06 November 2013
Following widespread opposition to both the content of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill and the way it has been hurriedly progressed through parliament, the government has agreed to pause the Bill up to six weeks.
This follows a call from crossbench peer Lord Ramsbotham, backed by the Labour Party, to refer Part Two of the Bill (on the regulation of third-party campaigning) to a special Committee until February 13 2014. This would have delayed other sections of the Bill as well.
It has been suggested that the Coalition are desperate to pass the Bill as quickly as possible in order for it to be effective in time to influence the results of the 2015 General Election. But the Government’s lack of pre-legislative scrutiny or public consultation, it’s progression of the Bill before waiting for the reports of specialist committees it had been referred to, and its decision to introduce the proposals just before the summer recess and then allow mere days for debate in the Commons has not gone unnoticed.
Labour MP and Chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee Graham Allen described the rush to legislate as “an abuse” of Parliament. “One day before the House rose for the summer recess in July, we were presented with this Bill. It is not a Bill that my Committee had examined, it is not a Bill that the House had considered, it is not a Bill that was referred to the Electoral Commission, and it is not a Bill that was referred to third parties such as charities – 10,500 of them,” he told the Commons.
Writing to peers, Lord Wallace spoke on behalf of the government, saying the limits on third party spending per constituency in the year leading to an election (if their activities are deemed to have a political influence) will be reviewed. “We are looking again at the thresholds for registration to ensure that small campaigning groups including charities are not caught by the regulatory regime,” he stated.
Trade unions and think tanks would also be affected by the spending regulations, while the labour movement would be particularly impacted by Part Three of the Bill, which proposes even stricter regulation on trade union membership registers. The pause provides an opportunity for further debate about all parts of the Bill.