Monday, 16 September 2013

We will not be gagged

The current version of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Bill if it became law would stifle democratic debate and increase apathy with the political system.. 

‘In connection with’
The new test of ‘in connection with enhancing the standing of parties and/or candidates’ (clause 26(3) is much broader than the existing test of whether material can be ‘reasonably regarded as intended’ to be for election purposes.

For example, if an NGO or charity lists those election candidates who support a particular policy that activity could be caught by the Bill’ Such naming of supporters of a public policy is a common, and legitimate, campaigning tool currently used by organisations to promote their preferred policies. 

See the briefing by the Electoral Commission for examples of currently allowed campaign activity which would potentially be prohibited under the Bill:

‘Controlled expenditure’
‘Controlled expenditure’ which must be reported has been set at 2% (clause 27(3)) compared to 5% in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act. No rationale or justification has been given for this discrepancy and it is puzzling that non-party political organisations should be subject to stricter regulations than political parties.

For the full text of the Bill see:

Staff costs
Third parties are required to declare staff costs within controlled expenditure. This is stricter than the regime for political parties under the PPERA, where the argument was accepted that it can be difficult to divide staff activity between election activity and non-election activity. Why should charities, NOGs and campaigning organisations be treated more harshly than political parties?

One year period
Expenses are capped for a whole year before an election. This is an unacceptable constraint on campaigning activity for non-party political organisations.  An election can be called with less than one year’s notice. Therefore applying these spending caps retrospectively strongly curtails activity for campaigning organisations. Past activity would have to be audited and accounted for before they could plan future expenditure which might be considered to be ‘in connection with’ electoral promotion.

Big business
The main reason for thsi Bill is a public perception that big business has far too much influence over the parliamentary process, partly because of the resources they have available for lobbying. This Bill will do nothing to stop that as business is expressly excluded from the provisions of the bill. 

Part 1 of the Bill only applies to professional consultants who lobby. Paragraph 3 of Schedule 1 explicitly exempts those carrying out a business or employees of a business where lobbying is not the main purpose of their business. For example, an employee of Glaxo Smith Klein can lobby an MP or a Minister with impunity on behalf of GSK and not be subject to the provisions of the Bill. To read the Schedules see:

This Bill should be rejected by Parliament or our democracy will suffer.

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