Care defends internship programme over lobbying charges

Christian charity Care has defended itself against allegations in a leading newspaper that it has broken Charity Commission guidelines.

The Independent on Sunday ran an exclusive yesterday reporting that the charity was paying interns to work in the offices of MPs "whose roles will be influential at voting time".

Care interns work for a number of MPs, including Liberal Democrat chief whip Paul Burstow, Conservative chairman Caroline Spelman and Tory assistant chief whip Alistair Burt.

According to Charity Commission rules, charities may engage in political campaigning but "must not give support or funding to a political party, or to a candidate or politician".

The interns, who are registered as research assistants, are able to go unaccompanied into nearly all areas of Parliament and see documents undisclosed to the media.

Mr Burstow and Mr Crabb have come under scrutiny for breaching parliamentary rules by not recording their Care-sponsored staff in the main register.

According to the newspaper, Mr Burstow said that failing to register his Care-sponsored intern had been a mistake but added that Care "have been at all times scrupulous in the way they have behaved in respect of lobbying me".

Charity Commission guidelines warn charities that engaging in purely political activity could "call into question the propriety of their actions, or ultimately, their charitable status".

A spokesman for the Commission told The Independent on Sunday that it was aware of the internship programme being run by Care in Parliament and that the body was "currently considering whether this programme raises any matters for the Commission to take forward".

Care's Chief Executive defended its intern programme, ten years in the running, to Premier Radio on Monday, "It's very clear in all the regulations that they are not lobbying the MP they are working with on any of the Care issues at all.

"They are there on a work experience placement in the way that you might have a work experience placement in any other area."