Theresa Villiers, MP for Chipping Barnet, has issued this update on Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill.
The Government has always been clear that this Bill is about bringing greater transparency to politics, and how third parties interact with the political system. The importance of the role charities and other campaigning organisations play in the democratic process has always been, and will continue to be, fully recognised.
Ministers have listened carefully to the concerns raised during an exhaustive consultation with over 50 charities and organisations, and firm steps have already been taken to reassure smaller charities. The Government has made a number of amendments to the Transparency Bill which address the concerns raised about its potential impact on non-party campaigning at elections. These changes have been welcomed by charities and other groups, including the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, 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. Charities, by law, may not campaign in a party political manner…The bill now provides a much more sensible balance between creating accountability and transparency in elections, while still allowing for charities and others to speak up on issues of concern.”
Fundamental to the amendments was the raising of the registration rates to £20,000 for England and £10,000 in each of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This will effectively exempt most campaigning groups and charities who are either small or undertake limited political campaigning from registration and reporting requirements. Amendments were also made to relieve the reporting burdens for small charities, and to institute a review after the 2015 General Election.
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 or 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 the candidate most likely to win is always the one with the wealthiest supporters.
There were around 100 amendments from the House of Lords when the Bill came back to the Commons, and only three were not accepted - including two relating to staff costs and constituency limits. These amendments failed to take into account the very principle behind the bill - transparency. It is essential that members of the public know when a third party is campaigning in their constituency, and how much money is being spent.