We would support any proposal to overturn this legislation - John Downie
Labour's UK manifesto sets out its opposition to the Act.
It states: “We will safeguard our democracy by repealing the Lobbying Act, which has gagged charities, and introduce a tougher statutory register of lobbyists."
John Downie, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations’ director of public affairs, welcomed political parties' opposition.
He said: “SCVO has campaigned vigorously against the UK Lobbying Act and our board has agreed that we will not comply with the provisions within it which are designed to silence charities and stop them campaigning against bad legislation.
“We would support any proposal to overturn this legislation so that the voices of those working in Scotland’s third sector can be heard.”
Under the act, charities can be prosecuted by the Electoral Commission if they spend more than £9,750 in a constituency promoting a message which is seen as political.
At the last general election, non-party campaigners were required to register with the Electoral Commission if they spent more than either £20,000 campaigning in England or £10,000 campaigning in Scotland and Wales.
The Electoral Commission, the body that oversees elections, concluded that Greenpeace incurred at least £99,000 of spending in England and £12,000 of spending in Wales on a Coastal Champions boat tour and on an anti-fracking poster campaign which was undertaken jointly with Friends of the Earth Ltd.
Rosie Rogers, Greenpeace’s head of public affairs, said it is considering legal action against the fine.
She added: “The Lobbying Act has completely misfired. It’s done nothing to curb the influence of powerful corporate lobbies over our political system but had the perverse effect of silencing charities supported by millions of people.”
A spokeswoman for the Electoral Commision told TFN: "Non-party campaigners are vital to a healthy democracy and we encourage their active participation during campaign periods.
"However, where a significant amount of money is being spent on campaigning for elections it is right that voters can see who is spending that money and what they are campaigning for.
“We always seek to apply the regulatory framework in a proportionate way.
"While we believe that the rules are broadly workable, we recognise that they could be improved and made a number of recommendations in our response to a review of third party campaign regulation led by Lord Hodgson in 2015.”