Invitation to give evidence to the commission

The Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement has today written to Secretary of State Andrew Lansley inviting him to give evidence to them as part of the commission’s consultation process.
 
Other parliamentarians invited to give evidence include:
  • Tom Brake MP, Deputy Leader of the Commons and a lead minister responsible for the Lobbying Bill
  • Graham Allen MP, chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee
  • Angela Eagle MP, Shadow Leader of the House
A letter has been sent to all MPs and peers to inform them of the launching of the commission and asking them to take seriously its recommendations about changes to Part 2 of the bill.
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Dear Andrew Lansley,

We are writing to announce the launch of a Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement and to invite you to give evidence.

We are disappointed that Government failed to consult civil society, or even the Electoral Commission, before publishing the Transparency in Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill. The Commission, which is formed of representatives from charities, campaigning groups, academics, think tanks and online networks and is supported by over 30 organisations (see below), will undertake rapid consultation with civil society and stakeholders.

The Commission will address key issues of concern regarding non-party campaigning regulation ahead of elections including:

a) Appropriate spending thresholds for activity subject to regulation.

b) Activities that should properly be regarded as partisan ‘election activity’ and therefore subject to regulation.

c) Appropriate spending limits for ‘election activity’.

d) Whether spending limits are appropriate for individual constituencies, and the level of any such limits.

e)   Appropriate definition for types of spending which should count towards such limits

f) Appropriate regulatory period for ‘election activity’.

g) Appropriate regulation in devolved administrations.

We will make recommendations in time to inform the Lords stage of the Lobbying Bill. Given the breadth of civil society represented by commissioners and supporting organisations, and the further outreach that we will undertake, we hope that parliamentarians will consider the recommendations carefully in amending the legislation.

We invite you to give evidence to the Commission. We would also like to meet with you to discuss the recommendations of the Commission once they have been formed ahead of the Lords Committee stage. Please contact Clare Hammacott, Commission secretariat manager: clare.hammacott@civilsocietycommission.info 07941114999.

Yours sincerely,

Commissioners:

Lesley-Anne Alexander, Chair, Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations

Baroness Mallalieu QC, President, Countryside Alliance

Justine Roberts, Chief Executive, Mumsnet

Toni Pearce, President, NUS

Andrew Chadwick, Professor of Political Science, Royal Holloway, University of London

Rob Berkeley, Director, Runnymede Trust

Georgette Mulheir, Chief Executive, Lumos

Nick Pickles, Chief Executive, Big Brother Watch

The Commission is supported by the following organisations:

  • Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations

  • Action Aid

  • Amnesty International UK

  • Barrow Cadbury Trust

  • Better Transport

  • Big Brother Watch

  • Bond

  • Christian Aid

  • Christian Institute

  • Citizens UK

  • Countryside Alliance

  • Electoral Reform Society

  • Electoral Reform Society (Wales)

  • Friends of the Earth

  • Gingerbread

  • Greenpeace UK

  • Hope Not Hate

  • Jewish Leadership Council

  • Lancashire Badger Trust

  • Lumos

  • Mumsnet

  • Muslim Council of Britain

  • National Union of Students

  • NCVO

  • Oxfam GB

  • People & Planet

  • Peter Tatchell Foundation

  • Quakers

  • RSPB

  • Small Charities Coalition

  • Stop HS2

  • Sue Ryder

  • The Royal British Legion

  • The Wildlife Trusts

  • Unlock Democracy

  • Women’s Institute

  • 38 Degrees

Launch of Commission to reform Government’s Lobbying Bill

For more information, please contact Hamir Patel on 020 3544 4947 / 07771 780 946

Coalition of civil society organisations launch Commission to reform Government’s Lobbying Bill

A diverse coalition of prominent charities, campaign groups, academics, think tanks and online networks has today launched an independent commission in response to the Government’s Lobbying Bill. The commission will investigate the impact of the proposed legislation on civil society following concerns that it will have a chilling effect on charities and campaigning organisations speaking out on issues of public concern ahead of general elections.

The Commission on Civil Society and Democracy includes experts drawn from across civil society. These are:

    • Lesley-Anne Alexander, Chair, Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations
    • Baroness Mallalieu QC, President, Countryside Alliance
    • Justine Roberts, Chief Executive, Mumsnet
    • Toni Pearce, President, NUS
    • Andrew Chadwick, Professor of Political Science, Royal Holloway, University of London
    • Nick Pickles, Chief Executive, Big Brother Watch
    • Rob Berkeley, Director, Runnymede Trust
    • Georgette Mulheir, Chief Executive, Lumos

The commission is supported by a broad range of 37 organisations including the Royal British Legion, the Women’s Institute and Christian Aid.

The commission will take evidence from a cross-section of civil society to ensure the widest range of views are heard. It will seek to ensure the Bill does not threaten democratic debate in the UK, and develop an alternative framework for regulating the activities of civil society organisations in elections. It will make recommendations to Parliament in time for the Committee Stage of the Lobbying Bill in the House of Lords.

Commenting on the launch of the commission:

Baroness Mallalieu, President, Countryside Alliance said: “This Commission stems from deep disquiet amongst a whole range of very different voluntary and campaigning organisations about Part 2 of the Lobbying Bill which currently contains proposals which we believe are potentially highly damaging to the voice of democracy. As the Government is not planning to consult those affected or to re-examine the Bill before it reaches the Lords in late October this Commission will try to do so in the very limited time available. We hope to identify the changes which need to be made to prevent this Bill undermining the right to campaign and causing real damage to free speech before it becomes law.”

Justine Roberts, Chief Executive, Mumsnet said: “Mumsnet members have powered some influential and successful campaigns over the years. As a community, we believe very strongly that ordinary people speaking up and getting involved in the political process makes for a healthier democracy. I’m excited to be part of this commission, and hope the government will welcome our effort to improve the Lobbying Bill.”

Nick Pickles, Chief Executive, Big Brother Watch said: “Big Brother Watch campaigns to defend civil liberties and protect privacy, from both governments and private companies. We need to be free to campaign and to hold to account politicians and businesses whatever the political circumstances and without fear of undue legal threats. It’s absolutely right civil society works to come up with solutions based on thorough evidence and wide consultation and the commission is a unique opportunity to do this.”

Toni Pearce, President, NUS, said: “This bill had been woefully lacking in consultation, was ill thought out and remains poorly drafted, but most importantly, it threatens to undermine vital democratic freedoms. It is now time for the Government to listen to civil society organisations about the positive role our voices not only do have, but can and should have, in the democratic process.”

Andrew Chadwick, Professor of Political Science, Royal Holloway University of London said: “I have spent 15 years researching the changing ways in which citizens engage in the political process. I’m concerned that the current version of the Lobbying Bill could have an extremely detrimental effect on citizens’ options for political participation, and that this could be very harmful for democracy. So I’m excited to be part of this effort to identify constructive alternatives, and looking forward to hearing a wide range of perspectives in my role as a commissioner.”

Georgette Mulheir, Chief Executive, Lumos said: “Lumos is deeply concerned by part 2 of the Lobbying Bill.  If passed, the restrictions the bill would place on civil society are likely to have a detrimental effect on one of the most fundamental processes of democracy.  Many emerging democracies look to countries like the UK as examples of best practice; they point to the maturity of governments that are prepared to be challenged by civil society.  The Lobbying Bill not only limits the ability of UK citizens to engage in meaningful dialogue with government; it also risks providing less democratic countries with excuses for continuing to exclude civil society from the democratic process”

Rob Berkeley, Director, Runnymede Trust said: “For a healthy democracy to work people need to be able to have their say about the most important issues facing our communities – and to hold politicians and political parties to account. This is particularly true when our democratic structures struggle to include the voices of the marginalised, including those from minority ethnic communities. This commission will do what Government has failed to do and will ask people how they think civil society should best engage in democratic processes.”

The Lobbying Bill has been roundly criticised by MPs from across the political spectrum. [1] The independent Electoral Commission have criticised the lack of pre-legislative scrutiny, while a report from the cross-party Political and Constitutional Reform Committee said the “flawed” Bill should be withdrawn for six months to be rewritten. [2]

[1] New Statesman, 3rd September: http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/09/does-anyone-support-coalitions-lobbying-bill

[2] BBC News, 5th September: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-23967903

Notes to Editor

About the Commission

The Commission is supported by the following organisations:

  • Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations
  • Action Aid
  • Amnesty International UK
  • Barrow Cadbury Trust
  • Better Transport
  • Big Brother Watch
  • Bond
  • Christian Aid
  • Christian Institute
  • Citizens UK
  • Countryside Alliance
  • Electoral Reform Society
  • Electoral Reform Society (Wales)
  • Friends of the Earth
  • Gingerbread
  • Greenpeace UK
  • Hope Not Hate
  • Jewish Leadership Council
  • Lancashire Badger Trust
  • Lumos
  • Mumsnet
  • Muslim Council of Britain
  • National Union of Students
  • NCVO
  • Oxfam GB
  • People & Planet
  • Peter Tatchell Foundation
  • Quakers
  • RSPB
  • Small Charities Coalition
  • Stop HS2
  • Sue Ryder
  • The Royal British Legion
  • The Wildlife Trusts
  • Unlock Democracy
  • Women’s Institute
  • 38 Degrees

About the Bill

The Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill was introduced by the Government on 17 July 2013. Further details can be found here: http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2013-14/transparencyoflobbyingnonpartycampaigningandtradeunionadministration.html

For more information, please contact Hamir Patel on 020 3544 4947 / 07771 780 946

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