Children's charities unimpressed by lobbying bill changes

By Barbara Speed

| 13 January 2014

Government concessions that water down proposed new restrictions on charities' campaigning work do not go far enough, children's voluntary sector figures have said.

Despite amendments proposed by the government, campaigners believe the lobbying bill could curtail children's charities work.

Amendments announced to the Transparency and Lobbying Bill, announced last week, will increase the proposed maximum annual amount charities can spend on campaigning from £390,000 to £450,000.

The threshold for charities to register with the Electoral Commission will also be raised, from a proposed £5,000 on annual campaign spending, to £20,000, meaning many smaller charities will be exempt.

In a further concession, the annual spending limits will be applied over seven and a half months prior to the next general election on 8 May 2015, rather than 12 - taking effect on 19 September, the day after the Scottish independence referendum - giving charities more time to adjust spending plans.

The bill’s parliamentary progress was paused for five weeks in November following campaigns from a range of charities against the proposals. The Commission on Civil Society worked with a group of charities, including Children England, to oppose the original bill.

Despite the concessions, the bill will still cut the maximum annual campaigning spend by charities by almost half from the £988,500 cap.  

Nick Davies, policy manager at Children England, said: “The fact that they’ve made amendments is an excellent example of what can happen when charities from across the sector come together.”

However, while the amendments are “positive improvements”, he believes the bill still represents an “unacceptable” constraint on the ability of charities to campaign and stand up for children and young people.

James Cathcart, chief executive at the British Youth Council, is concerned that the bill will still inhibit young people’s ability to campaign freely.

“An essential part of our democratic society, and its appeal to young voters, is that we are not burdened with red tape or discouraged from full participation in debates,” he added.

The Directory of Social Change has stated that the amendments “do not go far enough” and is petitioning the Lords to exempt charities entirely from the bill, as they see “little to no evidence” that further regulation of charities is needed.  

The bill and amendments will be debated by peers in the House of Lords on 15 January.

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