LOBBYING BILL PART 2: SIZING UP THE GOVERNMENT AMENDMENTS

The planned amendments for Part 2 of the Lobbying Bill have now been revealed. Some significant concessions have been made which are a credit to the concerted campaigning on this issue. However there remain big problems with the Lobbying Bill which still represents a threat to democracy and will mean the stifling of political expression.

The proposed amendments are as follows:

Raised registration thresholds - the original Lobbying Bill had suggested lowering the current spending thresholds for registration with the Electoral Commission. It is now suggested that they are raised to £20,000 in England and £10,000 in the rest of the UK.

Reduced regulatory period - this was set at 12 months before the election in PPERA and recommended it be reduced to 6 months prior to the 2015 date. It is suggested that it will now be reduced to 7.5 months.

Coalition campaigning - the government has made some small changes to lessen the bureaucratic burden on low spending organisations campaigning with other groups.

Spending limits - the limits on spending for non-party campaigners were cut by 60-70% in the original proposals. This has been revised up by £20,000 for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Review of the Bill - a new body will be set up before then next general election to gather evidence as part of the review of the bill.

Excluded costs - Welsh translation costs, safety and security costs, and disability access costs are to be exempt from regulation by the bill.

What does this mean for Unlock Democracy and Civil Society?

These are positive amendments to the Lobbying Bill which ministers made clear came as the direct result of the campaign work which Unlock Democracy has been working on with a huge range of other organisations. We must thank our supporters for their continued support which has helped us make this impact. These initial successes must serve as motivation for the continued work which is needed to change the remaining areas for concern in the bill.

Is this good enough?

In short NO.

The Civil Society Commission note that given the restrictions involved in the Lobbying Bill its definition of non-party campaigning ‘is both ambiguous in meaning and makes too many campaigning activities subject to regulation’. The definition can still catch groups which do not mention a party or candidate or who have a prior primary purpose of raising policy issues and  has not been amended. The definition of supporters is also out-dated, relating only to financial supporters.

While political parties do not have not to account for staff costs, non-party organisations are denied parity in this area and have to do so. The Lobbying Bill widens the range of NGOs’ activities which will be regulated and limited.

The constituency spending limits of £9750 are so low that they are unworkable and unenforceable. Overall the 60% slash in non-party spending in England is extremely low; it is not proportionate in its impact and nor evidence based in its motivation.

The government has started to listen but the original concerns remain; the Lobbying Bill will have a disproportionate impact on the work of small campaigning organisations. In short a detrimental impact on British democracy that we cannot afford.. There is still considerable work left to do.

 

written by Mitya Pearson