WHEN both the executive editor of the blog ConservativeHome and
the General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress are militating
against a Bill, its prospects begin to look uncertain.
Nevertheless, the Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party
Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill passed its second
reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday, by 309 votes to
Published by the Government in July, the day before the summer
recess, the Bill reduces the amount of money that a third party (as
distinct from a political party) can spend on campaigning in the
year before an election from £988,500 to £390,000. It also broadens
the definition of campaigning activities to include staff time,
media appearances, leaflets, and blogs. Spend- ing per constituency
is limited to £9750.
The Government argues that this will "avoid the situation we see
in other countries, where unregulated spending by vested interests
means that it might not always be the best candidate who wins an
election, but the one with the richest supporters".
The chief executives of Oxfam, Christian Aid, and Tearfund are
among the 47 signatories to a letter from the National Council for
Voluntary Organisations to the Government which warns that the
rules "risk seriously hampering their ability to speak up on issues
of concern" (Leader, 30 August).
It explains that "entirely party-politically neutral" campaigns
could be defined as partisan, and thus would be limited by the
rules. Charities would also be discouraged from working together
for fear of breaching the spending limits, it suggests.
Last month, the General Secretary of the TUC, Frances O'Grady,
described the Bill as "a crude and politically partisan attack on
trade unions, particularly those that affiliate to the Labour
Party". It would "severely limit any organisation's ability to
criticise government policies in the run-up to an election".
In 2010, third parties spent a total of £2.8 million on
campaigning, about nine per cent of that spent by political
parties. None of the third parties spent more than 70 per cent of
the current limit (£988,500).
In a briefing for the debate in the House of Commons on Tuesday,
the Electoral Commission warned that the Bill "creates significant
regulatory uncertainty for large and small organisations that
campaign on, or even discuss, public-policy issues in the year
before the . . . General Election, and imposes significant new
burdens on such organisations".
During the debate, the Shadow Leader of the House, Angela Eagle,
described the Bill as "hurried, badly drafted, and an agglomeration
of the inadequate, the sinister, and the partisan".
The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, Tom Brake, insisted
that charities would still be able to support specific policies
advocated by political parties without having their expenditure
limited, provided that they were "maintaining their political
neutrality and independence".
The Bill also introduces a statutory register of lobbyists, who
will have to disclose the names of their clients, and strengthens
existing requirements for trade unions to keep accurate records of