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Last-ditch effort needed in campaign for changes to disastrous lobbying bill

17 January 2014

As the lobbying bill reaches its final stages in the UK parliament, campaigners are organising for a final push to make vital changes and prevent MPs from overturning gains made in the House of Lords.

Despite winning some small concessions from government and inflicting a few defeats, pressure must be maintained on peers and MPs as this disastrous bill, which stifles democracy, fails to clean up the lobbying industry and attacks trade unions, reaches its final stages

The NUJ has joined an alliance of 130 charities and NGOs to fight to second part of the bill, which severely restricts organisations from carrying out campaigning work during election periods. There was one significant win in the House of Lords, with the government defeated on an amendment which excluded "background staff costs" from new financial restrictions proposed in the bill.

This part of the bill posed a threat for press and campaigns officers, who could have had to log their work as part of campaigns costs. This win, however, is in danger of being voted against by MPs.

The government also made a concession, dropping a plan to cut from £10,000 to £5,000 the amount charities in England can spend on campaigning during elections before they have to register with the Electoral Commission; the limit will be raised to £20,000.

Government amendments also included requiring registered lobbyists to declare any voluntary code of conduct to which they subscribe and allowing a shorter regulated period for the next general election, so as to avoid a clash with the referendum on independence in Scotland. There will also be a review of Part 2 (third party campaigning) after the 2015 general election.

The transparency of lobbying, non-party campaigning and trade union administration bill reaches its third reading in the House of Lords next Tuesday (21 January) and the Commons consideration of the bill will take places on the following day (22 January).

The bill also introduces a register for lobbyists, but because it does not include in-house lobbyists and others, it would result in less than 1 per cent of lobbying activity being publicly registered. The NUJ finds this deeply concerning as the bill, as its stands, will do nothing to clean up the lobbying industry and has let Cameron's corporate colleagues off the hook.

Peers also voted for an amendment which would require special advisers, and not just ministers and permanent secretaries, to publish who they meet: a small, but welcome tweak to the bill.

There has also been a concession on the third part of the bill, which puts extra administrative burdens on unions in maintaining their membership lists and threatens union membership confidentiality. Unions will not have to comply to this for 17 months, that is after the election. Unions will be campaigning for this to be repealed.

What you can do

  • Sign the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement petition calling on peers to back amendments to the bill. There are now more than 167,000 signatures.
  • Sign the 1% is not enough petition "We believe the Government's planned lobbying register is deeply flawed and would result in less than 1% of lobbying activity being publicly registered. We call on the Government in the strongest possible terms to amend its proposals to ensure that 100% of professional lobbyists – to include those working in-house, for trade unions, for charities, for think tanks, for lobbying agencies, for law firms and accountancy firms – are all part of a statutory registration regime in the UK.
  • Write to your MP asking them not to vote to overturn changes made in the House of Lords.

Tags: , lobbying bill, trade union freedom, parliament uk, house of lords, lobbying, government uk, gagging law