What are we allowed to say?
Although HBTSR is not yet a registered charity, we have applied to become one and would be well advised to observe the rules about charities and political activity, especially now, in this pre-election period.
These rules are much less restrictive than you might imagine. The most important rule, however, is that we must not be partisan, in the sense of arguing for or against a particular candidate or political party. The Charity Commission says “once an election has been called, charities that are campaigning will need to take special care to ensure their political neutrality. For example, a charity must not provide funds, or other resources, to a political candidate… A charity must never indicate to its supporters which candidate to support in an election.”
That said, we can argue for or against policies or changes of policy, provided these relate to our purpose as an organisation, our ‘charitable objects’. If you want to know more, read the excellent and quite brief Charity Commission guidance here.
That determines what we as an organisation, or anyone speaking in our name, can do. Of course, as an individual you need observe no such constraint.
If there are hustings meetings during this period, at which the various candidates are invited to speak and answer questions from the public, it would be very useful for HBTSR members to attend and ask questions about the candidates’ intentions, if elected, in regard to UK government policy on refugees, sanctuary and asylum, resettlement and support.
Some points to remember
- Ask a brief question that requires a thoughtful answer —don’t make your own statement.
- Ask something that the candidate will know about and can answer and that all of the audience can understand (so, avoid very technical matters, references to details of law and regulation, etc.)
- Don’t ask general ‘moral’ questions (e.g. ‘Do you support refugee rights?’) to which all candidates can easily answer ‘Yes, of course’.
- Try to frame your question to test the candidates’ real beliefs and intentions.
- Prepare your own very simple answer, in case the candidate or chair puts the question back to you for your view.
Some sample questions (but do make up your own!)
- What do you think the British Government should do about refugees?
- Do you think the UK is admitting enough refugees seeking sanctuary from war and violence, especially those from Syria?
- What do you think is Britain’s humanitarian duty towards refugees fleeing from violence?
- What changes would you make in UK government policy on refugees and asylum seekers?
- What do you think the British government can do to save the lives of refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean or reach Britain by stowing away on trains, lorries, etc.?
Other refugee organisations
Refugee Action is suggesting asking all candidates in a given constituency to sign the following pledge:
I pledge to respect the importance of refugee protection, including in wide-ranging debates about immigration, and, if elected, to uphold the proud tradition throughout the UK of welcoming people….. It’s very easy to ask your candidates to sign this pledge and may help them realise how important this issue is to so many of us. You can access the pledge here.
Welsh Refugee Council Coalition Manifesto entitled ‘Seven Steps to Sanctuary’. This includes a report of their national hustings meeting in April 2016. The manifesto can be accessed here.
City of Sanctuary have a page on their Advocacy and Campaigns page, about their Asylum Matters project: click here.
The Welsh Government has published its findings about the Asylum and refuge seeking people: click here.
Quaker Asylum & Refugee Network have drawn up a detailed list of 12 questions to use at hustings meetings. These are mostly too detailed for a general election hustings, unless it is a whole meeting specifically on immigration and refugees. They are:
- Do you not agree that people seeking sanctuary in the UK should be treated with compassion, dignity and respect? Will you work for an immigration and asylum control system which treats forced migrants with dignity and respect?
- Will you work to end the detained fast track processing of applications for asylum and humanitarian protection?
- Will you seek to ensure that all applicants have access to good quality independent representation and the time and opportunity to prepare their cases?
- Will you work to end the use of indefinite detention? Will you press for a maximum of 28 days detention before a forced migrant is brought before a properly constituted court or released?
- Will you work to ensure that people may not be detained without clear written and legally justified reasons and access to an independent court constituted in accordance with principles of human rights and due process?
- Will you work for people seeking sanctuary to be allowed to seek paid work if they have been waiting six months for a response from the Home Office?
- Would you restore the right to housing benefit to people seeking sanctuary who have been waiting six months for a decision?
- Would you work to increase the powers of local authorities to charge higher council tax on habitable properties left empty for more than six months? Should the proceeds not go towards a fund to purchase empty properties from businesses and individuals in serious financial difficulties and to provide really affordable housing for people in acute housing need including people seeking sanctuary?
- Would you work towards people seeking sanctuary having the same rights to be accommodated as homeless people as other residents?
- Most people seeking sanctuary want to learn both the language and the cultural norms of the country they find themselves in. Would you restore and extend the provision of free access to courses of English for Speakers of Other Languages to people seeking sanctuary? Would you promote the establishment of educational services to enable recently arrived forced migrants to acquire the knowledge and skills to become integrated in British Society?
- Would you work to establish an obligation on the Home Office to monitor what happens to people who are deported. The results would be made publically available.
- Would you ensure the evidence that most immigrants contribute more to the economic and cultural development of the UK than most settled residents is widely publicised? Would you also publicise the fact that fewer immigrants claim state benefits than settled residents?
Mike Gatehouse for HBTSR