So I’ve written to my MP (Jonathan Lord: Con, Woking) about the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, due for Second Reading in the House of Commons tomorrow.
There are three main sections to this bill — one to create a register of lobbyists, a second to regulate non-party spending in the 12 months preceding a General Election and a third to tighten the regulations around trades unions. The second part of this bill is widely considered to offer an existential threat to British democracy; I also have concerns around this third part, but my MP is a Tory and I know which battles are worth fighting.
The text of my letter (edited slightly to read better as hypertext) to Mr Lord follows:
Dear Jonathan Lord MP,
I’m writing to you about the lobbying bill which seems to be being rushed through Parliament, for which I gather there is to be a vote tomorrow.
I believe — and I would hope that you would share this belief — that in a democratic society everyone should be free to hold politicians to account. We should be free to come together and speak out on whatever issues matter to us. One of the rôles of the third sector in our society — be that charities like Oxfam or organisations such as the Church of England — is to raise issues with our parliamentarians to promote and provoke debate in Westminster.
I’m worried that the second part of the Government’s planned lobbying bill threatens this vital part of British democracy. As drafted, it would gag campaigning from much-loved charities and community groups for the entire year before a general election.
I am particularly concerned as a director of mySociety — a world-leading organisation in the transparency and civic engagement arena; I am also a trustee of the registered charity that owns mySociety — and as a director of the Open Rights Group — the UK’s main campaign group in the area of digital rights and digital consumer rights.
I would very much like the see the government scrap these ill-advised and poorly-thought-through plans. I completely understand that lobbying in the UK needs further regulation, but this is not the regulation that is needed. And, in any case, regulation with this kind of impact should be put to consultation to bring a much wider consensus, across the third sector and across the parties in the both Houses.
Please can you raise these concerns at the Second Reading on Tuesday? I would very much like for you to vote against further progress of the bill proceeding. If you don’t feel able to do that, then please at least vote against the bill being rushed through and insist it be given proper scrutiny in Committee Stage, such that Part 2 may be amended appropriately.
Thank you for your time. If you would like to read more about the problems with the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, you can do so at these links:
- NCVO briefing (PDF)
- Electoral Commission briefing (PDF)
- The view of an electoral law specialist (a former Lead Adviser (Party and Election Finance) at the Electoral Commission)
- Legal opinion from Bates Wells Braithwaite
If you would like to write to your MP as well, 38 Degrees have a campaign to do so. You don’t need to know who your MP is, and there’s a sample letter already written — though your letter will be much more effective if you put it in your own words: 38 Degrees: Fighting the UK gagging law. If the ability to campaign on issues that matter is important to you — if British democracy is important to you — then please do go and write to your MP. It doesn’t need to take more than five minutes.