We must stop the ‘chilling effect’ of the Lobbying Bill

commons dayToday the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement has published its action plan to protect democracy from the ‘chilling effect’ of Lobbying Bill. We wholeheartedly support the recommendations presented in the report (which you can read here) and call on Ministers to support the findings of the Commission.

As present, the Lobbying Bill would drastically reduce the amount campaigners can legally spend campaigning on issues on which parties disagree in the year before an election and massively increase the regulatory burden. At the same time it would increase the number of activities which would be monitored.

The Commission warns that Part 2 of the Bill is so broadly drafted it would restrict campaigning in the whole year before an election. Parliamentary candidates only have to account for their spending in the few months before an election.

The report recommends that Ministers should urgently rewrite the Lobbying Bill to prevent significant damage to legitimate campaigning. It also sets out a twelve point action plan to ensure transparent and proportionate regulation in election periods. It warns urgent action is needed to improve a Bill that the Electoral Commission has described as ‘unenforceable’ in parts and which legal advice has warned will have a ‘chilling effect’ on campaigners.

The Commission’s recommendations include:

–       Treating campaigners in the same way as political parties by excluding staff costs from spending limits

–       Reducing the period covered by the legislation to six months ahead of an election instead of a year

–       Dropping the proposed tightening of spending caps for campaigners

–       Doubling the current spending levels at which campaigners have to register with the Electoral Commission

–       Scrapping the proposed constituency spending limit which the regulator warned may be unenforceable

The Government has so far failed to make any meaningful changes to the legislation, despite acknowledging the need for a five week pause in the Parliamentary passage of the Bill to allow further work.

Despite, being challenged to do so, the Government not been able to produce specific examples of campaigning it is intending to catch in the new law, while also failing to amend legislation to address concerns.

Supporters of campaign groups from across the political spectrum will descend on parliament today to meet Peers and MPs and demand that they listen to the Commission’s report and implement its recommendations. The Bill is opposed by a vast cross-section of UK civil society including the Taypayers’ Alliance, Conservative Home, Oxfam, The Salvation Army, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the Women’s Institute.