Lords fail to reinstate amendments to lobbying bill quashed by the Commons

The amendments would have restricted the type of activity that would count towards constituency spending limits and excluded some staff costs from the legislation

House of Lords
House of Lords

Lords have agreed to exclude from the lobbying bill two amendments supported by many voluntary sector organisations, one on a tied vote.

It means the bill will become law without amendments introduced in the Lords by Lord Harries of Pentregarth on constituency spending limits and some staff costs.

Voluntary sector organisations have said that the legislation could significantly curtail campaigning activity in the run-up to elections.

The government had been defeated in the Lords on the two amendments, which would have restricted the type of activity that would count towards constituency spending limits, and excluded some staff costs from being picked up by the legislation.

But MPs overturned these amendments when the bill returned to the House of Commons last week.

When the bill went back to the Lords yesterday, peers voted against reinstating amendments in these two areas.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness, the Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, told peers yesterday that they should support the government’s position anad not reinstate the amendment on constituency spending limits because these should include a wider range of expenditure than allowed for in Harries’ amendment.

He said the other amendment, to exclude some staff costs, should be rejected because it was unnecessary.

Harries argued that the bill was a "bureaucratic nightmare".

The Labour peer Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town said the voluntary sector was deeply concerned about the bill. "We have here something that will tie up charities, churches, women’s groups, young people’s movements and green campaigners in completely unnecessary red tape and complicated accounting," she said.

A compromise amendment on constituency limits proposed by Harries was rejected by 249 votes to 231.

But Lords were tied on a vote to put back the amendment on some staff costs at 245 to 245, meaning it failed because it was not agreed by the majority of votes. The Speaker in the House of Lords does not have a casting vote, unlike his counterpart in the Commons.

Karl Wilding, director of public policy at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said the legislation was in better shape than in the summer "but it will nevertheless cause much worry for charities as well as creating a substantial administrative burden".

He said: "The important issue now is the Electoral Commission’s guidance, which will determine how it will enforce the law. We are already working closely with the commission to ensure its guidance is fair, simple and practical for charities."

He said it was also important that there was a solid evidence base about the bill's effect on charities for when it was reviewed after the general election. 

Sir Stephen Bubb, head of the charity chief executives body Acevo, said he was disappointed that the amendments failed, but his organisation would lobby for the bill to be revised after the 2015 election.

"We must be clear: civil society must never lose its voice," he said. "We must stand up for our beliefs and refuse self-censorship. Acevo will work tirelessly to ensure that this bill does not gag charities and campaigners."

A date has not yet been set for the bill’s royal assent.

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