Yesterday was the Second Reading of the Lobbying Bill, also known as the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill.
Part One of the Lobbying Bill has received relatively little attention as media coverage has focused on the fears of the voluntary sector that reforms to electoral finance will curtail its ability to campaign in the run up to elections. This of course has left a rather nice space open for the opposition’s line in Lynton Crosby references.
But what about the lobbying provisions in the Bill?
Lobbying Bill Second Reading – quick read version
The House voted down Labour’s reasoned amendment and carried the Programme Motion, as a result of which, all the consideration of Part 1 of the Bill on lobbying will be completed on Monday 9th September.
For the Government, Leader of the House Andrew Lansley MP said: we aren’t trying to change the boundary between campaigning on policies and issues and being required to register spending for electoral purposes. We don’t see any problem with our definition of consultant lobbyist.
For Labour, Angela Eagle MP said: we don’t believe you, the charities don’t believe you, and neither does the Electoral Commission. And that definition of consultant lobbyist is a joke.
The Electoral Commission’s briefing said: please, don’t ask us to adjudicate on this stuff, its not our job.
The Chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee Graham Allen MP said: never mind that, this Bill won’t fix the problems the public see with lobbying, but with work from the House and my Committee, we can deliver something halfway acceptable.
Assorted backbenchers said: but will I still be able to do x? what about the very important work of lobbying group z, who do such fine work in my constituency / particular obscure field of interest?
Winding up for the Government, Deputy Leader of the House Tom Brake MP said: look, you didn’t do anything on lobbying while you were in power, and we can sort all this out at Committee, ok?
The Committee of the whole house will be next Monday, as the House accepted the Programme Motion and rejected Labour’s amendment.
Lobbying Bill Second Reading – longer read version
Lansley argued that very few charities were required to register their campaigning activity at the last election under the existing electoral law, and as such, they should not be fearful of Part Two of the Bill.
While the limits and scope of what is deemed ‘controlled expenditure’ are to be changed, and the overall spending threshold for declaration lowered, the definition of spending that might be judged to have the effect of ‘procuring or promoting support for candidates of political parties’ is the same as in the existing legislation. When he wound up for the Government, Tom Brake MP picked up the theme, saying:
“Provided that charities continue to campaign as they currently do, maintaining their political neutrality and independence, expenditure incurred by them is unlikely to come within the definition of “controlled expenditure”. It does not now and it will not under our proposals”
Lansley gave a rather more extended version of Chloe Smith MPs line at her horrifyingly feeble appearance at the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee on why, in fact, it is the intention of the Lobbying Bill that is sane and everyone else mad:
“[those with alternative proposals] are seeking to regulate lobbying activity, while we are seeking to create a transparency regime so that we can see who is lobbying, but are not attempting to control the industry”
Lansley also unpacked the position on how third parties ability to campaign may or may not be affected.
“Charities will still be able to give support to specific policies that might also be advocated by political parties if it helps to achieve their charitable purposes. The Bill does not seek to regulate charities that simply engage with the policy of a political party. It does not prevent charities from having a view on any aspect of the policy of a party and it does not inhibit charities attempting to influence the policy of a party”
Lansley appeared to think that large communications consultancies which deliver public affairs work will be covered by the Bill. This isn’t the case according to those consultancies. He obviously hadn’t arrived early enough at the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee evidence session at which he was giving evidence this morning to listen to earlier witness MHP Chief Executive Gavin Devine on that subject.
Former charity worker and current member of the Lib Dem awkward squad Andrew George MP suggested that the Bill needed significantly more attention from the House than it has been allocated thus far, echoing the argument the chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee Graham Allen MP has made in recent days.
Responding for Labour, Angela Eagle MP led on fears that the Bill would prevent charities and others from campaigning in the run up to elections, while devoting some of her remarks to criticising the poor drafting and “lack of consultation and engagement on these important matters” from Chloe Smith MP and others.
In her brief discussion on why the Lobbying Bill has far too narrow a definition of what lobbying is, Eagle reiterated that Labour will be tabling amendments to introduce a statutory code of conduct for lobbyists. On Part 2, Eagle noted that the Electoral Commission have said the proposed changes to the definition of ‘electoral purposes’ will have ‘a dampening effect’, while the National Council for Voluntary Organisations preferred to stick to a plain old ‘chilling effect’.
Chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee Graham Allen MP eloquently put his finger on the heart of the matter in his remarks to the House, noting that the Bill will not live up to public expectations.
Any thoughts on where things are heading from here? Is the charity angle going to completely drown out any fun the Government might have hoped to have over the trade unions?
Let us know in the comments!