Nick Clegg signals changes to Lobbying Bill to address charity concerns

The Guardian and the Independent today report that  the government will backtrack over parts of the Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill.

The coalition has maintained that the bill does not impose undue burdens and restrictions on charities during election periods. A wide range of charities and Unlock Democracy have taken the opposite view. In a report yesterday, the cross-party Political and Constitutional Reform Committee also raised a number of worries and has advised the government to rewrite the bill:

Our main recommendation is that the Government should withdraw the Bill following its Second Reading, and support a motion in the House to set up a special Committee to carry out pre-legislative scrutiny, using the text of the existing Bill as a draft.

The Independent reports:

Nick Clegg is now backing an amendment by a group of five Liberal Democrat MPs that would remove that section from the Bill. Sources close to Mr Clegg said that the Bill would then be substantially redrafted to allay the charities’ concerns.

It is understood the government will offer to remove several controversial clauses, including ones that said campaigning could count as political if it procures success for a candidate, even if it does not endorse a specific party.

A source close to Clegg told the Guardian:

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

Nick Clegg has always been clear this legislation should not have an impact on charities going about their normal business and, therefore, wholeheartedly welcomes this amendment. The government very much accepts the principle behind this amendment and will come back with changes to the legislation to reflect it.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem councillor in Shropshire. He blogs at andybodders.co.uk. He is Friday editor of Lib Dem Voice.

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11 Comments

  • Tony Greaves 6th Sep '13 - 4:13pm

    This sounds like some sense coming into this debate. I suspect this is another case where the DPM did not spend the necessary time to understand the Bill in detail before it was published. (Insofar as some parts of it can be understood by ordinary mortals).

    If the changes are to be sufficient they will have to deal with more than just charities. But any improvements in the Commons will be very welcome.

    The Political and Constitutional Reform are right that the best thing would be to withdraw this Dog’s Breakfast of a Bill and put new proposals into pre-leg scrutiny where stuff like this really belongs. But that may be asking too much of a government in a hurry to legislate before next May.

    Tony Greaves

  • The linked news reports say that the cuts to funding allowances will still go ahead, and will include previously excluded expenditure.

    Will this too be dropped?

  • Joe Otten

    It would be much easier if they did it properly to begin with. I have forgotten the number of bills taht have had to be fundamentally changed because they are unworkable.

    I do have an insult for them – incompetent!

    This is also the real reason why they managed to lose the Syria vote – incompetence

  • Joe Otten

    The bill should have never been published and again it was due to the pushing from the opposition and backbenches that led to a change of heart.

    The Government front bench keeps releasing bills that they are told are rubbish by everyone but they carry on anyway until they too realise how bad they are.

    The only word to describe this is incompetent – if they were not they would defend the bill or get it closer to being right the first time.

    It has happened twice this week and last week we had half the LD either sneaking away or voting against the Government on the Syria bill and then we see Clegg have the gall to blame labour

    If it quacks like a duck….it usually is one.

  • David White 7th Sep '13 - 3:52pm

    Well said, Joe Otten, in original form, this was an appallingly illiberal Bill. The rich folk would have been allowed to do whatever they liked, while we poor folk would have been denied our rights to free expression to those we elect to Rule over us!

    I’m reminded of a verse from a wonderful Tom Paxton song which I performed in folk clubs, during the 1960s: ‘What Did You Learn in School?’

  • Tony Greaves 7th Sep '13 - 10:26pm

    The amendments from the five Liberal Democrat MPs* which the government say they will accept “in principle” but produce their own wording refer to “a charity or non-party campaigning organisation” which seems the rigtht approach. But it’s too early to be certain about what changes will be made.

    *Thurso, Lloyd, George, Hughes, Huppert.

    Tony

  • None of this re-writing would have been necessary if Cameron and Clegg hadn’t decided to politicise the issue by tacking non-party campaigning and trade union administration onto a lobbying bill. Cameron stated clearly at PMQ’s that the purpose of the bill is to silence the trade union movement politically. Why a liberal would have anything to do with this bill is beyond reason. Then again the wholly illiberal attitude that Liberal Democrats take to trade unions is beyond reason.

  • David Becket 8th Sep '13 - 10:11am

    It was a black day for liberals when the majority of our MPs sat silent through the debate and then voted for the bill. Only John Thurso stood up for liberal principals, whilst he voted for a bill he was unhappy with it and said so, he then produced amendments. This party is becoming no place for liberals, Sarah Teather has shown this. Unless this party gets back to liberal principles and amends much of what we are being asked to vote for next week the 7% in the polls could well be a high point.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 9th Sep '13 - 9:51am

    @ Dave Becket “This party is becoming no place for liberals, Sarah Teather has shown this.”

    All to commonly heard these days, but what are we going to do to change this situation?

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