Tom Brake MP writes: Part 2 of the Lobbying and Transparency Bill, an update

As Nick mentioned to party members in his Letter from the Leader over the weekend, the government has signalled its willingness to accept the principle of amendments to Part 2 of the bill from John Thurso and other Liberal Democrat MPs.

I would like to thank John for the hugely constructive approach he and many other Liberal Democrat MPs have taken to this bill. It is not, and has never been, the intention of this bill to in anyway restrict the ability of charities to campaign to change government policy or on other issues they feel strongly about. And government is more than happy to consider amendments to make that crystal clear and set to rest any concerns parliamentarians and campaign groups might have.

So what we are doing is finding the best way to make it clear that this bill will in no way stop charities doing their normal campaigning. We intend returning to wording very similar to the existing 2000 legislation, and thereby confirming that any charity not affected in the 2010 General Election (or indeed 2005 or 2001) will not be caught by this legislation in the future if they continue to campaign as before.

Liberal Democrats in government have always been clear this legalisation should not have an impact on charities going about their normal business and that is what we are delivering. This also addresses clearly the concern raised by some that our bill may have a “chilling effect” on charities – charities have three General Elections worth of precedent and examples of campaigning on issues of concern to show that they can continue to campaign as normal. Instead this legislation is aimed squarely at preventing big money distorting our electoral system, something we know already happens in the US, and something which we as liberals and democrats absolutely should be seeking to act upon. Our willingness to move on this has been recognised by Stuart Etherington, Chief Executive of the NCVO, who has said:

I am pleased the Government has listened to and significantly met the concerns of charities and community groups.  I understand the Government’s intention was not to make their normal work subject to this regulation.

I know some Liberal Democrats have also asked why the government is not focussing on party funding reform. That is a very fair question, with a very simple answer. Nick Clegg and Liberal Democrats in government have done their best to try and deliver party funding reform however the other two parties have been unwilling to stand up to their vested interests – big business for the Tories and the Trade Unions for Labour.

Of course Liberal Democrats would like a number of further reforms to happen in the area of political and constitutional reform – we have made no secret of that. And I’m sure our manifesto in 2015 will reflect that. However just because you can’t do everything you want, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything. This is an important step to ensuring big money does not distort our political system – something our party has long fought for.

* Tom Brake is Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton and Wallington, and Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

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9 Comments

  • Peter Hayes 11th Sep '13 - 1:43pm

    “So what we are doing is finding the best way to make it clear that this bill will in no way stop charities doing their normal campaigning. We intend returning to wording very similar to the existing 2000 legislation, and thereby confirming that any charity not affected in the 2010 General Election (or indeed 2005 or 2001) will not be caught by this legislation in the future if they continue to campaign as before.”

    I presume this is just badly worded and any new charity will not be affected if they had existed before 2010 or earlier.
    What about other campaigning groups, I remember the old Conservative front organisation, Aims for Industry, will they be limited or is the target only 38degrees?

  • Are you sure you have represented Stuart Etherington’s views correctly? This recent article suggests that, while he welcomes the changes, he still wants to see the withdrawal of part II of the Bill. http://www.thirdsector.co.uk/news/1211015/

    I was rather shocked to find that the amendments had not been made available to MPs debating the Bill at committee stage, and that the Bill had not been subjected to the usual committee-stage scrutiny.

  • I find it worrying that there is only mention of charities, and not groups such as 38 degrees that facilitate collective action. I don’t want to see the good work of these groups stymied alongside corporate lobbying.

  • What Alex Marsh said.

  • Norman Fraser 11th Sep '13 - 4:02pm

    The director of Unlock Democracy, Alexandra Runswick, is certainly not satisfied by the proposed changes and states that the Bill is still “…a textbook example of how not to draft legislation; it has not been consulted on, is explicitly partisan and is now being rushed through parliament with very little scrutiny.” http://www.unlockdemocracy.org.uk/media/news/entry/government-must-rethink-transparency-bill

    Apart from the obvious problems of Part 2 of the Bill, there is the blatant partisanship of Part 3 to consider. The current legislation governing trade union political funds is simple and gives complete transparency. The relevant commissioner has not received a single complaint about the operation of such funds during the lifetime of the legislation. Instead of leaving well alone, Part 3 of the Bill introduces administrative burdens which seem designed to create loopholes to enable the judicial review of strike ballot results on technicalities.

    This Bill should be withdrawn and completely redrafted.

  • Tony Greaves 12th Sep '13 - 5:15pm

    ” It is not, and has never been, the intention of this bill to in anyway restrict the ability of charities to campaign to change government policy or on other issues they feel strongly ”

    The government promise to take forward amendments to the Commons report stage is very welcome though we should hold back the third cheer until we see exactly what the amendment says. It is what an Act of Parliament actually says that really matters.

    The “intention of the Bill” (an odd phrase really – Bills don’t have intentions, the people who have intentions are the people who write them and the Ministers who propose them, who may or may not always have the same intentions.,.) The proposals can only really be judged by what they say because it’s the words that will become the law of the land.

    There seems to me to be a lot of other things which are questionable in this ill-thought out and ill-written Bill but if it can be “improved” in the Commons before it gets to us, so much thebetter.

    Tony

  • David Allen 12th Sep '13 - 5:38pm

    Nick said:

    “There’s been a lot of hysteria whipped up by Labour on this, because as well as regulating lobbyists, the Bill will limit the amount of money non-party campaign groups can pour into individual constituencies to swing the result Labour’s way.”

    That comes pretty close to explicit support for a bill designed to do down Labour, doesn’t it, Nick?

  • More embarrassment and contempt for Parliament. The Commons have now wasted much valuable time debating a bill which the Governemnt is going to amend, but without providing the wording of those amendments. Completely wasted Parliamentary time sofar. I am glad I am not Tom Brake, who is beginning to look a bit silly having to front this spectacularly inept bill. Why on earth did the LibDems go along with this thing? Part 1 will definity not achieve its stated objective and nobody has yet been able to explain clearly and unambiguously what precisely the existing problems are which parts 2 & 3 are supposed to fix. And why the indecent haste of it all? I have not seen any case for its apparent great urgency. I resent having my taxes being wasted on all this tomfoolery by politicians and civil servants. Omnishambles. Why not drop the whole thing , start again and do it properly?

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