The Government has delayed discussion of part 2 of the Lobbying Bill by five weeks, pushing Committee stage back until the week beginning December 16th.
During the pause, the Cabinet Office spokesman in the House of Lords, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, said Government would draw on the work of the Commission in considering whether and how to amend the Bill.
Lord Harries, Chair of the Commission, has warned that the five week window is a “very, very short period indeed” and that the legislation is still “totally unacceptable in a democratic society.”
The news was covered in the Independent here:
The pause was also covered in The Guardian, on the BBC, on PR Week, and in The Telegraph.
Influential cross-bench peer Lord Ramsbotham has tabled a motion in today’s Lords committee stage to pause the Bill and refer it to a select committee.
Full text of the motion:
Lord Ramsbotham to move, that, in the light of recommendations of the 7th Report from the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee (HC Paper 601-1), the 5th Report from Joint Committee on Human Rights (HL Paper 61) and the 3rd Report from the Constitution Committee (HL Paper 62), and the report on Non-Party Campaigning ahead of Elections from the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement], so much of the orders of the House of 22 October and 28 October as relate to clauses 26-35 and Schedules 3 and 4 be vacated, and that those clauses and Schedules be instead committed to a select committee; and that the select committee do report by 13 February 2014.
The Commission has produced the following briefing for Lords, laying out its central recommendation that the Bill be paused:
The pause motion has been covered in the Guardian today:
In a briefing published 4th November 2013 and intended to inform preparations for the Bill’s committee stage in the House of Lords, the Electoral Commission have recommended that should Parliament delay the Bill for further consultation, the start of the regulated period should be pushed back. Otherwise, they’ve warned that they’d be unlikely to have enough time to either produce appropriate guidance or to enforce the new regulations effectively.
“Following the publication in late October of a report on the Bill by the Commission for Civil Society and Democratic Engagement, which recommends a period of consultation before the Bill makes further progress, we have been asked for our views of the impact such a delay in the Bill’s progress could have. We have previously agreed with the views put forward by bodies such as the Lords Constitution Committee, the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee that Part 2 of the Bill would have benefitted from further scrutiny before it was introduced. However, given the complexities of the regulatory regime around third party campaigning, we have also been clear that any changes to the regime should be in place in good time before the beginning of the regulated period for the 2015 UK Parliamentary general election. The Bill currently provides for that regulated period to begin on 23 May 2014, the day after the 2014
European Parliament elections.
Should Parliament decide that a period of consultation is desirable before the Bill makes further progress, we would recommend that the start of the regulated period for the 2015 general election be delayed by an appropriate period. Unless this is done, we would be unlikely to be able to put in place appropriate guidance for campaigners before the start of the regulated period, or to prepare to implement an effective enforcement regime. Similarly, campaigners need to have time to understand and prepare to comply with the regime before it comes into effect.”
Full text of the briefing is available here:
Third Sector Online published an article on October 29th summarising the Commission’s findings and recommendations.
In an article publised by WalesOnline on October 30th, voluntary groups ranging from Shelter Cymru to the Countryside Alliance urge the government to “urgently hit pause” on part 2 of the Lobbying Bill.
The launch of the Commission’s first report was covered in the Telegraph on Tuesday 29th October.
Tuesday 29th October, 2013
Commissioner Baroness Mallalieu QC, President of the Countryside Alliance, launched the Commission’s first report on the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme.
Sir Stephen Bubb, CEO of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO), welcomed the Commission’s first report saying:
“The report nails once and for all the government’s claim that the Lobbying Bill was fit for purpose. It clearly identifies the Bill’s weaknesses, and proposes constructive ways forward that I urge all Peers to consider when the Bill is debated again next week. With input from dozens of NGOs, politicians from all parties, and the Electoral Commission – to name but a few – it will be difficult for anyone to ignore.
ACEVO calls for the government to enact the recommendations of the report. If they are determined to legislate before May 2014, they still have plenty of time to consult more widely and redraft the Bill.”
Sir Stuart Etherington, CEO of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NVCO), said the report also reflected NCVO’s concerns:
“The Commission’s report echoes the concerns we have voiced about this bill. Its combination of ambiguous wording and low thresholds for regulation remain potentially damaging for charities wanting to play their normal roles in public debate. We are asking the government to clarify the bill’s wording to ensure legitimate activity is not inadvertently caught in its scope.
The proposed expenditure limits should also be revised, to protect small organisations in particular from having to deal with hugely burdensome bureaucratic reporting requirements. Some elements of the bill are simply unworkable in practice, such as asking organisations to account for staff time spent on controlled expenditure. Requiring all members of coalitions to account for the whole coalition’s expenditure is not reasonable – they should be asked to report only for their own contribution.”
Andrew Lansley MP, Leader of the House of Commons and the Minister leading the Transparency in Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, has declined to give evidence to the Commission.
Tom Brake MP, who had agreed to give evidence to the Committee on Monday 14 October, has subsequently been withdrawn from giving evidence by Andrew Lansley.
Angela Eagle, Shadow Leader of the House, Graham Allen, Chair of the Political and Constitutional Select Committee, and Hywel Francis MP, Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights gave evidence on Monday 14 October.