Former archbishop says lobbying law 'seriously bad news for democracy'

By staff writers
1 Feb 2014

The controversial Lobbying Bill, pushed through by the government in the face of vigorous civic and public opposition, has become law.

There were quite a few audible groans in the Westminster parliament as it was announced that the Bill had been granted Royal Assent by the Queen and had become an Act on 30 January 2014.

But NGOs, charities and unions, including a range of faith groups, continue to warn that the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 is bad and unworkable law.

Many are pledging to continue to oppose it, to examine legal challenges where necessary, to demand scrutiny, and to remind voters of the politicians who wish to gag them – before they are prevented from doing so by the new Law in itself, for eight months before the next UK General Election.

As the final attempts to achieve amendments were being made last week, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who is now chair of the churches' global development agency, Christian Aid, described the possible impact of the Bill – now as "seriously bad news for democracy".

He spoke of the "potential danger of this legislation for the freedom of civil society groups to participate in public debate in the run-up to elections."

Dr Williams declared that, "The problem identified in the parliamentary debates is that a Bill designed to increase transparency in our democracy, and to curtail unaccountable and potentially corrupt influence, could have the unintended effect of burdening and weakening these civil society agencies in a way that is seriously bad news for democracy."

Of the campaign to reform the Bill, the former Archbishop said: "The objections and challenges clearly demonstrate the health and strength of civil society bodies in this country, and should be celebrated, not feared."

Members of the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement (CCSDE), chaired by former Bishop of Oxford Lord Harries, are now seeking pledges from a range of political parties to repeal and recast the Act in part or in whole if they have the opportunity to do so after the next election.

* More about the Lobbying Bill on Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/

* Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement: http://civilsocietycommission.info

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