03/09/2013 17:52 BST | Updated 03/09/2013 17:57 BST

Lobbying Bill Passes First Parliamentary Hurdle

The coalition's lobbying reforms cleared their first parliamentary hurdle on Tuesday despite criticism that they could hit charities and think-tanks. The legislation was given its second reading in the Commons, by 309 votes to 247.

But the comfortable margin masked significant opposition across parties, with Leader of the House Andrew Lansley forced to deny the measures were a "dog's breakfast" and hint at concessions later in the process.

The Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill would set a £390,000 cap on the amount any organisation - excluding political parties - could spend across the UK during elections.

A statutory register of lobbyists would also be introduced to identify whose interests were being represented by consultant lobbyists and those who were paid to lobby on behalf of a third party.

The Bill was published in July following allegations about the influence of lobbyists on government decision-making as well as the involvement of peers and MPs with lobbying groups.

The Government has encountered fierce resistance from bodies including the Electoral Commission, which warned of "significant issues of workability".

Oxfam, the Royal British Legion, and the Salvation Army among others have complained that the legislation is so complex and unclear that it is likely to be "impossible" to follow.

andrew lansley

Lansley defended the Bill despite significant opposition

The TUC has claimed it could be prevented from holding an annual conference, while websites such as ConservativeHome.com have expressed alarm that they could also be caught up in the rules.

Concerns have been raised that the register will catch only a tiny proportion of those paid to seek to influence Government policy by excluding those for whom it is not their main business.

During a stormy debate on Tuesday evening, Tories including former Cabinet minister Cheryl Gillan, Tracey Crouch, Douglas Carswell, Angie Bray and Monmouth MP David Davis voiced strong reservations.

Shadow leader of the House Angela Eagle said the Bill would make lobbying less transparent while placing a "sinister gag" on charities and campaigners.

"It's a Bill the Government should be ashamed of," she said. "It's incompetent, it's rushed, it's developed in a high level meeting between the Prime Minister and his deputy but with no other consultation. It's a cheap and partisan misuse of the legislative process for their own ends."

Lansley insisted the legislation was "perfectly rational" and charities and other voluntary organisations need not be "alarmed".

He said the Government would amend the Bill if there was any chance it could prevent MPs going about their usual work.

"Let me give this assurance - we are very clear that we are in no sense seeking to change the boundary between campaigning on policies and issues which charities do and third parties do to a substantial extent," he said.

"Charities, think-tanks, NGOs (non-governmental organisations) should not be alarmed that this in any sense impacts on their ability to campaign on policy issues."

A Labour wrecking amendment was easily seen off, before the Government secured a majority of 62 in the second reading vote.

There had been suggestions of a more significant rebellion on the programme motion - a timetabling device that prevents legislation being talked out by opponents.

In the event, that was also passed by a margin of 300 to 249, with only a handful of Conservatives voting against.