Campaigning and the Lobbying Bill
The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill ("the Bill") was introduced to Parliament in July 2013. The Bill is sponsored by the Cabinet Office and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).
In summary the Bill will:
- Establish a register of professional consultant lobbyists and a Registrar responsible for supervising and enforcing the registration requirements;
- Restrict the sums that individuals and organisations that are not political parties or candidates are allowed to spend during Parliamentary elections; and
- Place a duty on trade unions to annually provide a membership audit certificate to be subject to independent verification. This is in addition to the existing duty on trade unions under section 24(1) of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 to maintain an accurate and up to date register of members.
Concerns were expressed in the Second Reading debate, by select committees and from outside the House, about the effect changes to the rules on non-party campaigning (Part 2 of the bill) would have on charities and campaign groups; and about the effect the lobbying rules might have on Members.
The Bill was considered by a Committee of the whole House on 9, 10 and 11 September. Amendments were made to Parts 1 and 2 of the Bill but Part 3 of the Bill, on trade union administration, was not amended.
In Part 2 (on non-party campaigning), some minor changes were made to the Bill but the Government promised that amendments would be tabled at Report Stage to address concerns that definitions in the Bill relating to "for election purposes" could restrict campaigning organisations in campaigning that was not intended to promote or procure the success of a party or candidate. At Report Stage, the Government brought forward amendments on both Parts 1 and 2. There were amendments to clarify that lobbying aspects do not apply to MPs and amendments to modify the original definition of campaigning for electoral purposes, which affected charities and other third parties.
The Bill was given a Third Reading on 9 October 2013 and introduced in the House of Lords on the same day. It will have its first reading in the House of Lords on 22 October, and is not expected to get an easy ride from peers.
The Bill has also received much criticism from the third sector. It has been claimed that charities which campaign across the countries of the UK will be subject to harsh caps on their activity. The bill more than halves the existing thresholds above which third parties such as charities have to register with the Electoral Commission. Total campaign spending in the year before an election is also cut by up to 70%. Elizabeth Chamberlain, senior campaigner at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), says the bill has left charities in "a very unclear and ambiguous situation with lots of questions unanswered, making it very difficult for them to plan any activity in the run up to an election".
It has been reported that the Charity Commission chair William Shawcross made a comment at a recent Charity Law Association conference, that "most of the sector" is happy with the bill now that the government had proposed "significant changes". Sir Stuart Etherington wrote to William Shawcross and in his letter, he said that the NCVO has "serious concerns" about the impact the government's bill would have on charity campaigning and asks Shawcross to produce evidence to support his claim.
On 22 October it was reported that William Shawcross has responded to Sir Stuart Etherington to assure him that the regulator "understands" the continuing concerns that many charities have about the lobbying bill - but stopped short of saying that it "shared" those concerns. Furthermore, William Shawcross is reported to have said the the Charity Commission understands the continuing concerns that many charities, including NCVO, have about the potential impact of the Bill on charitable activity if it is enacted as it is currently drafted. He went on to remind Stuart Etherington that the existing charity law framework, as explained by the Commission's own guidance, already allows charities much scope to campaign. He said the regulator would continue to follow the passage of the Bill so it is "clear about any change in legislation that has the potential to impact on charity law and regulation".
On 6 November it was reported that the House of Lords debate on part 2 of the bill, which contains the measures that charities are particularly concerned about, will be put back until 16 Decembe.r
The government has said it will "substantially raise" the proposed spending limits in the lobbying bill and has agreed a six-week delay to the debate about measures that affect charity campaigning.
Before a debate in the House of Lords on the Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Billon 5 November, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, the Liberal Democrat peer responsible for taking the bill through the Lords, wrote to peers to say that the government had listened to the views of charities and voluntary groups.
We will keep you updated on the progress of the Bill.
This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.