Lord Norton, Professor of Government in the Department of Politics and International Studies, thinks that this bill will not “correct the mischief that has motivated its introduction”.
Baroness Ann Mallalieu, a member of the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement, criticised the bill on Radio 4 this morning, following the publication of the Commission’s report, ‘Non-Party Campaigning Ahead of Elections’, which was launched at the UK Parliament today.
Ekklesia, one of the Commission’s members, reports that in his foreword the Commission’s chair Lord Harries warns: “There is no doubt, from the evidence that this Commission has gathered, that … the Bill risks profoundly undermining the very fabric of our democracy by significantly limiting the right of organisations – from charities and community groups to think tanks and blog sites – to speak out on some of the most important issues facing this country and the planet”.
Badly drafted legislation
In the Hansard report of the Lords’ debate, Ann Mallalieu (Queen’s Counsel) asks: “How could a Government, any Government, make such a hash of an issue on which we are almost entirely united—that of transparency at election time?
“It could serve a professor of politics very well as an example to his students of how not to legislate. It contains just about every error that a Government could make . . . (It is) so badly drafted that a specialist lawyer giving evidence to us told us that she could not conceive that it had ever been seen by a parliamentary draftsman . . .
Undermining the very fabric of our democracy
“(U)ndue haste has produced a quite dreadful piece of legislation which has managed not only to divide the political parties but has united charities and organisations of every kind against it. How do you manage to alienate the Women’s Institute, Mumsnet, the National Trust, Greenpeace, the British Legion, the Countryside Alliance, the nurses, the RSPB and so on against you so that they combine together? You could not do it if you tried, but this coalition has managed it”. Ann Mallalieu noted that charities and organisations would face:
- a massive increase in the regulatory burden
- an increase in the number of those to whom it applies.
- criminal sanctions
Andrew Lansley MP, Leader of the House of Commons and the Minister leading the Bill, declined to give evidence to the Commission. Tom Brake MP, the LD Deputy Leader of the House of Commons who had agreed to give evidence was subsequently withdrawn by Andrew Lansley.
Lord Norton of Louth stressed the cross-party consensus in the Hansard debate:
“None of us wants money to be able to buy votes . . . We agree that there should be clear limits on spending and the public should be told who spends what . . . as Lady Jay said, there is general acceptance that there should be more transparency in lobbying”. He continued:
“This Bill, though, is too narrowly drawn to correct the mischief that has motivated its introduction.
“The Bill . . . excludes small-scale commercial lobbyists, those for whom lobbying is not the principal purpose of their business and in-house lobbyists. Some companies have sizable lobbying teams. One suspects that their activities may at times be as much a concern to the public as are the activities of dedicated lobbying firms.
A good question
“Will the Minister tell us why the Government differentiate between lobbying of Ministers on, say, the duty on cigarettes by in-house lobbyists of tobacco companies and lobbying by commercial lobbyists bought in by tobacco companies for the purpose of lobbying Ministers? From the perspective of the exercise of lobbying, and how it is perceived by the public, what is the salient distinction?”
Simon Barrow of Ekklesia summarised: “In terms of calling powerful corporate lobbyists to account, it is too weak. But in Parts 2 and 3 it institutes limits on the freedom of expression of charities, civil society organisations, think-tanks, advocacy groups and trades unions that effectively amount to a gagging order against many non-party commentators at election times”.