Coffee House

The Lobbying Bill is bad for liberty

15 January 2014

10:00 AM

15 January 2014

10:00 AM

The Prime Minister was on to something when as Leader of the Opposition he said that lobbying was ‘the next big scandal waiting to happen.’ But the Lobbying Bill’s methods are suspect. It would silence grass roots campaigners while allowing politicians to dictate the terms of debate. It would limit the activity of civil society organisations that stand between the power of the state the freedom of the individual. The Lobbying Bill might be good politics but as it stands it would be bad law.

The bill places a national cap on campaign expenditure from any one non-party organisation or coalition of organisations. It places a constituency-specific cap of £9,750 on such expenditure too. And it forces campaigners to take on a wad of bureaucracy in order to prove that they remain at heel. The proposed demands on campaigners, by the way, are more onerous than those made of political parties.


This arsenal of hyper-regulation is regrettable in and of itself, but the weaponry will fail to hit its targets. The burden would fall disproportionately on grass-roots campaigners and organisations with a legitimate story to tell about their communities or on the issues of the day. Consider the example of anti-HS2 campaigners. Were they to run campaigns against the high speed railway in the same constituency as a pro-HS2 parliamentary candidate during an election year, according to the bill, their spending would be ‘political’ in nature and therefore capped at £9,750 (with the risk of criminal sanctions if they were to spend more). The parliamentary candidate, on the other hand, might call to their aid the Government, its press and policy machine, which, if reports are to be believed, have so far spent £1.2 million on pro-HS2 PR alone.

The lobbying bill steamed through parliament last year, and the Government granted a six week pause for breath only towards the end. The Government last week offered a welcome set of concessions. They raised the limits proposed in the bill at which the red tape kicks in, though did little to affect the constituency limits in particular and the bill’s bureaucracy more generally. This week the lobbying bill reaches its final stages in the Lords and this is the last chance to remove its remaining egregious elements.

Unfettered press, an uncorrupted bar, and a vibrant civil society are, together, the sine qua non of a healthy democracy. The lobbying bill threatens our democracy, but as it stands it threatens our liberty too. The report stage in the Lords, which continues tomorrow, is a huge opportunity for the Lords to protect civil society – and so mitigate the effects of another of the Government’s forays into our freedom.

Asheem Singh is Director of Public Policy at ACEVO. You can follow him on Twitter @robinasheem

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Show comments
  • catflap

    There are two issues: the contents of the Bill and its
    process. Others can talk about its contents. I want to comment on its
    process. The Bill was cooked up in secret, by persons who still haven’t owned up to it. It had no consultation with stakeholders and no pre-legislative scrutiny. Not even the Electoral Commission, which has to implement it, was consulted. There is still no factual evidence that there is actually a need for this Bill. It is a
    constitutional bill which ought to be prepared by a balanced all-party
    committee and should certainly not have gone through Parliament as a partisan
    party-political matter and as whipped government legislation. It was badly drafted and put before the Commons without any notice, not giving MPs proper time to read and understand it. Debating and Committee time was cut so short that it could not be properly scrutinised, and it was passes by mobilising the government’s obedient lobby fodder who had not much idea of what kind of bill they were actually voting through. This Bill had brought Parliament, which once
    went to war with the King to assert its independence, in disrepute and
    diminished it. The Lobbying Bill is a constitutional outrage, which reduces the British legislative system to that of a banana republic.

  • Colonel Mustard

    Will this Bill limit the disproportionate and unelected political influence of fake charities like Common Purpose and other thinly-veiled, taxpayer subsidised cultural marxist “change agents”?

  • HookesLaw

    ACEVO – the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations who is wheeling out Andy Burnham at its Health and Social Care Conference. (Sponsored by Hempsons, ‘leading health and social care solicitors’ – ie leeches on the body politic).
    Yes go ahead, call me an old cynic…

  • HookesLaw

    Spoken like a lobbyist.

  • Denis_Cooper

    Why do you insist on referring to it as the “Lobbying Bill”, when the part to which you object has nothing to do with lobbying?