Government needs to rethink Lobbying Bill, says Christian think-tank

EDINBURGH & LONDON, November 6th, 2013: The government needs to listen to charities, churches and unions, and to amend substantially those provisions in its Lobbying Bill which would curtail the legitimate advocacy functions of voluntary organisations, says the Christian think-tank Ekklesia.

Responding to news of a five week delay for further consideration agreed by the government on 5 November, after substantial pressure on parliamentarians concerning the advisability and workability of the Transparency in Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill, Simon Barrow, co-director of the Christian political think-tank Ekklesia said:

"This is a significant step forward in a reconsidering a hasty and potentially dangerous piece of legislation, but it is far from a victory until the government genuinely takes on board the concerns of the voluntary sector, churches, civic advocacy groups, trade unions and many others.

"In parts 2 and 3 of the Transparency in Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill there are provisions which could criminalise the legitimate and transparent activity of such groups in the run-up to elections, while political parties backed by corporate interests spend millions of pounds virtually unchallenged.

"Voluntary organisations are a vital outlet for citizen concern and engagement with public issues. At a time when there is a vital need to extend democratic participation, and when there is unprecedented concern about the unaccountability of corporate power and the dominant political class, it is entirely inappropriate to be imposing significant limits on civic democratic involvement and free speech.

"It is also important to realise that five weeks is unlikely to be long enough to consult seriously and overhaul the bill. What we have been offered is a 'breather', not a proper pause of the kind we and others would like to see. Government should commit to lengthening the delay if required, and needs to engage directly with the independent Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement."

As well as major national charities, church and belief organisations across the spectrum are asking for reform of the Lobbying Bill. In addition to Ekklesia, they include such diverse organisations as Christian Aid, the British Humanist Association, the Christian Institute, Micah Challenge, the Muslim Council of Britain, the National Secular Society, Quakers in Britain, and Tearfund.

ENDS

Notes for Editors:

1. Founded in 2001, Ekklesia examines politics, values and beliefs in a changing world, from a Christian perspective in dialogue with others. More information here: www.ekklesia.co.uk/about

2. Ekklesia is a supporter of the independent Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement, which the government has agreed to consult with: http://civilsocietycommission.info

3. The full Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement report on the Transparency in Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill can be read here: 'Non-party campaigning ahead of elections' - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/19330

4. Previous Ekklesia statement on the bill: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/19331

5. More about the bill from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/lobbyingbill

For further comment: Simon Barrow, co-director of Ekklesia, simon.barrow AT ekklesia.co.uk. Mob: 07850 120413.