Voluntary organisations have expressed frustration that the government's Lobbying Bill is now set to become law in a form that remains deeply problematic for free speech and democracy in Britain.
Last night (28 January) peers voted down two amendments on staff costs and constituency regulation tabled by former Bishop of Oxford Lord Harries on behalf of a huge coalition of public and NGO opinion.
Despite public assurances from some, no Liberal Democrats voted for either amendment. With just one Conservative rebel, the votes of cross-bench members (independent), Labour, bishops in the Lords and others were not enough to make the House of Commons consider and vote again in the 'ping pong' at the end of the legislative process.
One of two vital votes was tied 245 to 245, but the rules say that the government prevails.
The Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement (CCSDE), of which Ekklesia is an active supporter, has described the Bill as containing "unnecessary and unenforceable regulation" which will shackle civic organisations, charities, non-party campaigns and unions, while leaving big money corporate lobbying virtually untouched.
Lord Harries of Pentregarth said: “I am deeply disappointed that the Government did not accept the amendments put forward on behalf of the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement.
"In trying to ward off a hypothetical abuse of the electoral system they are inflicting unnecessary and unenforceable regulation on campaigning groups, who now play such a key role in keeping our democracy alive.
"The fact that the vote on background staff costs was tied indicates how unconvinced members of the House of Lords were by the Governments arguments, and this should be born in mind by the government as they reflect on the future of this poor legislation.”
A number of vital changes to the legislation were secured by NGO campaigners. But the outcome "has been to turn a disastrous bill into a very bad one", said one political consultant.
The full implications of the Lobbying Bill will only be known once the Electoral Commission has produced guidance.
The Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement will produce an interim briefing paper about what the changes to the law mean for charities and campaigning organisations.
Further analysis and comment from Ekklesia to follow.
* More about the Lobbying Bill on Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/
* Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement: http://civilsocietycommission.info