The MP for Braintree and Halstead has become embroiled in a row after telling charities to “stick to their knitting” and keep out of politics - less than two months since he was appointed minister responsible for the Government’s Big Society drive.

Brooks Newmark, who was appointed Minister for Civil Society in July, used his first major intervention to criticise organisations that “stray” from their core functions.

He is said to have told a conference on social action: “We really want to try and keep charities and voluntary groups out of the realms of politics. Some 99.9% do exactly that.

“When they stray into the realm of politics that is not what they are about and that is not why people give them money.”

He added: “The important thing charities should be doing is sticking to their knitting and doing the best they can to promote their agenda, which should be about helping others.”

Alexandra Runswick, director of campaign group Unlock Democracy, said his words were “condescending”, and Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, wrote on Twitter: “Incredibly insulting for charities minister to tell civil society to ‘stick to its knitting’ & I think sexist too.”

A number of Tory backbenchers criticised Oxfam earlier this year for “political” opposition to benefit cuts and zero-hour contracts.

But charities have insisted they are entitled to take positions on issues related to their work.

After his comments yesterday, Mr Newmark clarified that charities “absolutely have right to campaign but should stay out of realm of 'party' politics”.