Although some concern has been expressed about the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill which is to be debated in the House of Commons this week, our system of “line by line” consideration of a Bill is designed to ensure all points are discussed and hopefully resolved.
The Bill is intended to make it clear when political parties are being supported financially by third parties and to ensure that the UK avoids what happens elsewhere, where vast amounts of money have been deployed in election campaigns outside the party spending controls.
The Electoral Commission has highlighted some issues for exploration in debate.
These matters are to be debated and this will clarify many of these points. It is fair to say that Part 2 of the Bill might affect some charities, but it only applies to those which are“registered” third parties and at the 2010 General Election, very few charities were registered as third parties. Provided that charities continue to campaign as they always have – i.e. they are not promoting the electoral success or otherwise enhancing the standing of parties/candidates – they will not be forced to register as third parties.
This would only change if a charity is using material that could be seen as indicating to the public that particular candidates or parties support or oppose its policies and then it might need to register with the Electoral Commission as a third party.
Currently charities can undertake non-party political activity where the trustees can show that it supports the charity’s purposes and would be an effective use of the charity’s resources but the law prohibits charities from engaging in party politics, party political campaigning, supporting political candidates or undertaking political activity unrelated to the charity’s purposes.
Ministers have been discussing the Bill with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and have reached agreement on changes to the wording.
Sir Stuart Etherington, Chief Executive of the NCVO, said: “I am pleased the Government has listened to and significantly met the concerns of charities and community groups. I understand the Government’s intention was not to make their normal work subject to this regulation. We will work closely with the Government and the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee in order to deliver this intention.”
You can follow the debates -the main business in the House of Commons Monday to Wednesday this week on http://www.parliament.uk