ACEVO’s Sir Stephen Bubb: Our persistence has won more concessions on Lobbying Bill – but now is no time to let up

Civil society campaigners this evening won significant changes in the House of Lords, at the report stage on the controversial Lobbying Bill.

Despite welcome government concessions last week, ACEVO warned that the bill still posed significant risks and stated that the remaining constituency limits and the requirement to monitor staff costs under the new regime meant that the Lobbying Bill was still bad.

In the House of Lords this evening that pressure told. The Lords voted against attempts to force campaigning organisations to subject staff costs to the proposed regime.

Commenting, ACEVO’s Chief Executive Sir Stephen Bubb welcomed this latest breakthrough, praised the work of the Harries Commission on Civil Society, but emphasised the significant risks the Bill still contains.

He said: “This latest breakthrough for Lord Harries and the Commission on Civil Society is very encouraging. It emphasises how right ACEVO was to help set up this coalition of more than a hundred civil society organisations. It was the right thing to stand together and insist the bill still posed significant risk even after the Government’s welcome amendments last week.

“But let’s not get carried away yet – we welcome the movements that have been made but we still want the Government to move on subjecting civil society organisations to limits on their local, constituency-based campaigns. This provision still has the potential to silence the crucial voice of civil society.

We will continue to argue the case for our members and not be complacent. We have done well to get this far. Let’s keep up the pressure.”

ENDS

FOR FURTHER COMMENT PLEASE CONTACT faye.rimdap@acevo.org.uk or 0207 014 4616/07825 894 716

Notes to editors:

1. Acevo is the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations – the charity leaders’ network. Representing over 1,500 leaders of the UK’s largest and best-known charities and social enterprises, it supports, advocates for and carries out research on behalf of the UK’s voluntary sector.

2. The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill was introduced to Parliament by Andrew Lansley MP on 17 July, without any proper pre-legislative scrutiny.

3. Acevo has consistently argued that the Bill must be fundamentally redrafted, for example in an op-ed for the Times in early September: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/columnists/article3858854.ece

4. Last week Acevo cautiously welcomed the government’s concessions over thresholds for registration with the Electoral Commission, but warned that much more needed to be changed to stop the Bill gagging Civil Society and that significant risk still remained. See our articles in the Guardian and Spectator this week: 

5. Acevo played a leading role in setting up the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement in September ), chaired by Lord Harries of Pentregarth (former Bishop of Oxford). Acevo’s Chair of Trustees, Lesley-Anne Alexander CBE is also a Commissioner. The Commission has played a critical role in negotiating with government on the Bill.

6. At Report Stage of the Bill in the Lords on 15 January 2014 Government was defeated 237 to 194 votes on an amendment proposed by Lord Harries and his supporters. This changes the Bill to remove a number of staff costs for voluntary organisations from the Bill’s draconian regime of regulation.

7. The Government’s Report Stage Amendment 133 means that regulation of non-party campaigners before the 2015 General Election will start on 19 September rather than 23 May. This nearly 5-month delay in Part 2 of the Bill coming into force gives the government more leeway in which to pause and properly rewrite this Bill.

8. The latest amendment on staff costs lessens one of the many threats contained in Part 2 of the Bill. Lord Harries also won amendments to guarantee a review of the Bill in 2015, exclude from regulation the costs of Welsh translation and disabled access, and a small concession on the Bill’s impact on campaigning coalitions.

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