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Ministers make lobbying bill concessions - but more is needed. Richard Jackson, Chief Officer at VAL discusses the current Lobbying Bill campaign.
Like me, you may have picked up the encouraging news about the Lobbying Bill Campaign being carried out by key agencies within the Third Sector, we at Voluntary Action Leeds support this campaign.
Our primary concern about the bill proposals is that currently only those organisations who seek to influence the result of an election have to register with the Electoral Commission and have their spending regulated. This bill will change that by limiting how much money all charities can spend on campaigning in the year before an election, even if they don't intend to influence the result. Ministers have clearly said that this isn't what they intended but the campaign aims to ensure the wording of the Bill is changed to reflect this.
Many third sector organisations have written to their MPs and Ministers to let them know the importance of the Third Sector's role in delivering positive change through campaigning. As a direct result of this pressure the government "paused" the bill, providing a chance for those who are worried about the bill to make their case.
The following concessions have been agreed by the Government, they are quite specific but we shouldn't underestimate their significance:
- There was a plan to cut the amount charities in England can spend on campaigning during the "regulated" period before a general election before they have to register with the Electoral Commission, instead the limit will now be raised to £20,000.
- For charities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the threshold will rise from the current limit £5,000 to £10,000, rather than a planned cut to £2,000.
- That for the next general election in May 2015, the regulated period for third parties - which is normally 12 months - will now start on 19 September, the day after the Scottish referendum.
- The proposed overall spending limit for charities across the UK during the regulated period is also being raised from £390,000 to £450,000 - although campaigners say this is still a long way short of the existing cap of £988,500.
What else can be achieved?
But the campaign aims to achieve more, so at the Report Stage the Commission on Civil Society will urge Peers:
- to exempt staff costs from the regulated expenditure so far as possible, and
- to remove constituency spending limits.
I'd like to join other campaigners in encouraging those concerned about this bill to continue talking to their MPs, aiming to secure their support in areas where further change is still needed.