Rewrite Lobbying Bill, faith leaders urge

20 December 2013

PROGRESSIO

Outside: a group of campaigners pro­­­­­test against the Lobbying Bill

Outside: a group of campaigners pro­­­­­test against the Lobbying Bill

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.

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