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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Avatar photo Elizabeth was head of policy and public services at NCVO until 2020.