FAITH leaders have joined an independent civil-society
commission to condemn the Lobbying Bill. They say that the Bill
needs substantial rewriting to avoid charities' and activists'
being stopped from legitimate campaigning.
As it stands, the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party
Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, which is currently
in committee stage in the House of Lords, reduces the money that a
third party (rather than a political party) may spend on
campaigning in the year before an election from £988,500 to
£390,000 (News, 11 October). It also widens the definition of
campaigning activities to include such things as leaflets and
blogs. Spending per constituency is limited to £9750.
But the Commission for Civil Society and Democratic Engagement
said in a report launched on 10 December that the Bill would damage
democracy. The Rt Revd Lord Harries of Pentregarth, who chairs the
commission, said: "The Bill risks profoundly undermining the very
fabric of democracy by signiﬁcantly limiting the right of
organisations to speak out on some of the most important issues
facing the country and the planet."
Religious leaders and charities met outside Parliament last week
to protest against the Lobbying Bill. Jessica Metheringham, from
the Quakers, said: "As it stands, this Bill may effectively stop
faith communities speaking up on urgent moral issues." The chief
executive of the charity Progressio, Mark Lister, said: "Limiting
the ability of churches, charities, and campaigning groups to speak
up for people living in poverty cuts out the voices of . . . the
poorest and most marginalised."
The commission report recommends cutting the period regulated
from 12 months to six, dropping the proposed tightening of spending
limits for campaigners, excluding staffing costs from spending
limits, doubling the spending levels at which campaigners have to
register with the Electoral Commission, and scrapping the proposed
constituency spending limit.