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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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The Transparency of Lobbying Bill

Thursday, September 26, 2013

I have been approached by a number of constituents to set out my views on the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill.

I am opposed to the Bill and this is also the view of the Parliamentary Labour Party. The Bill had its Second Reading in the House of Commons during the early part of September and I voted for a number of amendments to try and improve what I consider to be poorly drafted legislation. I voted against the final version, but it was passed by the government majority.

There will be further days of discussion during the Committee stage in October when further amendments will be put forward. I will also vote against the Bill at its Third Reading following this stage.  

Opposition to the Bill

This Bill will not stop lobbying by people acting for large companies such as the tobacco industry, but would stop Cancer Research UK campaigning on government tobacco policy. This is a nonsense.  With no code of conduct or sanctions for bad behaviour the Bill is a step backwards from the current voluntary register.  I believe we need reform of the present situation, but a well thought through system.   

Lobbying is an integral part of our democratic system. Charities and voluntary organisations and others play a vital role in advising politicians and political parties on issues. I want to be aware of facts, opinions and research on issues to help me to come to an informed view.  I do not want to see charities and campaigners gagged.

I am particularly concerned that changes in the Bill would mean that charities and campaigners could not participate in the democratic process in the lead up to an election, even if their campaign was not intended to affect the outcome of an election. This would harm the quality of the national debate on the big issues of the day.  It will also introduce a form of censorship which can only harm our democracy. Leading campaigners will be unable to pass legitimate comment on a government’s record or on manifesto pledges.

There is also some ambiguity about the role of Members of Parliament.  There is a suggestion that the Bill will affect MPs who are campaigning on issues that do not directly relate to their constituency.  For example, I have written to Ministers to express constituents’ concerns about fracking.  Yet there are no plans for fracking in Sheffield Heeley so in future this Bill, if enacted, could hamper my ability to raise issues like that on behalf of constituents.

There will be significant red tape and additional costs for charities.  They will have to declare staff and administration costs for any campaign, and larger charities will have to pull back from any public facing activity in the year before elections to avoid hitting the spending limit.  This is an unnecessary burden, and particularly so at a time when charities are struggling to keep their donations up and sometimes campaigning on behalf of the most vulnerable in society.

The Bill does nothing to keep those with a lot of money from unduly influencing politicians in return for funding political parties.  I believe there has to be transparency for third party campaigners.  The Labour Party set a cap on this in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, to ensure that we could never become like America, where unaccountable organisations can spend vast sums of money.  

Unfortunately the Bill does nothing to enhance this transparency.  It does nothing to address the real ‘big money’ in politics which the government say it is designed to do.  The big money in politics is not in third party spending, but in political parties who spent 10 times more than third parties at the last election.  

Undue haste

There has been no real consultation on the Bill and it has come under criticism from political and constitutional experts and the voluntary sector. The Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee has been forced to hold emergency evidence sessions and the Chair called the Bill a ‘dog’s breakfast’.  The Electoral Commission are concerned that there has been a lack of discussion with them on the proposals and no opportunity for pre-legislative scrutiny.

By the time of Second Reading, there had been only three sitting parliamentary days since the Bill was published, and only a further three sitting days before the Committee Stage began on the floor of the House of Commons.  This limited the opportunity for proper scrutiny and reflection on these far reaching proposals. This is a wasted opportunity for political reform which attacks civil society and trade unions. 

Amendments

The aims of the Labour Party’s amendments  has been to ensure there is a proper register of lobbyists with penalties for infringement; to mitigate the damage caused to the legitimate activities of charities and campaigners; to reduce the bureaucratic burden on trade unions and ensure confidentiality and protect the data of union members.

Next steps

The Bill is due back in the House of Commons for further debate on 8 and 9 October.  I intend to vote for those amendments that improve this flawed piece of legislation. After the Third Reading, if the House of Commons votes in favour, the Bill will pass to the House of Lords where Labour peers will continue to try to amend the proposals.

26th September 2013

 


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