I wrote before about how the problem with the Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill is that it seeks to regulate too little lobbying and too much campaigning.
Good news, then, that at the end of the week the government let it be known that it will support changes to the Bill which do just that – make it cover more lobbying and less campaigning. Neither set of changes make the Bill perfect,* but they do make it an awful lot better.
On lobbying, the definition is being expanded so that the sort of concerns I wrote about whereby a lobbying team in a larger communications consultancy would be left out are now being fixed. There is still quite a lot of argument to go (especially in the Lords) over the extent of the lobbying definitions. Expect there to be some fierce battles within government between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats over whether or not meetings such as those with Special Advisors count as “lobbying” for the purpose of the legislation.
On third-party campaigning, the key change is simple but big. The previous problem with the Bill was that the range of campaigning it set out to control was too loosely defined, straying too far from activities directly related to trying to increase or decrease the number of votes received by a candidate or party. Now the Bill will be changed to go back to using the well-established definitions from the 2000 legislation as to what counts as that sort of activity.
Those definitions have worked pretty well for the past 13 years, and have the advantage of accumulated guidance and rulings to help interpret them. They are also the definitions that organisations are used to working with – and the uncertainty generated by new definitions was one of the big concerns expressed by the NCVO, Electoral Commission and others.
As the BBC reports:
Sir Stuart Etherington, the chief executive of NCVO, said he was pleased the government had listened and “significantly met” the concerns of charities and community groups.
* “Perfect” = “what I would have written”. Your definition of perfection may vary…