Lobbying bill sinister and partisan, says Labour

Houses of Parliament The bill would set a £390,000 spending cap on organisations at election time

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Labour has criticised proposed rules on lobbying, including a limit on the amount of money charities and trades unions can spend on funding election candidates, as "sinister and partisan".

Legislation debated for the first time by MPs on Tuesday would cap such budgets at £390,000.

Labour's Angela Eagle said this was a "sop to the powerful".

But the government insisted reform was needed and that charities' ability to campaign would not be "constrained".

The Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill would set the £390,000 cap on the amount any organisation - excluding political parties - could spend across the UK during elections.

It also aims to alter the legal requirements on unions' to keep their list of members up to date.

The government won a vote on the general principles of the bill at second reading - its first parliamentary hurdle - by 62 votes and the legislation will now proceed to detailed scrutiny by MPs.

However, five Conservatives - Douglas Carswell, Philip Davies, David Davis, Zac Goldsmith and David Nuttall - voted against the bill while others also expressed concerns.

'Should be limits'

The Leader of the House, Andrew Lansley, told MPs there should be limits on the amount charities and other organisations could spend on helping a party or candidate at election time.

Alexandra Runswick says the Lobbying Bill will make "transparency and lobbying worse in the UK"

He said: "Let me give this assurance - we are very clear that we are in no sense seeking to change the boundary between campaigning on policies and issues which charities do and third parties do to a substantial extent."

He added: "Charities, think-tanks, NGOs (non-governmental organisations) should not be alarmed that this in any sense impacts on their ability to campaign on policy issues."

He said: "Let me be clear, lobbying is a necessary, indeed an inevitable, and very often a welcome part of policy-making and the parliamentary process. We should not seek to prevent lobbying but to make it transparent about who is lobbying whom and for what."

Mr Lansley also said: "The campaigning by third parties at the last election was not in any substantial way undertaken by charities. It was undertaken by other third parties - trade unions, companies, campaign groups, etc etc. So the idea that charities are in any way constrained is completely wrong."

For Labour, shadow Commons leader Angela Eagle called the bill "one of the worst pieces of legislation I've seen any government produce in a very long time".

Referring to Mr Lansley's former role as health secretary, she added: "I think the last bill this bad might even have been the Health and Social Care Act, and your fingerprints were all over that one too."


Ms Eagle also said: "This bill is hurried, badly drafted, an agglomeration of the inadequate and sinister and partisan...

"It's a sop to powerful, vested interests; a sinister gag on democratic debate in the run-up to the general election; a shameful abuse of the legislative process to make cheap, partisan points. This is a very bad bill."

Oxfam, the Royal British Legion, and the Salvation Army are among organisations voicing fears that the government's proposed bill is so complex that it is likely to be "impossible" to follow.

The statutory register would cover only lobbyists working as consultants for companies or organisations, rather than their in-house staff, with ministers saying this mirrors the voluntary code already in place across the profession.

However, the campaign group Unlock Democracy says this would exclude 80% of lobbyists from the list.

In the Commons, Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith argued that large businesses, employing their own lobbyists, would have a "disproportionate relationship" with ministers and officials, with smaller concerns losing out.

The prime minister's official spokesman said the government would "always listen to concerns that are raised" but the bill contained "the right proposals".

The majority of the bill would apply to the whole of the UK, although the provisions on trade unions' membership lists would not affect Northern Ireland.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    @174 The difference is that when I write to my MP to change something I don't include a cheque.
    I want politicians who want change because they believe in it, not because they are getting paid to deliver it. If an MP is fighting to keep cigarette packaging then I want to hear their reasoning as to why, who is lobbying them on the issue and if they are being paid to represent their views

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    Something of a nonsense, discussing 'democratic regulation' - of political funding and of lobby-expenditure - in the context of our sham democracy. However, even in our current predicament resistance is likely to the persecution of honest opinion that incidentally favours one or other unsatisfactory 'established party', the party task being not to upset everybody! At least not at the same time.

  • Comment number 200.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    9 Bradford
    My concerns are that most of the lobbying will remain as secret as it is at the momemnt. The register of lobbyists will stop newspapers tripping up MP's who are on the take. The union members having to decide to support Labour - Good - BUT no right for shareholders to chose the same thing - BAD

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    Lobbying is legalised bribery. And should be stopped altogether.

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    The alleged intention of the the bill is to go someway to cleaning up lobbying but it doesn't address the key issues (e.g. we still have senior banking executives with official sanction to access parliament). Hidden in the bill (see above) is "a £390,000 cap on the amount any organisation - excluding political parties - could spend across the UK during elections." This is the gagging issue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    @BRD at 161:
    One big reason the population gets pushed to bigotry is that politicians actively encourage it to win cheap support. The bodies that _most_ need spending limited are the 3 parties.

    (Why do you think Cameron's trying hard to demonise the poor and disabled? The more we hate the poor, and the more of Smith's blatant lies we believe, the less we blame him for making us _all_ poor...)

  • Comment number 195.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    Outside influences are not elected, so they shouldn't play a part in politics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    Charity status itself has become a farce and has more often than not been granted because it preserves the attitude or values of a political party, not because it's day to day activities are what we would consider charitable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.


    Wrong. That's trying to make the MPs do their jobs. Lobbying is legalised bribery. We are already paying for MPs and they don't even do the things we want. Your thinking is backward.


  • Comment number 191.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    Charities are often not very different from big business these days so I dont think they need any special dispensations. This looks like an all round good move by the government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    If I write to my MP asking him to raise an issue with a Government minister, is that lobbying? If it can't be in secret, what happened to Parliamentary privilege over MPs' correspondence?

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    So long as one allows political parties to spend millions on campaigning, you will give a vested interests leverage, even a veto, on policy.

    Money should be taken out of campaigning: all parties should be restricted to X number of mailshots, broadcasts, posters etc. That way, parties would not be able to outspend eachother.

    We need proper state-funding to make democracy work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    It seems that many posts are being removed or are being 'considered' by moderators. Ironically, as with the lobbying issue, some of this information needs to be in the public domain, not muzzled.

    Glad I saw a weblink before it was removed. Can't say what, or my comment will also face deletion......

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    This bill is targeting the wrong people. Its targeting groups of ordinary people campaigning to save their NHS for example whilst leaving big business lobbying alone!

    Disenfranchising sections of the electorate will lead to disaster. Look what is happening in Syria, it could happen here!

  • Comment number 185.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    In true democracy, individuals all equal players (personal votes & disposable incomes), parties, businesses & campaign groups would all be entirely of 'responsible citizens, equal partners and shareholders in 'the outcome' for all

    In our divided unequal sham democracy, protection of parties should extend no further than equalisation & capping of funds, breached only by blanket (%) funding of all

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    @125 "But when charities delve into party politics they might well be deceiving donors. That's why constraints are needed - as well as transparency" So it's ok to gag the charities in case they're deceiving doors (quite apart from the fact that they may well not be)....whereas the government deceiving us is ok? It's wrong to talk of 'charities' as a homogenous group


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