The lobbying bill must be halted for proper scrutiny rather than being amended during its progress through parliament, the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations has said in a letter to Tom Brake, the deputy leader of the House of Commons.
The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill contains proposals to make it a criminal offence to spend more than £390,000 on campaigns that affect European, national and local elections in the year before those elections.
Charities have warned that the definition of election campaigning is so wide that it could catch many legitimate charitable activities, and that elections are so frequent that the new law would effectively stop many charities campaigning altogether.
Brake, the Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton and Wallington, has already promised that the government will bring an amendment to the bill in the next few weeks, before the report stage of the bill begins on 8 October, and will hold discussions with the National Council of Voluntary Organisations and the Electoral Commission before that amendment is published.
But in his letter to Brake, Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of Acevo, says the bill’s progress should be stopped. Bubb says he feels that "the government has yet to sufficiently assure civil society that the bill will not impinge on its duty to speak out on behalf of the people, communities and causes that it serves" and that "this bill’s progress must be halted, temporarily, to allow for proper pre-legislative scrutiny".
"The bill has been rushed through parliament so fast that it is neither liberal nor democratic, and it creates more problems than it solves," Bubb says in the letter. "As it stands, it entrenches a presumption that ‘lobbying’ is not a normal element of democracy, while doing little to make 98 per cent of lobbying meetings more transparent.
"It will instead punish civil society for damage to public trust and democracy caused by politicians, political parties and corporate lobbying," he says. "The bill will only achieve its aims after proper, wide-ranging consultation, rather than minor amendments in favour of charities."