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 342.

    162.Michael Lloyd
    Wake up and smell the roses - the VERY REASON why Governments do not currently represent you is because all the parties get their funding from business and wealthy individuals....
    ..if we prevent that & give it to them ourselves then they will work for US.....& we'll get MUCH more REPRESENTATIVE & BETTER Government for it......"

    How naive can you be...?

  • rate this

    Comment number 341.

    Lobbying the government or political parties is analogous to high level bribery and corruption.

    What is the difference?

  • rate this

    Comment number 340.

    This has become an issue in the US where lobbying has become the preserve of billionaires with the advent of Super PAC's such as Sheldon Adelson who backed Romney last time around.
    In this way the only views being presented to politicians are the views of the rich and powerful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 339.

    Sets a limit on all organisations except political parties? So wrong, if there's limits it should apply to them too or there they shouldn't try and limit charities for petes sake!
    Just an attempt by the Gov to shut us up!

  • rate this

    Comment number 338.

    MPs influenced by those in the lobby at Westminster, or who expect their constituents to travel to Westminster to express their views (MP for Westminster exempt), shouldn't be a politician.

    A politician should be out in their constituency engaging with people and be capable of doing their own research into national issues ( perhaps even have some ideas of their own!)

    Too old-fashioned? (I'm 31)

  • rate this

    Comment number 337.

    161BRD, yes thats a good point, folk call it democratic rule, of course not everyone will agree to every motion put forward by any Government, but surely if it is the will of the majority, (does not always happen under the present system) then it must be for the common good & not for the benefit of business or any other group only, but for the nation as a whole!

  • rate this

    Comment number 336.

    If legislation is not specific & unclear as to specifics, it will enevitably result in & require legal judgement in courts to enable clarification.

    The legislation will not prevent charities/others from campaigning in totality, but will result in substantial limitations & exclusions

    Opposition to this, needs to clarify their descriptive wording to enable specific denial/acceptance response

  • rate this

    Comment number 335.

    Maybe I should take up lobbying? I'm disabled with a chronic disease and on ESA so already a "scrounging social parasite".
    If the right people ask nicely and take me out to lunch I can arrange to 'send the boys round' (I believe that is the correct term) to adjust the attitude of recalcitrent MPs.
    Could be a bright new career and get me off benefits(sic)..:-)

  • Comment number 334.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 333.

    As ever the silent majority has no voice and as quiet as it is, it is ignored by the powers that be.

  • rate this

    Comment number 332.

    There is no longer any such thing as a charity.

    They are ALL big business that ensure their all very well looked after before any needy person dare get anything.

  • Comment number 331.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 330.

    "not setting out to constrain" So that must be a happy by-product I guess?

    Did they think that this use of words would suffice? Why could they not say "This will not constrain"?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 329.

    190 how naive can you be? By exempting big companies whilst including small and big charities the govt has made it clear what it wants: No anti-govt posters/publicity in election year from charities but if yre a private Company, then please donate to us if you want to lobby. Murky and distasteful. Cameron talks the talk but he cant walk.

  • rate this

    Comment number 328.

    In our democracy, each voter has one vote.

    A lobbyist by nature seeks to change the mind of the MP / Government concerned without any kind of "additional" vote to do so.

    Therefore lobbyists are operating in a totally undemocratic way. Ban all of them now - they have no right to interfere.

  • Comment number 327.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 326.

    I'd be in favour of this were it not for the unfortunate fact that it will gag organisations like Sum Of Us, Avaaz, and the other groups of concerned citizens that have gotten together in recent years to try and fight back against the corrupt political system that governs us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 325.

    Much as I am loathed to agree with Paul Flynn, I fear this legislation will be counter productive. Ironically, it appears that any lobbying which could have led to a sensible bill has largely been ignored. I can't imagine journalists didn't target lobbying companies, yet recent stings & scandals suggest it is members of the Houses at fault while lobbyists have come out largely unscathed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 324.

    So we are reduced to extremely bad law, the smoke and mirror gambit of pretending to be all righteous while quietly allowing high powered lobbying of MP's and Ministers to continue unabated, just a little more discreet then before.
    And in the meantime gagging criticism of government policy.

    I am ashamed of them, it is a desperate and blatant insult to freedom of speech.

    Absolutely disgusting.

  • Comment number 323.

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


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