Lobby Bill - some good wins but a final push now crucial
But lack of clarity on the crucial issue of 'intention to influence' still means the Bill presents a significant challenges.
Government's amendments to the Bill were made available on the 8 January and there was some good news for voluntary and community organisations who have been campaigning on this issue. They include:
- Registration thresholds: increased to £20k in England; £10k Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
- Regulated period: reduced to 7 and a half months (although only for the 2015 General Election).
- Coalition campaigning: a change to the rules so that smaller spending organisations that a part of a joint campaign do not have to account for the whole coalition’s spending.
- Spending limits: an increase of £20,000 for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
- A clarification that events regulated by the Parades Commission in Northern Ireland will not be subject to PPERA regulation.
- Excluding additional costs associated for producing publications to meet needs of people with disabilities.
- Reporting: removal of nil returns on donations and remove returns if spend below registration.
- Review of the Bill: a review of the rules will take place after the 2015 General Election.
However there is still some important issues of concern for organisations. Staff costs are still included in the expenditure and there hasn’t been enough movement on the rules around coalitions. Crucially the issue on ‘intention to influence’ has still not been dealt with clearly enough.
Seamus McAleavey, Chief Executive of NICVA said "voluntary and community organisations have lobbied hard to achieve the changes that have been made so far. While the concessions outlined by the Coalition government are welcome, we are still gravely concerned about the Bills potential to curtail charities campaigning on issues that are important to the people they work with.
We are most concerned about the subjective way in which the Bill aims to determine the intentions of a campaigning activity. Charities are already bound by charity law which prohibits party political campaigning. But this bill applies to campaigning by organisations which might influence elections - whether they intended it to or not. This is clearly unworkable, unfair and extremely difficult to enforce.
Northern Ireland MPs and Peers alike have been outspoken in their opposition to this Bill and we are urging them once again to act with us to make the necessary changes still outstanding and in particular to seek absolute clarity on how the issue of 'intention to influence' will be dealt with."
Time for a final push with NI members of the House of Lords
NICVA is encouraging voluntary and community organisations to write to NI peers on this issue ahead of the next debate in the House of Lords on 15 January and encourage them to support the amendments tabled by Lord Harries of Pentregarth. We have attached a copy of the letter NICVA sent to NI peers which you can adapt for your own organisation and a spreadsheet of contact details for NI peers.
Organisations can also sign a petition aimed at Peers here.
You can see the full marshalled list of amendments here.