Lobbying Bill a dangerous threat to freedom of speech

Like most of civil society I remain deeply concerned about the Lobbying Bill currently before parliament which will severely restrict the rights of charities to campaign particularly in the year running up to an election. Blenheim and I have and will continue to put our voices behind the campaign to stop this dangerous threat to civil liberty and freedom of speech.

My view is that the Governments proposed amendments will result in the curbing freedom of speech around elections.  This is an outrageous Bill in its current form and to quote as JF Kennedy often did The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

The Bill greatly increases bureaucracy for civil society groups in the year before an election, by halving the spending thresholds above which organisations have to register with the Electoral Commission. It also drastically restricts civil society’s spending on public campaigns in election years.

The public wants legislation that makes politics and corporate lobbying more transparent. Instead this Bill makes almost no change to lobbying rules while punishing civil society for a loss of trust in politics that is not its fault. The failure to allow charities such as Blenheim adequate time to consider amendments before they are debated in the Commons reflects a disregard for the people of this nation who care the most. This rushed timeframe is an object lesson in poor law-making.

Broadly my view is reflected in the response to the recent amendments to the Lobbying Bill from Sir Stuart Etherington, CEO of NCVO.  “The proposed amendments do not go far enough.  The assurances given by ministers on the floor of the house to ensure that charities will still be able to support specific policies that might also be advocated by political parties have not been met.”

Legal advice provided to NCVO indicates that the proposed amendments put forward by the government will mean that much campaigning activity by charities and other voluntary groups will still be covered by this excessively bureaucratic and burdensome regime. The amendments leave a great deal of uncertainty and ambiguity. In short, many organisations including small community groups will be required to consult the Electoral Commission before undertaking campaigning activity in an election period in order to ensure they are not falling foul of the new regulations.

In my view the rules on charities and political campaigning are already adequately dealt with in charity law and charity commission regulations and requirements.

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