No silver bullets, but eight little bullets to improve the Lobbying bill

Following the government’s decision to ‘pause’ the Lobbying bill, we wanted to use this small window of opportunity to address the key problems caused by the rules. There is a broad consensus, not only among charities and voluntary organisations, but also the Electoral Commission, many MPs and Peers, that the bill still fails to achieve the right balance between introducing necessary elements of transparency and allowing legitimate campaigning activity to go undeterred.

We have developed a number of recommendations to amend the bill, which – if implemented as a whole package – would make the rules much more reasonable and workable.

In a nutshell, our proposals are to:

  1. reduce the ‘regulated period’ to six months
  2. substantially increase the registration thresholds
  3. amend the range of activities to remove staff costs
  4. change the regulation of coalitions
  5. remove the constituency limits
  6. amend the range of activities to remove events and public rallies
  7. end the use of nil reports
  8. amend the definition of ‘controlled expenditure’

These are set out and explained in more detail in our our submission to the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement (PDF, 390KB).

Our approach is based on the fact that, as the many debates in the House of Commons have highlighted, there appears to be no ‘silver bullet’ that gives certainty to charities and other voluntary groups in their non-partisan campaigning . The definition of ‘controlled expenditure’, even after the government’s amendment, means that activities can be caught even if there is no bias towards a particular party or candidate or no intention to advocate support or directly benefit such party or candidate.

So the door is left open for charities and voluntary organisations to come within the scope of the Electoral Commission’s regulation (see also the Charity Commission’s clarification in its guidance on campaigning during elections).

That is why we need to establish a regime that is proportionate and fair, allowing for transparency in the type of activity that may influence in the political process without placing unnecessary limits on campaigning activity.

 

 

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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.

One Response to No silver bullets, but eight little bullets to improve the Lobbying bill

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