Thursday, 5 September 2013

Lobbying Bill… Again

This morning Graham Allen MP, Chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, published one of the most damning Parliamentary criticisms of the Lobbying Bill yet. This cross-partisan work shows how MPs on all sides - those who understand civil society and the difference between public benefit campaigning and corporate lobbying - deplore the manner and content of the Bill. They are backed by evidence from charities and other stakeholders, plus the Electoral Commission who would have to enforce the Bill.

And I wrote to Graham straight away. ACEVO is grateful to the Committee for their sterling work produced in so short a time. The story's been picked up by Civil Society here and Third Sector here

Amid all the excitement though, don't forget the message in my blog yesterday. Concessions to Civil Society in the Bill aren't enough. We need proper, considered legislation across the board on lobbying as well as election campaigns. We mustn't let the clamour about freedom of speech, as important as it is, drown out the original reason for the Bill. This debate has a while left to run!

Here's the full text of the letter:

Graham Allen MP
Chair, Political and Constitutional Reform Committee
House of Commons

Dear Graham,

I write on behalf of charity leaders across the UK, to support your Committee's report on the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, published this morning. The report strongly concurs with the response across Civil Society to the Bill, which is widely regarded as deeply flawed and potentially harmful to the historic right of charities to campaign for public benefit.

ACEVO particularly supports the following arguments:

That Part 2 of the Bill, on non-party campaigning, and particularly the definition of spending “for electoral purposes” is confusing.

That Part 2 of the Bill allows excessive discretion to the Electoral Commission in rulings about third-party campaigning. We were pleased to see that the Commission put forward this view in evidence presented to your Committee.

That the Government has not provided a satisfactory account of the basis on which the new levels for registration and third-party expenditure limits have been set.

That the Government should temporarily withdraw the Bill, and carry out proper pre-legislative scrutiny to produce a new version within six months. We agree that the Bill misses a long-overdue opportunity to increase the public's confidence in Parliamentary lobbying.

Further to your report, we hope that ACEVO will be able to assist your Committee to properly take evidence from civil society about the appropriate form of regulation at elections.

Unlike some contributors to the debate, we do not accept that there is a 'problem' with charity campaigning during election periods. It is party political spending, and private sector-funded lobbying, that shakes the public's faith in politics. The YouGov poll on this topic that ACEVO released on Tuesday, quoted in my Times comment article on Tuesday 3 September, supports our argument that charities are in fact highly trusted by the public. As the debate on the Bill continues, we hope you will support our stance. Charities must not be punished for damage to public trust caused by politicians and private companies.

I look forward to taking part in the debate, and wish your Committee luck in holding the Government to account.

Yours sincerely,

Sir Stephen Bubb

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