Government to consult NCVO and Electoral Commission before amending lobbying bill

Tom Brake, deputy leader of the House of Commons, says ministers will bring an amendment to the bill after the discussions

Tom Brake MP

The government has decided to not yet amend the lobbying bill to grant a specific exemption to charities from proposed new rules, subject to further discussions with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and the Electoral Commission.

In a debate about the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill in the House of Commons yesterday, John Thurso, the Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, proposed an amendment to the bill to include a new clause on charity or non-party campaigning.

"Nothing in Part 2 of this act shall limit the capacity of a charity or non-party campaigning organisation to comment on public policy in so far as it does not seek to influence the outcome of an election in so doing," the amendment said.

But Tom Brake, Liberal Democrat member for Carshalton and Wallington and deputy leader of the House of Commons, said the government would bring an amendment to the bill in the next few weeks after discussions with the NCVO and the Electoral Commission.

He said the government had listened to the concerns of charities and amendments would be published before the report stage of the bill begins on 8 October.

Thurso subsequently withdrew his amendment and welcomed Brake’s agreement to consult the opposition and voluntary organisations about the amendment.

Many MPs who took part in the debate, which is the second of three sessions scheduled as part of the committee stage of the bill, formed as a committee of the whole house, referred to the NCVO’s concerns that the government’s proposed changes to the bill do not go far enough.

The government announced on Friday that it would change the definition of the types of activities that the bill would cover. Rather than describing the activities as "for electoral purposes", which the NCVO warned could capture legitimate activities of charities, the government said it would make use of a definition in existing legislation.

Wayne David, the Labour MP for Caerphilly, told MPs yesterday that the convoluted nature of the bill meant many charities and campaigning organisations would decide that it would be best to do no campaigning at all.

He called the bill a "monumental shambles" and reiterated calls made by others, including the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, that it should be withdrawn.

David said legislation affecting political funding and elections should also be the subject of cross-party agreement. "It is high time that big money is indeed taken out of politics," he said. "It is also important that we as a house stand full square behind our collective desire to ensure that civil society is a vital part of a healthy democracy. It is a great shame that apparently the government does not hold that view."

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