Select committee chair says lobbying bill should be redrafted

Labour MP Graham Allen says the bill, which has been criticised by charities, should be delayed for six months

Graham Allen
Graham Allen

The chair of the committee scrutinising the government’s new lobbying bill has said it should be delayed for six months so that it can be sent to a special committee for redrafting.

Graham Allen, Labour MP for Nottingham North and chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, has criticised the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill for being rushed through parliament and badly drafted, and has expressed concerns that it will reduce the freedom of charities to campaign.

During a session of his committee to take evidence from the Electoral Commission today, he said he felt the bill needed to be delayed.

The bill, which will have its second reading in the House of Commons today, contains proposals to make it a criminal offence to spend more than £390,000 on campaigns that affect European, national and local elections. It also introduces a wider definition of election campaigning, which the National Council for Voluntary Organisations says could catch many legitimate charitable activities.

In evidence submitted to the committee, the children’s charity Action for Children said the proposed cap on spending would force it to "drastically reduce" its activities in the devolved nations.

The charity said the cap, which confines spending on campaigning to £35,400 in Scotland, £24,000 in Northern Ireland and £10,800 in Wales, could force it consider reducing staff numbers in the devolved nations, despite currently having only one member of staff working on campaigns and public affairs in each nation.

Matthew Downie, head of campaigns and public affairs at Action for Children, said that the total amount included staff costs, so it would be "inconceivable" that the charity would spend less than the allowed amount.

The NCVO, which has already warned that the bill could affect the freedom of charities to speak out, today published a briefing on the bill for MPs.

This warns that the bill would introduce a number of excessive reporting requirements and stringent spending limits and could limit the ability of charities to speak out on issues of concern.

The NCVO yesterday published an opinion from Helen Mountfield QC of Matrix Chambers, which warned that the bill was likely to leave charities fearing criminal prosecution if they spoke out on matters of public interest and concern.

The NCVO’s briefing for MPs calls on the government to remove part two of the bill, which places restrictions on charity campaigning "in order to consult widely on the changes that are necessary to balance necessary transparency measures with regulatory burden".

The briefing continues: "There are a number of potential amendments that can be made to the bill, but without sufficient time to consider the precise implications of each, and without careful consideration by parliament, it would be unlikely we will be able to ensure the rules achieve the desired policy outcomes without creating an unnecessarily burdensome regime and severely hampering democratic participation."

- Read other stories on the lobbying bill by visiting our Big Issue

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