Tom Brake MP writes…Liberal Democrats have improved the Lobbying Bill

Yesterday the long, and at times tortuous, journey of the Transparency Bill through Parliament came to an end.  It will shortly receive Royal Assent.  The Bill had many critics, so it is worth reiterating the purpose of the parts of the Bill I was closely involved with as a Minister.

Part 1, sets up a Statutory Register of Lobbyists, to complement the existing regime of quarterly data published by Ministers about which external organisations they meet.  Liberal Democrats have successfully pushed for this data to become much more accessible and useful in future, so that all the data is published in the same place.  Until now, citizens and journalists had to trawl 26 separate spreadsheets each quarter.  It will soon be easier to see, for example, which Ministers Tescos have met in each three month period, and how often.  The subject of the meeting is already made public.  The Register means consultant lobbyists, who meet Ministers and Permanent Secretaries on behalf of others, will have to publish a list of clients.  They will also have to make public which of the voluntary public affairs codes of conduct they adhere to.  If they adhere to none, this will be out in the open for the first time.  Thanks to the Liberal Democrats, transparency could also immediately be extended to meetings consultant lobbyists have with Special Advisors, if and when our Coalition partners agree to it!

Part 2, on non-party campaigning, was controversial.  This section is about often opaque, well-funded organisations flooding constituencies with election campaigning well in excess of what a party or candidate could spend in the same place.  Under the existing law, nearly £800,000 could be spent in one English constituency by a non-party campaigner (or indeed over and over by several campaigners) in the year before a General Election, in support of or against one of the political parties.  These sorts of campaigns spent £3m across the UK in 2010, and all the indications were that they were set to increase, as they have in the United States.

The Liberal Democrat teams in both Houses, government and backbench, have worked tirelessly to ensure that organisations which were concerned about the Bill have been listened to.  We also listened carefully to the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement led by Lord Harries of Pentregarth.  As a result, an election campaigner will now need to spend £20,000 in England, or £10,000 in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland before they even have to register their spending.  No small, local organisations will have to consider this legislation at all.  Charities of course are largely barred from conducting political campaigning in support of a party or candidate, so were very unlikely to be affected by the Bill.

Anyone who has fought an election knows that £20,000 is a very significant sum in campaigning terms.  It is surely reasonable to ask an organisation which “could reasonably be regarded as intending to promote or procure the electoral success of a party or candidate”, and which spends this much money doing so, to register with the Electoral Commission.  All they will have to do is present an expenses return, make a statement of accounts and publish donations reports.  Electors are entitled to know who is behind well-funded non-party campaigns in their constituencies.  Spending by any one non-party organisation will be limited to a generous £450,000 across the UK, and to £9,750 in any one constituency.

There were two issues still in question yesterday in the House of Lords.  These were how constituency spending limits would work, and which staff costs should be accounted for.  On the first, the Harries amendment simply wasn’t workable.  Paul Tyler explained why here.  On the second, my colleague Jim Wallace was able to give a very firm reassurance here.

The Bill is very different now to when it was published in July 2013.  These changes have arisen following extensive consultation with a huge range of charities and organisations.

However, if anyone still tells you the Bill is about ‘gagging charities’ you might ask why so many charities opposed an exemption for them from electoral law of this kind.  Paul Tyler and Shirley Williams made the case here, but charities largely rejected this call saying they thought they should be regulated if they intervened in election campaigns.  If the Bill was such a threat to charities’ work, it isn’t clear why its opponents (including Labour) were so determined charities should remain within its scope!

We are now working closely with the Electoral Commission to ensure their guidance is as clear and straightforward as possible for campaigners to follow.  And we will ensure they publish joint guidance with the Charities Commission to explain the extremely limited circumstances in which a charity could be affected.  We stated our intention at the outset to regulate only what organisations may spend on election campaigning, not what they may say during election campaigns.  After a lot of work from Liberal Democrat MPs and Peers, that is categorically what the Bill achieves.

* Tom Brake is Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton and Wallington, and the Lib Dem Lib Dem Spokesman for Exiting the European Union and International Trade

Read more by or more about .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.
Advert

59 Comments

  • Tony Greaves 29th Jan '14 - 8:41pm

    There is little doubt that after all the changes made in the Lords (at the instigation of Lord Harries and Liberal Democrat backbenchers and ministers working closely together) anyone who continues to call it a Gagging Bill is either ignorant of what it says or malicious. The 38 degrees briefing that came out after the votes yesterday is frankly petulant and a disgrace (and I have written to David Babbs to tell him so). I suspect that from Unlock Democracy is based on ignorance.

    It is also worth saying, now that the Bill has gone through, that huge efforts were made by LIberal Democrats in the Lords, led by Andrew Phillips and Paul Tyler, to exempt charities altogether, and it was clear that more and more charities were coming to that view. It might have happened but for a veto from the Prime Minister and opposition from the Labour Party.

    Anyway if anyone tells you that they are being Gagged, just contradict them and say that after the efforts of Liberal Democrats (including Jim Wallace who took the Bill through the Lords) that is SIMPLY NOT TRUE.

    And if there are any problems with its operation, there will be a full review after the next General Election when they can be ironed out.

    Tony

  • Mason Cartwright 29th Jan '14 - 9:39pm

    The concerns as I understand them are that part one only captures a very small percentage of lobbyists, rendering it little more than a PR stunt and that the definition of what activities constitutes campaigning for/against a political party is ambiguous and therefore open to abuse. Nothing I have read in the above article eases my mind in respect of these two concerns.

  • One of my concerns is the emphasis placed, as in electoral law as exists, on what happens in election campaigns (whether “the short” or “the long campaign” in 2010 terms. The concerns which led to action to frame a bill on lobbying were entirely outside this area. They were about, in a more general sense, “buying politics”. It was about big corporates exerting direct and indirect overwhelming influence on the politics of this country. Where is the action on this in this bill, Tom Brake? You disappoint me, and millions of others.

    It is, in my mind, all of a piece with the narrow remit of the Leveson Inquiry, where the fact that the majority of the print media are pushing British politics in one direction, and one direction only, ie to more reliance on big corporates, and an anti reaction to publicly owned and provided goods and services. And where particular politicians or others have supported the public good and ownership, relentless digging for smears against them has taken place, in order to discredit them and their publicly expressed opinions. Of course cases like the Dowlers, the McCanns etc were appalling abuse of power, and desperately cruel to families going through hell already, but they were less of an outrage against public life generally than these political abuses.

    Whenare we going to have a proper enquiry into how the corporates in all forms are buying our democracy?

  • Peter Watson 30th Jan '14 - 12:00am

    @Tony Greaves “Anyway if anyone tells you that they are being Gagged, just contradict them and say that after the efforts of Liberal Democrats (including Jim Wallace who took the Bill through the Lords) that is SIMPLY NOT TRUE.”
    You seem to be implying though that it was previously true in the original Bill that was sadly pushed forward by the efforts of Liberal Democrats like Tom Brake.

  • No corporations were harmed in the making of this bill.

  • Can someone please clarify: If a commercial organisation say one operating wind turbines and solar farms were to give large amounts of publicity regarding their firm’s activities in the renewable energy sector, in the constituency where a prominent member of the Green party was seeking to be elected, and not the same publicity in an adjacent constituency, would that activity fall foul of this bill or not?

  • Peter Watson 30th Jan '14 - 7:53am

    And will Toby Young have to stop writing about schools (please, please) in the year before an election in which a candidate somewhere is campaigning against free schools?

  • Peter Watson 30th Jan '14 - 7:57am

    And will the Better Together campaign have to stop raising and spending money now that we’re less than a year from the Scottish independence referendum?

  • Andrew Colman 30th Jan '14 - 8:01am

    I hope for the sake of our democracy, 38 degrees turns out to be wrong.

    Will wait and see

  • Peter Watson 30th Jan '14 - 9:05am

    @jedibeeftrix “That doesn’t sound terribly ‘liberal’…?”
    Neither does this Bill, but maybe some good can come from it 😉

  • I’ve been involved in the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement lobbying effort on this Bill. Throughout this process I still haven’t been able to make my mind up about whether Ministers such as Tom Brake genuinely believe this rubbish or if they are just doing a good job playing dumb.

    “Charities of course are largely barred from conducting political campaigning in support of a party or candidate, so were very unlikely to be affected by the Bill.”
    Charities are barred from party political campaigning. They are not barred from policy campaigning. The whole reason why charities have been concerned about this Bill is that campaigns can be regulated even if they don’t mention a political party or candidate. Both the Electoral Commission and the QC instructed by NCVO have been quite clear on this point.

    “Anyone who has fought an election knows that £20,000 is a very significant sum in campaigning terms.”
    It most certainly is for political parties. However, political parties don’t have to include staff costs. I worked for a Lib Dem MP and I was frequently sent round the country to campaign on parliamentary and council by-elections during the working week. As were scores of other paid staff. Those costs rack up pretty quickly.

    “It is surely reasonable to ask an organisation which “could reasonably be regarded as intending to promote or procure the electoral success of a party or candidate”, and which spends this much money doing so, to register with the Electoral Commission”
    As above, the legal advice has been clear that pure policy campaigning that does not even mention a party or candidate could be caught up in this definition.

    “However, if anyone still tells you the Bill is about ‘gagging charities’ you might ask why so many charities opposed an exemption for them from electoral law of this kind. Paul Tyler and Shirley Williams made the case here, but charities largely rejected this call saying they thought they should be regulated if they intervened in election campaigns. If the Bill was such a threat to charities’ work, it isn’t clear why its opponents (including Labour) were so determined charities should remain within its scope!”
    The Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement decided to oppose the exemption based on tactics. The view of the campaign was that it would be more effective to focus on improving the Bill for everyone, not just registered charities. In hindsight, I think this was an error.

    “These were how constituency spending limits would work, and which staff costs should be accounted for. On the first, the Harries amendment simply wasn’t workable.”
    No mentioned of the fact that the Electoral Commission had described the government’s own wording as ‘unenforceable’.

    “These changes have arisen following extensive consultation with a huge range of charities and organisations.”
    This, by some distance, is the most rage inducing sentence in the article. Extensive? So extensive that there was no green paper, no white paper, no pre-legislative scrutiny and NO consultation with the voluntary sector. Even when the Bill was paused for consultation during Lords Committee stage, the government did not consult directly with the sector or the public. Rather the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement had to hurriedly arrange and pay for a consultation of its own. And just for good measure, every cross-party committee that assessed the Bill savaged it. This sentence, and I use the word reluctantly, is just a straight out lie.

  • Mason Cartwright 30th Jan '14 - 9:59am

    Aside from this bill being completely ineffective in bringing unhealthy corporate lobbying to heel and potentially being open to misuse (gagging as some have termed it) there is yet another problem.

    This bill does not have to be invoked for it to have a damaging effect on democracy.

    Consider being the head of an active campaigning group. When this bill becomes law the first thing you are likely to do is sit down with your legal team and ask:

    “will this new law prevent us from campaigning for/against individual policies opposed/proposed by the Government?”

    If I am correct about the ambiguity in this bill, the answer you would most likely receive is:

    “the bill is unclear but if your activities could be deemed to have altered the election result in any way there may be a case to answer if you exceed these narrow spending limits”

    (I use the term “narrow” because staff costs are included).

    This would mean in effect that the only way for you to continue is by taking the risk of being pulled into a legal proceeding which, as I understand it, would actually be a criminal proceeding and not a civil one (that decision in itself is curious).

    How many people would choose to remain silent/severely limit their opposition rather than taking the risk of receiving a criminal conviction? Also would such a conviction carry a custodial sentence?

    If my understanding is correct then this bill will alter the face of, what remains of, democracy in the UK by performing a sort of menacing function, even in the absence of full blown invocation, for activities that have nothing to do with campaigning for/against a political party.

    I sincerely hope that I am wrong for all our sakes and would be interested to hear comments from others either confirming or correcting my fears.

  • “We are now working closely with the Electoral Commission to ensure their guidance is as clear and straightforward as possible for campaigners to follow.”

    One of the worst things about this bad government is the way it blithely passes vague and ambiguous legislation on the assumption that everything can be straightened out by ‘guidance’ issued by unelected bodies such as the Electoral Commission, verbals assurances given by politicians in parliament or whatever.

    That really isn’t the way the rule of law is meant to work.

  • Aside from Tony Greaves’s points from his House of Lords position, every other contributor here sees problems with this Act. It seems, if certain people’s opinions here are right, to extend the restrictions which have been put on public demos, sit-ins, environmental protests etc to the more subtle pressure exerted by letter-writing, petitioning, informed influence etc. But it does nothing to keep corporates and their activity in check. It should NEVER have been supported by Liberals (or liberals).

  • Mason Cartwright 30th Jan '14 - 12:00pm

    Some defenders of this bill seem to suggest that because many charities opposed the proposal to exempt charities they were in effect giving support to the argument that this bill presents no threat to charities.

    This seems to be a gross distortion of the reasoning for charities refusing to endorse this exemption.

    Many charities believed that this offer was simply a disingenuous attempt to place an imaginary divide between charities and campaigning groups (divide and conquer in effect).

    Collectively they chose the more honourable course of action:

    to remain united with campaigning groups and put the interests of the UK and democracy before their own vested interests.

    Such a principled stance should be commended and not used politically to claim that charities were in some way endorsing this bill in it’s current form.

    The fact that an exemption was offered to charities actually strengthens the view that the primary target of this legislation is in fact campaigning groups.

  • Mason Cartwright 30th Jan '14 - 1:46pm

    I note that neither Tom Brake nor Tony Greaves have come back to this forum to address any of these concerns. That in itself is interesting after such a strong opening address.

  • If you set out to produce credible legislation to make lobbying more transparent and to regulate 3rd party electoral campaigning and in the process you manage to upset organisations such as “Butterfly Conservation” and the “Campaign for Real Ale” (Full page adverts in the newspapers, 28th January), something has clearly gone badly wrong.
    Obviously, electoral legislation must be unscrupulously non-partisan and, just as important, must be SEEN to be impeccably neutral in party-political terms. Such legislation is of course not cooked up in secret by persons unknown but should, also very obviously, be prepared by a balanced all-party Committee to make it as credible and acceptable as possible when it is published for CONSULTATION with stakeholders and calls for EVIDENCE and, again very obviously, also advance consultation with agencies which have to implement its provisions such as the Electoral Commission. Only after such a pre-legislative scrutiny process can a credible bill to regulate lobbying and 3rd party campaigning sensibly be presented to the Commons. When such a Bill, which deals with matters at the heart of our democratic life, goes through the Commons. it is, of course, not rushed but given all necessary parliamentary time for careful and very detailed scrutiny and any amendments are published in good time so that they can be given proper thought before they are debated. Such a constitutional bill is, of course, not voted through on a whipped party political basis where the vast majority of MPs have not attended the debates, have not examined the bill properly and just vote like zombie lobby-fodder as instructed by their political bosses. When a bill of this nature returns to the Commons from the Lords, several days are, of course, allowed to pass for new Government amendments to be examined.
    We all know what has happened in reality. The Lobbying Bill has been an outrageous abuse of the British legislative process and constitutes contempt for Parliament. That is not just my opinion but that of, for example, the all party Common’s Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee, the House of Lords Constitution Committee, the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights as well as the Harries Commission.
    Do we still remember that once upon a time the Liberal Democrat Party wanted bring more integrity to the British political system, with a fairer voting system and reform of the House of Lords? We have now seen how the LibDems have aided and abetted the Lobbying Bill’s abuse of the British legislative system and turned it into a banana republic legislature. The LibDem’s unique selling point of constitutional renewal has ceased to exist as a credible policy.
    But why? The Lobbying Bill looked already all wrong on the very first day it emerged from the dark and secret place where it was hatched. It could have been killed at birth by the LibDems when it was immediately obvious that it was upsetting and antagonising precisely the people who are most socially active and most likely to vote in elections and when it was equally obvious that there was no factual evidence that it was a matter of great urgency. The matter could easily have been deferred to be dealt with on a more considered basis – as is now going to happen anyway in 2015. The political cost has been very high. A large part – if not most – of the UK’s voluntary sector doesn’t trust the LibDems anymore, being coalition partners co-responsible for this legislative fiasco. And how many members/activists/voters has the Liberal Democrat Party gained by it (my own guess is zero) and how many has the party lost as a result? Tom Brake only presents us with some minor damage limitation in what has been a political disaster for the Liberal Democrats, and he knows it full well.

  • Tony Greaves 30th Jan '14 - 3:32pm

    What? It’s still only the day after? You think I spend my entire life in places like this???

    I think it’s important to discuss the Act as it now is; and not whether it was a good idea in the first place (no), whether it was well thought out and well written (no), whether it was properly consulted on and pre-scrutinised before it appeared in the Commons (no), or even whether it was acceptable when they sent it to the Lords (no).

    Part 1 (the stuff on a register of lobbyists) is still feeble. What is there is good but it only covers a small proportion of lobbyists and lobbying. The single most important change that is happening is probably not in the Act, it’s the way that the many different pubic registers of meetings between ministers and lobbyists that exist at the moment are being brought together in a way that will hopefully be usable by the rest of us. But the sins are those of omission. More will be needed in the future.

    Part 2 was added at a late stage due to very legitimate concerns about big corporate money (and very rich people) intervening in elections to effectively rig them in their own interests. The problem is that any legislation has to apply to everyone, “goodies” and “baddies”. So the conundrum was how to do this without affecting the legitimate campaigning activities of charities and campaign groups. The more we looked at this the more difficult this is. Part 2 is not new, it just amends Part 6 (I think) of the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act 2000.

    Most of the rules have existed for ten years. The Lobbying Bill as presented did however set much lower spending limits, and much lower thresholds for registering with the Electoral Commission – which were the original cause for much of the concern over the Bill. There were also concerns (inter alia) about the changed definition of election activities. The latter was reverted in the Commons to what it has been for the past ten years. The thresholds and limits have been greatly increased in the Lords. The vast majority of charities will see no differences at all with the new Act.

    As for consultation, a lot took place when the Bill was in the Lords. William Wallace (Lord Wallace of Saltaire) personally met about 60 or 70 organisations individually before he had to hand over to “his noble friend” Jim Wallace (Lord Wallace of Tankerness) due to a date with the NHS. Lord Harries’s commission and reports were all based on a programme of consultation with organisations in all parts of the UK. Most of the recommendations of the commission have been agreed by amendments to the Bill or by agreement on how it will be implemented. (I say most, not all – nothing is perfect and indeed neither were all the commission’s proposals). Paul Tyler was meeting people every week up to Third Reading.

    So the process was far from perfect, the Bill was far from perfect, and indeed there are deep flaws that have come to light in PPERA itself.

    What I am saying is that in the seven months that the new rules will now operate (starting after the Scottish referendum), and at the General Election next year, no-one will be gagged, And there is now enough flexibility to allow a reasonable amount of campaigning, both nationally and locally. Then, after the GE, we can all look at it again.

    It seems like a job fairly well done to me (in the Lords that is) with the help of a lot of people – and a crash averted.

    Tony Greaves

  • Mason Cartwright 30th Jan '14 - 3:43pm

    @ Tom Voute

    I agree with your post but sadly I do not believe that additional time for scrutiny would have changed the outcome.

    Regretfully I believe that our political institutions: the commons and the lords can no longer be trusted to represent the interests of this nation.

    I believed in 2010 that the last realistic hope we had of changing the failed status quo was the liberal democrats. I subsequently voted for them.

    I can never do so again in good conscience .

    All that is left is to spoil my ballot paper in 2015 and put my energies elsewhere.

    I still note that tom and tony remain absent.

  • Mason Cartwright 30th Jan '14 - 4:14pm

    @ Tony Greaves

    So you agree that part 1 is feeble.

    In essence are you admitting that the the most crucial part of the bill (as far as the public are concerned: the control of corporate lobbying) is a complete failure yet you voted in it’s favour when you could have chosen to oppose it until it was amended. Is that really what you are stating here?

    For part 2 of the bill are you really stating that it is beyond the competence of both houses to distinguish what constitutes campaigning for/against a political party/entity as opposed to campaigning for/against a particular policy in a non party political way? For clarity Is this your argument?

  • Tony Greaves
    I thought the least you could do (and I appreciate you don’t spend all your time in “places like this”) was to respond to my posts at 1156pm yesterday and 1121 today. Your approach of looking at it as it is now does not address reasons for why the Lib Dems are where they are at this moment, and how Parliamentary Lib Dems got there, and what the h… we are going to do about it now, given that, according to Tom Voute, we have lost an awful lot of support from one of our key sources over it. Well, what ARE we going to do? The whole process seems to be answering questions which neither the public nor the media were asking, so how and why did we get involved???

  • Henry Tinsley 30th Jan '14 - 4:21pm

    What a lot of tripe. The spending by third parties has been slashed by at least 50% (more in reality) but no sensible explanation has been made for this, except some ignorant ramblings by the likes of Brake about US Super-Pacs. It’s obvious that the intention is to close down criticism by civil society in the run-up to the election. Why else would the Countryside Alliance and League Against Cruel Sports actually be working together to oppose this illiberal and oppressive bill?

  • Mason Cartwright 30th Jan '14 - 4:32pm

    @ Tony Greaves

    Your comment “You think I spend my entire life in places like this???” does you a disservice because the tone comes across terribly.

    Places like this are where the public live: the people who are affected by the policies that parliament make.

    I would respectfully request that you come to places like this more often.

  • Tony Greaves said “I think it’s important to discuss the Act as it now is; and not whether it was a good idea in the first place”. I argue that the real world does not work that way. The Act as it is now consists of two elements 1) the actual printed words of statute law and 2) its context, i.e. how it has come about and what it its purpose (if there is a coherent purpose) is PERCEIVED to be. Ony lawyers will read the words of the Act, 1), in isolation from 2), Normal people will try to make sense of what they see in 1) in the context of 2), or even look at 2) without bothering to try to understand the awkward and technical language of 1). Even if, for the argument’s sake, the Act had in the end miraculously become a technically near perfect piece of democratic election law after all, it would l still be distrusted because of the way it came about. It is politically naive to try to make such a neat distinction hetween process and outcome. With low election turnouts and widespead contempt for all politicians and formal politics, parliamentary democracy is already in crisis. The irresponsible way the lobbying Act has been produced has made matters even worse. This is how the Liberal democrats have sold out their core principles and have been seen to do so .
    And by the way, politcians’ summarised statements of what the Bill, and now Act, will do or not do have no more standing than the private opinions of anyone else. Only the very close reading of the text itself, if necessary interpreted by a court of law, will establish that. Politicians’ summaries of their own legislation are especially unreliable when it has been poorly drafted and rushed through.

  • Henry Tinsley 30th Jan '14 - 5:47pm

    It would be interesting to know whether part 2 of this act – the jihad against civil society – was initiated by the Conservatives or, as has been rumoured, was actually a LibDem initiative.

  • Mason Cartwright 30th Jan '14 - 5:52pm

    I think that tony greaves and tom brake have only really discredited themselves through their contributions here and add weight to the argument that we, the public are on our own and should look no more towards westminster for judicial governance. I believe that it is better to spoil your ballot papers as opposed to not voting but we all need to begin thinking about innovative ways to protect our nation from further damage of this kind.

  • David Allen 30th Jan '14 - 6:23pm

    Mason Cartwright:

    “@ Tony Greaves …. I would respectfully request that you come to places like this more often.”

    Tony Greaves is one of the few senior Lib Dems who does “come to places like this” pretty often. Rather more often than you do, Mr Cartwright. If you read his second post, I think you will have to agree that he has obviously been working his socks off in the Lords. And then he has taken time to talk to LDV as well.

    Now, I do think that people who do that can sometimes get into an angry, defensive frame of mind. When they have achieved a great deal in terms of reducing the bad consequences of a bad job, and nobody seems to want to give them any credit for it, they can get stroppy. They can tend to overclaim, and argue not merely that they have reduced the harm, but that they have achieved something good. Shirley Williams did something like that over the NHS Bill.

    What we should be saying is “thanks for all the hard work”. Then we might reasonably say “now let’s talk about what’s still wrong with this”.

  • Mason Cartwright 30th Jan '14 - 6:55pm

    @ David Allen

    I simply cannot agree with your views David.

    I am not claiming that anyone is not working hard but that is not the main issue here.

    The main issue is that this bill (now to become law) is deeply flawed and no one held a gun to the head of lib dem MP’s or Peers to pass a flawed and dangerous piece of legislation.

    It wasn’t in the Coalition agreement so they did it willingly by their own hand knowing it will make for a bad law that harms democracy and this nation.

    The argument that we pass a bad law and then hope to make it better later, in other words after it has caused all sorts of collateral damage is simply irresponsible.

    Your objections to my periphery criticisms does not progress the central issue.

  • Henry Tinsley 30th Jan '14 - 7:38pm

    @David Allen. Maybe the LibDem lords should should just have the guts to say ‘we’re not going to vote for this illiberal rubbish’. Or if that is a step too far, they might not have opposed Lord Harries amendments (which Brake ludicrously claims they ‘listened carefully to).

  • Mason Cartwright 30th Jan '14 - 8:14pm

    If tom brake and tony greaves can’t win over the people on lib dem voice on this issue I doubt that they will fare well beyond these shores.

    I do however give credit to tony greaves for at least coming back to this forum and attempting to hoist the flag in what may yet prove to be a hurricane.

    has anyone seen tom of late?

  • Peter Watson 30th Jan '14 - 10:00pm

    @Mason Cartwright “I do however give credit to tony greaves for at least coming back to this forum”
    It is good that Tony Greaves returns to a place like this to engage in these discussions, though I sense that he feels the this Bill is making the best of a bad job rather than something to be proud of.
    The best I can say about Tom Brake is that at least he is consistent: in each of his three posts on this topic (and all of his others) he has not bothered to respond to the debate. Whoever he is listening to, it is not people on LibDemVoice.

  • Mason Cartwright 30th Jan '14 - 10:34pm

    @ Peter Watson

    As a newcomer I didn’t realise that he was a repeat offender in this regard so thanks for letting me now what to expect going forward.

    It is in some ways ironic that the guy who is elected is less contributary than the guy who has a job for life regardless of performance, especially given that he wrote the initial article.

    Correction MP’s also have a job irrespective of performance.

    Has anyone seen tom?

  • Mason Cartwright 30th Jan '14 - 11:26pm

    I suppose at the end of the day the only question that matters is who.

    Who owns who?
    Who coerces who?
    Who is putting themselves before the nation?
    Who is trading policies?
    Who is a wolf in sheep’s clothing?
    Who is courting corporate interests?
    etc……………….

    The who is all important here because the why doesn’t make sense whichever way you look at it.

  • Tony Greaves 30th Jan '14 - 11:41pm

    Some extraordinary and some rather silly comments here!

    As for “coming here” I do so far more than any other LD peer (more than is for my own good). I do so because I think public discussion and debate on what we try to do is vital. But to attack me for not replying to something within hours (or even a day) says more about the rather crazy world we now live in than anything else.

    @Mason Cartwright “In essence are you admitting that the the most crucial part of the bill (as far as the public are concerned: the control of corporate lobbying) is a complete failure yet you voted in it’s favour when you could have chosen to oppose it until it was amended. Is that really what you are stating here?”

    I did not say that Part I of the Bill is a “complete” failure. I said what I said – it is feeble. I did not vote for or against it because in general that is not what the House of Lords does. There is a general presumption that the Government is entitled to its legislation (when it comes from the Commons) and our job is to “scrutinise and revise” – ie improve. In the case of this Bill the Liberal Democrats who formed our backbench “team” on the Bill decided to make some efforts on Part 1 (Lobbying) but spend most of our time, in the Chamber and outside it, trying to sort out Part 2. (We more or less ignored Part 3 which is more nonsense in my view – but you can’t do everything at once).

    There were no votes in the Lords for and against the Bill a whole, something that only happens in exceptional circumstances.

    @Mason Cartwright. “The main issue is that this bill (now to become law) is deeply flawed and no one held a gun to the head of lib dem MP’s or Peers to pass a flawed and dangerous piece of legislation.”

    This is actually just not true. The substantial amendments passed in the Lords means that it is in no way a “dangerous” piece of legislation. It is flawed, but that is in many ways because PPERA itself is deeply flawed. (This may be why Labour in the Lords did so little work on Part 2 of this Bill). But PPERA as amended by the Act simply does not gag anyone, and it does not stop anyone campaigning at a reasonable level. (Of course you can say that camapigning for a particular outcome in an election should not be conrolled in any way – but if the political parties are controlled on what they can spend, why should other people not be similarly controlled? Or do you want big money to be able to buy elections?)

    @Henry Tinsley.” Or if that is a step too far, they might not have opposed Lord Harries amendments (which Brake ludicrously claims they ‘listened carefully to).”

    As I pointed out above, most of the “Commission” amendments proposed by Lords Harries (and other proposed by Lord Tyler) were accepted – but as Government amendments rewritten by the Government’s own draftsmen – which is the way it almost always happens for obvious reasons. Believe me, the Harries Commission had more direct effect than any other similar initiative that I can remember in nearly 14 years in the Lords. With a little assistance from within the Coalition.

    @Peter Watson. Yes of course. This was a poor Bill, knocked together at the last minute. What the Lords has done in the case of Part 2 (Third Party Campaigning) is knock it into sufficient shape that it will be workable for the rest of this Parliament. To that extent it’s “job well done”. But anyone who still goes around telling people that it is the death of democracy, the endof campaigning, and a disaster for charities and grassroots third party campaign groups (as opposed to big money) is simply not telling the truth and actually doing potential damage if any of those groups believe it and stop campaigning.

    And unlike most (all) people here I have actually read PPERA, read the new Act, and followed the debates and changes made during its passage through the Lords. Yes we would have liked to see two or three more changes, but they are not fundamental.

    And yes, it has been and remains a PR disaster for us – a point I have been making repeatedly to our people for the last three months. My views of Liberal Democrat PR during the coalition are well known. But that does not alter
    the fact that this Act in its final form does not gag people and will not stop campaigning.

    (As for Tom Brake, Ministers really do have more to do with their time than engage in continuous discussion on internet forums. That is just a fact – the fact that Tom posted here in the first place is to be welcomed. How many other MInisters do so?)

    Tony

  • Tony – I note you haven’t answered me on the deeper points I made. Is that because, essentially, you agree with me?

  • Peter Watson 31st Jan '14 - 7:54am

    @Tony Greaves “As for Tom Brake, Ministers really do have more to do with their time than engage in continuous discussion on internet forums. That is just a fact – the fact that Tom posted here in the first place is to be welcomed. How many other MInisters do so?”
    To their credit, recently Ed Davey and Jo Swinson have responded in threads following their posts on Lib Dem Voice, and maybe other senior politicians have as well. Understandably they don’t (and should not be expected to) get bogged down in the discussions, but I’m very impressed when they come back after a day or so to reply to a few criticisms. If he has no interest in listening to other views or defending his position, then surely Tom Brake could simply publish a press statement on the Lib Dem national or constituency party website. It’s the discussions on Lib Dem Voice that make it such a great site, and somebody prepared to debate the issue could then post an article about Brake’s statement here.

  • Mason Cartwright 31st Jan '14 - 7:55am

    @Tony Greaves

    Well if Part 1 is feeble (the part that controls corporate lobbying)

    and

    Part 2 does not distinguish between campaigning for/against a political party as opposed to campaigning for/against a political policy in a non party political way.

    It is a law that protects corporate interests and limits civic opposition to government policy.

  • Peter Watson 31st Jan '14 - 8:29am

    @Tony Greaves
    P.S. I should have added that your posts in threads are an example of what can be good about Lib Dem Voice. Whether or not I agree with you (usually I agree), reading a perspective from inside the Lords is great and I thank you for it.

  • Tony Greaves said: “And yes, it has been and remains a PR disaster for us – a point I have been making repeatedly to our people for the last three months.” Personally, I think that talking about PR missed the point in a big way, but I am reminded of a profound saying in the PR industry “You can’t polish a turd.” But that is exactly what Tom Brake attempted to do in his original post. The big elephant turd in the room is not what happened in the House of Lords, but what took place in the House of Commons. Any PR professional would, I am sure, recommend that the first step towards recovery is to come out with the truth, starting with Tim Hinsley’s question “It would be interesting to know whether part 2 of this act – the jihad against civil society – was initiated by the Conservatives or, as has been rumoured, was actually a LibDem initiative”. Whoever came up with the idea of this Bill is now in hiding. The next question to be answered is whose idea exactly it was to bully the Bill through the Commons in the way it was done. Further questions which come to mind are, for example, what precisely the LibDem whips told the LibDem members of the Commons to make them (bar a few honourable exceptions) vote as they did; where was LibDem high command in all this – didn’t they see the (“PR”) disaster unfolding from day one? – and so on. Tom Brake is an extremely intelligent and capable man. Turning up for a spot of turd-polishing on this forum and then quickly walking away again is unworthy of him. He probably has the full inside knowledge of who cooked up the Bill and of what happened in the Commons. Until all that is out in the open, the air is cleared and the lessons are learned, the turd will just get smellier.

    And yes, I read the Bill and all the other stuff, and followed the Commons proceedings on line –with horrified fascination, as a “civilian” member of the public. For those who didn’t, it’s worse than you imagine. People fought and died for parliamentary democracy and the way you saw it – in real time – reduced to a cynical farce by the Coalition with this Lobbing Bill was beyond satire, and way beyond merely a bit of a PR problem for the LibDems.

  • Mason Cartwright 31st Jan '14 - 1:16pm

    If the liberal democrats had:

    Refused the lobbying bill until it effectively targeted corporate lobbying and avoided damaging the civil voice.

    Refused the health & social care bill until the reforms did not include vast additional privatisation.

    Refused to raise student tuition fees OR agreed to raise them only for certain subjects that did not support the overall economic interests of the UK OR raised them temporarily as an interim measure.

    Refused to engage in a deficit reduction plan until it effectively dealt with tax evasion, aggressive tax avoidance and protected the most vulnerable in society.

    There may be a case for holding faith with them.

    As it stands however it is difficult to see how rehabilitation is possible.

    They simply believe that their ship is on a course to Nirvana and no one can dissuade them from that delusion.

    I do not say this gleefully as I listened very carefully to the dialogue leading up to 2010 and cast my vote for them with hope in my heart. It is therefore with a heavy heart that I have to accept that this was a terrible error of judgement.

  • Henry Tinsley 31st Jan '14 - 3:16pm

    The answer to some of Tom Voute’s questions may be in the Gagging Bill’s other nickname ‘the Sheffield Hallam Preservation Bill’. I mean you wouldn’t want a bunch of students and activists stirring up trouble in marginal seats, woukd you? So strangle them in red tape, slash their permitted election expenditure, and claim you’re saving the UK from US style Super Pacs and other mythical beasts. As for all that stuff about liberalism and freedom, you’ve heard the mantra about how the LibDems are a grown up party now. Apparently, the only problem with the legislation that it is a ‘PR disaster’. Oh Gladstone, where art thou now?

  • Mason Cartwright 31st Jan '14 - 3:54pm

    @ Henry Tinsley

    Yes it was interesting that one of the primary concerns that has come up is PR.

    I am rather more concerned with the actual effect of the bill on democracy.

  • Mason Cartwright 31st Jan '14 - 4:27pm

    @ Joe Otten

    Can you please elaborate on how this is the same law as the 2000 law?

  • Joe Otten
    Do you imagine that telling opponents of the ‘Gagging’ bill to just shut up is an effective way to win people round to your point of view?

  • Mason Cartwright 31st Jan '14 - 4:55pm

    @AndrewR

    Don’t rise to it, he was just baiting people.

    Let him have his fun while it lasts 🙂

  • Tony Greaves 31st Jan '14 - 5:05pm

    I will make one more effort, though I fear I cannot claim any expertise on elephant turds.

    @Tim 13: “Tony – I note you haven’t answered me on the deeper points I made. Is that because, essentially, you agree with me?”

    Your deeper points appear to be about the way that Bills are generated and pass through Parliament. My view is that the system is disfunctional, but it’s not really the subject here. I do hope that the Liberal Democrats will use the experience of the current Coalition to do some serious thinking about how it can be reformed in future.

    @Mason Cartwright. It is the same law with amendments made to it. That is what Part 2 is – a series of amendments to Part 6 or PPERA. Fundamentally nothing has changed. It’s the same law that New Labour pushed through with minimal scrutiny in 2000.

    @Henry Tinsley. There is nothing at all in the amended PPERA to prevent “students and activists” or indeed anyone else “stirring up trouble” anywhere in any seats. It does however for the first time restrict how much money large corporate bodies or rich men can spend in a particular seat. – just as candidates and parties are restricted. This is a
    step forwards (and anyone who thinks otherwise has a very odd view of democracy). In my view the restrictions on Third Party constituency spending are not restrictive enough, but at least they are now in place, and quite rightly so.

    The “red tape” is simply that if an organisation spends enough (on promoting a candidate or party) to be over the national threshold, it has to keep records of what it spends and whether or not that applies to a particular constituency or constituencies. This is something that already applies to political parties themselves (and they seem to be able to comply and still campaign) so why is it an unreasonable requirement?

    By the way I agree that the debates in the Commons (some of which I watched) were unsatisfactory. But that is how the Commons deals with Bills. It’s why the Lords have to do what we try to do.

    Tony

  • Mason Cartwright 31st Jan '14 - 5:16pm

    @ Tony Greaves

    Please explain further how part 6 places the same funding restraints on non party (non electioneering) campaigning as part 2 of this new law.

    If it is essentially the same the answer should be simple and take you no more than 2 lines of text.

  • Mason Cartwright 31st Jan '14 - 5:31pm

    @ Tony Greaves

    Additionally can I ask that you publish a link to Part 6 of PPERA on this forum.

  • Henry Tinsley 31st Jan '14 - 6:25pm

    What Tony Greaves doesn’t tell you that is they’ve slashed by at least 50% the money activist groups are allowed to spend in the run-up to an election, in order to shut them up. So Hope not Hate can spend around 2.5% of that allowed to the BNP, ditto 38 Degrees which has about 5 times the membership of the 3 main political parties combined. Needless to say, the amount of money rich people can give to political parties is still completely unrestricted. Clearly, the government think 38 Degrees, Oxfam and the NUS are a bigger threat to democracy…

  • Mason Cartwright 31st Jan '14 - 8:25pm

    Some of the ducking, diving, deft manoeuvring, selective inclusions and strategic omissions as witnessed here make Muhammad Ali look like an amateur.

    Maybe Graham Allen is also wrong

    http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/graham-allen-oliver-huitson/interview-what-was-really-going-on-with-lobbying-bill

  • Tony Greaves 31st Jan '14 - 9:09pm

    Part 2 of the Lobbying Bill (“Transparency of Lobbying, Third Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act”) is not a stand-alone piece of legislation. It is merely a series of amendments to Part 6 of PPERA (the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000). I don’t know if the new definitive wording has been put on the internet yet. PPERA as amended is now the relevant legislation.

    I have just received another mailing from 38 Degrees which is quite frankly a set of lies.

    Tony

  • “Additionally can I ask that you publish a link to Part 6 of PPERA on this forum.”

    http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2000/41/part/VI

  • Leviticus18_23 31st Jan '14 - 11:00pm

    If you don’t like the way this has hobbled democracy, you can always take to the streets to protest.
    And be sprayed with a water cannon. (Coming to UK streets soon!)
    Can’t believe this awful mess got through. Can’t believe anyone would try and justify it.

  • Tony Greaves replied to Tim13; “Your deeper points appear to be about the way that Bills are generated and pass through Parliament. My view is that the system is disfunctional, but it’s not really the subject here.” I couldn’t disagree more. That is very much the subject here. Of course, Parliament has a long and dishonourable history of arrogant and ignorant executives (governments) of all political colours bullying and rushing through poorly thought out and inadequately scrutinised legislation – often with hideously expensive consequences. They get away with it because of supine MPs who have lost all sense of their primary purpose, which is to be members of the country’s supreme legislative body and that their first and foremost responsibility is to protect the integrity of the legislative process. Instead they let themselves be bullied, cajoled, and sometimes even blackmailed to vote as instructed, on legislation they often don’t understand, by the overbearing executive. The result is an avalanche of bad legislation. The process of the Lobbying Bill is not unique, but is a particularly clear cut textbook example of this dysfunctional legislative process. That is the Bill’s significance. I suppose I was naïve in that I did not expect the LibDem MPs to go native quite as quickly as they did, after such a long time out of government. But the result is that the LibDems are now no different from the other parties; they have swallowed wholesale the entire discredited dysfunctional system. That is what the Lobbying Bill, which they were under no obligation to support, has made abundantly clear. The outcome is that instead of widespread contempt for 2 main parties we now have widespread contempt for 3 main parties and that is why I called the Lobbying Bill’s process in the Commons “irresponsible”. It no longer strikes me as very irrational when a lot of people outside the Westminster bubble think “a plague on all your houses” and can’t be bothered to vote for any of that lot. The subject, as I see it, is how the Lobbying Bill’s process – as a separate issue from its contents – is a big nail in the coffin of parliamentary democracy.

  • Mason Cartwright 1st Feb '14 - 7:38am

    @ Tony Greaves

    I find difficult to reconcile the 2 earlier comments you made:

    “Fundamentally nothing has changed”

    Followed by:

    “It does however for the first time restrict how much money large corporate bodies or rich men can spend in a particular seat.”

    To me this is a bit like saying “we have only changed the dolphin’s DNA by 1% so it is still essentially a dolphin”. What you now have of course is actually a giraffe.

    If it was the case that the restrictions applied only to large corporate bodies and rich men and did not interfere with civil campaigning groups and charities no one would be on this forum now objecting. Correction they would still have an issue with part 1.

    In essence this was the clarity that I feared I would get but at least I now have it.

  • Henry Tinsley 1st Feb '14 - 4:24pm

    It’s deeply ironic than Tony Greaves and co claim to be dealing with the problem of ‘rich men’ in politics. What do the these rich men actually do? They give to political parties so as to get access or be given peerages. And they’re lined up on the benches of the House of Lords , passing legislation to sabotage the rights of ordinary citizens to participate in the political process. That’s what the Gagging Bill is about, as everyone knows. Why else did nearly all of civil society oppose it, and hundred of thousands of people sign petitions, e mail their MPs and attend meetings up and down the country, in spite of a virtual media black-out?

  • For the record, Tom Brake, who started his thread, is still in hiding and has not responded to the discussion.

    @ Tony Greaves: “I have just received another mailing from 38 Degrees which is quite frankly a set of lies” and leaving it at that is not awfully helpful. What did they say? And what are the lies?

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?

Advert



Recent Comments

  • User AvatarJeanette Sunderland 16th Oct - 12:40am
    How disappointing that you referred to the colour of Joe's dress before you commented on what she said.... So disappointing.
  • User AvatarRoland 15th Oct - 11:01pm
    @Ross - Its probably more to do with peoples understanding of UK English grammar and thus the correct usage of Licence and License.
  • User AvatarTonyH 15th Oct - 10:17pm
    David Evans - "Ryan didn’t have any experience of UK politics." I was actually thinking about one E. Pamplin, but maybe that's ancient history now....
  • User AvatarPaul Barker 15th Oct - 8:14pm
    While I understand some of the concerns expressed in this thread I disagree about the threats facing us. Right now, it seems to be that...
  • User AvatarPeter Martin 15th Oct - 8:09pm
    @ Katharine, I did think twice about including Guy Verhofstadt. I haven't done an extensive background check on his views, but I did turn up...
  • User Avatarfrankie 15th Oct - 8:05pm
    It also increases Iran's influence. Right next door to Israel sits an ally of theirs. Syria has a battlehardend population and army, with no fear...