Transparency of Lobbying Bill – unintended consequences or Trojan horse?

Since the Transparency of Lobbying Bill was introduced to Parliament before Summer Recess, most of the attention has been on the proposals to regulate lobbying and to set up a register of lobbyists.

Bemused by how narrow in scope and ineffective these provisions are likely to be, most of us didn’t carry on reading and decided to go outside and make the most of the sun. (Though for the record, NCVO is in favour of a register, charities included.) Little did we realise that Part II of the bill, which introduces new rules on ‘non-party campaigning’ during election time, is a real cause for concern.

Crucially, the bill introduces a definition of ‘activities for election purposes’ which is so broad and unclear that it could capture a range of the day-to-day activities charities carry out, entirely legitimately, as part of their campaigning and advocacy work.

Furthermore, the limits of expenditure for carrying out such activities have been drastically reduced, in some cases by up to 70%. Staff costs are to be included in these amounts, even though political parties are not expected to do the same.

Charities are already bound by charity law and therefore cannot be party political. But these changes would be likely to put the frighteners on charities that campaign on important issues and may want to use election time as an opportunity to raise awareness. This is mainly because, according to the explanatory notes, the rules apply not only if the intent is to promote the view of a particular candidate or party, but also considering the effect of the activity.

Given a political environment in which a number of politicians have questioned charities’ right to campaign, it is understandable that some have seen the bill as a deliberate threat to the role of charities in public policy debates. The more prosaic reading of events is simply that the bill was never intended to be so far-reaching: in the sudden rush to legislate in this area, the full consequences of these proposals were not properly considered and normal charity work has unintentionally been brought into its scope.

You can read the detail of our concerns in our briefing on the Transparency of lobbying bill. We will be talking to officials at both the Cabinet Office and the Electoral Commission over the next couple of weeks, and we will also be briefing front-bench teams and coalition backbenchers on the bill as soon as possible.


  • on the morning of second reading (3 September) we are hosting a drop in session for MPs in Parliament so that they can speak to organisations affected;
  • we are in the process of collecting case studies of campaigning activity organisations either did in the run up to the 2010 election or are planning for 2015 to see how it would be affected by the new rules.

If you are able to get involved, joining us for the drop in session on 3 September or sending us your examples, please get touch with me at

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Elizabeth Chamberlain Elizabeth is head of policy and public services at NCVO. She has been part of the policy team since 2008, as the expert on charity law and regulation. Her policy interests also include charity campaigning, the sector’s independence, transparency, and accountability.

36 Responses to Transparency of Lobbying Bill – unintended consequences or Trojan horse?

  1. Ken Lewis says:

    I’ve been following this with ‘ 38 degrees’ and would appreciate any updates you can prove me with. Look forward to further contact with you.
    Ken Lewis

  2. Dave Arnold says:

    I’m horrified by the likely effect of new legislation on non party lobbying . I guess it is aimed at the Unions but charitable organisations and NGOs like NCVO will be adversely affected. It needs much more careful thought not rushed legislation. I am disgusted that the Liberal Democrats seemingly tacitly support it.

  3. In light of the fact that four main Parties are making talks to construct a Coalition of the four. This is a subversion of democracy & the British electoral system.

  4. Christine Harlen says:

    The proposed changes would seem to pose a big barrier to political participation. Unfortunately, I have tried unsuccessfully to read the details of your concerns in the NCVO statement via the enbedded link on two different computers in two different locations. Is the link broken?

  5. ruth cox says:

    This proposed Transparency of Lobbying bill is just ridiculous; either very naive or very sinister.

  6. Sally Cooke says:

    Re “You can read the detail of our concerns in this **Transparency of lobbying bill – NCVO briefing final – August 2013**. ” – I’m afraid the link to this document doesn’t work.

    • Hi Sally,
      The link was to a .docx document which might have been difficult for some people to download. We have changed the link to a PDF and I have emailed you a copy.

      Jack Garfinkel
      NCVO Online Content Editor – Policy and Research

  7. Nick Olesker says:

    I almost understand your concerns, but as an armchair activist you have not simplified or articulated the actual problem yet, or you would have come up with a straightforward petition to sign, and I am not learned enough to nitpick through legislation to locate where it is incorrect.

    So frustratedly, I can only suggest that you deeply consider the definition of ‘Lobbying’ and what it means and entails.

    It does strike me that you are unaffiliated politically in terms of parties, your democratic right to discuss and promote your veiws on particular issues should remain unimpeded. it is not as if you are actually standing for election.

    You should only be subject to declaring any vested interest you may have in an issue outcome, which all political lobbyists should adhere to.
    Such rules left unobserved, lead lobbying generally into disrepute, hence further legislation.

    If you, me or Prince Charles wants to discuss, lobby, advise, query and question perceived errors and faults in legislation that exists or is pending, I would hope it is still our democratic right to do so.

    • natasha pope says:

      Attack on ‘The Peoples Assembly’. The coalition stink of fear and desperation. Infact how niave to believe the tide will change. How more sick can they get?They assist the BNP to cover own corruption and evil doing!The coalition should be tried for treason agaist the people of this country. The conservatives membership base is crumbling, the liberals are dead. The coalition are paving their way direct to the gallows.Bring it on!29th September…BE THERE! 5th November…BE THERE!United we stand.

  8. Richard P Heybroek says:

    This looks like a ham-fisted effort to discourage any kind of social campaigning. It is, for example, simply incompetent that spending and reporting on a pre-existing matter could suddenly fall within the purview of the bill if a party candidate takes a position on the issue during his election campaign. As someone involved in running non-profit community organizations, I can clearly see that this will be yet another nail in the coffin for local volunteering.

    I sincerely hope that this bill will be substantially redrafted before further parliamentary review. Of course, once passed, it would be almost impossible to hold popular debate on it before the next election since it would inevitably fall within its own remit.

    Keep up the good work,

    Richard Heybroek

  9. Maureen Marsh says:

    Simply to state my sense of sadness and disappointment at realising that I live in a totalitarian state ruled by despots who ignore and even worse stifle the voices of the masses. Where are our Human Rights to speak out and be heard? And yet ‘we’ point the finger at other ‘dictators’ as if we disapprove of that manner of governing. What a hypocritical stance.
    Maureen Marsh (aged71)

  10. Pingback: Draft lobbying law could hit charity campaigning | VoluntaryNews

  11. Alastair Stoddart says:

    Surely all the rules that govern political parties should govern people like 38 degrees, otherwise it would not be fair.

    • D Barratt says:

      Couldn’t agree more. In this blog “the limits of expenditure for carrying out such activities have been drastically reduced, in some cases by up to 70%. Staff costs are to be included in these amounts, even though political parties are not expected to do the same”. How is that fair?

  12. George Robson says:

    The international Human Rights instruments which Britain has piously signed up to (i.e. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights UDHR, and The European Convention on Human Rights ECHR) for all the most virtuous reasons, are vital in the maintenance of essential principles in civilised society, and the protection of the vulnerable, particularly children in today’s world. This current administration is subtly undermining the validity of these provisions in(frequently emotive)areas which suit their purpose, by the introduction of primary legislation, supported with the connivance of this country’s judiciary. This is a fascist methodology which must be challenged at every opportunity – keep an eye on EDM’s (Early Day Motions).

  13. Steve Tunstall says:

    How are Unions to influence decisions made about employment rights. Decisions about these hard earned rights are being eroded in parliament, the “fight” isn’t always on the shop floor. Millionaires with their own business agenda are making decisions that affect ordinary working people but trying to deny them a voice. Democratic I think not.

  14. Malcolm Mort, Cardiff. says:

    I am severely disabled and registered severely sight handicapped and am a 77 years
    of age a wheelchair user, which when out of doors is pushed by my carer. My standing time is about 6 minutes after which my legs become painful before I feel a creeping deadening sensation because I suffer from spondylosis, which I have had since the age of 39. I consider David Cameron, and Iain Duncan Smith unfit to serve in Parliament as Government Ministers. The same equally applies to this Liberal Coalition Party. Most of the welfare legislation by this Coalition concerning disabled, unemployed, and elderly people is unfit for purpose as it is intended to exploit them to pay the debts of this country. I am very concerned about the conduct of ATOS Medical Services as shown by the investigative TV Program “Faking It.” I also rate the Department of Work and Pensions as unfit for purpose and query the effectiveness of the benefit legislation Quality Control System between these both parties. The government talks about the wastage of money disabled and unemployed people are causing. More to the point. It is the money wasted by this incompetent ignorant government who are idiotic enough to think that their propaganda will see them
    through to win the next election.David Cameron says we are all in it together which indicates he needs two big men in white coats to put him back on the bus for Cuckoo-land with a single ticket. The truth of the matter is that we are not living in Germany at the time of WW2 when the NAZI Party suppressed those who spoke out about it and disposed of sick and disabled people in work camps and other medical institutions. This is a free country Mr Cameron with free speech. If this was a competent fair government which respected the people of this country government these protests would not exist. Since Mr Cameron now in
    his hopes of becoming a dictator desires to stifle public opinion, steps into the abyss, he needs to thing about the previous London riots.

  15. Neil H says:

    If you want to oppose this bill as it stands, 38 Degrees have a campaign on which you can email Chloe Smith, the minister responsible:

  16. Jane Slowey says:

    I would like to add my backing to the letter on behalf of the Foyer Federation.

    It also strikes me that it’s an odd thing for government to be doing at a time when they say they are worried about the disconnect between citizens and the political process. This could effectively blow up the very bridges that link citizen action into the political realm. As you know, many young people do not immediately identify with our formal political structures.

    The induction to adulthood that Foyers try to provide has to include support to enable young people to take their place as active, engaged young citizens and we encourage them to get involved in local issues, to engage with their representatives and to campaign on issues that are important to them. We are just beginning ‘Healthy Conversations’, a Big Lottery funded programme which is raising young people’s awareness of the health inequalities that act as barriers to them as individuals and the communities in which they live. We will be encouraging them through Healthy Conversation’ groups and Social Action projects to campaign on health related issues and shape local services. It would be very sad for that kind of work to be hampered by ill thought through legislation

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  18. Christine Jackson says:

    I am “speechless”. How come the govt. wants to restrict the free speech of ordinary people whilst accepting big money donations from businesses and trade unions with vested interests? If the Big Society means anything, surely it is the ordinary people getting involved in everything that concerns them.

  19. Malcolm Mort, Cardiff. says:

    Reference Jane Slowey:- Where are the jobs for young people in Wales. As a matter of fact. Where are the jobs for adults too? Then there is the question of jobs for
    disabled people! We have a Con-Dem coalition government which has continually ignored the public protests of the people. It can’t be denied as it has covered in the media. Only the other week in Parliament Liam Byrne MP ask for an investigation into the affects of the impact of the new welfare legislation, bedroom tax etc on peoples lives concerning the downsizing of homes for which local councils have none available. Such incidents are very successfully disproving the propaganda put out by this Con-Dem Coalition. Since actions speak louder than words the actions of the charities is now outwitting David Cameron and his cohorts. I have attended many consultation meetings, filled in the answers to the questions in detail only to discover the criterion is the cost. The NHS and Ambulance Service, Hospital bed blocking problems are still as bad as they were before the consultations. To add insult to injury one only has to look at the massive budget cuts in Wales. It does not bear thinking about. However in a couple of years the politicians will still be fighting for
    the Westminster Gravy Train Tickets. So what has Cameron achieved other than running this country deeper into debt and making peoples lives a misery. In particular I still see that ATOS is still surviving well. But what about the way it is supposed to treat the patients it examines for the Department of Work and Pensions? Why are the DWP and ATOS Quality Control procedures so ineffective? The government are getting concerned because the Welfare Charities
    cannot so easily be brushed aside and the public are now learning more of their
    dismal failures making it harder for them to fight for seats at election times.

  20. Cheryl St Clair says:

    As someone who is increasingly frustrated by the apparent inability of the main political parties to listen to a broad sector of the electorate, this proposed bill appears to threaten our attempts to be heard even further. We have already seen the effects of major change policies which have not been thought through properly, but this one has a nasty whiff of stifling our true democratic rights even further. It has to be stopped…..

  21. Richard Power says:

    What’s new? Although we crow of Britain being a free democratic country, a short look back in history will tell a different story. Although today we don’t ship out those that stood out against being exploited at the work place. Useful when manning places like Australia and other far flung outposts of our once upon a time Empire. The method of treating the non-compliant of the workforce of today, is far more subtle. The secret blacklist that ensures ones chances of being employed are greatly reduced, so those able may well find the need to emigrate in order to find work. Although they may well find that black list is universal.

    I know as a subscriber to 35 Degrees, there is a feeling that the organisation has had some limited success in their campaigns, however it does seem to me that irrespective of the government of the day, public opinion is as a rule, overridden and demonstrations and petitions however large, are ignored. The demonstration against war in Iraq is a classic case of going against the will of the people; who incidentally have been proven right as was the case in the expensive fiasco of the Poll Tax.

    Of course the Tory press are most helpful in understating many of the demonstrations that have taken place. Well remember being at on in London where the press put the figure of those attending at approximately 30,000. Having attended Football International matches with a recorded number of spectators being in an excess of 70,000.It was obvious to a casual observer that the number present were at least more than treble that. Wondered at the time why there were so many photographers, some sat up atop light standards, some airborne in helicopters, one on the roof of the Cumberland hotel. Very few pictures appeared in the press. Read later a team of special branch officers pore over such pictures to see if they are able to recognize anyone who was a regular marcher. That black list again.

    Getting to the point. It does on first appearance, that this bill is a clever attempt to expand even further the control of the state and to stifle the legitimate method of protest that can be made by the electorate. Nicely woven in to something that every one had shouted for, the unfair influence that some parliamentary lobbyists have been enjoying during late night suppers.

    Our illusion of being a democracy is perhaps fueled by the fact that we can sound off in the pub about our dissatisfaction with the government and not get a knock on the door at But join a protest group or go on strike, the friendly fellow activist alongside you spurring you on, may well be an undercover copper. Your card will be certainly marked then.

    Democracy is a fragile thing, as evidenced by Egypt’s brief brief experience of it. Someone said, ” The price of democracy, is eternal vigilance”; so thank god we do have organisations still prepared to keep an eye on those attempting to roll the clock back.

    The apathy that is unfortunately endemic in the majority of the electorate, evidenced by the poor turn out at elections, may well be awakened by this bill and it could come back to bite the government on the bum.
    Deny us the right to have a good moan, thereby opening the safety valve by letting off steam and who knows we might awake to the fact that our fragile democratic rights are being further eroded.

  22. Transparency of Lobbying Bill

    If this legislation had been in place in Wilberforce’s day, there would have been no Campaign against the Slave Trade, in Shaftbury’ day no search to end Child Labour, no Education Reform Act, no National Health Service. This proposal is short-sighted, naïve , and will reduce Government programme costs, place a burden of huge costs at the door of charities, and possibly become the final nail in the coffin of Mr. Cameron’s “big society”.

  23. w.d.gange says:

    this lying conniving coalition is the most devious I have ever known. They lie 95% of the time,they turn class against class, fit against sick, old against young, young against old, immigrant against indigenous, worker against worker, and still come the general election they will be voted for. The people in this country are so gullible it defies belief, they see what is happening, the lies and deceit and yet still they think that Cameron is a good and decent PM.
    He is a wolf in sheeps clothing he and his pack are evil dangerous people. Obviously I am a socialist, but I believe a fair one, I understand right and wrong, and this government is wrong, wrong, wrong. If, god help us there is a single conservative government elected in 2015, then forget civil and legal liberties they will cease to exist.

  24. Dave Watts says:

    This proposed bill is, indeed, part of a continuing assault on democracy, in my opinion. It may be surprising, but not unusual, in recent history. To understand this we have to take an alternative look at history…I mean, what is history, but a particular perspective on events. Our ‘main stream’ history, as taught in schools, comes from a particular perspective and seems to be pretty universal. But is it definitive, and, if so, who defines it?
    The following links are alternative views on history from a different perspective than is usual. I feel they are relevant as they do put the ‘proposed bill’; under discussion, here; in a perspective which sheds a different light on to the reasons that it may be being proposed.
    As such, I do not necessarily agree with all the views contained in them and I share them for educational purposes, only. There is some repetition in the links and they are quite long. But if I can read them all, so can anyone else, I’m sure. 🙂

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  28. Malcolm Mort, Cardiff. says:

    Reference Richard Power 24th, August. Until my eyesight prevented me from driving,
    I was one of the Welfare Caseworker for Cardiff Royal British Legion Central Branch. Some years before I was a voluntary advice worker in my local Citizens Advice Bureau after successfully completing the NACAB training course. My future
    thoughts and outlook on life have been very much influenced by those experiences
    which have taught me a lot about the less pleasant aspects of life regarding the
    treatment of sick, disabled, disadvantaged people by Social Security and the Benefits Agency as they were known in those days.
    At one time I was a member of the Liberal Democrat Party and was involved with Jenny Randerson in campaigning for care and treatment facilities for our
    injured armed forces returning from Iraq to later be discharged from the services on medical grounds as unfit for further services employment. I was also involved with her in campaigning for better care and condition for sick and disabled elderly people. As a lad I grew up in Aberdare in the Cynon Valley, Glamorgan. After leaving school I joined the Royal Air Force. At the age of 24 I retrained and went into engineering, later qualifying as a Colliery
    Electrician at Tower and Nantgarw Collieres. On the morning I received my Colliery Electricians Certificate from the Mining Qualifications Board the National Coal Board announced their Pit Closure Program and I joined the
    Merchant Navy as an Electrical Officer and later became a 3rd Engineer Officer.
    Unfortunately my plans to become a Chief Engineer came to an abrupt end in September when I was medically discharged as unfit for further seagoing service with Spondylosis and told by a surgeon that I would probably end up as a wheelchair user as I aged.
    It so happened that I retrained in work and method study in which nobody
    was prepared to employ me. However they were were more interested in my electrical engineering and automation experience which concerned ships with an unmanned engine room. As things turned out I was given a Green Disability Working Card and was employed by a Cardiff Aeronautical & General Engineering firm MOD manufacturing, repair and refurbishment contracts for eight years as an until facing redundancy to DEF CON Quality Standard 0521.
    Here is the reason for covering this in detail. As Mod contractors we were governed by these very stringent Government Quality Standards which held everybody down, including the company directors responsible and accountable for
    their actions. Since the equivalent standards exist in all government departments I venture to ask the Prime Minister David Cameron why the Department of Work and Pensions and ATOS continually treat Benefit Claimants in such an inhumane manner causing them stress as has been shown on television investigative programs and in the Press. I regards the Social Welfare Legislation as unfit for purpose and also ask about the effectiveness of the
    Government Quality Control Policy as it applies in this case? Finally I make the point about the politicians in the House of Commons dealing with matters concerning disabled people and ask their experience and understanding about the
    daily living problems facing disabled people and their carers. So lets have some answers from I D SMITH who is always ranting on about disabled and unemployed people. In my opinion this Con-Dem Government have finally discovered that sick and disabled people are not so stupid as they are. Gagging
    will not solve the problem for their downright incompetence and exploitation of disabled people. In my opinion it will cause riots on the streets from deprived people as it has already done so throughout history.

    Malcolm H. Mort

    • Sue Law says:

      Well said Mr. Mort. Have read your blogs, and, like you, have also been dragged through the system, after serious ill health, as have many of my friends (some of which are now sadly no longer with us, having been assessed as “fit for work”). Disgusting. This flawed process (WCA) was actually introduced by the last Labour government (I was part of one of the 3 initial pilot schemes), but unfortunately has been continued in an even more brutal manner by this government. Sometimes you think things just can’t get any worse – then along comes IDS & his cronies….
      The freedom to speak out against this sort of crushing control of the vunerable through campaigning groups and charities etc is clearly in danger of being slowly eroded. I wish you the best of luck. Keep talking!

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  31. Faith Hope Charity says:

    This is a copy of the email I sent to Chloe Smith MP regarding the proposed Gagging Bill, using the 38 Degrees online tool. Of course, this facility will be effectively closed to its 1.7 million users should the proposed Bill becomes Law.
    If you wish to do likewise click on the link to get started – it only need take a few minutes.

    2nd September 2013

    Dear Chloe Smith MP

    Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill

    I am shocked to hear of the Government’s plans to push through the Gagging Law to effectively ban Freedom of Speech online, restrict the influence of charities and prevent people-participation in the democratic process – particularly around critical times such as General Elections when the availability of open and accurate information is pivotal to enabling informed electoral choice. Whether or not this is the intent of the Bill, it certainly appears that this would be its effects.

    History has already shown the enormous value of online facilities to people who wish to play a role in the shaping of their own destinies; our right to do so is inalienable under both the British Constitution and humanitarian law. Our Democratic Right to demand Corporate Responsibility and transparency, honesty and integrity from Political Leaders that proclaim to be our Representatives in the Houses of Parliament, and to hold Ministers accountable should they fail in their responsibilities to their electorate, provides the bedrock for our Democracy and sets us apart from those nations we recognise to be autocratic dictatorships.

    People-powered organisations (such as 38 Degrees, the users of which your Health Minister in the House of Commons in 2011 accused of being ”Zombies” for e-mailing their MPs) have played a vital role in exposing governmental and corporate shortfalls and in allowing people to express their feelings and views about matters which affect their lives: They have enabled millions of us to contact our MPs in a peaceful and civilised manner and to protest en masse about perceived threats to our liberty, safely and without need for civil unrest which is both economically and socially costly and nonviable; and they have played a huge part in influencing our society, particularly in recent years when the lines between cruelty and kindness have been blurred and the balance between democracy and autocracy has tipped out of favour.

    I, personally, have found the online tools offered by such organisations invaluable: I have never received a single response from any Government Department to my numerous personalised handwritten, hand-posted attempts to engage in meaningful dialogue with our country’s political representatives on potentially life-changing matters such as the NHS, our natural environment or even the topic of democracy itself. Having the potential to make a difference is far more empowering than feeling like an inconspicuous drop in the ocean.

    To be honest, I am surprised that any Government of our Democracy would not welcome and applaud the participation of the people in the Democratic process: That it would not be responsive to the fact that intelligent beings are no longer content to be herded like sheep to the polling station once every five years to pick yet another short straw and then bury their heads in the sand – even as politicians continually break their pre-election manifestoes.

    Any Government that not only is unable to understand the value of people participating in the democratic process, as well as the legal requirement for the leaders of our democracy to allow them to do so, but that actually finds this participation to be somewhat offensive and threatening would obviously raise concerns within the population; the more discerning amongst us would be forgiven for being curious as to the motives behind any such Act that would strive to quash this inalienable right. The old adage “if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear” springs to mind.

    By effectively making it illegal for ordinary people to retain their capacity to act on and demand accountability for any injustices occurring in our society is a very dangerous direction for society to take, especially if a more dictatorial party were ever to take control. I therefore implore that you withdraw your plans to make this so immediately.

    Yours sincerely

    [Name and address supplied]

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