The select committee looking into the government’s proposed new lobbying bill has called on more charities to submit their concerns after receiving evidence from only two organisations.
The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee yesterday heard evidence on the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill. But during the session Graham Allen, chair of the committee and MP for Nottingham North, said that the committee had so far received evidence only from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and children’s charity Action for Children. "We haven’t exactly been inundated yet," said Allen.
Allen said that more charities needed to submit their concerns individually so they could be added to the committee’s body of evidence, which will be put before MPs next week.
Giving evidence to the committee yesterday, Karl Wilding, director of public policy at the NCVO, said a letter sent by the umbrella body to Chloe Smith, the minister for political and constitutional reform, which raised fears about the bill hampering charities’ ability to speak up on issues of concern, had been co-signed by more than 200 organisations.
The bill, which will have its second reading in the House of Commons on 3 September, contains proposals that would make it a criminal offence for third parties to spend more than £390,000 on campaigns that affect European, national and local elections.
Speaking to Third Sector after the session, Wilding said the NCVO would ask charities to raise their concerns with the committee.
"We will be asking charities to submit evidence directly to the committee," he said. "A number of organisations have come to us. I’ve had many conversations with directors of campaigns and directors of policy who have expressed their anger about this bill."
During the evidence session, Wilding raised concerns that the definition of activities that would be regulated under the proposed bill – activities "for election purposes" – was so broad that day-to-day charity campaigning activities could be included.
Wilding said that plans to aggregate costs for joint campaigns – so that the total campaigning expenditure would have to be accounted for by each individual organisation – was "extremely onerous" and it would be very difficult for charities to measure the staff costs of a particular campaign.
Plans to require charities to report donations, even when no donations were received, would also be onerous for charities, said Wilding.
He said the Charity Commission’s guidance on campaigning was very clear and charities currently policed their own activities effectively.
"It seems to us this bill is trying to address a problem that we don’t think exists," said Wilding.