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Yesterday the Lobbying Bill passed its Second Reading in the House of Commons. I know that many of my constituents were worried about the consequences of this Bill and the potential to ‘gag’ charitable organisations on certain issues.

However, after listening to the Leader of the House of Commons, Andrew Lansley speak about the Government’s plans in the Chamber yesterday I am confident that these concerns are unfounded.

The quotations below from Andrew Lansley's speech provide strong reassurance.

“The Government’s clear view is that nothing in the Bill should change the basic way in which third parties campaign and register with the Electoral Commission. Currently, third parties register if they are campaigning to promote the electoral success, or otherwise enhance the standing, of a party or candidates. That will stay the same, so the argument made by the campaign group 38 Degrees that the changes stop campaigning on policy areas is not correct. The requirement to register applies only if the spending is for electoral purposes.”

“Overwhelmingly, campaigning by third parties in an election period is not done for electoral purposes; it is done in order to convey their views about policies and issues. That is perfectly legitimate, it is outwith the definition of “for electoral purposes” and it will not therefore be constrained.”

“Charities will still be able to give support to specific policies that might also be advocated by political parties if it helps to achieve their charitable purposes. The Bill does not seek to regulate charities that simply engage with the policy of a political party. It does not prevent charities from having a view on any aspect of the policy of a party and it does not inhibit charities attempting to influence the policy of a party. Such activity would be captured only if it was carried out in such a way that it could be seen also to promote the election of a political party or candidate or otherwise to enhance their standing at an election. The situation is the same as under the current legislation and remains unchanged by this Bill. That is a key point to allay charities’ concerns.”

“Let me reiterate that I am not looking for a substantive change in the test of what is expenditure for electoral purposes, but we are looking for a change, advocated to us by the Electoral Commission, in what constitutes controlled expenditure so that it is not just about election materials but includes activities such as advertising and election rallies.”

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