Growing concern over flawed lobbying bill
MPs meet today to discuss the bill for a register of lobbyists, and CAFOD is asking you to act now and call for changes, amid growing concern that the bill won’t increase transparency or improve policy-making and could undermine legitimate campaigning activities.
MPs are meeting today to discuss the bill, but there is still time to contact your MP directly and ask that they make significant changes.
A wide range of charities, churches, think tanks and MPs from all parties share our concerns over the possible impacts of this proposed legislation. Many feel the bill threatens their activities that contribute to informed public debate and democratic scrutiny.
In 2010, CAFOD welcomed the idea of a lobbying register when it was introduced as part of the Coalition agreement, as its intention was to make government more open and improve corporate transparency through requiring a register of lobbyists.
However, as it stands, the bill is deeply flawed. It has the potential to undermine as opposed to increase transparency and participation in government decision-making.
Part one of the bill deals with a statutory register of lobbyists. In its current form the proposed register only captures a fraction of the lobbying industry and contains little meaningful information on activities.
CAFOD supporters across England and Wales have been asking MPs to ensure that the register is fit for purpose.
In addition, part two of the bill risks further securing the influence of those who operate in the shadows whilst closing down legitimate, informed public debate and scrutiny.
Closing down public debate
Under the proposals, charities, think tanks, companies, community groups, churches and anyone else with an interest in public policy will not be able to campaign substantially on any issue in the year before a general election.
The bill proposes heavy reductions in the amount charities can spend on their campaigning and advocacy work during election year. It also suggests a much wider scope on what this money can be spent on, limiting the opportunities to spur politicians on to do more good.
CAFOD’s director of advocacy and communications, Neil Thorns, said: “In reality the bill would mean that an organisation like CAFOD could only talk about the structures and systems that keep people poor for four years in every five. While mass coalition campaigns like Make Poverty History - which happened in an election year - and was the biggest mobilisation of people in the history of global poverty campaigning, involving more than 700 parishes up and down the country, would have been illegal.”
Legal opinion from expert lawyers concludes that these measures – whether intended or not – could amount to a severe restriction of voices from across society wanting to engage in public debate during an election year. CAFOD has joined with other charities to urge the government to pause and rethink this element of the bill.
However, despite the bill’s faults, the government still has a chance to get it right.
As the next round of discussions on this bill take place, CAFOD is calling for significant amendments to be made on the first part of the bill and for the government to pause and rethink the intent, rationale and potential impact of the second part.