Alan Whitehead

Labour MP for Southampton Test

Lobbying Bill

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Update on the Government’s Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill.

On Monday 2nd September, I spoke and voted against this Bill in Parliament. Although both Labour and I support reform of the lobbying industry, the Bill in its present form is not the answer.

 

Update on the Government’s Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill.

On Monday 2nd September, I spoke and voted against this Bill in Parliament. Although both Labour and I support reform of the lobbying industry, the Bill in its present form is not the answer.

This Bill will do nothing to stop high-level government lobbying. It is a ‘lobbyist’s charter’ that would prevent only 1% of the very scandals the Prime Minister warned against, according to estimates. In fact, the Bill is so bad that it has achieved the unique feat of uniting transparency campaigners and the lobbying industry against it; both say it will make things worse, not better. With no code of conduct or sanctions for poor behaviour, the Bill is actually a step backwards from the current voluntary register that already governs parts of the industry.

 

The Bill actually threatens to gag charities and campaigners, with potentially damaging consequences for Southampton and the ‘Big Society’ that David Cameron claims to support. In all, this Bill is a desperate attempt by the Government to prevent their record and policies from being criticised and scrutinised at a local level. Contrary to Andrew Lansley MP’s recent “myth-busting” claims, the imposition of a spending cap, as well as an extremely broad definition of what constitutes activity “for election purposes”, will inevitably penalise small organisations and charities. This will serve only to discourage and restrict those who are working hard to improve their communities.

 

Labour supports transparency for third party campaigners. We originally set a cap on third party spending in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, to ensure that we could never have the outrageous spending by big business as seen in American elections. This isn’t about transparency, it’s about silencing charities and campaigners, while doing nothing to address the real ‘big money’ in politics. David Cameron was forced to apply the brakes to this sinister and badly drafted Bill when it looked like he was about to lose key votes. Now, instead of having used his pause to listen and learn, he’s simply sitting on his hands. The un-amended Bill is a sinister gag on charities and campaigners in the run-up to an election. It will have a chilling effect on the quality of our national debate.

The Government are rushing this through Parliament so that charities and campaigners will be gagged before the next election. This is a wasted opportunity for political reform. Instead, the Government is using this Bill to make cheap partisan attacks on civil society and on trade unions.

 

That is why it is so important that the Commons votes to keep the three amendments that the Lords defeated the government on – the exclusion of some staff costs from the slashed spending limit, the narrowed constituency limit and the inclusion of special advisors in the definition of those who can be lobbied. I will be voting to keep those amendments in the bill and I will urge my colleagues to do the same.

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