The Lobbying Bill: What will it mean for the UK’s global reputation?

Next week sees the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill – more commonly known as the Lobbying Bill – return to the House of Lords for debate.

The Bill includes a number of provisions that are worth looking into for those with an interest in electoral law, such as new regulations aimed at spending by donors and trade unions, and also attempts to regulate the behaviour of lobbying throughout the electoral cycle following a number of lobbying scandals that have engulfed this and previous governments.

Whilst there is an understandable desire to weaken the ability of wealthy donors and shady lobbyists to influence policy and determine the result of elections, in current format the Bill would impose a number of restrictions on charities that would significantly restrict their ability to campaign on the issues pertaining to their charitable mission.

As has been discussed in more detail elsewhere, the changes to expenditure by third parties, which is a distinction that includes charities, have been significantly lowered for the duration of the general election period, which means that even smaller charities could now meet the threshold. The Bill could also restrict campaigning activities which attempt to raise awareness of issues without making them party-political, and threatens the role of the charity sector as an independent voice.

There is an interesting international angle to all this which has so far been given little attention. CAF is currently running the Future World Giving project which, among other things, is examining the relationship between charities and governments across the world. The UK has always been a world leader when it comes to creating an enabling environment, and our global influence means that many countries still look to us for guidance on this issue. Eroding charities’ ability to engage in advocacy during elections could damage our reputation as a bastion of civic freedom and have an impact on the way that policy develops in nations where civil society is nascent.

In addition, charities are uniquely placed to speak out about issues of concern to certain groups in society, and any restriction on this function would have very damaging effects on those who rely on the work of charities to advance their cause and to give them a voice. The National Compact, signed by the Prime Minister David Cameron in 2010, states as the first principle that the Government should “respect and uphold the independence of civil society organisations (CVOs) to deliver their mission, including their right to campaign.” The Lobbying Bill appears to breach this principle, and we believe must be amended to allow charities to continue their advocacy role.

Finally, over the past decade international observers have witnessed the development of a regressive trend towards the treatment of civil society, with nations such as Indonesia, Nigeria and Ecuador proposing regressive legislation restricting advocacy by civil society organisations. This trend has increased in pace since 2009, and in current form the Lobbying Bill would mean the UK following these international patterns and severely weakening our civil society.

When the Bill returns to the House of Lords on Monday, Peers will be able to put forward proposed changes to the legislation, and we are supporting an amendment put forward by Lord Phillips of Sudbury, which would exempt charities from the clauses governing “controlled expenditure.” Whilst there are also wider concerns about the impact on non-charitable NGOs, we believe that this amendment represented the most practical solution on the table at this time. We have also written to Peers to provide them with the international context that the Bill exists in, and to warn them of the threat it poses to civil society in Britain.

Last week we were celebrating the UK’s position as the sixth most charitable nation in the world. Next week, we are asking members of the House of Lords to act to ensure that the UK retains its’ position as a world leader for the treatment of civil society. How can you help? Get in touch with a Peer directly, and urge them to make sure that the Lobbying Bill doesn’t restrict the impact of charities.
Steve Clapperton

2 responses to “The Lobbying Bill: What will it mean for the UK’s global reputation?

  1. Pingback: 2013: The Review of Our Year | Giving Thought·

  2. Pingback: 2014 – Our Review of the Year | Giving Thought·

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