As published in Press Association Media Lawyer:
Government Fights off Rebellion
Seventeen coalition MPs rebelled against the Government’s controversial plans to limit spending by charities and campaign groups in the run up to an election.
The rebels – 10 Liberal Democrat MPs and seven Tories – last night defied the Government and voted in favour of changing its controversial Lobbying Bill, which will limit spending by charities and other campaign groups ahead of an election.
Peers in the House of Lords had changed the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill so that staff costs would not be included in the spending limit charities will now face to stop them influencing elections.
But the Government last night overturned the changes by 310 votes to 278, albeit with a substantially reduced majority of 32.
The Tory MPs who rebelled against the Government were: David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden ); Philip Davies (Shipley); Zac Goldsmith ( Richmond Park ); Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West); Anne Main ( St Albans ); David Nuttall (Bury North) and Chris White ( Warwick and Leamington).
The Liberal Democrats who voted against the Government were: Mike Crockart (Edinburgh West); Andrew George (St Ives); Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay ); Martin Horwood ( Cheltenham ); Julian Huppert ( Cambridge ); Greg Mulholland ( Leeds North West) Alan Reid ( Argyll and Bute ); Adrian Sanders ( Torbay ), Mark Williams (Ceredigion) and Roger Williams ( Brecon and Radnorshire).
Independent MP Mike Hancock (Portsmouth South), who currently does not hold the Lib Dem whip, also voted against the Government.
In a separate vote, the Government also won support to overturn Lords’ amendments which mean spending limits in the Bill would only apply to the handing out of leaflets or phoning electors in a constituency. But its majority was slashed again, this time to 40 as MPs passed a motion to reverse the Lords’ amendment by 314 to 274.
Peers will now have to consider the Bill again as it enters a game of Parliamentary “ping pong”. Until both the Commons and Lords agree on a draft, it cannot be sent to the Queen for Royal Assent and become law.
In an earlier vote, five Tory MPs rebelled against the contentious lobbying reforms as they will continue to allow lobbyists to meet ministers’ special advisers unchecked.
Under the plans, lobbyists will only have to register meetings with ministers or permanent secretaries. But under changes put forward by peers in the House of Lords , the regulations would have also been extended to special advisers.
Last night’s rebellions came after the House of Lords inflicted three defeats on the legislation when they debated it in the House of Lords .
Intense campaigning by charities and other groups had already forced ministers to “pause” for six weeks and accept a raft of significant concessions.
Peers then voted to simplify election period spending restrictions which charities said were unworkable and to include the lobbying of special advisers in new regulations.
Ministers’ plans to cut the amount charities in England can spend on campaigning during the “regulated” period leading up to a general election before they have to register with the Electoral Commission from £10,000 to £5,000 were scrapped in favour of a £20,000 cap.
For charities in Scotland , Wales and Northern Ireland , the threshold will rise from the current limit of £5,000 to £10,000, rather than cut to £2,000.
They have also conceded that for the next general election in May 2015 , the regulated period for third parties – which would normally be 12 months – will start on September 19 2014, the day after the Scottish referendum.
In a further concession last night, Deputy Commons Leader Tom Brake moved an amendment which would mean lobbyists would have to register any meetings with special advisers, just as they would with ministers.