The chief executives of two major networks of voluntary organisations have welcomed the new report from the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement, 'Non-party campaigning ahead of elections'.
The report, published last week, reflects concerns that Part 2 of the Transparency in Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill would have a ‘chilling effect’ on non-party campaigning.
The Commission is intended to give voice to stakeholders not consulted ahead of the Bill’s publication and to inform the actions of UK Government and Parliamentarians in their deliberations about the legislation.
Sir Stephen Bubb, CEO of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO), welcomed the Commission’s first report, saying: “The report nails once and for all the government’s claim that the Lobbying Bill was fit for purpose. It clearly identifies the Bill’s weaknesses, and proposes constructive ways forward that I urge all Peers to consider when the Bill is debated again next week.
"With input from dozens of NGOs, politicians from all parties, and the Electoral Commission – to name but a few – it will be difficult for anyone to ignore.
"ACEVO calls for the government to enact the recommendations of the report. If they are determined to legislate before May 2014, they still have plenty of time to consult more widely and redraft the Bill,” he declared.
Meanwhile, Sir Stuart Etherington, CEO of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NVCO), said the report also reflected NCVO’s concerns.
He said: “The Commission’s report echoes the concerns we have voiced about this bill. Its combination of ambiguous wording and low thresholds for regulation remain potentially damaging for charities wanting to play their normal roles in public debate.
"We are asking the government to clarify the bill’s wording to ensure legitimate activity is not inadvertently caught in its scope.
"The proposed expenditure limits should also be revised, to protect small organisations in particular from having to deal with hugely burdensome bureaucratic reporting requirements.
"Some elements of the bill are simply unworkable in practice, such as asking organisations to account for staff time spent on controlled expenditure. Requiring all members of coalitions to account for the whole coalition’s expenditure is not reasonable – they should be asked to report only for their own contribution,” said Etherington.
Ekklesia is one of a wide range of NGOs supporting the work of the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement.
* Read the report and a summary here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/19330
* Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement: http://civilsocietycommission.info
* More on the Lobbying Bill from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/lobbyingbill