Peers have voted in favour of an amendment to the lobbying Bill that would give greater freedom to charity campaigners in the run-up to a general election by excluding certain staff costs from spending limits.
During a debate in the House of Lords on Wednesday, Peers voted 236 to 193 in support of the change, which means that staff costs associated with organisations’ meetings, media events and transport are excluded from spending caps.
Previously, churches organising election hustings could have been caught by the Bill.
However, charities and campaigners argue that their ability to speak out ahead of elections on important issues will still be restricted under the Bill.
The amendment, tabled by the former Bishop of Oxford Lord Harries, was backed by a petition signed by more than 130 groups and over 165,000 people.
The House of Lords agreed to Government changes to the Bill which mean groups in England can now spend £20,000 – up from £10,000 – before needing to be registered with the Electoral Commission, and those in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are allowed to spend £10,000 – up from £5,000.
Another change increased the UK-wide pre-election overall spending cap in the Bill from £390,000 to £450,000.
But this means that spending limits during election time will be cut by 60 per cent, which is one of the several key problems charities say still remain.
They also say constituency spending limits are “unworkable”, and that coalition campaigning is still restricted.
Mark Goldring, Chief Executive of Oxfam – one of the groups which opposes the Bill – said the “strength of feeling” among Peers is clear, and the Government should accept Lord Harries’ amendment on staff costs when the Bill returns to the Commons.
“Ministers should [also] take the chance before the next debate to drop unworkable constituency limits and restrictions on coalition campaigns”, he added.
The Third Reading of the lobbying Bill in the House of Lords is to take place on Tuesday 21 January, before it returns to the House of Commons.