Lobbying Bill

29 January 2014 update

The progress of the Lobbying Bill is complete, as the House of Lords finished voting last night. A date for the Bill's Royal Assent has yet to be set. Unfortunately, amendments proposed by Bishop Harries were defeated in two very close votes. While this is not the result we hoped for, we are very thankful to our members for all their enthusiasm and hard-work on this issue. They helped ensure important concessions were made by the government in previous stages of the Bill's passage through Parliament, improving the Bill's workability and proportionality:

  • Amending rules for organisations 'working to a joint plan' (coalitions) to exclude small-spending organisations.
  • Excluding some costs from controlled expenditure, like translation into Welsh, disability access and volunteer costs.
  • Raising the threshold for non-party organisations to register with the Electoral Commission to £20,000 for England, £10,000 for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • Raising the spending limit for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland by £20,000 from the 70% cut initially proposed.
  • Reducing the regulatory period from 1 year to 7.5 months for the 2015 General Election.
  • Introducing a review of non-party campaigning rules after the 2015 General Election.
  • Withdrawing post-dissolution spending caps in constituencies.
  • Reduction in some regulatory burden.

28 January 2014 update

Today the House of Lords considers the Lobbying Bill again, in a process known as ping pong. There are two key amendments to the Bill that that were voted down in the Commons last week that peers are voting on again today. We have joined with hundreds of others organisations to urge peers to vote for these amendments.

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22 January 2014 update

The Lobbying Bill has continued its frantic pace though parliament this week, as peers made their final amendments to the Bill, and then it returned to the Commons for MPs to look at again.

In the House of Lords, more amendments were made during the Bill's Third reading on 21 January. Bills are usually sorted out by this stage but because a number of significant issues were still contested, and Government had used the previous Committee stage as 'a listening exercise', peers were still debating big matters of substance. Meanwhile, 160,000 people showed their support for NGOs and charities by signing a petition calling for more changes to the Bill. Many thanks to the thousands of WI members who added their names to this!

Debate in the House of Lords, 21 Jan

Following the government defeats on the Bill on 15 Jan (see the 17 Jan update below), peers returned to the Bill after the weekend with another point of contention to face over constituency spending. Lord Harries' amendment on this point was needed simply because the Bill as proposed was unworkable. NGOs and charities are not structured to operate within constituency boundaries and many campaigning activities bridge more than one constituency. Keeping tabs on spending in this way would be impossible. Following votes, the amendment was passed, 248 votes to 222, marking a second defeat for the government.

The following day, members of the House of Commons got another chance to look at the Bill. After over 100 amendments were made in the Lords, the Bill was very different from when they last saw it. But in the words of Graham Allen MP– whose constitutional affairs Select Committee has been critiquing the Bill from the start – the Bill is still a dog's dinner, albeit 'Pedigree Chum, instead of Winalot'. MPs were urged to acknowledge the good work of the Lords and accept all the amendments that had been made. The NFWI, many other NGOS and their supporters emailed MPs, and took to twitter, blogs and the newspapers to urge the House of Commons to do the right thing.

Debate in the Commons, 22 January

Leader of the House, Andrew Lansley MP, thanked the peers for their work and said they accepted all but two of the 100 amendments to the Bill - the two the government had been defeated on. Speaking for the government, Mr Lansley sought to reassure charities and NGOs that there was 'nothing to worry about', and the Bill was 'taking the big money out of politics'.

Following the discussion that followed, the two crucial amendments won by Lord Harries, with the backing of 130 NGOs and over 160,000 people (and the Electoral Commission) were overturned by the government.

What happens now

In a process known as 'ping pong', the Bill returns to the Lords because the two Houses are in disagreement about these two crucial aspects of the Bill. Parliamentary time is scarce, so at this stage we don't know when the Bill will be debated again, or how much time will be given to peers to debate it. We are urging peers to continue their efforts to improve this legislation. Peers know the amendments are necessary - what's the point of a law that can't be abided by or enforced? Charities and NGOs need a regulatory framework they can work within, and the Electoral Commission needs to know it can do it job with confidence.

The Bill is aimed at building confidence in the electoral system. But this will not happen without Harries amendments being passed. The NFWI will write to all peers this week to ask them to stand firm. We will keep you updated on any further member action as developments become clear about when the Bill is next up for debate.

17 January - Update

As the Lobbying Bill moves into its final stages, this week's Report stage debate saw Peers make a number of important changes in particular in relation to the range of issues on which staff costs have to be accounted for.  A successful amendment, tabled by Lord Harries, means that charity campaigners will not have to account for staff costs in relation to media events, such as press conferences, and public events and rallies. It significantly reduces the regulatory burden that would have been the impact of a requirement to account for staff costs on an expanded range of issues. The amendment was supported by a petition of over 130 charities and campaigning groups and 165,000 people.

In addition, Peers agree to amendments announced by the Government last week including: 

  • Raising the threshold for non-party organisations to register with the Electoral Commission to £20,000 for England and £10,000 for Wales.
  • Reducing the regulatory period to 7.5 months for the 2015 General Election
  • Exempting translation costs and costs for making controlled activity accessible to people with disabilities from controlled expenditure
  • Excluding small-spending organisations from coalition campaigning rules.
  • A review of the impact of the legislation on charities following the 2015 General Election.

Even following these changes, the Lobbying Bill would still limit charities and campaigning organisations from speaking out ahead of elections. We hope that ministers will take further action to address unworkable constituency spending limits and of course it's important that the improvements made to the Bill are not reversed when the legislation is debated again next week.  

Take action
Please sign this petition backing changes to the Bill: http://civilsocietycommission.info/petition/

20 December update

The Lobbying Bill is back in the House of Lords after the end of the six week 'pause' in its legislative progress. Here's what's been happening over the last few weeks:

  • 5 November: The Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement (the Harries Commission) begin another rapid consultation with the NGO sector to find some solutions to the many problems with the Lobbying Bill. The NFWI attends consultation sessions in London and Cardiff.
  • Late November/early December - WI members across England and Wales write to their MPs to ask for their help to improve the Lobbying Bill. They also attend public meetings organised by 38 Degrees.
  • 4 December 2013: Chair of the Public Affairs Committee, Marylyn Haines-Evans meets with government minister, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, to discuss NFWI concerns with the Bill.
  • 10 December 2013: NGOs gathered together in a parliamentary Day of Action to demonstrate the scale of concern about the Lobbying Bill. You can read how the day unfolded here and see the WI in action on our facebook page.
  • 10 December 2013: The Harries Commission publishes its second report, setting out  ways to improve the Bill.
  • 13 December 2013: The Electoral Commission publishes further advice on how it would police the Lobbying Bill if it passes. It confirms that the kind of non-party campaigning the NFWI undertakes would be caught by the Bill and makes many recommendations to make the Bill more proportionate and practical.
  • 16 December 2013: The Bill returns to the House of Lords for two days of Report Stage debate. Lord Best tells the House about the threat to initiatives like the WI Great Food Debate. The government gives little detail on any changes it wants to make to the Bill, and does not support the amendments proposed by Bishop Harries, the chair of the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement.
  • 19 December 2013: The Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee holds another evidence session on the Bill. Jenny Watson, chair of the Electoral Commission, outlines again how many of the Bill's provisions are unworkable. Georgette Mulheir from the Harries Commission lays out her views on how the Bill can be improved.

The Bill will now return to the House of Lords for crucial votes on 13 and 15 January 2014. The NFWI remains concerned that the Bill has the potential to limit the legitimate campaign work of charities, like the NFWI.

Thanks to all those members who have taken part in our work on the Lobbying Bill so far, keep up the good work and contact the Public Affairs department to keep us up to date with all your activities.

 27 November update

Our campaign against Part 2 of the Lobbying Bill has entered a new phase, as the government has finally begun to understand the implications of their Bill for the charitable and voluntary sector, and agreed to stall the Bill to allow for more consultation. Unfortunately, we only have a window of three more weeks before the Bill will be debated again in Parliament on 16 December.

Below are ways for WI members to take action to stop this Bill from taking away the WI's right to campaign, as we have done for nearly 100 years. Thanks to all those members who have taken part so far, please keep up the good work and contact the Public Affairs department to keep us up to date with all your activities. 

NEWS FLASH: Day of Action at Parliament, Tuesday 10 December 2013

10 December is the day the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement's second report will be published - recommending how non-party campaigning should be regulated ahead of elections. This will be based on consultation with NGOs and key stakeholders. Amendments to the Lobbying Bill will be published alongside the report.

NGOs from all sectors are coming together to meet with their local MPs and peers to have our voices heard. A special briefing meeting for NGOs supporters will be held from 11:30am to help prepare you for meetings with MPs and peers - so you don't need to be an expert. Staff from NFWI will be there throughout the day to support you.

If you are interested in attending the Day of Action, please let us know. Write to your MP and ask for a meeting on the 10 December from 12.30 onwards.

  • You can use the template letter in our latest briefing on the Bill to invite your local MP to meet with you at Parliament during the Day of Action.
  • Let the Public Affairs Department know you're planning to take part so we can offer more details and support.

Can't make it to London on 10 December?

  • Don't worry, you can still make your voice heard! Use this latest briefing and template letter to write to your MP and tell them the Day of Action is happening, and that they should go along to hear from constituents like you.
  • This updated briefing includes also details about our ongoing concerns about the Bill and how we'd like MPs to help. if you have written to your MP before, please do so again, and ask to meet in person to discuss the WI's concerns.

Attend an event in your local constituency

A series of public meetings are being held in constituencies around the country for people to meet with their MPs to discuss the lobbying bill. More information about these events can be found here.

When
Constituency
Details
Friday 29th November, 7.30pm Eastleigh (Mike Thornton MP)

Pavilion on the Park 1 Kingfisher Road Eastleigh Hampshire, SO50 9LH

Friday 29th November, 7:30pm Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron MP) Friends Meeting House,
Stramongate, Kendal,
Cumbria, LA9 4BH
Saturday 30th November, 9.30am Henley (John Howell MP)

Pither Hall
The Christ Church Centre
46 Reading Road
Henley-on-Thames
Oxon, RG9 1AG

Thursday 12th December, 7.15pm Stroud (Neil Carmichael MP)

The Old Town Hall
The Shambles
High Street
Stroud
Glos., GL5 1AP


More resources

For more information, please contact the Public Affairs Department: publicaffairs@nfwi.org.uk, or call 0207 7371 9300.