A new lobbying Bill which sets strict limits on campaigning during UK elections is “seriously flawed”, according to a group of MPs examining the legislation.
The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee said the lobbying Bill had been “unnecessarily rushed” and was introduced without “adequate consultation”.
The Bill has caused concern that free speech could be stifled, and that Christians could be unable to engage in the democratic process as they have in the past.
It has been criticised by The Royal British Legion, Countryside Alliance and the Salvation Army.
Speaking during the second reading of the Bill, Tory MP Tracey Crouch said she recognised the concerns of many charities and voluntary organisations about the legislation.
She asked Andrew Lansley, leader of the House of Commons, how the Bill will not “gag them” but allow them to “continue their excellent work of informing MPs as a healthy part of the democratic process”.
And fellow Tory MP Douglas Carswell said he finds it “absurd” that the legislation does not actually tackle “the problem of lobbying”.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, he said: “The Bill specifically ensures that the campaign efforts of non-party players must be subsumed into the campaigns being run by established parties.”
He added: “In so doing, this Bill enshrines in law the idea that politics is properly the preserve of parties. It is an appalling notion.”
The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill sets a cap on the amount any organisation – excluding political parties – can spend in the year preceding elections.
If a group is campaigning throughout the UK, this works out at around £600 per constituency, including staff-time.
The legislation would give sweeping new powers to the Electoral Commission.
But the Commission, which regulates elections, said it has major doubts over the Bill’s “workability”.
The National Council for Voluntary Organisations says the Bill would catch legitimate campaign groups.
A Cabinet Office spokesman said the Bill would boost public confidence in politics and said the Committee’s findings would be responded to “in due course”.
MPs voted in favour of the Bill at second reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday, by 309 votes to 247. It will be debated by the whole House next week.