The government’s new lobbying bill will gag charities but will have no effect on how much political parties spend on campaigning, according to Angela Eagle, shadow leader of the Commons.
The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, which will have its second reading in the House of Commons on 3 September, contains proposals to make it a criminal offence for third parties to spend more than £390,000 on campaigns that affect European, national and local elections.
It also proposes to introduce legislation that will widen the definition of campaigning activity and require anyone spending more than £5,000 on campaigning activity to register with the Electoral Commission.
Voluntary sector organisations including the National Council for Voluntary Organisations have expressed fears that the legislation could have "disastrous unintended consequences" for charities that speak out on local and national issues.
According to The Guardian newspaper, Eagle, the MP for Wallasey, spoke at the University of East London this morning, calling on the Prime Minister, David Cameron, to rewrite the bill and stop what she called an attack the government’s big society agenda.
"The big money in politics today is spent by political parties, not by charities and campaigning groups," she said. "Yet this bill looks to gag the latter, while doing nothing to curtail the former, which spent 10 times more than all third parties put together in the run-up to the last general election.
"No one supports this bill. It is a bad piece of legislation that will take our politics backwards.
"My message to David Cameron today is this: think again; rewrite this bill so it properly regulates the lobbying industry, doesn't attack the big society that you once championed and takes the big money out of politics."
Last week Chloe Smith, the minister for political and constitutional reform, wrote to the campaigning group 38 Degrees, describing the group’s claims that the bill would stop it from running campaigns as "nothing more than scaremongering".
Smith’s letter said that under the proposed bill charities would still be able to support policies backed by political parties if it would help achieve their charitable purposes.
"The bill does not regulate attempts to engage with the policy of any political party, having a view on any aspect of the policy of a party, or any attempt to influence the policy of a party," the letter said. "Such activity would only be captured if it was promoting the electoral success of, or enhancing the standing of, political parties or candidates."
Responding to the letter, David Babbs, executive director of 38 Degrees, said legal advisers had warned the group that the bill would prevent it from being able to hold politicians and political parties to account.
"The problem is that Chloe Smith's letter and the content of her draft law don't match up," said Babbs. "We will continue to work with the rest of the sector to ask Chloe Smith to properly address our concerns by significantly amending the legislation."