Lobbying red tape could choke charity efforts
The Law Society of Scotland is deeply concerned that the lobbying Bill currently progressing through the UK Parliament will increase the regulatory burden on charities and deter them from engaging in public policy debate and discussion.
The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill proposes to regulate the expenditure of third party organisations, such as charities, up to 12 months before an election.
Recent amendments to the Bill mean that the definition of "controlled expenditure" has been substantially broadened. Previously, the Bill sought to regulate expenditure on "election materials". The Bill now seeks to regulate expenditure on a far greater number of activities; for example, market research undertaken by charities or the publication of materials which are made available to the public at large will all now be covered by the new definition. These activities were not previously regulated.
Furthermore, the Bill proposes to reduce the amount charities can spend as part of its "controlled expenditure". In Scotland, the limits will be reduced from £5,000 to £2,000 and in England they will be reduced from £10,000 to £5,000. Beyond that amount, charities will have to register with the Electoral Commission.
Michael Clancy, Director of Law Reform at the Law Society of Scotland, said:
"We are deeply concerned that the lobbying Bill could deter charities from engaging in public policy debate and discussion.
"The Bill will significantly increase the regulatory burden on charities. Recent amendments to the Bill mean that a whole range of activities undertaken by charities will now require notification to the Electoral Commission.
"The government needs to strike the right balance between regulation and freedom of speech. We are concerned that the correct balance has not been struck.
"Charities play an absolutely vital role in UK civic society. We are concerned that the Bill could limit their ability to engage in public life. We would urge the government to rethink the current proposals.
"The Bill will shortly receive its second reading in the House of Lords. We hope that Peers will have time to properly consider these issues."
ENDS 21 OCTOBER 2013
Notes to editors
The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill will receive its second reading in the House of Lords on 22 October 2013.
The Law Society of Scotland's briefing to Scottish Peers can be viewed here.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION: Journalists can contact Julia Brown on 0131 476 8204 or Val McEwan on 0131 226 8884. For the out of hours service please call 0131 226 7411.
21 October 2013