Earlier this week, the controversial Lobbying Bill passed through the House of Lords and is now on its way to becoming law. Critics have said the Bill has been forced through with little time or opportunity for consultation and scrutiny. Political reform Group Unlock Democracy have declared the outcome a ‘huge blow for democracy’, insisting the resulting Lobbying Bill allows professional lobbyists ‘free reign’ whilst stifling public opinion, campaigning groups and free speech in the run-up to an election.
Amendments to the Bill were proposed by Lord Harries of Pentregarth and while one was narrowly rejected by Peers, a second was tied, revealing a serious lack of confidence in the Bill. Lord Harries responded by saying:-
“I am deeply disappointed that the Government did not accept the amendments put forward on behalf of the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement.
In trying to ward off a hypothetical abuse of the electoral system they are inflicting unnecessary and unenforceable regulation on campaigning groups, who now play such a key role in keeping our democracy alive.
The fact that the vote on background staff costs was tied indicates how unconvinced members of the House of Lords were by the Governments arguments, and this should be born in mind by the government as they reflect on the future of this poor legislation.”
The campaign to amend the lobbying bill unified over 160 diverse campaign groups from across the country, including GCVS. As a result of the widespread opposition and campaigning efforts the Government was forced to make some concessions:-
- A higher registration threshold for non-party organisations thus protecting smaller campaign groups from bureaucracy.
- Cuts to election spending in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have been significantly scaled back from the original proposals.
SCVO, has provided a useful summary of what the passage of the Bill will mean, but described it as “mess beyond amendment” and a “legislative shambles”.
Sources:- The Guardian