More lobbying bill amendments to alleviate fears over charity campaigning are withdrawn

The bill was debated in the House of Lords for the final part of the committee stage, with none of the changes called for by sector organisations being adopted

House of Lords
House of Lords

More amendments to the lobbying bill designed to alleviate charities’ fears about its effect on campaigning have been withdrawn in the House of Lords.

The bill was debated in the Lords yesterday for the final part of the committee stage of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill.

Changes proposed by various peers yesterday included a reduction in the length of time before an election that the legislation applies from 12 to six months, and placing an obligation on the Charity Commission and the Electoral Commission to produce guidance for organisations on the new rules.

After lengthy debate, all of the amendments were withdrawn and the bill will pass to the report stage, which has been scheduled for January.

It means that none of the changes that voluntary sector organisations had been calling for in Part 2 of the bill, the section that charities are most concerned about, have been adopted during this stage of the bill.

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.

Organisations will also have to register with the Electoral Commission if they spend more than £5,000 in England and £2,000 in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on such campaigns. Charities fear that the changes could impair their ability to run campaigns in the lead-up to elections.

Proposing an amendment to reduce the regulatory limit on the rules in the bill from one year to six months, Lord Harries of Pentregarth said the would be a "huge relief to charities".

He said Oxfam Scotland was concerned that Scottish organisations might end up being in a regulated period repeatedly for the next three years, with the UK elections in 2015, and Scottish national elections in 2016, which Harries said was a "disproportionate amount of time for a regulated period".

The Conservative peer Lord Wallace of Tankerness told peers that the regulated period had been set at one year in order to keep it in line with spending rules for political parties.

"The reason we have put these in is that we believe that it is not unreasonable that third parties and political parties should adhere to the same regulated period for an election," he said. "I am sure, if one thinks about it for a moment, that it would be somewhat unusual and unfair if third parties were allowed to incur unlimited amounts of expenditure campaigning for or against a party or candidates in a period when the political parties themselves would be faced with a limit on their spending."

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