BRANDED a "gagging law" by charities, the Transparency of
Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill
was passed in the House of Commons on Wednesday evening.
MPs voted by 304 to 260 in favour of the Bill which. the
Government maintains, will "bring greater transparency to our
The Bill reduces the money that a third party (rather than a
political party) may spend on campaigning in the year before an
election, from £988,500 to £390,000 (News, 6 September). It also
widens the definition of campaigning activities to include staff
time, media appearances, leaflets, and blogs. Spending per
constituency is limited to £9750.
As promised last month by the Leader of the House of Commons,
Andrew Lansley, the Government tabled amendments to the Bill during
the debate. One amendment stated that a third party will be subject
to the restrictions only when its campaign can reasonably be
regarded as intended to "promote or procure the electoral success"
of a party of candidate.
The amendments also make it clear that events held solely for an
organisation's supporters, and responses to ad hoc media questions
on specific policy issues, will not be captured by the Bill. But
public rallies and events, press conferences, and "market research
or canvassing which promotes electoral success" will all be
The Deputy Leader of the House, Tom Brake, said during the
debate: "We believe our amendments provide clarification and
reassurance to charities, voluntary organisations, community groups
and other campaigners that their normal engagement with public
policy will not be subject to regulation as long as it cannot
reasonably be regarded as intended to promote or procure the
electoral success of a party of candidate."
He referred to the Government's impact assessment of the Bill,
which estimated that only ten per cent of third-party
organisations would see their expenditure affected by the reduced
"We are seeking a level playing field for the different third
parties that might oppose each other in the course of an election
campaign," he said. "It is worth noting that only two organisations
spent more than the new lowered limits proposed in the Bill: Unison
and Vote for a Change. That demonstrates that the spending limit is
so high as to be ineffectual in creating the level playing field
that spending limits seek to provide."
He acknowledged that the National Council for Voluntary
Organisations (NCVO) was only "partially happy" with the
The NCVO said last Friday that there was "still too much
uncertainty and ambiguity in relation to the definition of
controlled expenditure". This was "unbearable, especially for small
The Electoral Commission said that the Government had "taken
steps in the right direction", but that the amendments "need
careful testing with campaigners". It warned that the provisions of
the Bill would "inevitably affect organisations whose primary
intentions are not clearly party political". The amendments did not
address concerns about the spending limits, which, it warned, might
lead to a "significant increase in regulatory burdens".
The Opposition has accused the Government of "hurrying" a "badly
drafted" Bill through Parliament. A report by the Political and
Constitutional Reform Committee, published last month, was critical
of both content and consultation.
On Wednesday, Angela Eagle, Shadow Leader of the House, said
that the Bill "seeks to silence critics of the Government in the
run-up to the general election, while letting vested interests
operate out of sight".
Last Friday, 13 faith organisations, including Christian Aid and
CAFOD, wrote to the Prime Minister to express concern that the Bill
"may curtail our ability to express deeply held beliefs in the