Andrew Lansley, the leader of the House of Commons, has outlined plans to amend the lobbying bill, which he said were aimed at "addressing misunderstandings about the government’s intentions on third-party campaigning".
Lansley confirmed that the government would be publishing amendments to the Transparency of Lobbying, Third Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill at the report stage of the bill, which will take place on 8 and 9 October.
He said that the bill would no longer penalise campaigning "otherwise enhancing the standing of a party or candidates", and charities would be regulated only if their campaigns could "reasonably be regarded as intended to ‘promote or procure the electoral success’ of a party or candidate".
Lansley said the bill would make it clear that events intended for an organisation’s membership and ad hoc responses to media questions would not be covered by the bill. And the government would, he said, replace the references to advertising, unsolicited material and manifesto and policy documents with "election material", which is the term covered by existing guidance from the Electoral Commission.
Lansley said in a statement yesterday that he was confident the changes would allay the concerns of the sector.
"During the committee stage of the bill, we undertook to see if we could make clearer in the bill that, unless a third party engages in what can reasonably be regarded as intended to promote or procure the electoral success of a party or candidate, its activity in relation to policies or views would not be regulated," he said.
"I can confirm now that I intend to table government amendments to this effect at the report stage of the bill on 8 and 9 October.
"It is not the government’s intention to change the substantive test of what is expenditure for electoral purposes."
Lansley said that the government had worked with the Electoral Commission and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations to discuss "how the legislation can be made clearer while maintaining the reforms to electoral law".
Karl Wilding, director of public policy at the NCVO, said that his organisation would be taking legal advice on the proposed amendments to ensure that normal campaigning was not inadvertently affected.
"In particular, the amendments must work for all voluntary organisations, as well as registered charities," he said. "More generally, we continue to have concerns that the legislation overall remains unduly burdensome and bureaucratic, leaving too much discretion to the Electoral Commission."