Lobbying bill – significant steps forward

At the eleventh hour, Government has announced its amendments to the rules on non-party campaigning in the Lobbying bill

The concessions are significant (and quite surprising given the mood music we have had so far). Most importantly, they reflect NCVO’s key asks and the concerns that we first raised in the Summer.

The headlines are:

  • Registration thresholds: increased to £20k in England; £10k Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • Regulated period: reduced to 7 and a half months (although only for the 2015 General Election)
  • Coalition campaigning: a change to the rules so that smaller spending organisations that a part of a joint campaign do not have to account for the whole coalition’s spending.
  • Spending limits: an increase for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (but no increase for England).
  • Review of the Bill: a review of the rules will take place after the 2015 General Election.

These are positive changes that NCVO has welcomed. They mean that the majority of organisations that undertake small scale campaigning activity won’t have to worry about the rules as they are highly unlikely to go anywhere near the registration thresholds. It is likely that due to the broader range of activities that contribute towards expenditure, some of the larger campaigning organisations will have to register. It is therefore important that the accounting and reporting requirements involved in registration are proportionate and workable.

Furthermore, there are still some big problems with the bill, which need to be addressed in order to make it workable and ensure charities and voluntary organisations are not deterred from undertaking campaigning activities.

In particular, staff costs and further changes to the rules on coalitions are necessary. These continue to be deeply problematic and could cause huge problems for many organisations, even the largest. In particular the blanket requirement to account for staff costs is unworkable, unfair and disproportionate: most organisations don’t have the systems in place to make these calculations, indeed political parties are exempt from such a requirement precisely on the basis that is excessively burdensome.

So we have one final push before the Lords debate the bill next Wednesday 15 January. We’ll be asking members to help us flag these remaining issues with peers to make sure we have a proportionate regime.

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