A charity director has urged the Government to listen to serious concerns from over 100 campaign groups about the controversial lobbying Bill, which introduces “draconian restrictions” on their activities before a general election.
The Bill is based on flawed electoral legislation from 2000 which is “hard to enforce”, and fails to set out “clear definitions of which activities would be controlled”, the Director of Political Affairs at the Countryside Alliance James Legge has said.
Writing for Conservative Home, Mr Legge said: “The Bill needs to be clear enough so that Conservative Home, local hospital campaigns, or the Countryside Alliance don’t need to spend a fortune on lawyers to be told ‘we’re not sure – the law isn’t clear'”.
Part two of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill introduces new rules to control how non-party organisations speak out on issues in the 365 days before a general election.
On Tuesday a group of faith leaders gathered outside Parliament to campaign against the Bill – they argue it could restrict their campaigning work.
“This Bill really matters. Limiting the ability of churches, charities and campaigning groups to speak up for people living in poverty cuts out the voices of those we need to hear the most before elections: the poorest and most marginalised in society”, said Mark Lister, the Chief Executive of Roman Catholic charity Progressio.
The Government decided to pause part of the lobbying Bill for six weeks, in order to listen to the concerns of charities and campaign groups who say their campaigning work could be restricted under the legislation.
A commission backed by 100 groups has published its second report this week highlighting flaws within the Bill, including problems with electoral law from 2000 on which it is based.
The report also proposes a full and evidence-based review of non-party campaigning legislation after the 2015 general election.
“Ministers must either withdraw Part Two of the Bill and come forward with fresh legislation based on evidence and proper consultation; or must be prepared to radically overhaul the Bill in line with the recommendations in this report”, the former Bishop of Oxford Lord Harries said in his foreword to the report.
He also said the pause for six weeks was not enough time to sort out problems with the Bill.
The lobbying Bill will be debated in the House of Lords at committee stage on 16 and 18 December.