Today marks an important point for the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill as the Commons Report Stage on Part II of the Bill takes place. On Monday, the National Trust contacted MPs to express continuing concerns about the effect of the Bill on charities.
Whilst we entirely support transparency, we are concerned that changes to rules on non-party campaigning in the bill could restrict the ability of charities to speak out on matters of public interest.
As the National Council for Voluntary Organisations states: “The proposals are intended to strengthen existing rules that limit what organisations can do to support political parties during an election. But the proposed changes mean that tens of thousands of charities and community groups may inadvertently be caught in the scope of deeply burdensome regulation.”
Today MPs will decide whether to accept Government amendments to Clause 26 of Part II of the Bill. The amendments make changes to the meaning of what is “controlled expenditure” by charities for election purposes. They reinstate some important aspects of the current law that determine when spending is regulated, and revise the definitions of existing and new categories of activity that can be regulated.
Whilst the amendments are ‘a positive step in the right direction’, according to the Electoral Commission, they “do not address other issues that have been raised with the Bill, including concerns about the impact of reducing the spending threshold that requires campaigners to register with us, and about the new controls on spending focused in individual constituencies’”.
What does this mean for charities? Without further changes to the Bill, we are concerned that this new law could unduly restrict the contribution that charities would be able to make to public policy debate in the future. The National Trust has a long history of reasoned contributions to policy debate matters which affect our cause, and we seek reassurances that we will continue to be able to make such contributions in the future.
We believe that the Government should remove or substantially reconsider Part II of the Bill as a compelling case is yet to be made that the changes would increase transparency, and there is widespread concern that they may prevent charities from playing a positive role in policy development.
Due to the lack of pre-legislative scrutiny and consultation with those the Bill would effect, we welcome the amendments suggested by the chair of the Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, Graham Allen MP, which would allow MPs to test further the implications of the Bill at Report stage.