NCVO calls for 'regulated period' in lobbying bill to be reduced from 12 to six months

The umbrella body says charities will not be able to predict when activity would come under the period before an election during which campaigning would be restricted

National Council for Voluntary Organisations
National Council for Voluntary Organisations

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations has called for the "regulated period" covered by provisions in the lobbying bill to be reduced from 12 months to six.

In a submission to the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement, a coalition of charities, campaign groups and academics set up to consider issues with the bill, the NCVO sets out eight proposed changes to the proposed legislation.

The commission, which is chaired by the crossbench peer Lord Harries of Pentregarth, is collecting evidence from voluntary sector organisations on the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill before part 2 of the legislation – which is the section that charities are most concerned about – is debated in the House of Lords next month.

The NCVO’s response to the commission says that the provisions contained in the bill as it stands would in effect prevent voluntary sector organisations from campaigning at any time.

"The provisions of the bill apply to a regulated period of 365 days prior to general elections and four months prior to European elections and elections to the devolved administrations," it says.

"While the bill’s provisions are intended to apply only in a specific and time-limited period, the staggering of referendums and elections in the UK means that organisations will not be able to predict when activity will come under the regulated period. It is therefore likely that organisations will be forced to limit campaigning activity in perpetuity."

The NCVO submission says that the spending thresholds above which organisations must register with the Electoral Commission should be raised from the proposed levels ­– £5,000 in England and £2,000 in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – to £20,000 in England and £15,000 in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The current limits are £10,000 in England and £5,000 in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The paper says that the NCVO "does not understand the rationale that has been used" to set the proposed new limits. It says any new limits should be reviewed in line with inflation every five years.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said the government was committed to bringing greater transparency and accountability to the political system through the bill, and was discussing the reforms with the NCVO and others.

"In order to make sure we have a system that works and has the confidence of the public, we have provided extra time before the House of Lords debate on part 2 of the bill, to allow for further discussion and consultation with campaigning groups who are worried about the potential impact on their activities," he said. "It would be premature to comment on any specific policies before this period of discussion has finished."

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