Lords review Part 2 of Transparency of Lobbying Bill

In an earlier post we noted that on the first day of the Committee Stage of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill in the House of Lords, November 5, as a consequence of a motion moved by Lord Ramsbotham, [5 Nov 2013  Col 108], the minister agreed to a five-week delay in the discussion of Part 2: Non-Party Campaigning &c, “so that there can be wide consultation over the coming weeks and so that the Government can try to address the concerns of those involved and interested . . . “, [HL Hansard 5 Nov 2013 c 109]. Their Lordships then proceeded to the 1st Day Committee Stage, and consideration of other aspects of the Bill, [5 Nov 2013 c 117].

The debate on Part 2 recommenced on 16 December with the line-by-line consideration of its relevant clauses and associated Schedules, viz.

Controlled expenditure: 26 Meaning of “controlled expenditure”; 27 Changes to existing limits; 28 Constituency limits; 29 Targeted expenditure limits; 30 Extension of power to vary specified sums

Information and reports: 31 Notification requirements for recognised third parties; 32 Reporting of donations to recognised third parties; 33 Statements of accounts by recognised third parties.

On 16 December, their Lordships considered a new Amendment 156B before clause 26, and Amendments 159A to 160F, all relating to Clause 26, details of which are in the third marshalled list of amendments. These Amendments were either withdrawn after debate or not moved. These discussions were summarized by Lord Tyler who observed [HL Hansard 18 Dec 2013 : Column 1274]

“I carefully read the whole of our Hansard proceedings on Monday. If anybody has been having as much difficulty in sleeping as I have recently, I fully endorse that as a very good way of avoiding insomnia”.

The debate on 18 December on the remaining clauses promised to be more contentious, as the fourth marshalled list of amendments 160G to 183 indicates that in relation to: Clause 26; Schedule 3; Clauses 27 to 32; Schedule 4; Clauses 33 to 35; Clauses 40 to 44, a number of their Lordships have given notice that these provisions should not stand as part of the Bill.

The former Bishop of Oxford, Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB), led much of the opposition to the Bill.  He chairs the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement, a consortium of charities opposed to many aspects of the Bill, and whose report on Part 2 was published on 10 December.  Lord Harries suggested [18 Dec 2013 : Column 1278] that in relation to the thresholds

“So much of this legislation, and the lowering of the thresholds in particular that we are talking about now, represents an attempt to escape the influence of the super-PACs [Political Action Committees[1]] in this country. It is as though a huge net has been thrown in order to catch some great fish which might swim across the Atlantic, but the only effect of which is to trap smaller fish quite legitimately swimming freely in the waters of democracy.”

and in his concluding remarks in the debate stated [18 Dec 2013 : Column 1377]:

“My final point is that it is clear that the Government have approached this legislation from the standpoint of how electoral law might be abused. It is the contention of those who are heavily engaged in the democratic process, charities and other campaigning groups, that in trying to clamp down on potential abusers, they have severely curtailed the legitimate activities of people who want to contribute during an election year. “

The full debate is reported here and here. Their Lordships discussed how the Bill might affect “coalition working between charities” and the proposals would make it difficult for joint campaigning work to continue.  The need for guidance for third parties on compliance with the new legislation on regulation of expenditure was raised, and it was also suggested that the Bill should include a sunset clause.  The Minister indicated that the Electoral Commission would produce guidance in consultation with the Charity Commission.

However, the proposed amendments were either withdrawn or not tabled. The Bill now moves to report stage, scheduled for Monday 13 January, when there will be further opportunities for scrutiny.

[1] OpenSecrets.org defines super PACs as: Technically known as independent expenditure-only committees, Super PACs may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, then spend unlimited sums to overtly advocate for or against political candidates.”

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