A “rushed” lobbying Bill which hasn’t been properly scrutinised could restrict freedom to speak out about politics, members of the House of Lords have warned.
The lobbying Bill enters the Lords next week, and critics have already warned that legitimate campaigning activities could be restricted by the legislation.
In a report on the Bill, Peers said the Government’s handling so far was “a matter of significant concern”.
Baroness Jay of Paddington, the chairman of the House of Lords Constitution Committee, said: “We are critical of the hurried way in which this legislation has proceeded, which has resulted in a lack of consultation.”
She also noted concerns about “restrictions on the right to freedom of political expression” resulting from part of the Bill which sets strict limits on campaigning around General Elections.
“Bills of constitutional importance such as this should not be rushed through Parliament”, she remarked.
The Government say it addressed some of the concerns when the Bill went through the House of Commons, but critics say the changes did not go far enough.
The Electoral Commission, which will have to enforce the new rules, has said that a key Government amendment “does not materially reduce the scope of what is covered by the Bill”.
Several faith groups raised fears that the Bill could have “unintended consequences”, in an open letter to David Cameron and Nick Clegg.
The letter, signed by the Evangelical Alliance, World Jewish Relief, the Muslim Council of Britain and others, warned that the Bill will “curtail” legitimate campaigns.
Christian leaders from The Christian Institute, CARE and other groups recently warned that Church hustings could be regulated out of existence under the proposals.
They wrote a letter to the leader of the House of Commons Andrew Lansley saying that such gatherings naturally focus on particular issues of concern to Christians and may exclude candidates from certain parties, like the BNP.
But Mr Lansley responded by claiming the rules will not be changed.