Lord Tyler and Baroness Williams attempt to buy off charities on lobbying

Lord Tyler and Baroness Williams attempt to buy off charities on lobbying

Lord Paul Tyler, Liberal Democrat spokesman in the Lords on constitutional reform issues, and Baroness Shirley Williams, former leader of Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords have attacked Caroline Lucas MP as "misguided and wrong" in her concerns about the Lobbying Bill – namely, that unless significantly amended (or better, scrapped and completely redrafted) it will let corporate lobbyists off the hook while gagging non-party organisations and unions.

But the considerable weight of evidence – gathered by Lord Harries' Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement (CCSDE), supported by 130+ NGOs, including Ekklesia – suggests that it is they who are misguided.

"We want to safeguard charity campaigning," they claim in an article on 13 January 2013 in the Guardian newspaper (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/13/lobbying-bill-no-ga...). But their way of doing this is to try to exempt charities and drive a wedge between them and other NGOs and trade unions.

The comments underneath their rather thin argument (which conveniently glosses the detail of the legislation and ignores the fact that the Super-PACs they fear are not lawful in the EU) suggest that those in the know are not convinced. The best that can be said is that it is partly well-intentioned but naive.

It is also important to recognise that most charities have not supported the amendment on exempting charitable bodies, because they want a regulatory system that works for everyone.

They do not support a move towards the 'Victorianisation' of charities retreating from speaking out on politically contentious policy issues.

Ministers have heard from the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement, the Electoral Commission, NCVO and individual charities in considerable detail on why they think this is not the right option.

The Lobbying Bill is going through its Report Stage this week, towards the very end of the legislative process. Over 100 organisations and nearly 150,000 people have signed a petition backing Lord Harries' amendments in only a few days, indicating how strong the opposition to this corrosive legislation is.

* News, analysis and comment from Ekklesia on the Lobbying Bill: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/

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© Simon Barrow is co-drector of Ekklesia. Follow him on Twitter: @simonbarrow

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