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What’s wrong with the Government’s Lobbying Bill?

Posted by Nick Bryer Head of UK Policy, Programmes and Campaigns

3rd Sep 2013

The Houses of Parliament

UPDATE: 5 September 2013

Despite opposition from the Electoral Commission, charities, thinktanks, unions and others, the Bill was narrowly voted through in Parliament on Tuesday, meaning that it will now progress to the following stage in the process next week. 

The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee in Parliament have now released their report into this Bill. In the report that state that they "do not believe that the Government has clearly communicated the need for Part 2 of the Bill, or has provided a satisfactory account of the basis on which the new levels for registration and expenditure by third parties have been set. The definition of spending 'for electoral purposes', in particular, is confusing".

Oxfam agrees fully with this statement, as well as their recommendation that the Bill should be delayed for six months to allow for better consultation and improvements. If you feel the same, contact your MP.

ORIGINAL BLOG: 3 September 2013

What's happening?

You might have heard about a "lobbying bill" going through Parliament at the moment. In full, it's called The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill. Oxfam, along with a huge number of diverse groups and organisations such as the Royal British Legion, Greenpeace, Diabetes UK and Citizens Advice, is very concerned about a part of this bill that looks at charity campaigning. 

What's the problem?

In its current form, the Bill threatens to stifle legitimate public debate and non-party political campaigning on policies that affect people's lives. This is because the Bill includes a very wide definition of campaigning for "electoral purposes". 

With the Bill in its current state, even though our campaigning is never party political, it's likely charitable organisations' work would get categorised as such. This would mean very strict restrictions on what we can do and say for the twelve months before a general election, drastically reducing charities' ability to speak out on the issues we work on. 

Who else is concerned?

The Electoral Commission, whose job it would be to implement the new rules, has serious concerns that the Bill creates "significant regulatory uncertainty" and could "be impossible to enforce". The legal advice that the National Council for Voluntary Organisations has received states that the "uncertainty about what the law requires is likely to have a chilling effect on freedom of expression." 

What needs to be done?

Ministers should amend and clarify the Bill to ensure that charities, NGOs and local groups will not be at risk of being criminalised for speaking up for the poorest people at home and abroad in the twelve months before an election. 

What can you do?

We are asking people to get in touch with their MP - whether by email, phone or in person - to ask them to oppose the Bill in its current form and contact the relevant ministers (Chloe Smith and Andrew Lansley) to express their concerns about the impacts of the Bill. Thank you.

Blog post written by Nick Bryer

Head of UK Policy, Programmes and Campaigns

More by Nick Bryer

Nick Bryer