The hon. Lady makes another good point. We have to see what the size and value is as well as the fact that there have been meetings.
Part 2 covers third-party campaigning in the run-up to an election. All hon. Members will remember how the Prime Minister used to evangelise about the big society, but in one of the most sinister bits of legislation that I have seen in some time, this Bill twists the rules on third-party campaigning to scare charities and campaigners away from speaking out. It is an assault on the big society that the Prime Minister once claimed to revere. I say this because part 2 broadens significantly what activities will be caught by the phrase “election campaign”. That is set out in detail in new schedule 8A to the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.
Part 2 creates in clause 26 a new and extremely wide definition of “electoral purposes”. It is clear that these changes will have wide-ranging implications for many hundreds of charities and campaigners local and national, large and small. Some of them have told us that they will have to pull back from almost all engagement in debates on public policy in the year before the election. These changes have created massive uncertainty for those who may fall within the regulations in a way that the Electoral Commission has deplored. The changes will mean that third-party campaigning will be restricted even if it was not intended to affect the outcome of an election—for example, engaging in public policy debate. Staff costs and overheads will also have to be included in what has to be declared—something that does not apply in this way to political parties. The Electoral Commission has said that these changes could have a “dampening effect” on public debate. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations has said that the changes will
“have the result of muting charities and groups of all sorts and sizes on the issues that matter most to them and the people that they support.”
38 Degrees has said that the changes will
“have a chilling effect on British democracy”.