MPs debate the government's Lobbying Bill

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Despite heated debate the government passed new rules governing the political campaigning of non-political groups through the second day of the Lobbying Bill's committee stage, on 10 September 2013.

The government's measures survived two votes on the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill- one by 298 votes to 245, and the other 296 to 247- but not before MPs from across the house had joined together to condemn some of measures as an attack on the free speech of campaigners.

During the debate, the Conservative MP and former shadow home secretary David Davis called on peers to "strip out" section two of the bill, which introduced new rules and financial restrictions on non-party campaigning, when it reaches to the House of Lords if the rules had not been substantively changed.

Mr Davis called on the government to seek "proper legal advice, taking a wide-scale of contributions from the very people that are affected."

Mr Davis warned the house that the bill as it stood represented a threat to campaigners' rights to free speech and said he didn't know of a single bill in the past that "has against it: Christian Aid and the British Humanist Association, Greenpeace and the Countryside Alliance and the Royal British Legion and the Salvation Army."

MPs from across the House echoed Mr Davis' criticism of the government's lack of pre-legislative scrutiny, including shadow political and constitutional reform minister Wayne David.

Calling the bill a "mess" Mr David told the chamber "in 12 years in this house I've never seen such an inconsistent and badly drafted bill as this. The whole bill is confused and contradictory, but part two is woeful."

Lib Dems Vs Liberal democracy

During the debate Shadow culture minister Helen Goodman accused the government of writing a bill aimed at defending Conservative Party donors while attacking civil society groups that may support other parties or activities.

Ms Goodman called on the Liberal Democrats to stand up to their coalition partners saying "I think it's peculiarly ironic that the minister standing at the Despatch Box is a Liberal Democrat. One would think that of all things that the Liberal Democrats could defend it would be liberal democracy"

"This is about the nature of our democracy and I really think that the Liberal Democrat members of the coalition need to learn to stand up to the Tory members of the coalition."

Aligning third parties

Responding to the debate, Deputy Leader of the House Tom Brake said that the regulations would simply align the activities of third parties with those of political parties.

However, Mr Brake assured the house that the government was planning on meeting with campaign groups affected by the legislation and the wording of the bill would be tightened up before it is finalised.

However, these assurances failed to win support from all members of the House. Labour MP Paul Flynn, who admitted he believed the current rules surrounding non-party campaigning needed reforming, said that promising a change at a later date like this simply "advertised the government's incompetence."

"[The government] are suggesting we all waste our time dealing with a bill that might be very different at report stage. Why on earth doesn't the government try and amend the bill now?"

Clause 26 of the bill - which defines what spending should be controlled in the run-up to a general election - was passed by 298 votes to 245, while Schedule 3 of the bill - which qualified what expenses count as 'controlled expenditure" - which passed with 296 votes to 247.

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