Final stages of the Lobbying bill – where are we now?

Following the report stage debate in the Lords last night, there have been a number of significant changes to the lobbying bill.

It remains to be seen whether government will accept these changes, but in the meantime here is a run through of what happened last night and what this means.

Staff costs

Thanks to an amendment by Lord Harries, there is a narrowing of where staff costs have to be accounted for. This is not a full exclusion but nevertheless as useful compromise. It means that third party campaigners don’t have to account for background staff costs in relation to:

  • press conferences, or other media events
  • transport
  • public rallies or other public events.

Peers also agreed to the set of amendments announced by government last week, including:

  • raising the threshold for non-party organisations to register with the Electoral Commission to £20,000 for England, £10,000 for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
  • reducing the regulatory period from 12 months to 7.5 months for the 2015 General Election
  • exempting the costs for translation into Welsh, making controlled activity accessible to people with disabilities, safety and security measures from controlled expenditure
  • excluding small-spending organisations from coalition campaigning rules.

An amendment by Lord Phillips to completely exclude charities from the regulation sparked considerable debate, but ultimately was rejected. Government however did make a clear commitment to closely look at the impact of the new rules on charities as part of its broader review after the 2015 General Election.

This commitment to review the legislation in 2015 is important: it will be an opportunity to take stock of the impact that changes to non-party campaigning rules are having. So much of the debate has been made difficult by the lack of evidence of how charities and voluntary organisations are affected by the rules.

What next?

The bill will debated by the Lords one last time next Tuesday 21 January, in its third reading. At this stage no further changes can be tabled, but there continue to be very concerning problems in the bill:

  • the rules on campaigning in coalition will severely restrict joint working
  • the overall spending limits have been considerably reduced
  • the new constituency spending limits will cause huge difficulties for charities and voluntary organisations, who don’t operate by these geographical areas.

Of course there is still the possibility that when the bill goes back to the Commons, these important changes will be rejected. So, it is important to continue engaging MPs as much as possible to ensure they hear our concerns and accept the changes so helpfully made by the Lords.

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

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