Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Lobbying: The Times!

As the debate starts today on the Bill its good to see how opinion is developing against this bad piece of legislation. Countless charities have highlighted its chilling effects, as have the electoral commission in their briefing here  It is crucial to us that we overturn what one paper described as the "charity gagging clauses".

A good Editorial in the Guardian and I contributed an opinion piece in "The Thunderer" in today's Times: "This Bill Rewards Rich Lobbyists and Penalises Charities". 

For those who don't read The Times I thought I'd reproduce the piece here:

"The Lobbying Bill in Parliament today was meant to restore trust in politics, but it has achieved the unlikely feat of bringing together corporate lobbyists and charities in loud condemnation. Astonishingly, it makes lobbying even less transparent and clamps down on charities’ ability to campaign. The Bill must be rewritten to acknowledge that “big money”, not charity campaigning, dents the public’s trust in politics.

In 2010 political parties spent £31 million on their campaigns before the general election. Charities and civil society spent a mere £3 million. Yet a reader of today’s Bill would be forgiven for assuming that charities spend more during elections than political parties, since the Bill makes no attempt to regulate private donations to party coffers, or company lobbying.

A YouGov poll released today for ACEVO, the charity leaders’ association, shows that trust in charities is high. A mere 8 per cent of the public trusted private lobbyists to influence policy for public good, compared with 49 per cent trusting charities. Only 19 per cent thought charities had significant influence, while 63 per cent thought private lobbyists did. The Lobbying Bill will worsen this situation.

The Bill flies in the face of public opinion by halving the amount that charities can spend campaigning in election years. More insidiously, the Bill regulates not just campaigns that intend to help a political party but also those that could affect its chances, whatever they aimed to do.

If Cancer Research UK complained before the general election about the Government dropping plain cigarette packaging, they might be punished for unwittingly helping the Opposition. But if tobacco companies privately lobbied for policies that increased their profits, under this Bill the public would not even be told.

I applaud the Government’s intention to keep “big, opaque and unaccountable money” out of politics, as the MP Tom Brake stated last week. Curbing charity campaigning, though, will have the opposite, absurd effect. It will silence the voices of charities such as Scope and Barnado’s, which speak for society’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable people. It will also reduce the quality of our laws. Charities must work for public benefit, not private profit, and be non-party-political. They speak from the experience of their members and supporters.

It is clear that today’s Lobbying Bill must be redrafted. Passing it in its current form will punish charities for the problems caused by private business lobbying. That is certainly not for the public good."

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