An amendment that would have excluded charities from the scope of the lobbying bill has been withdrawn after debate in the House of Lords yesterday.
Peers debated several amendments to Part 2 of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill aimed at reducing charities’ concerns that the bill will severely curtail their ability to campaign.
The amendments included one put forward by the charity lawyer and Liberal Democrat peer Lord Phillips of Sudbury to exclude charities from the scope of the bill, and others put forward by Lord Harries of Pentregarth about the types of activities that should count towards the proposed new spending limits.
The bill contains proposals to reduce the spending limit for campaigns by any third-party organisation in the run-up to and during elections on campaigns that "could be reasonably regarded as intended" to favour particular parties or candidates. The limit would be lowered from £988,500 to £390,000.
Introducing his amendment, Phillips said the "ludicrously complicated piece of legislation" would place a disproportionate burden on charities.
"The charity sector is very worried," he said. "You can be absolutely certain that those charities that have paid staff – which is, of course, only about 5 per cent of them – will be required to check with their lawyers and to make sure that every step of an election campaign is consonant with the provisions of this complex legislation."
The Conservative peer Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, who last year completed his review of the Charities Act 2006, argued against the amendment because it would put additional pressure on the Charity Commission to ensure that charities were complying with electoral law.
"If we were to accept the noble Lord’s amendment – seductively simple and attractive though it is – we would run the risk of putting a burden on the Charity Commission that it will not be able to fulfil, and giving it tasks that it will find very difficult," said Hodgson.
Phillips withdrew his amendment. The bill is due to be debated again by peers tomorrow.