Update February 2014

Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill February 2014 Update

For those who have taken an interest in the Bill, I thought you may find it useful if I brought you up to date on its progress since it completed its line-by-line scrutiny in the House of Lords at the end of January.

The Bill is about bringing greater transparency to politics and how third parties interact with the political system. Charities and other campaigning organisations play a vital role in the democratic process and this has always been, and will continue to be, fully recognised.

The Government has listened very carefully to the concerns that had been expressed about any possible unintended consequences of aspects of the Bill, during an exhaustive consultation with over 50 charities and organisations. The House of Lords made 97 amendments to the Bill, while staying true to its core purpose of bringing more public transparency to levels of spending in election campaigns. The House of Commons voted to agree with the great majority of those amendments, with 94 being accepted in full.

The remaining three amendments where there has not so far been a consensus will now be reconsidered by the House of Lords as they failed to take into account the very principle behind the bill- the need for transparency. It is essential for members of the public know when a third party is campaigning in North East Bedfordshire as well as nationally, and how much money is being spent.

You will recall that spending in elections by companies, individuals and other organisations is only regulated if it ‘can be reasonably regarded as intended to promote or procure the election of a party or candidates’- something that very few organisations other than political parties do.

The law currently requires companies, individuals and other third parties to register with the Electoral Commission if they spend over £10,000 on election campaigning (£5,000 in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). Some groups said they were worried about whether they have to register as third parties. As a result of the amendments agrees to, these registration thresholds will now be doubles to £20,000 (£10,000 in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). This means that the vast majority of organisations will never need to worry about whether they need to register with the Electoral Commission at all.

These changes have been welcomed by charities and other groups, including the Chief Executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, Sir Stuart Etherington, who said:

“Much of the risk to charities from this legislation has now been averted. We are grateful that the Government has listened to the concerns charities have raised in recent months. The Bill provides a much more sensible balance than it did to begin with between creating accountability and transparency in elections, while still allowing for charities and others to speak up on issues of concern.”

I must continue to stress that an organisation campaigning solely on policy issues will not be included in these changes. These new proposals are only for third party organisations which campaign for the electoral success of a particular political party of candidate. Limiting campaign spending during an election will help the UK avoid the situation we see in other countries, where unregulated spending by vested interests means that it might not always be the best candidate who wins, but the one with the richest supporters.

I am grateful for the interest that has been taken in this Bill, which has helped inform the debate. I’m sure as it nears the completion of its parliamentary scrutiny that you too will welcome the excellent progress that has been made.

Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP

 

Original text and October update

Thank you for contacting me about the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill. It is very important to note at the outset that these new proposals are only for third party organisations which campaign for the electoral success of a particular political party or candidate. An organisation campaigning only on policy issues would be exempted from these changes.

This Bill is about bringing transparency to the way third parties interact with the political system. Campaign groups play an important role in our political process, helping inform policy making and allowing different views to be heard from across society. The Government is clear that it wants this to continue.

The Government wants to take the big money out of politics. Limiting campaign spending during an election will help the UK avoid the situation we see in other countries, where unregulated spending by vested interests means that it might not always be the best candidate who wins an election, but the one with the richest supporters.

The amount an organisation can spend campaigning for electoral success during an election period will be limited to £390,000 across the UK. The Government believes this is still a very substantial sum and is a proportionate figure. Expenditure on these campaigns will be fully recorded and disclosed.

At present, charities can undertake non-party political activity where the trustees can show that it supports their purposes and would be an effective use of their resources. The law prohibits charities from engaging in party politics, party political campaigning, supporting political candidates or undertaking political activity unrelated to the charity’s purpose.

The Bill does not change this. Charities will still be able to support specific policies advocated by political parties if it would help achieve their charitable purposes. However, Ministers have listened to the concerns raised by the charitable sector and the Government now proposes to define controlled expenditure as it currently stands under existing legislation; expenditure “which can reasonably be regarded as intended to promote or procure electoral success”.

This has been welcomed by the Chief Executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, Sir Stuart Etherington, who said the Government has listened to and significantly met the concerns of charities and community groups.

For those who have contacted me via the ’38 Degrees’ website:

The Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform, Chloe Smith, has written to 38 Degrees, outlining the Government’s position and you can read it online here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/232248/Transparency_of_Lobbying_Bill_letter.pdf

The Government could not be any clearer on that an organisation campaigning only on policy issues would not be included in these changes and I trust the information above has shown that your concerns about the ‘myth buster’ are misplaced.

I hope you have been reassured that this Bill will not prevent or prohibit campaigning but will make the system more transparent by bringing these third parties into the spending reporting regime.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me and please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions.

UPDATE (08/10/13):

Thank you for contacting me again with your concerns regarding the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill.

I can assure you that the Government has listened to these concerns and, working with the Leader of the House, Andrew Lansley, has made the following amendments.

The Government intends to make it clear that the Bill does not prevent charities or third party organisations from having a view on any aspect of the policy of a party, nor does it stop these groups attempting to influence the policy of a party because the Bill, as previously stated, is for clarity and transparency. This situation exists at the moment; it is the same under the current legislation and remains unchanged by this Bill.

In addition, Andrew Lansley, has now set out how the legislation will be made even clearer for campaigners. This can be found online here:

www.gov.uk/government/news/statement-on-amendments-to-the-transparency-bill

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me about this issue and please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions.