Opinion: Vote for Emergency Motion 3 on the Lobbying Bill

The lobbying bill is either cock-up or conspiracy

is the verdict of Robert Barrington, the executive director of Transparency International UK.

Glasgow North Local Party has submitted an emergency motion on the Bill to Federal Conference.  If you are a conference delegate please vote for our motion in Sunday’s ballot to choose the three emergency or topical motions which will actually be debated later in the week.

The Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill  to give it its full title, was sneaked out just as MPs went on holiday.  An unusually tight timetable has been set and the third stage of the Bill is currently being debated.  This shows all the signs of an attempt to rush it through to avoid proper scrutiny.  The Bill purports to address the issue of the undue influence that some individuals and organisations have on Parliament but approaches that task in a crude and haphazard way.

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) believe that the Bill’s new definition of ‘activities for election purposes’ and the expenditure limits set will inhibit much routine charity work, hitherto exempt from recording or monetary restriction.  The Electoral Commission have stated that the drafting of sections of Part 2 of the Bill, which deals with campaigning, is so unclear as to render it unenforceable.  The Bill is so loosely framed that it also threatens free speech on the internet and the activities of a myriad of campaigning organisations.

Last Friday the Government went some way to addressing charities’ concerns by offering to change some parts of the Bill but problems remain.  The director of Unlock Democracy Alexandra Runswick has said:

…Even without the clauses in this bill which could force the everyday activities of all charities, trade unions and civic society organisations to count as election campaigning, it seeks to redefine expenditure for third party campaigning in a way that political parties themselves in the past have said would make it impossible to abide by if the same rules applied to them. The lobbying section of the bill fundamentally misunderstands the nature of lobbying and would simply encourage more lobbying to be conducted under ground.

Our motion asks the Parliamentary Party to ensure that the Bill is suitably redrafted, or withdrawn if that proves impossible.  We ask you to help us send them that message by voting for emergency motion 3.

* Norman Fraser is the Scottish Organiser of the Social Liberal Forum

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15 Comments

  • Daniel Henry 11th Sep '13 - 2:37pm

    Very important issue.
    Can you show me a draft of the motion?
    Does it address the flaws in both parts of the bill?

  • The furore created over this Bill by 38 degrees and other front organisations is evidence of how influential they can be during an election campaign. Why shouldn’t they be subject to electoral law like the rest of us? We should stand up to them not cave in.

    Also what business do charities like Oxfam have spending millions of pounds of donors’ money on publicity telling electors how to vote? Surely they should be using their funds for charitable purposes? In 2010 a local charity delivered a glossy brochure to every household in the borough comparing the policies of Labour and the Tories, and failed to mention the Lib Dems!

    We should go further by using the Bill to end the exemptions for so-called newspapers which fail to meet the balanced reporting standards which apply to broadcasters. Virtually every Dail Mail editorial during the Eastleigh by-election contained a special message for “the voters of Eastleigh” – to say nothing of the daily five-page spread about Chris Rennard or how we were planning to tax jewellery and other lies.

  • Norman Fraser 11th Sep '13 - 3:37pm

    Daniel, I can’t think of any way of sharing the text of the motion but the post above covers much the same ground.. The motion concentrates on section 2 of the Bill on campaigning. I am well aware that part 3 of the Bill, on trade union registration, carries its own dangers but I assume that Labour can handle that. Given that the Bill is currently being debated and is very technical, the motion does not ask for a shopping list of changes, leaving detailed initiatives to the Parliamentary Party.

  • Norman Fraser 11th Sep '13 - 4:41pm

    Paul, I regret to say that I find myself entirely out of sympathy with your approach. Are you arguing that organisations should only be allowed to say nice things about the Lib Dems? On what basis would you stop a charity like Shelter, whose entire rationale is to secure adequate housing for the disadvantaged, from mounting campaigns which seek to influence the government of the day to that end? Why should this Bill seek to hobble charities whilst letting huge corporations spend millions meeting parliamentarians without a single record being kept.

  • No, Norman, I am not saying that “organisations should only be allowed to say nice things about the Lib Dems”.

    But I am saying there should be controls on organisations which spend large amounts of money promoting deliberately nice or nasty messages about any party in the run-up to an election with the intention of influencing people’s votes. Otherwise we will end up like America.

  • Norman Fraser 11th Sep '13 - 8:52pm

    I disagree Paul. On what basis are you going to manage newspapers? On what basis can you possibly aggregate and regulate all political comment without running some form of police state?

    The main problem in American politics is not the proliferation of think tanks and net campaigners, it’s the cost of political TV advertising. In order to fund their campaigning, American politicians end up in hock to their backers and their backers want payback. Studies show that politicians pay increasingly less attention to their constituents and more to the corporations that pay them. That is a problem we don’t have here. What we do have is increasing corporate lobbying and that is not limited by this Bill. Indeed it will require the keeping of far fewer records of corporate lobbying than we do at present.

  • Martyn Williams 11th Sep '13 - 11:11pm

    Paul

    38 Degrees are subject to electoral law, as are all charities – indeed they are subject to further controls under charity law.

    However you are right – it is not law “like the rest of us”, assuming that by that you mean politicians. Third Parties can currently spend approx 5% of what a party can spend. The question is not “should they be controlled” it is “why should the controls be massively tightened by this I’ll scrutinized law without any real assessment of the harm this may do to the involving of people in debates at a time political parties are shrinking”.

    You also accuse Oxfam of spending money telling voters who to vote for. I’d like to see evidence they have please, or I think you should withdraw this claim.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 12th Sep '13 - 8:33am

    Norman,

    Whilst the Bill might not receive much scrutiny in the Commons, you’d better believe that it will in the Lords. I strongly recommend that, regardless of what happens to your emergency motion, you lobby our Peers.

  • I really do hope that our peers as well as MPs will take more care to get the bill changed. On a previous LDV piece, we were informed that the bill does not achieve the desired aim of controlling lobbying because all organisations that emply lobbyists as part of their operations will not be covered; only specialist lobbying organisations will be properly controlled.
    As to third parties and charities, as a Parliamentary candidate in 2010 I was subject to subtle threats by some that they would campaign against me if I did not subscribe to their views. So some restrictions on the way they operate is needed, but the key issue should be the lobbying by the big and rich.

  • Daniel Henry 12th Sep '13 - 10:25am

    I would have hoped that the motion would tackle the entire bill.
    In my opinion, the fact that it fails to make lobbying transparent is perhaps the most important flaw.

  • Peter Watson 12th Sep '13 - 1:19pm

    @James Graham “it still constitutes draconian over-regulation with no-one seemingly capable of explaining what problem it is intended to solve.”
    I completely agree. The only justification seems to be the oft-repeated “to stop us becoming like America”. Since American politics seems to be dominated by big business rather than big charity then it looks a pretty spurious excuse, and where is the evidence that the likes of Oxfam, 38 Degrees, etc. are corrupting UK politics?

    Also, this seems a like a terribly short-sighted approach by Lib Dems in government. Yes, it could smother criticism of this government in 2015, but what about afterwards? It would also stifle criticism of an incumbent Labour government, while the Conservatives (and to some extent Labour) will continue to get big support from the newspapers. And most of what I’ve seen from 38 Degrees reminds me of Lib Dem policies before 2010: how many of us have signed up to at least one of their issues? (With me it was the forestry issue.)

    What is the justification for doing this, and what is in it for Lib Dems?

  • Simon Banks 12th Sep '13 - 8:02pm

    Paul K:

    It seems to me charities have every right to campaign on issues that affect the people they’re trying to help. It would be ridiculous if a housing charity, for example, was unable to raise issues about housing policies during an election. There are huge issues about money talking in elections, but mainly through party funding. I have no problem at all with a charity pointing out, for example, that some very well-informed academics think the impact of party A’s policy X would actually be Y. That may indeed affect support for party A. An opportunity to challenge bias or lack of balance is another matter and I’d support that. For example, if Labour and Liberal Democrats favour abolishing an unpopular policy and a charity mentions the former and not the latter, there should be redress.

  • Andrew Colman 14th Sep '13 - 5:57pm

    Great to see an emergency motion to oppose this illiberal , undemocratic lobbying bill. Sadly, I am unable to attend conference , but I hope its adopted and passed and this bill dies a quick death.

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