Lobbying bill – round three

Over the past few weeks, NCVO has been working closely with the bill team and ministers to address a number of concerns around the lobbying bill.

For us it is crucial that charities and other voluntary organisations have absolute clarity on whether and when their campaigning activities will count towards controlled expenditure and therefore be regulated by the Electoral Commission.

Government recognised this need, and agreed to bring forward amendments that would clarify the scope of the rules. In particular, various statements made on the floor of the house during Commons debates have made clear that government’s commitment is to ensure charities and other voluntary groups are still able to campaign on policy issues and influence public debate.

‘The Bill does not seek to regulate charities that simply engage with the policy of a political party. It does not prevent charities from having a view on any aspect of the policy of a party and it does not inhibit charities attempting to influence the policy of a party.’
(Mr Andrew Lansley, House of Commons Debate, 3 September 2013, c181)

‘…charities that campaign on policy issues will not be affected…’
(Tom Brake MP, House of Commons Debate, 10 September 2013, c891)

Last week, we wrote a letter to Andrew Lansley setting out our expectations for the government’s amendments. However, we have just received legal advice that indicates the amendments published today will mean that much campaigning activity by charities and other voluntary groups will still be covered.

So the amendments do not go far enough, and the assurances given by ministers on the floor of the house have not been met.

In particular, there is still too much uncertainty and ambiguity. The question remains open whether or not legitimate campaigning by charities and other voluntary groups, or even awareness raising on policy issues, would be caught by the new rules. Many organisations will need to consult the Electoral Commission before undertaking campaigning activity in an election period in order to ensure they are not falling foul of the new regulations. This amount of uncertainty is unbearable, especially for small community groups.

Where next?

NCVO will be producing a full briefing ahead of the final stages in the Commons. If you are able to, please alert your MP to the concerns outlined above and ask them to keep an eye out for our briefing (we’re beavering away on this right now and it should be available shortly).

 

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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.

10 Responses to Lobbying bill – round three

  1. Ray Kohn says:

    Please send the briefing direct to my email address so that I can badger my MP, the deputy PM, with it. Thanks

  2. Neil Duncan-Jordan, National Officer, National Pensioners Convention says:

    The NCVO has the full support of Britain’s biggest pensioner organisation, the National Pensioners Convention (NPC) in seeking to remove these unnecessary restrictions that could be placed on thousands of voluntary organisations which simply seek to promote their members’ views.

  3. peter hepburn says:

    Many thanks to Elizabeth and the NCVO team for what you are doing on this hugely important topic.

    To make the world a better place charities need access to those in power, so that the expertese and experience of charities can feed into future policy.

    Anything that restricts that input by charities will work against the process of improvement.

  4. Ken Geddes says:

    I received a copy this morning from my local MP of Andrew Lansley’s statement and the ammendments. I felt it went some way to protecting charities, but its main value may be in making the criteria for breaking the law so vague and uncertain that I wonder if this bill will ever come to law.

    Thw whole situation in a shame. No one disagees with the objective of preventing charities from lobbying in a party political fashion, perhaps backing one party against the others, nor with the objective of preventing charities’ campaigns being hi-jacked by politicians who might or might not support the charity’s views after the election. Further, even politicians who nobly support a charity are still receiving financial help from the charity indirectly – and may possibly conflict with the Charity in some other areas.

    However, how do we influence parliament to look symphathetically at OUR objectives? I am sure we would welcome support, whether prior to an election or afterwards. If a politician put on his manifesto subjects such as financial support for the non-profitmaking arts, medical research and some other “pet” causes of mine, I would certain look favorably towards him.

    That’s the problem …

    Ken Geddes

  5. Sally Young says:

    This has happened so many times before – something unacceptable is published as a draft bill -we complain. Verbal reassurances are given, so we step back. Then the final amendments are woolly and ambiguous and there’s very little time to do anything about it.

    Newcastle upon Tyne has three Labour MPs who have previously voted against the Bill, the pressure needs to go onto the Liberal Democrats and sympathetic Conservatives and others. Surely the Liberal Democrats believe in Freedom of Speech?

    The initial broad campaign was very effective, so can’t NCVO and other nationals come together in a similar way again? Similarly the Electoral Commission’s initial comments were helpful.

    We are an infrastructure organisation and often have to provide advice to others. We believe it will be the fear of falling foul of the Act that will act as a disincentive and prevention to organisations lobbying and campaigning. We have yearly municipal elections, the Euro election and the General election ie four elections in less than two years so what is an ‘election period’? What is ‘legitimate campaigning’ – we are doing a lot of work on local poverty so we are well within our charitable objects, so does that make us ‘legitimate’?

  6. Judith Martin says:

    While I welcome the fact that you are insisting that charities are properly protected by this bill – and clearly there is still some way to go – it seems equally important to ensure that a bill to control lobbying actually does that.

    My understanding so far is that only a very small number of commercial and corporate lobbyists will be restricted in any way, and then only if they seek to lobby very senior members of government. So in other words, tobacco lobbyists arguing against plain cigarette packs, or construction lobbyists arguing to be able to build in the greenbelt, will still have access to any number of PPSs, back benchers, and other policy makers. Can you please confirm that you are also trying to ensure the bill does what Cameron initially said it would do and remove these special interests?

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  8. Just to say that I share the concerns that NCVO are raising.

    Gordon Deuchars
    Policy and Campaigns Manager
    Age UK london

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