24 October 2013
The Coalition’s Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill seems unable to garner any support outside of the government itself. Following widespread criticisms from charities, trade unions, the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee (PCRC) and the general public, two further panels have weighed in on the serious problems with the legislation and its passage through parliament.
Both the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) and the House of Lords Constitution Committee have raised serious concerns about the way in which the Bill has been rushed through parliament, with very little time provided for thorough debate and scrutiny. Many MPs and other interested parties have made this complaint throughout the progress of the Bill, to no avail. But now the JCHR has recommended that the government ‘pauses’ the progress of the Bill in order for proper scrutiny to be carried out.
The Bill is split into three parts, which cover the registration of lobbyists, limits on non-party campaigning expenditure, and increased inspection of trade union members’ registers respectively.
“We are concerned about the Bill proceeding in its current state due to the lack of certainty about how the measures will operate, and in particular the implications for third party campaigners,” the JCHR said.
“More time is required to ensure proposals are proportionate and do not have unintended consequences for campaigners’ rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association,” it was added.
Similarly, the House of Lords Constitution Committee stated: “Effective parliamentary scrutiny matters in relation to every bill. But it is of manifest importance where legislation is of constitutional significance. The present Bill directly affects the ability of people and organisations to engage with the government and to participate in political and electoral campaigning. Given these factors it is essential that the legislative process accords with the highest standards. As such, the handling of the Bill to date is a matter of significant concern.”
The Bill was first introduced to the House of Commons on 17 July 2013 – one day before the summer recess – and was read for the second time on 03 September 2013. It was considered by a whole-house committee over three days and was passed to the Lords on 09 October 2013. The speed at which it progressed through these law-making stages was described by the PCRC as “contemptuous of Parliament” and “an object lesson in how not to produce legislation”.
In fact, the Bill moved so quickly that the JCHR was unable to report on the human rights implications of the proposals until after they had been passed to the House of Lords – a situation the Committee described as “unacceptable”, especially as there are “no grounds for considering this to be emergency or fast-track legislation”.
This is not the first time the Coalition has been criticised for rushing through legislation or perverting lawmaking procedures in what appears to be an attempt to gag the opposition.
Among the poor constitutional practices highlighted by the Institute of Employment Rights in the past have been the reduction in time for public consultations, an increase in the use of secondary legislation (which does not require Royal Assent to be put into effect), the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Boards without proper debate, and now the Draft Deregulation Bill, which proposes making it even easier for the government to deregulate at speed.