The much discussed and controversial Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill has now become law.
Many charities were concerned that the Bill – which MPs began to consider in the early Autumn – would limit their campaigning activities, and some referred to it as the ‘gagging law’. NGOs set about pressing Government and politicians to make changes to the Bill. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (of which the Trust is a member) and the specially-formed Commission on Civil Society played leading roles in this process.
As Britain’s largest charity we shared many of their concerns. The National Trust argued that significant changes were needed which would allow improvements in transparency and accountability without undermining the positive role that charities play in enabling informed public policy debate.
The Trust has a long history of involvement in public, and we want to be confident that we are able to continue to do so. You can read more about our involvement in public policy debates here.
We met Ministers to discuss the Government’s plans, and supported the work of NCVO and the Commission on Civil Society to make improvements to the Bill. The combined efforts of charities resulted in some improvements being made, including the introduction of a shorter ‘regulated’ period (the period before an election where charities are covered by the new rules) and the introduction of higher spending thresholds (above which groups must register with the Electoral Commission). The Government will also now review the new arrangements after the 2015 General Election. More detail on the changes can be found here.
Although NCVO and the Commission would have liked the Government to go further we must now concentrate on the next steps.
New guidance will be published by the Charity and Electoral Commissions. This guidance is critical in clarifying exactly what the new rules mean, and we should ensure it does not place onerous burdens on charities or restrict campaigning activities. We would expect those drawing up the new guidance to consult widely before introducing it, to make sure it is fit for purpose.
Once it is introduced we should monitor and gather evidence on how the new rules are working in practice. After the election, we may need a sensible debate on whether we can improve the way that charities and their activities are regulated and attempt to find a consensus in this hotly debated area.